2 DESCARTES, René. Opera philosophica/ Virtual Book Fair 106


Description: Great Elzevier edition of three of the greatest works of modern Western thought: on physics, philosophy and emotions

Opera philosophica. Editio tertia, nunc demum hac editione diligenter recognita, & mendis expurgata.
(1) Principia philosophiae.
(2) Specimina philosophiae: seu Dissertatio de methodo ...: dioptrice, et meteora.
(3) Passiones animae, ...

[each part-title:] Amsterdam, Louis & Daniel Elzevier, 1656. 3 parts in 1 volume. 4to. Contemporary vellum, sewn on 4 vellum tapes, laced through the joints, title in ink on spine. With a general title-page without imprint and 3 part-titles, each part-title with the same Elzevier woodcut olive-tree device, part 1 with an engraved portrait of the author by Frans van Schooten, dated 1644, with a 6-line verse by Constantijn Huygens, and parts 1 & 2 with numerous woodcut diagrams and other illustrations in the text (some full-page). Further with woodcut tailpieces and decorated initials (3 series). [40], 222; [16], 248; [24], 92, [4] pp.

The third edition of the Latin Opera philosophica, a cornerstone of modern Western thought by René Descartes (1596-1650), containing three of his greatest works, printed and published together, but with separate title-pages and each with its own pagination and series of quire signatures, so that they could also be sold separately: Principia philosophiae, (first edition 1644), Specimina philosophiae (first published in French 1637, first Latin edition 1644) and Passiones animae (first published in French 1649, first Latin edition 1650). The Principia (Principles of Philosophy) was the first general summary of the laws of physics as we now understand them and was a major influence on Newton's Principia. It is extensively illustrated. The Specimina (Discourse of a method) is, as the English title suggests, primarily devoted to the method that one can use to gain understanding. It contains Descartes's most famous statement, "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). Its general discourse is followed by examples of the method applied to optics and meteorology, both extensively illustrated. The Passiones (Passions of the soul) is an innovative analysis of happiness & unhappiness, passion and ethics as physical phenomena, recognizing the benefits of all three, when not taken to excess. All three works are here in their fourth Elzevier editions, the first to be corrected by Frans or Franciscus van Schooten, junior, who also added his own commentary to the Specimina philosophiae: "Animadversiones in dioptricam". These editions became the standard texts followed by the later editions from various publishers, whose title-pages often copy the statement that the text has been corrected. The 1656 Janssonius editions take their texts from the third Elzevier editions and perhaps for that reason are supposed to precede the present editions, which are therefore considered the fifth editions overall. The portrait of Descartes was drawn in 1644 by Frans van Schooten (probably senior), but engraved later (probably by Van Schooten junior) and first published (separately) in 1650. It was not included in the Opera philosophica until the present 1656 edition, where it appears in its second state.
Louis Elzevier published the first Latin editions of all three works separately, in 1644, 1644 and 1650. When he published the first edition of Descartes's philosophical works in 1650 he gave it the general title Opera philosophica. Editio secunda, treating his own first Latin editions of the separately published individual works as the first edition, even though they were never issued with a general title-page (in fact, the first edition of the Passiones animae was in a different format). Van Otegem, however, notes a second edition of the Opera philosophica, also dated 1650 and with the same title, including the (now correct!) notice that it is the second edition, but with the text of all three works revised. The present edition therefore correctly calls itself the third edition. The contents on the back of the general title-page lists a fourth work, the Meditationes de prima philosophia, before the present three, but it was published separately in 1654, Elzevier did not publish its first Latin edition, it did not follow the same series of revisions and reprintings as the other three, and Van Otegem notes that it is "the odd one out ... often bound separately": those who bought it in1654 would have wanted to buy the other three works without it in 1656.
With an owner's monogram on the title-page and a small number of marginal annotations, both early and modern. With some water stains in the preliminaries of the first work and occasional slight browning, but still in good condition. One of the most important editions of a cornerstone of modern thought, printed and published by the Amsterdam Elzeviers in their heyday, when their printing and publishing house had eclipsed their family's older one in Leiden.
Berghman 373; Copinger 1369; Van Otegem, pp. 687-689 (the 3 parts pp. 270-272, 47-49, 377-379); Rahir 1222; Willems 1196; for the portrait: Holstein, XXVI, p. 58, no. 1/II.
  • Number: 1060009
  • Dealer: Speculum Orbis Nauticum