London: Henry Colburn, 1808. First edition. Contemporary half morocco over marbled boards, with gilt to spines. Blue endpapers. Some gentle rubbing to extremities, but pleasing and square overall. Armorial bookplates of Richard Burton to front pastedowns. Early ownership signature of Antoinette Ferrari to verso of half-title in volume I. The likely first ownership signature of "Maria Nov. 1807" to header of titles to both volumes. Clean and unmarked, with just a bit of light scattered foxing. Measuring 180 x 100mm and collating: [vii], viii-xi, [1, blank], 204; , 213, [1, adverts]: complete, including half and full titles and adverts to both. A scarce biography of female intellectuals, OCLC reports only 7 copies at U.S. libraries, out of a total of 10 recorded copies. It does not appear in the modern auction record, and this is the only first edition on the market.
Modeled after David Hume's essay The Four Philosophers, the present work offers female readers an opportunity to see women examined through the lenses of The Epicurean, The Platonist, The Stoic, and The Christian. The frame narrative within the two volumes presents a nameless man traveling through Italy who, tired of the company of men, eavesdrops on the conversation of a group of four women. Upon being caught, he avoids their anger by presenting to them the idea that while all four women take completely different philosophical approaches to the world, all four views are relevant and intertwined. "Let us establish a principle, with which we may compare our different opinions. It is impossible to determine the particular kind of terrestrial happiness that is suitable to every individual; each ought to pursue that which is comfortable to her character and circumstances." Though the author frequently condescends to women readers, these moments are tied to key incidents of acknowledging his female readers' power. It is, after all, their demand, their tastes, and their power in the market that makes his work profitable. Women's interests also made it possible for works such as this to exist. Thus, even though the author occasionally works to pigeonhole his own female characters, his basic principle of women being formed by their unique circumstances and experiences opens the door to wider acceptance of women as individuals rather than types. (Item #4134)