DESCARTES, Ren (1596-1650). Principia philosophiae. Amsterdam: Louis Elzevir, 1644.
4o (202 x 155 mm). Printer's woodcut device on title, numerous woodcut illustrations and diagrams, some full-page. Contemporary vellum.
Provenance: Antoine Aemilius (1589-1666), professor of history at the University of Utrecht who was an enthusiastic contemporary supporter of Cartesian philosophy (signature dated 1644 on front free endpaper and his inscription "auctor dd." on title-page, and his? marginalia and underlining throughout); some early marginalia in another hand.
PRESENTATION COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION OF DESCARTES' SYSTEM OF PHYSICS, in which he developed his theory of vortices. Based in part on his then unpublished work Le monde, which treated the creation and function of the universe in completely mechanistic terms, Descartes' Principia provides a systematic statement of his metaphysics and natural philosophy. The first part, De principiis cognitionis humanae (Of the Principles of Human Knowledge) deals with the nature of motion, rest, force, and action. He defines motion in Book II and distinguishes the difference between translation and "the force that brings about this translation." Descartes was careful in the Principia to qualify his mechanistic Copernican views with the idea that all motion is relative. "His vortical theory allowed him to argue that since the earth is at rest in its surrounding medium it remains unmoved, although it, together with its entire vortex, necessarily circles the sun" (Norman). Descartes' system represents a truly comprehensive look at the universe in a fundamentally new, mechanistic and non-teleological way. His vortex theory was the starting point for all serious work in physical theory in the mid-17th century, including Newton. The fourth and final part of the work contains the first scientific theory of magnetism. Guibert, p. 118; Tchemerzine II, p. 787; Norman 622.
AN IMPORTANT ASSOCIATION COPY. Anton Aemelius, was a Dutch natural philospher who was a friend of Reneri, the first disciple and loyal supporter of Descartes. He was a key figure in the bitter dispute at the University of Utrecht between 1639 and 1640. "Reneri died in the middle of March 1639, and a friend of his Anton Aemelius, delivered a funeral oration at the University which extolled the virtues of Cartesian natural philosophy over the philosophies of the traditional professors at Utrecht. The publication of the eulogy, which gave it an official stamp of approval, caused some consternation among these professors, and the situation was exacerbated when Henri le Roy, better known as Regius, took up the Cartesian cause in a polemical and abrasive manner." The dispute that ensued turned into a lengthy public brawl in which Descartes and his philosophical doctrines became the subject of attack. See Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes: an intellectual biography (Oxford, 1997), pp. 352-53.
DESCARTES, Ren. Specimina philosophiae: seu dissertatio de methodo ... dioptrice, et meteora. Translated into Latin from French by Estienne de Courcelles. Amsterdam: Louis Elzevir, 1644. 4o. Printer's woodcut device on title, numerous woodcut illustrations and diagrams in text. FIRST LATIN EDITION of the Discours (see lot 407), which omits the treatise Gometri. It includes the first appearance of the Cartesian sound-bite: "cogito, ergo sum." Although separate works, these two Elzevir publications often appear together. Guibert, p. 104; NLM/Krivatsy 3116; Tchemerzine II, p. 777; Willems 1008; Norman 623.