Leyden, Ian Maire, 1637.
4to [207 x 155 mm / 7,9 x 5,9 inches] of 78 pages, (1) l., 413 pp., (1) p. of notice and (18) ll., the last one blank. Full fawn calf, gilt fillet on the covers, spine ribbed, mottled edges, minor restorations. Elegant contemporary Parisian binding.
“Precious first edition of Descartes’ masterpiece.”
Tchemerzine, II, 776; PMM, 129; Horblit, One hundred book famous in science, 24; En Français dans le texte n°90; Dibner, Heralds, 81 (“The Dioptrique contains the earliest statement of Willebrord Snell’s law of refraction”); Norman Library, 621.
After Galileo’s sentence in 1633, Descartes had made a resolution not to print any book during his lifetime. From Holland where his aspiration for loneliness and isolation had driven him, the philosopher still corresponds with his nearest and dearest. It is in the face of their entreaties that he gave in and published in 1637 an anthology of his researches to which he gave the meaning of a peculiar and personal process.
After having thought of entrusting the Elsevier and then a Parisian printer with his work, Descartes ended dealing with the bookseller and printer Ian Maire established in Leyden, in return 200 author’s copies.
Founding work written in French in order to be more intelligible and accessible the Discourse on the Method marks a considerable step in the advancement of western thought in the 17th century.
The Discourse on the Method is followed by 3 scientific reports “La Dioptrique”, “Geometry” and the Meteors, abundantly illustrated with woodcuts.
Besides Descartes mentions Harvey’s discoveries on blood circulation (Exercitadio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis, 1628). It is the first discussion on this matter by a French philosopher.
The Discourse on the Method is divided in six parts. Descartes presents an outline at the beginning of the work “In the first, will be found various considerations touching Sciences. In the second, the main rules of the method which the author has been searching for. In the third, some of the rules of Morals which he has deduced from this Method. In the fourth, the reasons by which he establishes the existence of God and of the human soul, which are the foundations of his Metaphysics. In the fifth, the order of the Physical questions which he has investigated, and, in particular, the explanation of the motion of the heart and of some other difficulties which are part of Medicine, as also the difference between the soul of a man and that of the beasts. And in the last, what the Author believes to be required in order to greater advancement in the investigation of Nature than has yet been made, with the reasons that have induced him to write.” The author presents as well in the first part his biography until 1619.
Like most of important scientific books, the price of the Discourse on the Method greatly increased in the past twenty years.
The best condition for the international market is obviously a copy in contemporary binding.
Three copies preserved in contemporary vellum, without a significant provenance, appeared on the market in the last few years: the first one was sold for 180 000 €, “Beguin’s copy described with ‘restored wormholes in the margin of several leaves and some fowing’; Paris, 2006.” The second one for 247 000 €, “a copy sold by Christie’s London on June 2nd 2004, lot n°54 described as “a little light browning, a few spot’; the third one offered already 12 years ago in New York, was knocked down for 200 000 €.
A precious copy, preserved in its elegant contemporary Parisian binding.