Fisica de’ Corpi Ponderabili ossia Trattato della Costituzione Generale de’ Corpi del Cavaliere.

Turin: Stamperia Reale, 1837-41.

First edition of one of the great rarities of chemistry, and especially rare in the original printed wrappers as here. This monumental work is the only large-scale publication of Avogadro (1776-1856), famous for his eponymous hypothesis (1811) that equal volumes of all gases at the same pressure and temperature contain the same number of molecules. “Avogadro also wrote a large book [offered here] which was read with interest by Faraday and contains an account of his hypothesis” (Partington, History of Chemistry IV, p. 216). Although his molecular hypothesis is widely considered to be Italy’s great contribution to chemistry in the 19th century, his 1811 memoir was largely ignored for another half century, partly because it was published first in Italian (when Italy was at the periphery of scientific research) and subsequently only in minor French, German and English scientific journals. “A work of such magnitude (almost 4000 pages) on physics had never before been published in Italy. In this sense, it represents a landmark for the historian of Italian science” (Morselli, p. 303). Emil Offenbacher, the distinguished dealer who specialized in chemistry, wrote (cat. 39, item 4, 1986) “a complete set [of the present work] is today of great rarity”. ABPC/RBH list just two copies in original printed wrappers, one of which was the Norman copy (with one upper wrapper supplied).

The purpose of the Fisica was clearly outlined in the dedication (vol. I, p. ii): “In my studies I especially pursued that section of physics dealing with the general constitution of ponderable bodies and, accordingly, with the quality of their component molecules, with the forces by which these molecules are stimulated, and with the capacities of different bodies for caloric, and with the density and elastic forces of their vapors.” For Avogadro, ‘ponderable bodies’ were formed by tightly joined molecules having a sensible mass; ‘imponderable fluids,’ on the other hand, were diffused everywhere in space, surrounding molecules of ponderable bodies and subject to vibrational motion. These fluids were of two types: the first, which included electricity and magnetism, moved around the molecules of sensible bodies, adhered to their surfaces, caused them to move, but did not have any influence on their constitution; the second, which included caloric and light, were thought to be either single molecules which gathered around ponderable molecules but did not cause them to move, or fluids which were diffused everywhere in space, but were possibly subject to vibrational motion extending from one ponderable particle to the next.

The first volume covered the structure of matter at a given temperature. Avogadro set out his ideas concerning molecular structure, and then discussed mathematical and mechanical problems involving the equilibrium of molecular forces with external forces. He used Poisson’s theory of the attractive and repulsive forces acting on molecules to examine the interaction between two adjacent molecules and the caloric molecules surrounding them. “The importance of this discussion cannot be over-emphasized. It provided a detailed exposition of Avogadro’s system of molecular forces and actions, as functions of a molecule’s distance, form and number” (Morselli, p. 306). Almost two-thirds of the first volume is devoted to the study of crystallization. He examined in great detail how the form of crystals could be related to the structure of the elementary molecules.

The first section of the second volume was devoted to the constitution of liquids, particularly capillarity. The second section dealt with the constitution of gases and air-like fluids, beginning with the study of air and barometric pressure, followed by a description of the experimental methods adopted by Boyle and Mariotte which led them to ‘Boyle’s law.’ “The discussion … introduced Avogadro’s explanation of the behavior of gaseous substances and strikingly illustrated the conceptual path by which, in 1811, he had formulated his hypothesis. The concluding section of Volume Two of Fisica contained both a review of the principal essays on molecular constitution which had appeared after 1811, and a number of considerations on the possibility of applying to organic compounds the generalizations which, in Avogadro’s view, guided the behavior of gaseous compounds during their formation” (Morselli, p. 310-311).

The third volume treated the influence of temperature on the constitution of bodies. The first of its two books examined the concepts of caloric and temperature and their relationship, and reviewed the specific heats of gaseous and non-gaseous bodies and their temperature dependence. The second book treated the effect of temperature on the volume of bodies, and the laws of expansion and condensation of solids and liquids. Avogadro also discussed the expansion and compression of gases, and the dependence of their specific heats on pressure.

Volume Four continued Avogadro’s discussion of the influence of temperature on the constitution of bodies, particularly the theory of evaporation and condensation. He discussed the densities of vapors and their relationship to the densities of the liquids producing them, as well as the absorption and evolution of heat observed in the dissolution of solids. Specific heats of gases were again investigated, especially their relation with those of the same substances in the liquid state.

Generally recognized as an Italian, though the definition is correct only in a strict geographical sense, Amedeo Avogadro (1776-1856) was a citizen of the Kingdom of Sardinia for 68 years and, during the more crucial period of his cultural formation and for the elaboration of the molecular hypothesis, a subject of Napoleonic France. He “was the son of Filippo Avogadro, conte di Quaregna e Cerreto, a distinguished lawyer and senator in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Avogadro graduated in jurisprudence in 1792 but did not practice law until after receiving his doctorate in ecclesiastical law four years later. In 1801 he became secretary to the prefecture of Eridano. Beginning in 1800 Avogadro privately pursued studies in mathematics and physics, and he focused his early research on electricity. In 1804 he became a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of Turin, and in 1806 he was appointed to the position of demonstrator at the academy’s college. Three years later he became professor of natural philosophy at the Royal College of Vercelli, a post he held until 1820 when he accepted the first chair of mathematical physics at the University of Turin. Due to civil disturbances in the Piedmont, the university was closed and Avogadro lost his chair in July 1822. The chair was reestablished in 1832 and offered to the French mathematical physicist Augustin-Louis Cauchy. A year later Cauchy left for Prague, and on November 28, 1834, Avogadro was reappointed” (Britannica).

“The considerable amount of time at his disposal in the period preceding the end of his enforced retirement provided a favorable opportunity for him to plan and carry out the writing of a huge treatise, which appeared in four volumes published from 1837 to 1841. A work of such magnitude (almost 4000 pages) on physics had never before been published in Italy. In this sense, it represents a landmark for the historian of Italian science” (Morselli, p. 303).

“Avogadro married Felicita Mazzé of Biella in 1815; together they had six children. Home-loving, industrious, and modest, he rarely left Turin. His minimal contact with prominent scientists and his habit of citing his own results increased his isolation. Although he argued in 1845 that his molecular hypothesis for determining atomic weights was widely accepted, considerable confusion still existed over the concept of atomic weights at that time. Avogadro’s hypothesis began to gain broad appeal among chemists only after his compatriot and fellow scientist Stanislao Cannizzaro demonstrated its value in 1858, two years after Avogadro’s death. Many of Avogadro’s pioneering ideas and methods anticipated later developments in physical chemistry. His hypothesis is now regarded as a law, and the value known as Avogadro’s number (6.02214179 × 1023), the number of molecules in a gram molecule, or mole, of any substance, has become a fundamental constant of physical science” (Britannica).

Norman 89; Honeyman 168; Sparrow, Milestones of Science 16 [1811 memoir]. Morselli, Amedeo Avogadro: a scientific biography, 1984 (see Chapter 7, Avogadro’s Opus Magnum: Fisica dei Corpi Punderabili (1837-1841),’ for a very detailed analysis of the present work).

Four volumes, thick 8vo (238 x 161 mm), pp. [vi], XXXI, [1], 910; [ii], 980, [2]; [ii], XIII, [1], 932, [2]; XIII, [1], 926, [2], LIII, [1], [2] and 18 folding lithographed plates. Original printed wrappers, uncut, crack in spine of vol. 1, otherwise a very fine set.

Item #4470

Price: $35,000.00

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