Rare Book of the Month: August 2018

Cosmotheoria, libros duos complexa, Jean Fernel

The August 2018 rare book of the month is Jean Fernel’s Cosmotheoria, libros duos complexa, printed in Paris in 1528. This book is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it is a very early work on celestial mechanics and astronomy. The Middle Temple Library copy of Cosmotheoria is bound with two of Fernel’s other works:  Monalosphaerium (1526) and De proportionibus libri duo (1528).

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Cosmotheoria, libros duos complexa, Jean Fernel, title page

Jean Fernel was born in 1497 in Montdidier and died in Paris in 1558. He obtained a license to practice medicine at the relatively advanced age of 33, and maintained an interest in mathematics throughout his life. He was the first European to make a “noteworthy modern attempt at measuring the earth” (David Smith, History of Mathematics, volume 2, p.347) and is known to have calculated its circumference to within one percent of the true value. The Cosmotheoria is the second work he published and like his first, Monalosphaerium, was printed by Simon de Colines, who was one of the most renowned of the Parisian printers. He married the widow of the equally celebrated French printer, Henri Estienne. As can be seen above, the title page is beautifully printed, with a woodcut border that depicts the portraits and coats of arms of the France and of the Dauphin. The book was originally printed in 1527 with the title page reprinted to modify the date; the colophon is dated 1527.

Fernel was a professor of medicine in Paris. From 1542 onwards, Fernel’s popularity and fame as a physician grew, when he was appointed “physican to the Dauphin” (Charles Sherrington, The Endeavour of Jean Fernel, p.208). In 1556/7 he became physician to Henry II, King of France. Unlike other physicians of the time, Fernel did not believe in astrology as an adjunct to medicine, nor did he support the widespread use of blood-letting.

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Inscription on the title page of the De proportionibus libri duo, which reads: ‘Ex dono reverendissimi domi magistri henrici de sancto claro episcopi rossensis’

Each of the three ‘bound-together’ books by Fernel has an interesting provenance. The De proportionibus libri duo has a contemporary inscription on the title page which reads: ‘Ex dono reverendissimi domi magistri henrici de sancto claro episcopi rossensis’. Henry Sinclair (1507/8-1565) was bishop of Ross and Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland. He died in Paris in 1565. The Cosmotheoria has a signature or inscription on the bottom right of the title page which has been trimmed off by an inattentive binder.

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Lambe stamp, probably one of the earliest English book stamps ever recorded

Both the Cosmotheoria and the Monalosphaerium have a book stamp on the verso of the title page: ‘Ex libris M. Guillermi Lambe. 1530’. This is probably the earliest English book stamp ever recorded, and could be that of William Lamb (1495-1580), philanthropist and the man responsible for the construction Lamb’s Conduit. This conduit was at the north end of Red Lion Street in Holborn and provided clean drinking water for Londoners, albeit running through “lead pipes” (George Clinch, Marylebone and St. Pancras, p. 144). The title page to the De proportionibus libri duo is damaged, with half of it missing, but most likely also had the book stamp on the verso.

While the Cosmotheoria does contain an early reference to ‘America’ in the dedicatory letter to John III, King of Portugal, it does not contain a clear reference to the Saint Lawrence River (Fleuve Saint-Laurent), as some references state. In the passage on America, Fernel talks of a ‘mighty and rich river’ towards the ‘36th degree of Northern latitude’, with a ‘mouth stretching for 28 miles’ emptying into the sea. This river description is based on observations made by the Portuguese explorer João Alvares Fagundes, who explored Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Some take this to mean that Fagundes mistook the 36th degree for the 48th, which would roughly match up to the location of the Saint Lawrence River. It is still not clear whether this is an accurate assessment of Fagundes’s account, because it “remains a matter of speculation” (L.A. Vigneras, Dictionary of Canadian Biography) whether he did, in fact, explore the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence.

Renae Satterley


Rare Book of the Month: May 2018

Euclidis elementorum libri XV

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Title page signed by Robert Ashley

The May 2018 rare book of the month is Euclid’s Elementorum libri XV, printed in Cologne in 1607. As can be seen above and on the right, the book’s title page was signed by Robert Ashley (‘Ro. Asheley’), using a variant spelling of his surname; his initials R.A. are also Euclid 1607 tp sigwritten on the title page. According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance, “Euclid’s Elements provided the basis for all teaching in learned mathematics”. Ashley was briefly a public professor of geometry in Oxford during 1587/1588 (https://archive.org/stream/aregistermember03oxfogoog#page/n114/mode/2up) and developed a substantial collection of mathematical books during his lifetime. His collection contains three editions of Euclid’s Elements– two from 1607 and one from 1609.

The first printed version of the Elements was produced in Venice in 1482 by Erhardus Ratdolt, and was in Latin. The first Latin edition produced from a Greek translation was printed in 1505 by Joannes Tacuinus- this edition showed that “books 14 and 15, long accepted as part of the Elements, were not in fact by Euclid” (ODR).

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Marginalia in Robert Ashley’s hand on the verso of the title page

The 1607 version of the Elements featured here contains an extra book- number 16, added by François de Foix, comte de Candale. According to Benjamin Wardhaugh, book 16 “was concerned primarily to expand upon the final few constructions of Book 15: in particular the sometimes complex and beautiful figures which resulted when one regular polyhedron was placed inside another” (https://www.thinking3d.ac.uk/Candale1566/). Foix also included a “short treatise on regular and semi-regular polyhedra”.

As can be seen below and on the verso page above, Robert Ashley has marked up the book with a variety of annotations concerning the work itself, mentioning the importance of mathematics to understanding the motion of the stars and planets. Ashley has marked up the 1609 edition in a similar fashion, referencing Philipp Melanchthon. [With thanks to Dr. Jon Blaserak of the University of Bristol for assisting with this marginalia].

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Marginalia in Robert Ashley’s hand

This book was chosen as the May 2018 book of the month as Middle Temple Library will be participating in the ‘Seeing Euclid’ project organised by the History Faculty of the University of Oxford. As part of this project, organisations around the UK are exhibiting their 15th-18th century copies of Euclid’s Elements between 19 May and 15 July. A dedicated website will be launched on 19 May: www.seeingeuclid.org. Middle Temple’s Euclid books will be on display from 18 May to 15 June in an exhibition case on the Gallery, facing the Molyneux Globes.

The book is heavily damaged, with the title page in a particularly delicate state. It was rebound in the 1970s, but without any paper repairs being performed, meaning that the paper has become particularly dirty and damaged. If you would like to sponsor the repair of this work for an estimated cost of £300, please get in touch with the Librarian: library@middletemple.org.uk.

Renae Satterley, Librarian

May 2018