Philosophia Naturalis.

Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1654.

First edition (see below) of this rare and controversial work on physical, medical and natural philosophy from a Cartesian viewpoint. Among the wide variety of topics covered, there is a chapter on the circulation of the blood (p. 267 ff.), and also an interesting section on magnetism: “the illustrations [of magnets] are noteworthy, particularly the one on p. 207, which shows the lines of force around the magnet as well as the lines of induction through it” (Wheeler Gift).

Regius (1598-1679) was a major figure in disputes over Cartesianism in Utrecht during the seventeenth century. He received a medical degree from the University of Padua before returning in 1638 to become a professor of medicine and botany at the University of Utrecht. A neighbour of one of Descartes’ oldest Dutch friends, Renerius, Regius became intimate with Descartes, and an advocate of his views. When in the summer of 1641 a student of Regius’ defended a Cartesian thesis, the new rector of the university, Gisbertius Voetius, became worried. When Regius defended a thesis in December that held that the unity of body and soul to be accidental rather than necessary, Descartes immediately recognized the danger and wrote to Regius that he had been misunderstood. But it was too late: a pamphlet war ensued and Descartes distanced himself from his old friend.

In 1646 Regius published Fundamenta physics, in which he developed the Cartesian doctrine of matter and motion, including the theory of vortices. According to Regius’ modern sounding definition, living bodies are those whose parts are so arranged that they maintain themselves in their substance through a constant supply of freshly assimilated particles. Perception and movement come about ‘as in automata.’ In the foreword, Regius praised Descartes but also emphasized that many of the ideas were his own. Descartes responded promptly in the foreword to the French translation (1647) of his Principia, accusing his friend of plagiarism. A number of accusatory pamphlets were published by each side, but this was effectively the end of the relationship between the two men. When Regius published the present work, a revised and greatly expanded version of Fundamenta physics, he felt free to further defend the project of freeing mechanistic physics and physiology from dogmatic metaphysics.

“Regius has special significance for the dissemination both of Cartesianism and of Harvey’s doctrine of the circulation – not least in England. His writings were much better known than Descartes’ views on physiology, which were published only in scattered fashion. In his publications from 1640 on, Regius repeatedly took Harvey’s side... Regius’ – extensively Cartesian – theory of cardiac activity even found its way into the first English language edition of the De motu cordis in 1653. His influence as one of the leading Cartesians persisted even after Descartes had broken with him in 1645 because of his materialistic tendencies and had publicly distanced himself from his former friend in 1647” (Fuchs, p. 147).

This is the first edition. It is styled ‘Ed. Secunda’ because it is based upon the Fundamenta Physices (1646). The edition of 1651 mentioned in some bibliographies is a ghost. A second/third edition appeared in 1661.

Wheeler Gift 139. Poggendorff II, 588. Not in Osler, Waller, etc. On the controversy between Descartes and Regius, see Theo. Verbeek, Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy, 1637–1650, 1992. On Regius and the circulation of the blood, see Thomas Fuchs, The Mechanization of the Heart: Harvey and Descartes, 2001.

4to (199 x 153 mm), pp. [48], 442 [i.e. 440, numbers 257 and 258 omitted in pagination], including finely engraved full-page portrait, title page in red and black with Elzevier device, numerous scientific and anatomical woodcuts throughout, several full-page. Remains of an old stamp and old ex-libris inscriptions to title. Rare.

Item #3222

Price: $2,850.00