Historia Vitae & Mortis. Sive, Titvlvs Secvndvs in Historiâ Naturali & Experimentali [etc.].

London, John Haviland for Matthew Lownes, 1623.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo., pp. [vi], 410, 407-454. A-2F. Roman & italic letter. Title framed in double rule, text in box rule, woodcut initials and typographical ornaments, early shelf mark on pastedown, repeated on fly, book-label of Nicholas Wall on rear pastedown. Light age yellowing, small stain on t-p, minor waterstain in upper blank margin, rare marginal mark or spot. A very good, well margined copy, crisp and clean in excellent contemporary French polished calf, covers bordered with a double gilt rule, arms of Léonor d’Estampes de Valençay (Olivier 1663) gilt at centres, spine with gilt ruled raised bands double gilt ruled in compartments, author and title gilt lettered direct, all edges sprinkled red, corners worn, joint a little cracked, loss at head, a little chip at tail.

First edition of this fascinating and influential work which was entitled in its first English translation (1637) ‘The Historie…..of the Prolongation of Life’. It formed part of the 3rd book of Bacon’s projected ‘Instauratio Magna’ (cf. ‘Printing and the Mind of Man’ 119), a multi-part work which was never completed but had the overall aim of creating a new system of philosophy and extending man’s dominion over nature. Book 3 was to contain a collection of materials on which the scientific method of induction was to work. The ‘Historia Vitae et Mortis’ comprises a series of essays on all aspects of the maintenance and prolongation of life, including medicines and herbs, food and drink, sleep and exercise, temperature and climate, occupations, baths and hygiene. Bacon recommends life in caves and on mountains and suggests that frequent blood-letting may help to renew the body fluids. “As he grew older, Bacon became increasingly concerned with ways of escaping, or at least delaying, the clutches or mortality, and his interest in medical questions correspondingly grew. .. Bacon also wrote at length elsewhere on matters of health, sickness and nutrition, mostly in his late natural histories: the ‘Sylva Sylvarum’, and the ‘History of life and Death’ (Historia vitae et Mortis, 1623). These medical issues are a vital – but rather neglected – aspect of Bacon’s interest in Nature. Moreover, his growing preoccupation with medicine emerges strongly in the late New Atlantis. The work as a whole manifests a deep interest in the central questions of Renaissance medicine: how to cure disease, how to preserve health, and – in particular – how to prolong life.” Glynn White. ‘Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis: New Interdisciplinary Essays.’

However unsound some of his suggestions are now known to be, Bacon was of first-rate importance as a reformer of scientific method, insisting on the importance of observation and experiment without — as in the pre-modern way of thinking — relying on preconceived theories.

Léonor d’Estampes de Valençay was a celebrated French bibliophile (died 1651). He was firstly abbot of Bourgueil in Anjou, then Bishop at Chartres (the arms on this copy were probably made for him during this period), and finally Archbishop of Reims.

ESTC S100503. STC 1156. Alden 623/7. ‘In the section ‘Desiccatio’ guaiacum is mentioned; under ‘Operatio super spiritus’, tobacco. Scattered refs to Brazil, Peru, and Virginia also appear’. Gibson 147. Lowndes 95. See also Thorndike VII ch. 4 passim. This edn. not in Wellcome or Osler.


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