The ‘lunatiques’ of Aix-en-Provence. A Gift from Peiresc to His Friend Gassendi

Bacon, Francis (1561-1626).

De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum, Libri ix. Ad Regem suum. Iuxta Exemplar Londini Impressum. Paris, Pierre Mettayer, 1624.

Bacon, Francis (1561-1626) De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum, Libri ix. Ad Regem suum. Iuxta Exemplar Londini Impressum. Pierre Mettayer, 1624.

Small 4° (256x170 mm). Collation: *2, **4, ***2, A-Z8, AA-ZZ8, AAa-XXx4, YYy2. [16], 540 pages (with some errors in numbering). Roman and italic type. Woodcut printer's device on the title-page. Engraved portrait of the author on fol. *1r. Woodcut decorated initials and headpieces. Fine French contemporary binding executed by Simon Corberan. Red morocco, over pasteboards. Covers framed within triple gilt fillet, central gilt monogram of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Spine with three raised bands, compartments decorated with small floral tools, title and imprint in gilt lettering. 'VERVLAMIVS DE SCIENTIAR. DIGNIT. 1624'. Edges slightly speckled red. A few minor stains to the lower cover. In a modern red morocco box, at foot of the spine 'EXEMPLAIRE DE PEIRESC DONNÉ EN CADEAU À GASSENDI'. A good copy, light offset turn-ins of the binding on the first and last leaves; restored wormhole in the blank outer margin of some leaves, without any loss. Pencilled modern note about the provenance on the recto of the front flyleaf.

Provenance: from the library of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), who on 26 March 1636 gave the volume to Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655; ownership inscription on the title-page: 'donum optimi d[omi]ni de Peiresc, ideo acceptum, quòd aliud exe[m]plar in folio hab[ea]t. 26 mart. M.DC.XXXVI. Gassendi.').

Extraordinary association copy of the second Latin edition of this famous treatise by the English philosopher and stateman Francis Bacon, his manifesto for the progress of learning. The volume belonged to the renowned savant, naturalist, antiquarian, book collector and great patron and amateur of sciences and art Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), who offered it as a gift to one of his closest friends, the famous philosopher and astronomer Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), one of the earliest French admirer of Bacon's experimental philosophy. This exceptional provenance is attested by the inscription on the title-page, in the hand of Gassendi himself. United in the present volume are thus three of the principal scientists and advocates of the New Science: Bacon, Gassendi and the savant for whom the volume was handsomely bound, Peiresc.

Although in his will Peiresc left books – along with mathematical and astronomical instruments – to Gassendi, his nephew refused to let the philosopher have them upon his death on 24 June 1637. The library was thereby dispersed, and a manuscript catalogue now survives in the Bibliothèque Inguimbertine at Carpentras. This copy is thus of especial interest as it rescues a volume from Peiresc's library, and offering documentary evidence of Bacon's ideas and work in the French intellectual circles of the 1620s and the following decades.

Indeed, Peiresc himself was directly involved in the publishing of the 1624 edition of the De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum, edited by Bacon's secretary William Rawley, which first appeared in 1623 in London as an enlarged version of the earlier On the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605).

In November 1623 Peiresc had received a letter from the Italian scholar and antiquarian Cassiano del Pozzo, containing a notice of the publication in London of the De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum. In the opinion of Peiresc, the circumstances were also favorable for proposing in France an edition of this work juxta exemplar Londini. Unlike the London folio-edition, for the volume printed by the typographus regius Pierre Mettayer a quarto format was chosen, and copies hot off the press were sent by Peiresc to many correspondents. Peiresc thereby played a pivotal role in the diffusion of Bacon across continental Europe.

In March 1636 a copy of this Parisian edition was still preserved in the large library amassed by Peiresc in Aix-en-Provence, elegantly yet plainly bound in red morocco by the binder Simon Corberan, who moved from Paris to Aix-en-Provence in 1625, and stamped with Peiresc's Greek cipher, two sets of his initials, Ν Κ Φ. And precisely at the beginning of March 1636 his great friend and intellectual interlocutor Pierre Gassendi arrived in Peiresc's residence, as his letter to the Genevan Elie Diodati, dated Aix-en-Provence 8 April 1636, attests.

In the De rebus coelestibus commentarij (1658) Gassendi presents a large number of observations recorded over decades, among them those carried out at Aix in March 1636 together with his friend Peiresc, who had studied astronomy at the Jesuit College in Tournon, and met Galileo at Padua in 1599. Peiresc took an active interest in Galileo's telescopic discoveries, so much so that immediately after the publication in 1610 of the Sidereus Nuncius, he had an observatory built in his Hôtel de Callas in Aix; he spent years recording the times of planetary events and calculating terrestrial longitudes, discovered the first nebula in the constellation Orion, and commissioned the first mapping of the moon.

The 'story' of the present copy of Bacon's De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum has another protagonist, albeit less famous than Peiresc and Gassendi: the binder Simon Corberan, who in March 1636 assisted the two 'lunatiques' of Aix-en-Provence in their astronomic observations. Pereisc had in fact trained his servants also to be astronomers. Corberan began to observe the celestial bodies on 7 November 1631, on the occasion of the transit of Mercury, accurately predicted by Johann Kepler. He also sketched a cahier d'observation, and we have records of Gassendi and Corberan observing an eclipse of the sun in 1639. Corberan represents the “exemple le plus magistral de domestique parvenu au statut de curieux [...]: embauché initialement comme relieur, il devint, sous la direction de Peiresc, un fervent curieux d'astronomie et acquit d'incontestables talents d'observateur” (C. Dauvergne, Un moteur de la révolution scientifique, p. 465).

The gift, on 26 March 1636, of this precious copy of Bacon's De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum – from his library and bound by the relieur-astronome Corberan – to his dearest friend seems to encapsulate the revival of Bacon's philosophy, with its dual emphasis on friendship and the advancement of science. A collaborative venture which reflects Bacon's convinction that the true progress of knowledge can be achieved only through a collective enterprise.

R. W. Gibson, Francis Bacon. A Bibliography of His Works and of Baconiana, Oxford 1950, no. 130; P. Tamizey de Larroque, “Une lettre inédite de Peiresc à son relieur Corberan”, Annuaire-bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de France, 26 (1890), pp. 121-126; P. Humbert, “Un relieur astronome”, Mélanges de Philosophie, d'Histoire, et de Littérature, 1934, pp. 209-214; I. de Conihout, “Du nouveau sur la bibliothèque de Peiresc”, M. Fumaroli (ed.), Peiresc et l'Italie, Paris 2009, pp. 243-264; C. Zittel, “Die Lunatiker von Aix-en-Provence”, U. Feist - M. Rath (eds.), Et in imagine Ego. Facetten von Bildakt und Verkörperung. Festgabe für Horst Bredekamp, Berlin 2012, pp. 277-299; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 191.

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