6 December 2004
STENSEN, Niels (or STENO). De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus. Florence: "sub signo Stellae," 1669.
4o (218 x 148 mm). Title printed in red and black with engraved vignette. Folding plate with engraved diagram (old repair along fold with loss of some image) and explanatory letterpress (headline shaved, old repair along fold with loss of one line of text), woodcut head- and tailpieces and initial. Modern stiff vellum; cloth folding case. Provenance: University Library, Edinburgh (inkstamps on title, some text leaves and verso of plate).
FIRST EDITION OF STENO'S "GREAT WORK ... WHICH OUTLINES THE PRINCIPLES OF MODERN GEOLOGY ... The book presents only the outlines of a discussion, yet almost every sentence or paragraph contains new insights" (DSB XIII, p.34). Although brief in form -- the work contains 78 pages of text and one folding plate, and was only intended to be an introduction to a larger work that was never written -- the impact of De solido was far greater than its modest size suggests. Born in Copenhagen, and educated at the universities of Copenhagen and Leiden, Steno went to Italy in 1666, where he travelled to Florence, becoming physician to Grand Duke Ferdinand II (the dedicatee of the present work). Although a medical doctor by education and occupation (and later a celebrated anatomist), Steno was also deeply interested in geology and mineralogy. The research on which the present work is based was prompted by his dissection of the head of a large Carcharodon rondeletii caught near Leghorn. Investigating the teeth, Steno became aware of similarities with glossopetra (or tongue-stones) which were fossilised teeth generally considered to be types of stones, but were recognised by Steno as fossils. These researches, coupled with a geological analysis of the earth's crust in Tuscany, were published as De solido, in which he concluded that fossils had an animate origin (as Leonardo da Vinci and Fracastoro had believed); that rock formations had volcanic, chemical or mechanical causes and that stratigraphic analysis could establish a chronology of those formations; and that six categories of stratification (illustrated in the folding plate) could be identified. The work also includes 'the first formulated crystallography' (Dibner Heralds). Dibner Heralds 90; Grolier Science 96; Norman 2013; PMM 151; Waller 12170.
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