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    Sale 5808

    Travel, Science & Natural History

    8 April 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 23

    PLAYFAIR, John (1748-1819). Illustrations of the Huttonian theory of the earth. Edinburgh: for Cadell and Davies (London), and William Creech (Edinburgh), 1802. 8° (228 x 142 mm). (Some light occasional browning and foxing). Original blue boards, uncut, contained in folding cloth case (recent reback with new light-blue paper spine). Provenance: WILLIAM HERSCHEL (1738-1822), astronomer (signature on title, later Herschel Library inkstamp on title and A1r; presumably the intended recipient of the presentation inscription 'From the author' on verso of front free endpaper); Robert Honeyman IV (Sotheby's London, 10 November 1980, lot 2498).

    Price Realised  

    PLAYFAIR, John (1748-1819). Illustrations of the Huttonian theory of the earth. Edinburgh: for Cadell and Davies (London), and William Creech (Edinburgh), 1802. 8° (228 x 142 mm). (Some light occasional browning and foxing). Original blue boards, uncut, contained in folding cloth case (recent reback with new light-blue paper spine). Provenance: WILLIAM HERSCHEL (1738-1822), astronomer (signature on title, later Herschel Library inkstamp on title and A1r; presumably the intended recipient of the presentation inscription 'From the author' on verso of front free endpaper); Robert Honeyman IV (Sotheby's London, 10 November 1980, lot 2498).

    FIRST EDITION. UNUSUAL PRESENTATION COPY OF ONE OF THE MOST CONSPICUOUS LANDMARKS IN THE PROGESS OF BRITISH GEOLOGY. Playfair, a professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh and a friend of James Hutton, revised Hutton's Theory of the earth to present his case more precisely. In doing so, Playfair has been described as Hutton's Boswell (Gould, p.15). 'Playfair's principal mathematical work was his "Elements of Geometry" ... but the work which will always be most prominently associated with his name is the "Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth," on which he spent five years. This work is a model of purity of diction, simplicity of style, and clearness of explanation. It not only gave popularity to Hutton's theory, but helped to create the modern science of geology' (DNB). Playfair distilled Hutton's theory into three sections taking up the first 140pp. of the present work, with the remainder, some 388pp., entitled 'Notes and additions'. Playfair's linear vision of time and his insistence that incessant processes, rather than Huttonian cycles, are at work, led to some important modifications to Hutton's theory, accomodating the idea of extinction, and with it a unique prehistoric past. This is important, since it was in Playfair's form that Hutton's theory was mostly digested. Challinor 54; Grolier Science 52b; Norman 1717; Dennis Dean, James Hutton and the history of geology, 1992; Stephen Jay Gould, Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time, 1987.


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