An Essay concerning Humane Understanding. In Four Books. London: Printed by Eliz. Holt for Thomas Basset, 1690
Folio (12 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.; 318 x 190 mm). Title vignette of printer's ornaments; first few leaves browned and dampstained, the word "certainly" near the end of the dedication amended in manuscript to "extreamly," some mostly marginal spotting and light browning, contemporary marginal notes and underlines, a partial ms. index written in the same hand on blank leaves at end with a fragment of the early back flyleaf preserved on an added sheet with lost portions supplied in pencil. Contemporary blind-ruled mottled calf, in a red half-morocco slipcase; rebacked in antique style, gilt-stamped leather title label on spine.
First edition, Holt (traditionally considered the first) issue, with two emendations in the author's hand. Locke worked for nearly two decades on his investigation of "the certainty and the adequacy of human knowledge," concluding that "though knowledge must necessarily fall short of complete comprehension, it can at least be 'sufficient'; enough to convince us that we are not at the mercy of pure chance, and can to some extent control our own destiny" (PMM).
The significance of his Essay was immediately recognized: it quickly ran to several editions and was popularized on the Continent by French translations. "Few books in the literature of philosophy have so widely represented the spirit of the age and country in which they appeared, or have so influenced opinion afterwards" (Fraser).
This copy has two emendations in the author's hand: "certainly sensible" has been changed to "extreamly sensible" in the dedication (A3v), and the word "some" has been added to the sentence "Every step the Mind takes in its Progress towards Knowledge, makes [some] discovery..." in the Epistle to the Reader (A4r). These and other similar corrections by Locke occur in several copies (for example Isaac Newton's) and may indicate that a copy so emended was intended for presentation.
This issue has the Elizabeth Holt imprint, and the "ss" of Essay correctly printed. An issue with a cancel title under the imprint of Thomas Basset, with the "ss" of Essay reversed, and with the typographical ornament unaligned is also known. Both issues have been championed as having priority, but recent scholarship indicates that priority of issue cannot be established: in his introduction to the Clarendon Press edition of the Essay, Peter Nidditch reverses his former opinion that the Holt imprint is the sign of a first issue, and John Attig's bibliography records it as a variant.
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