London: John Stockdale, 1801. First edition. Contemporary half calf over marbled boards with spines embossed in gilt and blind. Joints professionally repaired. Bookplate of James Reed to front pastedown of each, and ownership stamp of Thomas Williams to each half title. A tall copy, measuring 260 x 210mm (pages) with wide, unmarked margins. A bit of scattered foxing to preliminaries and narrow dampstain to adverts at rear of volume II not affecting text, else a surprisingly fresh copy. Collating xvi, 17-461, [1, blank]; viii, 9-540, : complete, including all half and full titles, frontis portrait, and the subscriber's list and publisher's catalogue to rear of volume II. A pleasing copy of a work often found damaged or incomplete.
Among the first two histories of the world published by an Englishwoman, Hester Piozzi's Retrospection presents readers with a cultural history up to her present moment. It was a social and political statement for a woman who moved within the literati and counted Samuel Johnson as a close friend; for it positioned her as a cultural authority on par with men. "In late eighteenth century Britain, world history writing flourished. Fueled by the belief that moral rectitude or even social status could be attained through reading, academics, schoolteachers, ministers, and parents mustered the collective weight of events near and far in space and time to instruct, edify, and entertain child and adult audiences alike" (Hughes-Warrington). Released only months after Lucy Peacock's A Chronological Abridgement of Universal History (1800), Retrospection maintains a critic place within the larger genre and within women's history because of its existence "within a web of Piozzi's other published and unpublished writings -- diaries, reading records, letters, and marginalia -- that inform us about the experiences that accompanied and even triggered her drafting, revision, and reinscription of Retrospection beginning in 1795...the extensive, interconnected body of evidence is important because of its rarity in the historiography of world history" (Hughes-Warrington). Sweeping across continents and centuries, Piozzi positions herself as an authority on par with the male historians of her circle; but she notably does so while drawing attention to the new perspective she brings as a result of her sex. "Different observers attach to every object different degrees of importance...History is voluminous." To this end, in abridging a massive amount of material into two volumes, she will have made different selections and connections than the men preceding her. An important moment in women's intellectual and publication history. (Item #3965)