Spallanzani, Lazzaro. 1729-1799
Opuscules de Physique, Animale et Végétale. A Geneve: Chez Barthelemi Chirol, 1777.
Lazzaro Spallanzani was an Italian physiologist who produced influential research on animal reproduction and the development of microscopic life. Shown here is the first French edition of his Opuscules de Physique. (The Italian edition had appeared one year earlier in print). The first volume presented a refutation of the theory of spontaneous generation, which had proposed that life forms could arise out of inanimate or dead matter. The second volume contains Spallanzani’s observations of spermatozoa under a microscope. Spermatozoa were first observed in the seventeenth century, and they were still poorly understood at the time. Spallanzani, like many other contemporary scientists, speculated that they were a kind of microscopic parasite. The folding plates in the book show views of spermatozoa and other microscopic life. In this copy, all of the plates have been annotated by hand. This particular copy also bears the presentation inscription of Charles Bonnet (1720-1793), a Swiss naturalist and friend of Spallanzani’s, who is best known for discovering parthenogenesis (reproduction that occurs without fertilization) and proposing the theory that life on earth endured periodic mass extinctions which dramatically altered the state of the ecosystem, allowing different creatures to arise as dominant life-forms.
Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de. 1707-1788
Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière. A Paris: De l’Imprimerie de F. Dufart, an 8 -1808.
Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon was a French naturalist and philosopher, as well as the keeper of the Jardin du Roi (the royal botanical gardens). His Histoire Naturelle was the first modern work to try to systematically present all the knowledge of the natural sciences in one publication. Buffon worked diligently on the Histoire Naturelle for years, and in his lifetime he published thirty-six volumes out of an envisioned fifty total. Additional volumes, based on his notes, appeared posthumously over a period of years, resulting in a total of 127 volumes devoted to geology, zoology, botany, and anthropology. Buffon’s books were aimed at a general (if well educated) audience, and they proved enormously popular throughout Europe. His books contain a mixture of detailed scientific descriptions – taken from firsthand observations whenever possible – and philosophical observations on the sciences. Unlike many of his peers, Buffon attempted to treat science independent of religion, and always sought out natural explanations, rather than supernatural or spiritual ones. Interestingly, he also derided taxonomies such as those created by Linnaeus (which would eventually become generally accepted): Buffon believed that they were always inherently arbitrary and artificial, and that the only valid classification was that of the individual species.
William Jardine. 1800-1874
The Naturalist’s Library. Edinburgh: W. H. Lizars; London: Samuel Highly; Dublin: W. Curry, Junr. and Co., 1843.
The Naturalist’s Library was issued as a forty-volume set over a period of ten years. It was edited and issued by William Jardine, a Scottish naturalist, with each volume being written by a different specialist. Together it contains over 1300 engraved plates depicting the animals of the world. The volumes are divided into four sections, devoted to: ornithology (14 volumes), mammals (13 volumes), entomology (7 volumes), and ichthyology (6 volumes). The Naturalist’s Library was intended for a general audience and did much to popularize zoological knowledge. Most of the plates in this set have been colored by hand.
Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1825-1895
Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1863.
Thomas Henry Huxley was an English biologist, and an early, vocal advocate of Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) evolutionary theory. In his lectures he was among the first to propose that birds had evolved from the dinosaurs. Huxley was also quick to address the still more controversial topic of human evolution, and in his Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature he introduced the idea that the human species and the other primates shared a common ancestor. (Darwin, by comparison, avoided the subject in The Origin of Species, and did not address it in print until 1871, in his Descent of Man.) Huxley’s work includes detailed illustrations showing the anatomical similarities between humans and other primates. He provided detailed descriptions of living primate species, which he referred to as “man-like apes,” with humans presented as another species of primate. He also looked to the fossil record to provide evidence of human origins, describing fossilized remains of early humans, as well as the remains of human-like species, such as the Neanderthal.
Cuvier, Georges, Baron. 1769-1832
Tableau Élémentaire de l’Histoire Naturelle des Animaux. Paris: Baudouin, imprimeur du Corps legislative et de l’Institut national, place du Carrousel, No. 662, an 6 [i.e., 1798].
Baron Georges Cuvier, a French zoologist and statesman, is credited with founding the sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology. Tableau Élémentaire de l’Histoire Naturelle des Animaux, shown here in its first edition, was Cuvier’s first major zoological work. Tableau presented a natural classification system for animals that he had developed based on their anatomical characteristics. He sorted all animals into four major groups: vertebrates, mollusks, articulates, and radiates. Cuvier’s system has since been abandoned, and now seems relatively crude compared to current taxonomies. However, his system represented a significant advancement away from earlier systems, which presented the animal kingdom as a linear hierarchy, with humans at the top as the most advanced species. The plates in this volume present some of Cuvier’s observations of the anatomical similarities between different species.
