Elementa chemiae … Vol. 1. Qui continet historiam et artis theoriam – Vol. 2. Qui continet operationes chemicas.

Leiden: Isaac Severinus, 1732.

First edition, very rare uncut large paper copy, and a very early printing of this great work (see below). “The first and best edition, and rare” (Duveen). “[Boerhaave] introduced exact quantitative methods into chemistry by measuring temperature and using the best available balances made by Fahrenheit; indeed he may be considered the founder of physical chemistry as well as a contributor to pneumatic chemistry and biochemistry … When a spurious edition of his chemical lecture notes was published in 1724 … he felt impelled to publish a textbook on chemistry, the Elementa chemiae, which was later translated into English and French and remained the authoritative chemical manual for decades” (DSB). In the preface, Boerhaave pointedly disowned the unauthorised 1724 publication, railing that “The false Notions, Absurdities, and Barbarisms, that are imputed to me in every page of that Work, are so abominable, that they will not bear mentioning” (quoted in Powers, Inventing Chemistry, p. 144). To distinguish the present authorised edition from that published in 1724, Boerhaave signed all copies on the verso of the title page. This copy is printed on thick paper – the text block of this copy is about one-third thicker than that of a normal copy – and is entirely uncut. The only other uncut large paper copy we have located is that in the British Library; the only other large paper having appeared in commerce was the Macclesfield copy (although it was not so described in the Macclesfield catalogue). This copy is 2 cm taller and 1 cm wider than the Macclesfield copy.

“To some historians of science the great event of the 18th century is the rise of modern chemistry. This is commonly associated with the names of men like Black, Cavendish, Scheele, Priestley or Lavoisier, whose careers, distinguished by brilliant discoveries, fell mainly in the later part of the century. But if we are to judge history not only in terms of individual men’s accomplishments, but also of the influence which guided them, the name of Herman Boerhaave and the title of his great work, Elementa chemiae, stand out among all the others. Boerhaave gathered up the chemistry of the centuries before him, extracted what was factually sound, eliminated what was theoretically irrelevant, and re-presented it in a form congenial to a century which was to seek above all things a dignified enlightenment. Boerhaave assimilated to a chemistry which was a practical art a chemistry which was a material philosophy, and he expounded the product as a science unified as best he knew …

“Like all chemists of his time and even after him, he had to come to terms with the traditions of alchemy. He did so experimentally, finding that he could repeat some of the alchemists’ experiments, while others he could not. To some extent he retained a theory of the composition of metals similar to that of the alchemists but experiment was for him the deciding factor in his choice, not tradition.

“His chemical lectures were enormously successful and suffered a common fate. They were recorded, transcribed, and published by students, without his consent. They appeared in 1724 as Institutiones et experimenta chemiae, followed by other editions and in 1727 an English translation. Anyone may be expected to be angry at unauthorised publications. Boerhaave was doubly angry to see his books being brought into his own lectures. He could rectify the position only by producing his own textbook. It appeared in 1732, each copy bearing a signed declaration as a guarantee of authenticity …

“The leading characteristic of this great work is its realism. Stahl defined chemistry succinctly as the art of resolving compound bodies into their principles and of recombining them again. By comparison Boerhaave’s definition is ponderous: Chemistry is “an art which teaches the manner of performing certain physical operations, whereby bodies cognizable to the sense, capable of being rendered cognizable, and of being contained in vessels, are so changed by means of proper instruments, as to produce certain determinate effects, and at the same time discover the causes thereof, for the service of various arts.” Yet while Stahl’s writings are complicated, argumentative and self-opinionated, Boerhaave’s are clear and purposeful, superior in their discipline to the author’s definition of the subject. Perhaps the biggest difference between these two influential men was that Stahl denied the relevance of chemistry to medicine, whereas Boerhaave saw the relevance of chemistry to every art including medicine” (Greenaway, pp. 102-4).

“Boerhaave was firmly convinced of the usefulness of chemistry in medicine and the “mechanical arts”, among which he mentioned in particular painting, enamelling, staining glass, manufacturing glass, dyeing, metallurgy, the art of war, natural magic, cookery, the art of winemaking, brewing, and alchemy. In the “practical part” of his textbook he presented a collection of 227 “processes” which were, apart from dozens of experiments devoted unambiguously to chemical analysis, recipe-like descriptions of “the actual operations of chemistry” – that is, familiar operations performed in pharmaceutical and chemical laboratories all over Europe, both for the acquisition of knowledge and for the manufacture of useful goods. Much of the fame of Boerhaave’s Elementa chemiae depended on this second, practical part of the book” (Klein & Lefèvre, Materials in 18th century Science: A Historical Ontology (2007), p. 29).

“Boerhaave’s [Elementa chemiae] is dedicated to his brother Jacobus (James), ‘in memory of the many days and nights we have spent together in the chemical examination of natural bodies, at the time when your chief view was to Medicine and mine to Theology.’ It begins in Part I with a good history of Chemistry; Part II is on the Theory of Chemistry (metals, salts, the universal acid, sulphur, bitumens, stones, earths, semi-metals, vegetables, and animals), the use of chemistry in physics, medicine, and the mechanical arts, the instruments of chemistry, on fire, on fuel or the pabulum of fire, on air, water, and earth, on menstruums, and chemical apparatus. Part III, filling the second volume, is on chemical operations, containing detailed descriptions of chemical experiments, with uses of the preparations …

“The sections on Fire, Air, Water, and Earth (delivered as separate annual lectures), and on Menstruums, are really comprehensive monographs, the first and second incorporating much recent work in physics. Boerhaave’s textbook is distinguished from that of Stahl by its greater common sense, its sparing use of hypotheses, its greater clarity, and above all by its extensive use of the newer results of physics and a bias to what may be called the outlook of physical chemistry. His treatises on Fire, on Menstruums, and on Fermentation exhibit in a striking way the new spirit which he infused into chemistry. Thomson says Boerhaave collected his material from ‘a thousand different sources, and from writings equally disgusting from their obscurity and their mysticism’, stripping them of their mysticism and producing ‘the most learned and luminous treatise on chemistry that the world had yet seen’. In it ‘chemistry is shown as a science and an art of the first importance, not merely to medicine, but to mankind in general’.

