ABBOT, Charles

Two autograph manuscript volumes of the Political History of Europe.


n.p. n.d. c1780.

Two volumes, being volumes III and IV of a four volume Political History of Europe. Manuscript on thick laid paper. 285x210mm. Paginated on verso with even numbers only. The text is on the recto of each leaf with occasional notes and references set out opposite.
Vol. III: Germany [1] - 142; Switzerland: [143]-[215], 216-220 bl; Italy: [221]-372, [373]-376 bl; Turky (sic) [377]-[415]. Error in pagination at pp 114/115 but text is continuous and complete.
Vol. IV. Title [1]-2; Russia: [3]-[39], 40-44 bl; Poland: [45]-[73], 74-78 bl; Sweden: [79]-[101], 102-108 bl; Denmark: [109]-[121], 122-126 bl; Holland: [127]-[159], 160-164 bl; England, [165]-[189], 190-196 bl; General Recapitulation: [197]-[205]
Volume III, contemporary half calf, marbled paper covered boards, recently rebacked, spine lettered in gilt. Volume IV, contemporary quarter calf, marbled paper covered boards, spine lettered in gilt, rubbing and wear to corners and edges, cracking to joint with upper cover and rubbing to spine. Both volumes have the armorial bookplate of the author Charles Abbot on the front pastedowns. Both volumes are internally fine. The text is particularly clear and legible.
Charles Abbot (1757-1829) was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1802-1817 and is regarded as one of the most distinguished holders of the post, responsible for many important reforms to the administrative functioning of the Lower House. Abbot's father had been a Fellow of Balliol and was a priest and schoolmaster. He died when Charles was only three. Charles's mother then married Jeremiah Bentham, the father of Jeremy. The stepbrothers were close, corresponding throughout their lives. Before entering Parliament, Abbot was a lawyer following a brilliant academic career at Oxford and the University of Geneva where he studied civil law in 1778-79 after which he returned to Oxford to continue further legal studies. Although these two volumes are undated, they appear to have been written during these Oxford years at the beginning of the 1780s. There is no reference to any historical event later than 1779 although there is a note towards the end of the very last chapter on the history of England mentioning a source dated 1783. This was year that Abbot was called to the Bar and joined the Oxford and Chester circuits. By 1792, he was practising in the equity courts in London and in 1795 he was elected to the House of Commons. We are confident therefore in attributing this substantial and learned work to Abbot's student years.

As the title of his work suggests, he concentrates on political history with an emphasis also on legal and economic matters but Abbot's mind is wide-ranging and, from the evidence of just these two volumes, it is clear that he was an enormously erudite man with a piercing intellect. Abbot's approach is to locate the essence of a nation's character and historical spirit and then build the narrative around this central idea while weaving in penetrating analysis and opinion. A measure of the seriousness of Abbot's mind can be discerned in his closing comments: "In this Ocean of Oppression & Corruption, all resources are to be sought for by wise and Honest men, which may render them independent of the artificial wants of Society, & the arbitrary caprices of Sovereigns; - Virtues founded on principle rather than instinct; Principles, founded on solid experience, & indestructible by the Sophisms of false Philosophy; a constant Love of Liberty & unshaken Resolution to sacrifice everything to it".

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