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A Treatise on Government. Translated from the Greek by William Ellis.


London, T. Payne, 1776. 4to. Very nice, contemporary full calf binding with five raised bands and gilt leather title-label to richly gilt spine. All edges of boards gilt. Front hinge weak. Leather at front hinge cracked, so cords are showing. An exceptionally nice and clean copy with only a tiny bit of occasional soiling or brownspotting. Very good, wide margins. Old owner's entry to title-page: "E.Sw." (2), XVIII, 428, (14, -Index) pp. ¶ The rare first translation into English from the original Greek of Aristotle's seminal "Politics", a key document in the history of Western political thought, which also greatly influenced late 18th and 19th century political thought in the English speaking world. "The Politics is one of Aristotle's most important works, having had an inestimable influence on political thought up until the present day." (From the synopsis and review of the Clarendon edition of Aristotle's Politics).

Before the present edition, the text of Aristotle's "Politics" was only known in English in the translation from the French (!) by Regious, which appeared in 1597 and which was not very popular nor influential. It was not until Ellis decided to translate the work that the English speaking world was actually presented with a proper translation, done from the original Greek, of this seminal document of political thought. According to Lowndes, the version of the text is "faithful and perspicious", and it was reprinted as soon as 1778. It is likely, for instance, that it is the present version of the text that the likes of Bentham and Mill have studied.

Aristotle's "Politics" is not only a monument of the Greek city state and an invaluable document portraying the world of Antiquity, it also constitutes the first reflexion of the conditions under which philosophy is possible within politics and thus the work that founded political thought. The influence that this work has had on later political thought is difficult to exaggerate, and the fact that the work became available in a translation into English directly from the original Greek has been of the utmost importance to the development of political thought in England and America.

"my recommendation (of the politics an not foremost another of aristotle's works) is owing to the subject it treats of: it must certainly excite every one's curiosity, to know how mankind originally conducted themselves in so very important a business as that of living together, and to trace the first origin of society from its primitive rudeness, through the various forms it has pursued, to the perfection, nay, and the depravation also, which at some periods it has arrived at: nor is this study less useful for the informing us of the nature of our own species, and pointing out the different excesses both of vice and virtue which it may arrive at... I do not recommend this work as containing a history of the various governments which have in different periods really existed in the world, but, as a valuable curiosity... as containing examples which may be copied with advantage in every age by every government, and reasoning which is founded on eternal truths... But with all the imperfections of this translation, and many the author fears will be found in it, he shall not regret his having presumed to offer it to the Public, although he should incur some censure on himself, if it occasions those who would never have perused the original, to acquire at least some knowledge of so valuable an ancient; and he should be still happier, if this attempt should induce any scholar of acknowledged abilities to pursue the plan and give the public more of this Author's valuable works in the English language (Preface, pp. XII - XVIII).

Lowndes, I:p.68.

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