London; Strasbourg: Typis Ja. Flesher, Impensis Jo. Martyn & Ja. Allestry; Eberhard Welpen, 1664.
First edition, an exceptionally fine copy in contemporary armorial binding, and with outstanding provenance, of the “most complete and accurate account of the nervous system which had hitherto appeared, and the work that coined the term ‘neurology’” (GM). “With this contribution, [Willis] was entitled to be a member of the notable group of seventeenth-century anatomists that included Valsalva, Malpighi, Leeuwenhoek, and others” (Lilly). “Dissatisfied with the imperfect and fragmentary descriptions in earlier accounts of the brain, Willis devised a comprehensive and comparative program of brain dissections, which he carried out with the aid of his pupils Christopher Wren, Richard Lower and Thomas Millington — one of the earliest examples of collaborative scientific research in England. Willis classified and described ten pairs of cranial nerves, six of which are still recognized, and was the first to grasp the physiological significance of the “circle of Willis,” the circle of anastomosed arteries at the base of the brain by which full circulation to all parts of the brain can be maintained even when the carotid or vetebral arteries are blocked. From his observations of animal brains, Willis hypothesized that the convolutionary complexity of the human cerebral cortex is correlated with man’s superior intelligence, and that the cerebellum, a similar structure in all animals, is the source of involuntary action. Willis also coined the term “neurology,” which made its first appearance in this work” (Norman). The first 20 chapters describe the brain and nervous system in general, the other chapters being dedicated to the anatomy and physiology of nerves. Wren drew the illustrations of the brain, skull and schemata of the cranial and autonomic nerves for Cerebri Anatome in May 1663 (these were the only drawings by Wren published in his lifetime); Lower drew the 13th plate depicting the blood vessels of the spine and spinal cord, the unnumbered figure showing the trigeminal nerve and the nerves to the extra ocular muscles. This first edition in quarto is of great rarity; several of the great collections, including Osler and Cushing, record only the octavo edition published several weeks later. The second work (BL and Wellcome only on COPAC) is the first edition of the disputation between the Strasbourg professor Melchior Sebisch (1578-1674) and the doctor and scholar G. H. Welsh (1624-1677) on aging. As a faithful galenist, Sebisch discusses the interaction between the necessary heat (the organ of the soul preserving life) and its harmful action (on the moisture whose loss causes the aging of the body).
Provenance: From the library of Charron de Ménars (d. 1669), with his arms on the covers. This great library, which included the greater part of the library of Jacques-Auguste de Thou, was acquired by Cardinal de Soubise. Inscribed by Soubise in black ink. Engraved bookplate with signature of Fr.-J. Moreau, professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Paris (1788-1862); ink stamp of Dr. Alexis Moreau. From the library of Jean Blondelet.
“The publication in 1664 of Willis’ Cerebri Anatome was a landmark in the history of science … Prior to Willis’ publication there had been only one fairly similar presentation of cerebral anatomy with appropriate vasculature, that of Casserius [Tabulae anatomicae, Venice, 1627]. However, Willis’ exhaustive treatise accomplished much more. In his Anatomy of the Brain he presented a method for its removal and dissection, a new numbering and grouping of cranial nerves according to function, extensive descriptions of the brain stem, cerebellum, and basal ganglia, detailed schemas of the vagal and sympathetic nerves to the viscera, discussions of the uses of parts of the brain, and the anatomy of the cerebral circulation with functional considerations. The latter is not only the first clear description of the arterial circle at the base of the brain, but a relatively sophisticated analysis of its dynamic significance accomplished by a study of effects of intravascular injection of colored dyes and of ligation of vessels” (Glaser, Review of Feindel’s English translation, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 22 (1967), 336-7).
“Willis … distinguished the white from the gray matter and provided the first precise description of the group of nuclei at the base of the brain that he defined as “striatal bodies.” Willis associated motor actions, but also the senses, with these striped structures. He further described various fiber tracts (medial lemniscus, thalamostriatal fibers, thalamocortical projections, pathways descending from the cortex and from the striatal bodies) and provided very clear descriptions of the claustrum, internal capsule and cerebral cortex, identifying for the first time the anterior commissure.
