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Edmund Burke and the Annual Register or a View of History, Politics and Literature

In 1758 Edmund Burke approached the London publisher Robert Dodsley with a proposal to publish an annual journal of historical, scientific and literary developments affecting England, its colonies and the world. Dodsley accepted and in the following year published the "Annual Register or View of the History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1758." Burke did most of the writing and editing of the Annual Register in the early years and his involvement with the Annual Register continued for about thirty years. The publication still exists today and is published by Keesling Worldwide and records the major events in every country in the world. The volumes offered here are primarily from the period of Burke's involvement and up to the 1820s, but we do have some later volumes, including those covering the American Civil War.

Our interest began when we picked up a bedraggled copy of the 1776 Annual Register at a used book auction and we were amazed by the quality of the writing and the events and documents covered. Not only did it have a very early printing of the Declaration of Independence and a lucid history of the start of the Revolutionary War, but it had Burke's book reviews of the economics classic, Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," and the first volume of one of the greatest history books of all time, Edward Gibbon's "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire!"  Thereafter we began to buy individual volumes and multi-volume sets of the Annual Register covering the French and Indian War, the prelude to the Revolutionary War (the Stamp Act, Boston Massacre and Tea Party), the Revolutionary War, the American Founding period (including a very early publication of the text of the Constitution), the French Revolution, the Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson and the War of 1812. As we read more of these wonderful books and read about them, numerous gems were discovered, some of which are listed below.

The historical writing on these books is so accurate and its prose so clear and elegant that it was extensively plagiarized in many very respectable histories published in England and America (See, e.g.,  W. Gordon, History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of American Independence," 4 vols. 1788  and The History of the American Revolution, by David Ramsay, (Philadelphia: R. Aitken, 1789 and republished as late as 1990). (Defending the plagiarism by Ramsay, one web site notes that, "Each issue of the Annual Register, published continuously from 1758, contained a superb “History of Europe” section which for some years was written by Edmund Burke... the “History of Europe” was a comprehensive, beautifully written narrative that had the additional merit of being written from an English Whig (and, therefore, an anti-war or pro-American) standpoint.) Other books are explicit compilations of the Annual Register, some of recent vintage (See, e. g., A Compleat History of the Late War, or Annual Register of its Rise, Progress, and Events in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, 2 Volumes. J. A. Wright. David Steel, London, 1765, and Murdoch, David (ed). Rebellion in America: Contemporary British Viewpoint 1765-83. Clio Books, 1979. Arranged by year. Facsimile reprint of the Annual Register).

We offer all of the volumes listed below, either individually or as a part of a multi-volume set, many in valuable first editions, which were published from a few months to a couple of years after the year upon which they report. Clicking your mouse on the hyperlinked dates below will provide you more information on the contents of the volume and the prices of our available inventory.  

In addition to the individual volumes described below we have a number of  multi-volume sets of late 1700s and early 1800s volumes of the Annual Register These are mostly composed of rare 1st editions and books in leather bindings. One of these sets have an interesting association with both Edmund Burke and Florence Nightingale through the Verney family that owned them.

Go To Multi-Volume Sets

Individual Volumes of the Annual Register

1758: The first volume contains Edmund Burke's preface explaining the design of the Annual Registers and what will distinguish it from other publications.  The highlight of the volume is Burke's  "History of the Present War" reporting on the first truly world war called the Seven Years War in Europe, where the combatants included England, France, Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Austria and battles where fought not only in Europe but in India and North America, where it was called the French and Indian War. This much ignored conflict in American education is one of the principal reason Americans speak English rather than French. Burke's review of the first years of the war, when England was losing battles throughout the world, is a tour de force of political, diplomatic and military history. You can see a sample of his writing in the 1758 volume description.

