London: T. Jefferys, 1768. 1st Edition. Quarto, modern three-quarter calf over marbled paper-covered boards, raised bands, red morocco label, spine elaborately gilt.
First edition in English of the Nakaz Yekateriny Velikoy, or "Instruction of Catherine the Great," intended as a set of guidelines for a Russian legal code to be modeled on modern, liberal European principles. Catherine II was a great patron of the arts and a student of the Enlightenment, particularly of the French philosophes, among them Diderot and Voltaire, with whom she corresponded. In 1767, early in her rule, she convened an assembly tasked with enacting broad legal and social reforms, and to that purpose herself composed the Nakaz. Based in part on the writings of Montesquieu and the Italian jurist Beccaria, the document asserted that all men should be considered equal before the law, and that laws should protect people and not oppress them. While it pointedly upheld a system of absolutist monarchy, it called capital punishment, torture, and the institution of serfdom into question. The assembly was hamstrung by its more conservative elements, however, and ultimately dissolved without enacting any reforms. Catherine went on to issue a series of incremental modernizing decrees over the course of her 34-year reign, pursuing a form of enlightened despotism, and presided over what came to be seen as a golden age. Her Nakaz quickly circulated throughout Europe, anticipating the spirit of the great national constitutions that followed. This English edition was among the first to appear in another language, and was done from Catherine's own translation into Russian from her original French draft. The translator, Mikhail Tatishchev, was a diplomat stationed in London, and his is thought to be the first translation of a book into English by a Russian. With a preface by Tatishchev, table of contents, and list of errata. Included in Yale Law School's 2012 exhibit "Monuments of Imperial Russian Law," curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener. Light soiling to title-page, small ink stain to outer margin of two or three leaves only, text otherwise crisp and bright; modern binding fine. A lovely copy of one of the major documents of Russian history and the Enlightenment. Rare. Item #339