Interestingly, Cuvier’s anatomical studies led him to believe that each species’ anatomy was so precise, and so suited to specific ways of life, that each species must have been created with that exact form. He further believed that the level of anatomical specialization exhibited in animals meant that no animal would ever be able to survive any significant alterations or mutations. These theories thus placed Cuvier at odds with contemporaries such as Lamarck, who had posited some of the first forms of evolutionary theory.
Redi, Francesco. 1626-1698
Opusculorum Pars Prior; Sive, Experimenta Circa Generationem Insectorum. Amstelaedami: Apud Henricum Wetstenium, 1685-1686.
Francesco Redi was an Italian physician and poet. Shown here is the first edition of his Opusculorum, which contains an assortment of his works. The first volume prints his Experimenta Circa Generationem Insectorum, which refuted the theory that insects arose from rotting meat out of spontaneous generation. Redi performed a very early example of a controlled biological experiment, in which he placed pieces of meat in various jars, some of which were closed, others of which were left open. Although all of the meat began to putrefy, only the pieces in open jars, which had attracted flies, developed maggots. Redi presented this as proof that the maggots had hatched out of eggs laid by the flies.
The second volume of Opusculorum, tiled Experimenta Circa Varias Res Naturales, was presented as a letter to Athansius Kircher (1602-1680), and described a variety of flora and fauna found in the Americas and the Indies. As was common for seventeenth century biology texts, this included a mixture of real and imagined species. One illustration, shown here, depicts the armadillo and its ability to roll up into a ball for defense. Another illustration presents a siren, which was reported to exist off the coast of East Africa. Volume two also documented Redi’s experiments with snake venom. Redi had demonstrated that snake venom was a distinct fluid delivered through the snake’s fangs (other, earlier scientists had mistakenly assumed that a snake’s saliva and other bodily fluids were venomous), and that it caused damage only when it entered the blood stream. Many of Redi’s findings on venom seem obvious now, but were significant contributions in his time.
Moffett, Thomas. 1553-1604
Insectorum, Sive, Minimorum Animalium Theatrum. Londini: Ex officinâ typographicâ Thom. Cotes, 1634.
Insectorum is an extensive treatise on entomology, covering the habits, habitat, breeding and economic uses of insects. Its coverage is expansive, and it contains over 500 woodcuts depicting a great variety of insects, with particular attention to bees. (Curiously, the sea horse is also included as a form of insect). The book is notable for providing separate descriptions of the larval and adult forms of the insects under discussion.
The text and authorship of Insectorum was quite convoluted, and its writing and publication proceeded at a glacial pace. The Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) began writing Insectorum, but he died before completing it. Gesner’s work was continued by a friend, the English physician and entomologist Thomas Penny (d. 1589), who purchased Gesner’s manuscripts, along with those of the English physician and zoologist Edward Wotton (1492-1555), who was also researching insects up to the time of his death. Penny worked to blend their accounts into one, but he, too, died before he could finish his work. Penny’s papers were then obtained by his friend Thomas Moffett, an English physician and entomologist, who incorporated his own research into what finally became the finished text of Insectorum. He also commissioned an engraved title page and portraits for all of Insectorum’s co-authors for his envisioned publication. Moffett tried, unsuccessfully, to publish, first in the Hague in 1590, and then in England. (His difficulties may be taken as a statement on the perceived demand for natural history texts in English at the time.) Unfortunately, like all his co-authors before him, Moffett, too, died without ever managing to see Insectorum into print; this task fell to Sir Thomas Darnell (d. ca. 1638), an English landowner, who finally sent Insectorum to the printers, and even lived long enough to see it printed in 1634. Moffett’s original engravings proved too expensive and were never used. The final version instead used woodcuts, which allowed for a cheaper mass-production.
Severino, Marco Aurelio. 1580-1656
Vipera Pythia: id est, de Viperae Natura, Veneno, Medicina, Demonstrationes, & Experimenta Noua. Patauii: Typis Pauli Frambotti Bibliop., 1651.