“The second volume, on Chemical Operations, is a collection of preparations from vegetables, animals, and minerals in this order, as of increasing difficulty. The simple chemical operations (solution, coagulation, precipitation, effervescence, etc.) thus come at the end and, as Burton said, the course ends where others usually begin. In this part there are some references to Boyle's publications on tastes, odours, colours, etc., and a criticism of the Iatrochemical doctrine of acid and alkali. Temperatures according to Fahrenheit’s scale, instead of vague specifications, are used throughout the book. A small thermometer enclosed in a glass tube for taking body temperatures is a clinical thermometer. Boerhaave's lecture experiments on the rise in temperature on mixing vegetable, animal, and mineral bodies, must be the earliest in chemical calorimetry” (Partington, pp. 746-7).

Boerhaave (1668-1738) graduated in philosophy from the University of Leiden in 1684 and in medicine from the academy at Harderwijk in 1693. He spent the whole of his professional life at the University of Leiden, serving as professor of botany and of medicine, rector of the university, professor of practical medicine, and professor of chemistry. Students came from all parts of Europe to hear his brilliant lectures. He is often credited with founding the modern system of teaching medical students at the patient’s bedside and is sometimes referred to as ‘the father of physiology.’ He is best known for demonstrating the relation of symptoms to lesions, he was the first to isolate the chemical urea from urine, and he was the first physician to introduce thermometer measurements into clinical practice.

There were at least four printings of this work in the same year, with different printers and collations: two other quarto editions, one printed at Leiden by Jean Rodolphe Imhof (this was an export issue), and one with a false London imprint ‘S. K. & J. K.’; and an octavo edition printed by Caspar Fritsch at Leipzig (Lindeboom also lists an edition with a Venice imprint, but we have been unable to locate a copy). Only the present edition is signed by Boerhaave to guarantee its authenticity; it is accepted as the first (the Imhof imprint has the errata corrected within the text).

Like all copies, this copy lacks pp. 423-4 (sig. 3G4) in vol. 1. This leaf was printed as a cancel for pp. 187-8 (sig. 2A2). In our copy, as in the Wellcome copy, this cancel is still present and 2A2 is slit for cancelling. As F. N. L. Poynter has noted (The Book Collector, Spring 1960), “the original Aa2 contains on the verso (p. 188, line 7) a serious misprint: ‘scobes metallorum, are coloris–nas calces’; the correct reading given by the cancellans is: ‘scobes metallorum, arenas, calces.’ The error on Aa2 was spotted too late to correct the forme for sheet Aa but before typesetting was completed, so that the printer was on the watch for a suitable place to print the cancel. As Dr. Neville has noticed, there is a logical break in the text on the verso of Ggg3 (p. 422), and the following leaf was used for the cancel. It must be supposed that the printer either overlooked the consequent error in pagination or that the formes for the following sheets were already set and in use. In those copies of the work where Ggg4 is apparently missing and the correct text appears on Aa2 the binder has correctly excised the original Aa2 and substituted the cancel (Ggg4).” In the present copy (and in the Wellcome copy), the cancel has not been placed in the correct place by the binder, and the error is present on the original Aa2.

The present copy is additionally unusual in that 2C4 (pp. 207/208) in vol. I has not been cancelled, as it is in all other copies we have examined.

Partington (p. 743) states that “pp. 423-4 (no gap in text) and plate VI are always wanting”, but plate VI is present in this copy.

Bolton, Select Bibiliography of Chemistry, p. 322; Cole, Chemical Literature 1700-1860, 164; Duveen, Bibliotheca alchemica et chemica, p. 84; Ferguson, Bibliotheca Chemica I, 112; Lindeboom, Bibliographia Boerhaaviana 450 (incorrect collation); Macclesfield 375 (this copy). Greenaway, ‘Boerhaave’s influence on some 18th century chemists,’ pp. 102-113 in Boerhaave and His Time, Lindeboom (ed.), 1970. For a detailed analysis of the work see Partington III, pp. 746-756.

Two vols., 4to (272 x 213 mm), pp. [xii], [1], 2-422, 187-188, 425-896, [40, index], with 17 engraved plates, each with a facing page of explanation (not included in the pagination); [viii], 538, [46, index]. Engraved device on each title-page, with motto ‘Ars usu, studio, sapientia crescit’. Printed attestation, signed by Boerhaave, on verso of first title (as in all copies): ‘Ut certus sit Lector, hunc librum a me editum prodire; propria manu nomen adscribendum putavi; nec pro meo agnosco, ubi haec adscription abest.’ Original interim boards, spines lettered in manuscript (damp stain on front cover of vol. II, dust soiled, spine of vol. I creased and with small hole, modern bookplate on front end paper of each volume).

Item #5978

Price: $9,500.00

See all items in Chemistry, Medicine, Biology
See all items by