“With a remarkable intuition, Willis related the richness and depth of cortical convolutions of the human brain with the superiority of human mental faculties versus those of animals. Further, he accurately described the cranial nerves, from the first to the tenth, on the basis of their foramina of exit from the skull, and he defined the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve, although he confounded the glossopharyngeal nerve with the hypoglossal nerve. Willis also added the eleventh or spinal accessory nerve and recognized the relationships of the vagal nerve with the lungs and the heart.
“Willis studied the peripheral nerves using a microscope, and reached the conclusion that they are not hollow tubes. His studies on blood vessels also led him to deny at last the existence of a rete mirabile in humans. Via injections of alcohol and ink into the internal carotid artery, he and Lower succeeded in accurately tracing the arterial polygon from which cerebral arteries originate, and which a century later would be called the “circle of Willis” by physician Albrecht von Haller. Willis also investigated the pineal gland, discarding Descartes’ idea that it is the seat of the soul” (Finger et al (eds.), History of Neurology, p. 153).
Willis (1621-75) was born in Wiltshire and educated at the University of Oxford. Although initially interested in theology, he took up medicine during the English Civil War and began to practise after 1646. He built up a thriving practice in Oxford from the mid-1650s onwards, and some contemporaries thought him the most financially successful physician of his time. Willis undertook many dissections in Oxford during the 1650s, assisted by many eminent men, including Wren, Lower and John Locke. Willis’ growing local reputation was greatly enhanced by the publication of the Diatribae duae in 1659. His fame as a physician and writer, his staunch Anglicanism, and his brother-in-law John Fell’s recent appointment as Dean of Christ Church, made him the natural choice as Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy, to which he was elected in 1660. “One important focus of activity was Willis’s university lectures. From the very beginning of his tenure as Sedleian Professor, he ignored the statutory injunction to expound Aristotle, and instead gave his own opinions on recent anatomical controversies, on fermentation, and on the action of the circulation in various diseases. Thus were all his younger colleagues and students exposed to his ideas, not just through his books, but through his teaching as well. Ward, for example, recorded on 9 February 1661 that “Dr Willis is now reading about ye succus nervosus”; the professor doubted that the process of nutrition conformed to Glisson’s pet idea. In 1664 Lower sent on to Hooke some observations on the stomachs of ruminants, with which Willis had been so taken “that he will make a lecture of it next term.” Lower was likewise responsible for the survival of several of Willis's lectures given at Christ Church c. 1661. He copied them for his own use, and then in November 1662 sent a transcription to Boyle, among whose papers in the Royal Society they have survived. About 1664 Lower also lent his text to Locke, who abstracted them into one of his notebooks, now in the Bodleian Library. In the Lower/Boyle manuscript Willis explained his opinions on how the function of the cerebrum and cerebellum resulted from the interactions of particulate spirits drawn from the blood. Dysfunctions such as paralysis, insomnia, convulsions, epilepsy, hysteria, vertigo, and lethargy were similarly to be explained as the interaction of spirits with the circulation. True to the intellectual and local portions of his heritage, Willis cited Harvey's De generatione, and explained muscular motion using the experiment of raising weights with a bladder, the very one that had been performed at Petty’s club in 1650.