Marco Aurelio Severino was an Italian surgeon. He wrote a number of surgical and anatomical texts, and is credited with producing some of the earliest comprehensive works on comparative anatomy. Like many scientists of his day, Severino’s works presented a blend of empirical scientific observations and spiritual beliefs and speculations. He believed, for example, that studying anatomy would allow one to understand not just the natural world, but also the divine will and workings of the world’s creator. (His mysticism also caught the eye of the Inquisition, who brought him in for questioning, although he was eventually acquitted). His Vipera Pythia, shown here in the second issue of its first edition, was a treatise on venomous snakes. The book presents Severino’s anatomical research, which was based on his own dissections. Several of the engravings provide anatomical illustrations of biological specimens, such as the one on display, which shows snake embryos. Severino also presented a great deal of research on the venom of snakes. His mystical interests are present as well, as the book also includes lengthy discussions on the mythology and symbolism associated with serpents, and includes images of gorgons, dragons, and Greco-Roman gods.
Richard, John H. [born circa 1807]
[Sketchbook], 39 drawings, 21 prints. [184-?].
John H. Richard was one of the artists employed by John Edwards Holbrook (1794-1871) to produce illustrations for the first edition of North American Herpetology. This sketchbook contains a variety of sketches and working drafts which allow one to see some of the production processes behind natural history illustrations. The notebook contains pencil sketches and watercolors in varying forms of completion, along with printed engravings from North American Herpetology, some of which have been hand colored.Some of the water colors include additional illustrations of background landscapes depicting the animals in their natural environment, which did not appear in either edition of North American Herptology. The landscapes appear both as fully finished watercolors and as unfinished pencil sketches.
[Ortelius, Abraham. 1527-1598]
Indiae Orientalis, Insvlarvmqve Adiacientivm Typvs. [s.l.: s.n., 1588].
Medieval and Renaissance maps often included illustrations of sea monsters. Although probably included first and foremost for decorative purposes, the cartographers designing these maps usually did draw their descriptions from accounts that were regarded as scientific and accurate, such that they typically depict the kinds of creatures that cartographers and sailors expected to find living in the ocean. These images reflect both the limited understanding of the sea and the very real dangers and strangeness of seafaring at the time. Some of the creatures shown on these maps were likely derived from sightings of real animals by sailors and travelers who may have seen them only briefly or from a distance, and whose reports of strange sea creatures became distorted and exaggerated as they were circulated and retold. Even creatures that are now well known, such as whales, sharks, and the walrus, were often described and depicted in monstrous terms. (In all fairness, some of these animals can grow to nearly twice the size of the ships being used at the time, which would have made them seem all the more threatening). Many early depictions of whales take the form of the monster shown attacking a ship in the map shown here; in an earlier version of this illustration, sailors are shown throwing barrels off the ship in order to distract or scare away their attacker. Still, at least one contemporary critic, Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), complained that these sea monsters were just grotesqueries used to “fill up empty spaces.” Map monsters such as these generally began to disappear from maps by the end of the seventeenth century, in tandem with rapid advances in European understanding of the oceans.
Kircher, Athanasius. 1602-1680
China Monumentis, Qua Sacris Quà Profanis, Nec Non Variis Naturae & Artis Spectaculis, Aliarumque Rerum Memorabilium Argumentis Illustrate. Amstelodami: Apud Jacobum à Meurs, in fossa vulgò de Keysersgracht, 1667.
Athanasius Kircher was a Jesuit scholar who wrote encyclopedic (if sometimes inaccurate) volumes on such diverse topics as magnetics, Egyptology, music, linguistics, optics, religion, and natural history. China Illustrata was his treatise on China and the surrounding regions. Because Kircher himself never traveled far in his lifetime, all of the information for this book was compiled second-hand, mostly from the accounts of other Jesuits who had served as missionaries to Asia. Unfortunately, Kircher was known for a willingness to believe almost anything he heard, which resulted in a book riddled with errors and falsehoods. His section on natural history contains accurate depictions of Chinese flora and fauna, including early accounts of apes. But he also presents many superstitions as though they were facts. Among them are the belief that a hippopotamus’ teeth could serve as a coagulant, and the belief that snakes secrete stones that can be used as antidotes against their own venom. Shown here is an illustration of the flying turtle, which was said to have wings on its feet. In this case, though, even Kircher was skeptical. He reported the story, but rejected its veracity on the grounds that it was naturally impossible. This was one of the first books on China made widely available in Europe, and, despite its flaws, it proved highly influential.fanis, Nec Non Variis Naturae & Artis Spectaculis, Aliarumque Rerum Memorabilium Argumentis Illustrate. Amstelodami: Apud Jacobum à Meurs, in fossa vulgò de Keysersgracht, 1667.