The initial volume of this great series was divided into eight sections: The History of the Present War; The Chronicle: State Papers; Characters; Extraordinary Adventures; Miscellaneous Essays; Poetry; and Account of Books. This structure of the Annual Register generally was maintained throughout the 18th Century with the exception that instead of "The History of the Present War" the first section evolved into the "History of Europe" and instead of "Extraordinary Adventures" new sections were added on Natural History, Antiquities and Useful Projects. The history section that reviewed the significant military and political events of each year and the book review section at the end of each volume were sections that Burke continued to give attention to for the next 30 years. 

Other Characters and events reported upon in the 1758 volume include "Sufferings of the persons in the black-hole at Calcutta," "Account of Calmucks and Cossacks," a character study of Voltaire by the King of Prussia and articles on Queen Elizabeth, The Duke of Marlborough and Montesquieu. Literary contributions include a book review of the "Memoirs of the life of Sir Thomas More," "A discourse on the study of the Law" and an "Essay on Taste" by Montesquieu.

1759: This volume starts the great debate between the conservative Edmund Burke and the intellectual godfather of the French Revolution, socialism and communism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In this volume Burke published his first comments on Rousseau. Burke's commentary on Rousseau continues in the 1762 Annual Register volume and culminates in Burke's attack on Rousseau contained in his 1791 "Letter to a Member of the National Assembly."

This volume also contains the first published review of another great of the 18th century, the moral philosopher and economist of capitalism, Adam Smith. See the volume description for more of what Burke has to say about Rousseau and Adam Smith as well as more information on the contents.

The French and Indian War receive lot of attention with the famous battle of Quebec between Generals Wolfe and Montcalm reported in full as well as the feats of an American original, Sir William Johnson, who defeats the French at Fort Niagara with a force of British troops, colonial militia and Indians from the Five Nations.

1760: This is another interesting early volume of this series that is full of history and curiosities. It includes major coverage of the French and Indian War and its related conflicts in Europe and India as well as the battles with Cherokee Indians in the Carolinas; character studies, including the recently departed George Frideric Handel of Messiah fame; articles on the "Assassins of Syria," and the "black hole of Calcutta;" book reviews, including a book on Scottish law that rebuts the various rationales for slavery in America and England and the The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (recently made into a movie); and reports on the death of George II and the ascension to the British throne of George III, who later bungled relations with the American colonies. Further details on the contents are provided in the 1760 volume description.

1761: Fans of royalty will find a treat here in the extensive account of the wedding and coronation of George III while the military history buff will find more reports on the war in Europe between the major powers. This volume has an interesting early report of the exploration of Alaska and the Northwest coast of America in which they conclude that native Americans are descended from the same people populating the Northeast coast of Asia. Two more American interest stories are the an account of the history of the "Buccaneers of America" and a temporary abatement of the Indians wars in the Carolinas through a treaty with the Cherokee nation.  Also included is Edmund Burke's book review of "The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Accession of Henry VII," by David Hume. For more information and pictures of this volume, click here.

1762: The highlight of this volume is Burke's book review of "Emilius and Sophia: or, A new System of Education. Translated from the French of J. J. Rousseau, Citizen of Geneva." This was Jean-Jacques Rousseau's most popular work and one that was quickly banned and burned in pre-Revolutionary France. There are 16 pages devoted to Rousseau's work including excerpted text and Burke's commentary. Burke writes,

"To know what the received notions are upon any subject, is to know with certainty what those of Rousseau are not. In his treatise on the inequality amongst mankind, he has shown his man in a natural state; in his Emilius he undertakes to educate him...In this system of education there are some very considerable parts that are impracticable, others that are chimerical; and not a few highly blameable, and dangerous both to piety and morals."

The war in Europe continues and the addition of a new participant, Spain, results in the British invasion of Cuba, which 10 months later results in the British taking over Florida, which eventually rebounds to the benefit of the United States. See the volume description for more information on the interesting contents.

