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DIGBY, KENELME. - [A LANDMARK OF 17TH CENTURY NATURAL SCIENCE]

Two Treatises in the one of which, The Nature of Bodies; in the Other, The Nature of the Sovle; is Loked into: In Way of Discovery; of the Immortality of Reasonable Sovles.

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Paris, Gilles Blaizot, 1644. Folio. A lovely later green full calf binding with six raised bands, gilt ornamentations and gilt leather title-label to spine. Gilt frames to boards and all edges of boards gilt. All edges gilt. Title-page a bit dusty, with old owner's name, and with a neat repair to blank margin (from verso). A very nice copy indeed. Woodcut vignettes and initials. (44), 466 pp. ¶ The very rare first edition of Digby's seminal main work, which comprises his two treatises, "The Nature of Bodies" and "The Nature of Man's Soul". The two treatises were first printed as is seen here, together, in folio, in Paris, in 1644, they were reprinted the following year in London, in 4to, and again in 1658 and 1669. The book constitutes a landmark work of 17th century natural science, "It is the first fully developed expression of atomism or corpuscular theory, the first important defense of Harvey on the circulation in English; a modern presentation of the nervous system predating Descartes; and a ground-breaking work in embryology. It also contains the first recorded patch-test for allergy; the fullest early account in English of teaching lip-reading; and material on conditioning anticipating Pavlov." (Rubin and Huston, Digby, a Bibliography, p. 12).

After having lost his wife in 1633, the English-born natural philosopher and occult scientist, Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), had settled in France, where he came into contact with Hobbes and Mersenne and came to know Descartes, whom he visited in Holland, and whom he corresponded with. Digby was an early member of the Royal Society, and he was also famous for his alchemical recipes, which he shared with the likes of Robert Boyle.

According to D.S.B., The most important piece of work by Digby is the first of the two treatises published here, "The Nature of Bodies". "Here he displays clarity and logic of approach that show his appreciation of Descartes... He discusses motion extensively but qualitatively, although with many admiring references to Galileo's "Two New Sciences" (1638), which not many had read in 1644; he includes Galileo's statement of the law of falling bodies but criticizes Galileo for taking too narrow and strictly functional a view (as Descartes also criticized him)." (D.S.B., IV:96). However, the two treatises are closely linked, and the main purpose of the second, "The Nature of Man's Soul" is to show the immortality of the rational soul, a main concern of philosophers and natural scientists since ancient Greece. The tretise on the body is based on atomistic ideas of Descartes and Gassendi, and Digby sets out to reconstruct the physical world atomistically, thus creating the first fully developed atomistic system of the 17th century, which through Newton and Boyle became the foundation of modern chemistry and physics.

Besides his huge influence within these fields, Digby here also, with his theories on the operations of body and soul, i.e. man's senses and mind, provides groundbreaking analysis within the fields of MEDICINE (his defense of Harvey's theory of blood circulation, also being acquainted with Descarte's objections; his own experimental observations, with which he proved that the heart beats by itself; his statement of reflex action, which was based on his observations of motor loss and sensory retention, which made him one of the early supporters of the modern conception of the nervous system), BIOLOGY (with his question of epigenesis as opposed to preformation, which he is practically the first to do since Albertus Magnus, whom he also translated; before Harvey and Malpighi, he expresses a surprisingly modern conception of embryonic development making him the main embryologist of the time and a reformer within this field; he is also the main authority on theories of heredity of his time), PSYCHIATRY (with his experiments and quite accurate ideas of conditioned reflexes he anticipates the theories of Pavlov; he conducts the first recorded patch-test, distinguishing psychological aversion from physical allergy).

In this work, Digby also presents for the very first time in English the new lip-reading technique for the deaf and dumb developed by the Spanish priest Bonet, and thus the first English book on the subject (1648) quotes Digby's work.

"Digby's earliest scientific work and his most important..." (Honeyman, II:877). Wellcome II:468 only has the London editions from 1645, 1658 and 1669. "This was issued, containing the author's system of philosophy, after he had had a number of conversations with Descartes... Chapter 26 deals with the circulation of the blood... Dr. Fulton (Sir Kenelm Digby, 1937) has pointed out the great importance of Digby's experiments on the heart - described in this work - by which he destroyed Descartes' objections to Harvey's conclusion on the circulation of the blood." (Duveen, 172). Partington 2: 424.

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