LEEUWENHOEK, Antoni van (1632-1723). Ondervingen en beschouwingen der onsigtbare geschapene waarheden, vervat in verscheydene Brieven, geschreven aan de... Koninklijke Societeit in Engeland. Leiden: Daniel van Gaesbeeck, 1684.
4o (189 x 151mm). 10 engraved text illustrations.(Letter 39 with 4 engraved text illustrations bound out of sequence between letters 32 and 33, repair to margin of Ff1, just touching plate margin.) Contemporary half vellum and marbled boards (slight wear to edges).
FIRST EDITION, letters 32 and 33, and the first separately published edition of any of Leeuwenhoek's letters. "Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, who lacked formal university training in the sciences, philosophy, or languages, surely ranks among the greatest autodidacts in the history of science and medicine. Born into a comfortable middle-class Dutch family, he passed his long life almost entirely in Delft. There he had two careers: the first as a civil servant, the second as a microscopist of international renown... Although a man of limited theoretical skills, he was a consummately acute observer, and for fifty years he patiently and painstakingly documented the hidden realms of nature in a way no one had done before him" (Grolier Medicine). A skilled lens grinder, Leeuwenhoek produced a total of about 550 lenses during his lifetime, perfecting the microscope sufficiently to enable him to make unprecedented observations of sub-visible life. Although his ignorance of foreign languages forced him to rely on Dutch authors and Dutch translations of standard scientific works, he was aided and encouraged in his work by friends such as Constantin Huygens and Reinier de Graaf. One beneficial consequence of his relative isolation from the main currents of contemporary scientific scholarship was that "he was thus able to work with full independence and to make a sharp distinction between the empiricism and speculation that marked the sometimes chaotic world of seventeenth-century science. Leeuwenhoek apparently regarded speculation as an academic occupation... He usually set out his observations fully, as facts, and only then in a separate section, allowed himself to wonder what those facts might mean."
While his hundreds of observations included inorganic as well as organic structures, Leeuwenhoek's major contributions were in the field of microbiology: "Early in his career as a scientist, he observed what he described as animalcules or 'little animals' [dierkens] in water, and from then on he described in considerable detail a spectrum of microorganisms never before detected, including bacteria, protozoa, and rotifers" (Grolier Medicine). He devised for his observations a system of micrometry, utilizing as standards a grain of coarse sand, a hair from his beard, and two micro-organisms. One of Leeuwenhoek's lifelong concerns and the area of his work that most caught the attention of his contemporaries, was the study of sexual reproduction. His work includes the first full descriptions of spermatozoa, which he considered to be "little men," the origin of all new animal life, regarding the egg as primarily a source of nutrients (in opposition to Harvey, who took the contrary view). He also investigated the development of other mammals as well that of birds, fish, reptiles and mollusks, and the cumulative effect of his work was to provide evidence against the then prevalent theory of spontaneous generation. He independently discovered and correctly identified blood corpuscles, and, attempting to draw an analogy between animal and plant systems, minutely analyzed the systems of nutrient transport in plants.Although he developed no general theory, Leeuwenhoek's work raised crucial questions and helped establish the microsope as an indispensable tool for medical and biological research.
Leeuwenhoek's scientific communications consisted exclusively of letters to fellow scientists, the majority addressed to the Royal Society in London. 165 were published, in two chronological sequences, numbered 28-146 and I-XLIV (letters 1-27 were not published separately, although abstracts appeared in the Philosophical transactions). 120 letters were abstracted in English or Latin in volumes VIII-XXXII of the Transactions (1673-1723). "Leeuwenhoek himself did not publish his work until 1684, when he brought out some of his letters in Dutch [starting with letters 32 and 33]; from 1685 onward he also published Latin translations [not his own, as he had no knowledge of Latin]. He initially edited, reprinted, and reissued some of his letters separately or in groups of two or three, a practice that has resulted in some bibliograpical confusion. From 1687 he adopted a more systematic course of publication..." (DSB). All of the letters are illustrated with engravings; the artist is unknown. Dobell 1; see Grolier Medicine 37; see PMM 166; Waller 10887.4; Wellcome III, p. 476; Norman 1301.
Ondervindingen...waar in gehandeld werd vande eyerstok, ende derselver ingebeelde eyeren, dat een mensch uyt een dierken voort komt. Leiden: van Gaesbeeck, 1684. 7 engravings. FIRST EDITION of letters 37 and 39 (bound out of sequence between letters 32 and 33 see above), the latter, addressed to Franois Aston and dated 12 September 1683, containing Leeuwenhoek's famous description and illustration of bacteria scraped from his own teeth. "On the teeth he found certain micro-organisms and he gave the first illustrations of various kinds of bacteria (on 17 [i.e., 12] September, 1683), without realizing the special nature of this discovery and without connecting it with morbid infections; for this the world had to wait another one hundred and fifty years, in particular for the work of Pasteur" (PMM 166). Dobell 2; Norman 1303; Waller 10887.2; Wellcome III. p. 476.
Ontledingen en ontdekkingen van levende dierkens de teel-deelen van verscheyde dieren, vogelen en visschen; van het hout... van hair, vlees en vis. Leiden: Cornelis Boutesteyn, 1686. Additional engraved title by Romeyn de Hooghe, 3 engraved plates of which 2 large and folding, 7 engravings in text. (Title laid down). FIRST EDITION, letters 28-31 and 34-36. Dobell 8; Norman 1309; Waller 10887.1; Wellcome III, p. 476.
Ontledingen en ontdekkingen van de onsigtbare verborgentheden; vervat in verscheide brieven. Leiden: C. Boutesteyn, 1685. 18 engravings (some dampstaining, K4 with paper flaw to upper margin, affecting a few letters). FIRST EDITION, letters 38, 42 and 43. Dobell 5; Waller 10888; Wellcome III, p. 476.
Ontdekkingen en ontledingen van sout-figuren van verscheyden souten. Leiden: C. Boutesteyn, 1685. One engraved folding plate and 17 engravings in text (some dampstaining). FIRST EDITION, letters 44 and 45. Dobell 6; Wellcome III, p. 476.
Ontledingen en ontdekkingen van het begin der planten in de zaden van boomen. Leiden: Boutesteyn, 1685. One engraved folding plate, 25 engravings in text. FIRST EDITION, letters 46 and 47. Dobell 7; Norman 1308; Waller 10887.8; Wellcome III, p. 476.
Ondervingen en beschouwingen der onsigtbare geschapene waarheden, waar in gehandelt wert vande schobbens inde mond.. Koninklijke Societeit in Engeland. Leiden: Daniel van Gaesbeeck, 1684. 6 engraved text illustrations. FIRST EDITION, letter 40. Dobell 3; Norman 1305; Waller 10887.5; Wellcome III, p. 476.
Ondervindingen en beschouwingen over het maaksel van't Humor Cristallinus. Leiden: van Gaesbeeck, 1684. 5 engravings. FIRST EDITION, letter 41. Dobell 4; Norman 1306; Waller 10887.6; Wellcome III, p. 476.