1763: This is the famous map volume of the Annual Register. It contains four fold-out maps by the King's cartographer Thomas Kitchens, including a map of North America which shows the American colonies as the appear at the end of the French and Indian War and on the eve of Independence. The end of the French and Indian War also gives rise to a Royal Decree included in this volume which granted land to military men in the colonies, split the newly acquired colony of Florida and reserved a large amount of land to American Indians which later was to be a considerable source of conflict because it impaired westward expansion.

In this volume Edmund Burke also reviews some notable books including the letters of the amazing Lady Mary Montagu who recorded her travels to Turkey and her examination of Muslim culture and practices, including inoculation for small pox which she brought news of and promoted when she returned to England. To see pictures of the valuable 1763 maps and more information on Lady Montagu and and the King's decree concerning the colonies, click here.

1776: This volume is the cream of the crop for collectors of rare printed Americana. It has the full text of the Declaration of Independence and the first government of the United States, the Articles of Confederation. It has contemporaneous reports of the miraculous erection of the works on Dorchester Heights which caused the British army to evacuate Boston and of British Governor Lord Dunmore's proclamation emancipating slaves who would fight against the colonies. It has extensive accounts of the Revolutionary War as well as the Parliamentary debates on the war and it ends with Edmund Burkes reviews of two great books published that year, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and Edward Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire! 529 pages packed with early publication of historic documents and accounts of momentous historic event. Read more about this spectacular volume here.

1781: The Annual Register for the year 1781 covers important developments in the Revolutionary War which finally convinced the British public and Parliament that they could not "bring the American colonies to obedience." The most important battle of the war that convinced the British of that conclusion was the defeat of Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown by the Continental Army under George Washington and the French Army under comte de Rochambeau. This volume provides extensive coverage of that battle and the events that led to that decisive battle (e.g., the Battle of Guildford Court House, Greensboro, North Carolina). It also covers the actions of the notorious traitor Benedict Arnold, who was rewarded with the rank of British Brigadier General, in his exploits in Virginia and his raid on New London and Groton, Connecticut. The capture, trial and hanging of Arnold's co-conspirator and spy, British Major Andre, are also covered in great detail.   Captured letters from George Washington and John Adams concerning the progress of the war and its finances are also provided in full text in the State Papers section. To learn more about this important Revolutionary War volume click here.

1783: The highlight of this volume is the acknowledgement by the King of England and the British Parliament that their former colonies in America were free and independent states. In this volume that acknowledgement comes in a variety of forms, the full text of the speech of King George III in December 1782 in which he notes his offer "to declare them free and independent states," the full text of the September 1783 peace treaty between the United States and England signed by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, and an extended history of the peace negotiations and significance of the treaty provisions.

There are two more interesting historical items in this volume that flowed directly from those peace negotiations. The first was settling account with France, the biggest financial and military supporter of America during the war and the second was the resignation of George Washington as head of the Continental Army and his advice to his troops, Congress and Governors, in which he argues for the creation of a stronger federal government. More on Washington's letters and orders and the treaties ending the Revolutionary War are here.

1787: This important volume of the Annual Register contains the full text of the United States Constitution published the year George Washington became President and the first Congress convened in 1789!. This seminal document of the American Founding is accompanied by George Washington's transmittal letter to Congress.

Also in this volume are an interesting excerpt from Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia concerning a speech by Logan, a Mingo Chief to Lord Dunmore when Governor of Virginia in 1774 that later included in Washington Irving's  Sketch Book and the McGuffey Readers. Also included are correspondence to and from Benjamin Franklin concerning how to remedy smoking chimneys and a useful hygrometer. The first signs of liberty cracking monarchial control in France, attributed in part to the strong whiff of freedom coming from America and the costs of French support for the American War of Independence, are noted in great detail for the Annual Register smells the revolution that soon will consume France. To see the very early publication of the United States Constitution and more information on this volume go here.

Many more individual volumes of the Annual Registers are available, including all the gaps between the years mentioned above and those from 1788 though 1820 as well as scattered years through the American Civil War.  If you are interested in any of those before we get time to post them just sent us an email and we will provide information on condition and price.

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