“Neurological lectures such as these started Willis and his colleagues on a new research program. He was dissatisfied with the excessively speculative nature of his teaching, and resolved to explore the brain by dissections, not ratiocination.By January 1662 Lower could report to Boyle that they had begun to cut up several brains. Willis found “most parts of the brain imperfectly described” and intended “to make a whole new draught thereof.” Thus began an intensive period of dissections in which, according to Willis, almost no day passed “without some anatomical administration.” Whole “hecatombs” of animals were slain in the anatomical court. They dissected horses, sheep, calves, goats, hogs, dogs, cats, foxes, hares, geese, turkeys, fishes, and even a monkey, in addition to human cadavers. The indefatigable worker was Lower, “the edge of whose knife and wit" Willis gratefully acknowledged. Millington and Wren were frequently present at the dissections to “confer and reason about the uses of the parts.” Millington especially was Willis’s confidant and critic, to whom he privately proposed his conjectures and observations for scrutiny. Other friends followed the work. Wallis participated in some of the initial dissections. Ward passedthrough Oxford on his way to Stratford about October 1662 and recorded: “Glandules found in ye Braine by some Dr. in Oxford as I was told by Mr. Lower.” Lower reported to Boyle their preliminary results on the cerebellum, the medulla oblongata, and the auditory and optic nerves, including the use of anatomical injections. By November 1662 he could write to Boyle that the anatomical part was finished. The following spring Wren drew some “most excellent schemes of the brain, and the several parts of it, according to the doctor’s design,” and by the end of the summer Allestry was printing the Cerebri anatome. When it appeared early in 1664, it immediately superseded all previous anatomical work on the brain” (Frank, Harvey and the Oxford Physiologists, pp. 179-183).
The present work also includes the first appearance of Willis’s chemical theory of muscle contraction. “Willis speculated that since muscular contraction occurred only in a very defined locus, it must be caused by substances brought together there for the first time. His candidates were the particles of animal spirits from the nerve fibers, and saline-sulphurous particles from the arterial blood. These joined together briefly to form a “copula.” Under proper stimulation from the nervous system, this copula would break apart and explode like gunpowder, intumify the muscle, and thereby cause it to contract. This occurred in all voluntary muscles, as well as in the heart and diaphragm. Thus Willis could explain the pathological effects of such experiments as he, Lower and Boyle had performed of ligating or cutting the cardiac branch of the vagus nerve; the heart eventually failed for lack of animal spirits.
“Although in most passages explaining his “explosion” theory of muscular motion, Willis was content to call the arterial component merely “sulphureous” or “saline-sulphureous,” on two occasions he explicitly said that the blood supplied “nitrosulphureous particles” to this explosive copula. Thus in heavy exercise, large amounts of nitro-sulphurous particles needed to be supplied by the arterial blood, although it was generally the supply of the other component, spirit particles from the nerves, that was exhausted first. Willis’s theory was by no means fully developed, but rather dropped into the neurophysiology at various junctures, together with promises that he would discuss the topic further when he came to write explicitly on muscular motion” (ibid., p. 222). Willis expanded on his “explosion” theory of muscular motion in his Pathologiae cerebri.
“Willis followed Cerebri anatome with two more books concerning the brain and nervous system, making them the first comprehensive publications on the subjects published in Europe. Pathologiae cerebri et nervosa (‘On the pathology of the brain and nerves’) was published in 1667, and De anima brutorum quae homine vitalis ac sensitiva est (‘On the soul of brutes which is that of the vital and sensitive of man’) in 1672. In his earlier career, Willis concentrated his research and publication on chemistry and combustion, working with collaborators such as Robert Hooke (1635–1703). His first important publication consisted of tracts on fermentation, fevers and urine. It appeared in 1659 under the title Diatribae duae medico-philosophicae (‘Two medico-philosophical diatribes’), and cemented his international reputation. Willis was an original fellow of the Royal Society” (Royal College of Physicians).
Garrison-Morton 1378; Grolier Medicine 32A; Heirs of Hippocrates 538; Lilly Library Notable Medical Books 77; NLM/Krivatsy 13009; Waller 10315; Wing W-2824; Norman 2243.
4to (203 x 147 mm). I. pp. , 1-106, , 107-456 with 15 engraved plates (11 folding, 13 numbered I-XIII and two unnumbered). The plates are unsigned, but were drawn by Wren and Lower, and probably engraved by David Loggan (1635-92). This copy was bound without the imprimatur leaf, which may not have been added to the first copies issued. A copy sold at Sotheby’s in 1967 (16-17 October, lot 359), uncut in the original boards, lacked the imprimatur leaf. It is also lacking from several copies in institutional collections (e.g. one of the two Wellcome copies). II. Pp.  (a few leaves browned at the end of this second work). Contemporary calf, covers with triple gilt fillet border and gilt arms of Charron de Ménars, spine richly gilt in compartments with lettering-piece, red edges (very minor restoration).