In Benjamin Disraeli’s memoir of his father, he mentions in passing an outline of the publication history of the latter’s Curiosities of Literature. He writes that the first volume was issued in 1791, a second followed in 1794, a third in 1817, and three more in 1823. For some time I took this account at face-value, and blithely supposed that the book had undergone a simple process of accretion, with each edition revised and enlarged from the one before. I was only disabused of this notion on my first perusal of the first volume of the fourth edition (1798), which is presented on-line by Google Print. This proved to be suprisingly different to the Victorian versions of the book I had grown familiar with. Not only had many articles been added in later versions of the Curiosities, but many others had been radically reworked, and others still discreetly retired.
The Curiosities’ bibliography was evidently more complex than I'd naïvely supposed. Having scraped together a good deal of scattered information about it from the internet, and having supplemented this with the bibliographical information in James Ogden’s 1968 biography of D’Israeli, the following represents the current extent of my knowledge.
The first edition of the book was published anonymously in 1791, in the form of a single octavo volume. A second edition followed the year after. In 1793, ‘volume the second’ appeared, which was the first instalment of Curiosities to bear D’Israeli’s name. The same busy year saw a third edition of the first volume, and (1793/4) a second edition of the second volume. A two-volume fourth edition was published in 1798, only slightly expanded from the third. The first nineteenth-century edition, the two-volume fifth of 1807, saw extensive revisions: several new articles were added, many more were omitted, and, of the remainder, most were at least slightly amended, and many were rewritten throughout. The sixth edition of 1817 was the first to run to three volumes, the third of which contained thirty-three new articles. The ‘second series’ of Curiosities was first published in 1823, as a three volume set, alongside a five-volume edition of the first series: its seventh edition. The new series was reprinted the following year, without any further additions, as was the the first series—albeit this time in three volumes: I presume this qualifies as the eighth edition, although it doesn’t seem to have been sold as such. All of these were published in London by John Murray.
The ninth edition was published by Edward Moxon in 1834, and comprised six duodecimo volumes. The tenth, in contrast, which came out four years later, contained the same text in a single small quarto volume. The following year saw an eleventh edition, including a new preface which alluded to a recent polemic between D’Israeli and the writer Bolton Corney. This was punctually followed by a twelfth (1841) and a thirteenth edition, the last to be issued in D’Israeli’s lifetime. A fourteenth edition, again published by Moxon, and this time in three volumes, was issued posthumously, having been edited, and augmented by a memoir and notes, by the then Rt. Hon. Benjamin Disraeli. This was published in 1849. Further posthumous editions followed in 1851 and 1854.
The first collected edition of D’Israeli’s Works was published in 1858-9 by Warne, Routledge and Warne, and comprised seven volumes of which three housed the Curiosities. The same company also sold these three volumes as a standalone set. In 1865, this publishing house split into two distinct companies: George Routledge & Sons and Frederick Warne & Co. The following year, Routledge issued a new single-volume Curiosities. I suspect that the undated, single-volume ‘George Routledge & Sons’ copy I have been using as my primary source for this project is a later reprint of this 1866 edition, most likely the one issued in 1885. Its text is not based on the ‘definitive’ fourteenth edition, but rather on the 1823 seventh ed. and the first edition of the ‘new series.’ Warne & Co. issued a new edition of the collected Works of D’Israeli, this time in six volumes, in 1881. A reprint of this edition issued by Georg Olms Verlag in 1969 has been my secondary source for this on-line edition. The Works’ editor had since been ennobled, & now wrote as Lord Beaconsfield. I suspect that the Curiosities as they appear in these volumes are little different to those of the 1849 14th edition, aside from the addition of a few extra footnotes.
Beyond the British Isles, there were North American reprints and editions of the Curiosities issued variously in Philadelphia, Boston and New York, and a three-volume set of them was issued under the imprint of Baudry’s European Library, in Paris, 1835. There were also translations into French and Swedish (and probably other languages too).
In his article on The Bibliomania, D’Israeli made the following observations:
It has frequently happened, […], that in second editions, the author omits, as well as adds, or makes alterations from prudential reasons; the displeasing truths which he corrects, as he might call them, are so many losses incurred by Truth itself. There is an advantage in comparing the first with subsequent editions; for among other things, we feel great satisfaction in tracing the variations of a work, when a man of genius has revised it. There are also other secrets, well known to the intelligent curious, who are versed in affairs relating to books.
It is apt, perhaps, that this text only appears in 19th-century versions of the article. Whether D’Israeli dwelt on these points in relation to his own work-in-progress is open to question. Certainly the 18th century editions of the Curiosities have a callowness about them which might have displeased their ageing author enough to offset the ‘losses to Truth’ he sustained by ‘correcting’ or suppressing some of its text. Whatever the fact of the matter, it is hard to disagree with another observation of D’Israeli’s, this time from his article on The Suppressors and Dilapidators of Manuscripts:
There is more philosophy in editions than some philosophers are aware of.