"The book that introduced France to Newtonian physics": First Edition of Voltaire's Elements of the Philosophy of Newton; Inscribed by him to the surgeon who attended Newton in his final illness
Elemens de la Philosophie de Neuton [Elements of the Philosophy of Newton].
Voltaire, Arouet, François-Marie de.$75,000.00
Item Number: 90838
Londres [Paris]: Prault, 1738.
First French edition of one of the most elegantly illustrated science books ever printed and the book that introduced France to Newtonian physics; a scarce presentation copy inscribed by Voltaire. Octavo, bound in full contemporary calf with gilt tooling to the spine in six compartments within raised gilt bands, red morocco spine label lettered in gilt, gilt ruling to the panels, inner dentelles, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers. Illustrated with two frontispiece portraits of both Newton and Voltaire, six full page plates, one folding plate, and illustrations throughout the text. Presentation copy, inscribed by Voltaire on the front free endpaper to William Cheselden, one of the most influential surgeons of 18th century England who attended Newton in his final illness. Although it is unknown if Voltaire and Newton met, Voltaire attended Newton’s funeral in 1727 while living in exile in England. During this exile he became an adherent of Newtonian physics and philosophy which he saw as the embodiment of the Enlightenment victory over Christian dogma and as the destroyer of the errors of Cartesianism. Voltaire dedicated the work to his mistress, La Madame la Marquise du Chastellet, who was a fellow scholar of Newton and completed the first French translation of the Principia in 1759. From the library of Dr. Adrian Pollock. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Pollock was a leader in the field of non-destructive acoustic emission testing, an approach to emission testing which addresses dynamic processes in materials by listening to the energy released by objects. He amassed a large book collection covering the history of science which he acquired throughout his travels between the United States and United Kingdom and from international catalogs. Newton was a particular favorite of Pollock’s as the two scientists worked in the same field and shared an alma mater. In very good condition. Exceedingly rare, surely one of the most significant examples of this work.
One of the most influential thinkers of the French Enlightenment, François-Marie Arouet, know by the nom de plum Voltaire, was a resourceful and prolific writer. His works touched nearly every literary form including plays, poems, novels, theoretical essays, and scientific treatises. A forthright and candid advocate of civil liberties, he frequently criticized the institutions of religious dogma and classism prevalent in 18th century France, often doing so through satire to avoid censorship and imprisonment. "With the publication of the 'Elemens' Voltaire committed himself entirely to the propagation of Newtonianism, which he had first encountered during his exile in England from 1725-1728; to Voltaire, Newton's empiricism, experimental method and avoidance of dogma symbolized the Enlightenment's victorious assault on Christian theory and metaphysics" (Hook/Norman). "Voltaire witnessed the beginnings of the scientific revolution brought about by the impact of Newton's work… [and] played a key role in spreading knowledge of Newton" (Cambridge Companion, 48). This work unites two of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment, Newton and Voltaire, whose "importance for the history of science lies particularly in his having composed… Èléments." To many it established Voltaire as the "earliest exponent of the modern discipline of the history of science… One of the greatest compliments to Voltaire's work was its immediate translation and publication in England" the same year (Aldridge, Voltaire, 109). While exiled in England in the 1720s, Voltaire recognized the immense philosophical and scientific implications of Newton's genius, and saw "that Newton had shifted reason onto a new plane" (Silver, Ascent of Science, 55-6). "For Voltaire, Newton's scientific approach was just as revolutionary as political liberalism. It asserted that scientific truth had to be derived from observation and measurement of the physical world and that theories about the material world should be based on these measurable observations" (Oates, Encyclopedia of World Scientists, 135). Here Voltaire presents an extensive analysis of "Newton's work, particularly the Opticks (1704), as well as his underlying philosophy of science" and his theory of gravity (Schofield, Leadership or Chaos, ix). Before Voltaire, "France was under the 'spell' of Descartes' system… Newton's system, by contrast, 'provided a trustworthy instrument for predicting the motions of the planets… [and] led to the general decline of the Cartesian system and its total replacement by that of Newton'" (Barber cited in Shank, Newton Wars, 34). By 1750 "France had been converted from backward, erroneous Cartesianism to modern, Enlightened Newtonianism thanks to the heroic intellectual efforts of figures like Voltaire" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Newton's principles had "a profound effect on Voltaire's thought. They encouraged him to beware of theories and hypotheses unsupported by observation and experimentation, and his treatment of Bacon and Newton greatly helped to establish the preeminence of empirical philosophy in 18th-century French thought. Also, Newton's laws of gravitation inspired in Voltaire an abiding awe of the majesty of the heavens… The earliest expression of Voltaire's mystical sense of cosmic awe occurs in the dedicatory poem of the Elements" (Encyclopedia of Philosophy).