Beccaria, Cesare (1734-1794).
Dei delitti e delle pene.... [Livorno, Marco Coltellini for Giuseppe Aubert], 1764.
4° (204x150 mm). 104 pages. Lacking the final leaf with the errata. Woodcut headpiece on fol. A2r. Contemporary vellum, over pasteboards. A very good, wide-margined copy. Minor, and sporadic foxing to the first and last leaves.
The first edition of one of the most important works of the Italian Enlightenment. A manifesto on legal reform, and one of the best interpretations of the ideas circulating around France in the second half of the eighteenth century.
The young Milanese nobleman Cesare Beccaria Bonesana composed this work between March 1763 and January 1764, while he was an active member of the intellectual circle known as the Accademia dei pugni, founded in Milan in 1762 by the brothers Alessandro and Pietro Verri, and Beccaria himself, among others. The central theme of the work is the reform of criminal justice, in a context in which punishment was still both brutal and arbitrary. Beccaria advocates an egalitarian justice system, and traces a new metric for punishment and laws rooted in the concept of public happiness. “One of the most influential books in the whole history of criminology [...] Beccaria maintained that the gravity of the crime should be measured by its injury to society and that the penalties should be related to this. The prevention of the crime he held to be of greater importance than its punishment [...] his ideas have now become so commonplace that it is difficult to appreciate their revolutionary impact at the time” (PMM).
The work enjoyed wide and immediate success, and its influence was enormous. Voltaire, d'Alembert, Helvétius, Holbach, Hume and Hegel all counted among its enthusiastic readers; Beccaria's ideas also inspired justice reforms introduced by Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, Emperor Joseph II, and Catherine II of Russia, and its influence on constitutionalism broadly, especially the Declarations des droits de l'homme of 1789, is likewise evident.
The Dei delitti e delle pene was published in Livorno (Tuscany) – then one of the most advanced cities in Italy – on 12 April 1764, anonymous and without indication of place, for fear of repercussions owing to its strong egalitarianism. The printer Coltellini had already published, in 1763, the Meditazioni sulla felicità by Pietro Verri, Beccaria's closest friend. The 'innovative' feature of the reform proposed by Beccaria was, however, perceived by the Roman censorship, and in 1766 Dei delitti e delle pene was included in the Index of Forbidden Books. A good sign, as Beccaria admonishes: if a government needs censorship, it comes from the weakness of its constitution.
The work was translated into English in 1767, and On Crimes and Punishments “significantly shaped the views of American revolutionaries and lawmakers. The first four U.S. Presidents – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – were inspired by Beccaria's treatise and, in some cases, read it in the original Italian. On Crimes and Punishments helped to catalyze the American Revolution, and Beccaria's anti-death penalty views materially shaped American thought on capital punishment, torture and cruelty.” (J. D. Bessler, “The Italian Enlightenment and the American Revolution”, p. 1).
The first edition also appeared with an errata leaf containing twenty-one corrections, likely printed as a separate sheet, and thus now scarcely found; as with most copies, the errata leaf is missing in the present copy.
Einaudi 3362; PMM 209; B. E. Harcourt, Beccaria's 'On Crimes and Punishments': A Mirror on the History of the Foundations of Modern Criminal Law, Chicago 2013; M. Palumbo – E. Sidoli (eds.), The Books that Made Europe, Bruxelles 2016, pp. 248-249; J. D. Bessler, “The Italian Enlightenment and the American Revolution: Cesare Beccaria's Forgotten Influence on American Law”, Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 37.1 (2017; accessed January 2018); Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 241.