BLUMNAU, Georg. Dissertatio de Vacuo.

Vilnius, Typis. Acad. Societatis Iesu, 1648.

FIRST EDITION. 16mo. pp. [x], 114, lacking [*]6 apparently blank, text complete. Roman letter. 11 full-page engraved illustrations of vessels for experiments in a vacuum. Slight age browning, fore-edge of initial gatherings and upper margin of final softening and a bit frayed, occasionally just touching text, faint water stain to upper margin in places. A good copy in contemporary vellum over paper boards, reddish stain at head of lower cover, a bit soiled, modern bookplate to front pastedown.

A good copy – the second recorded and apparently the only extant – of the first edition of this short, illustrated treatise on the vacuum, printed for the Jesuit Academy at Vilnius, Lithuania. Georg Blumnau, from Prussia, was probably later rector of Mehlsack, and died in 1671. ‘Dissertatio de vacuo’ is a public lecture delivered at the Academy, where he earned his Master’s; the pocket-size format and complex printing imposition scheme (16mo in 6s) suggest an economic print-run on half-sheets, perhaps to compensate for the expense of the engravings. It is one of several tracts on the concept of the vacuum published by the Vilnius Jesuits in 1646-48, e.g., by Albert Wijuk Kojałowicz and Franciscus Krosnowski.  

The heated ‘battle of the glass tube’ issued from experiments on the vacuum carried out at the Warsaw court of Wladislaus IV by a pioneering scholar, the Capuchin Valerian Magni, seeking to debunk the Aristotelian theory that ‘nature abhors vacuum’ (Kołos, p.169), which the Jesuits were teaching. Magni’s ‘Demonstratio ocularis’ (1647) – accused of plagiarism – described how he proved, in the presence of Wladislaus, the existence of the vacuum. Describing as his own Torricelli’s experiment of 1644 (which Blumnau published for the first time), he placed upside down a glass tube two cubits long, containing mercury, resting in a bowl full of mercury; at the closed top end of the tube, he obtained ‘space with no physical matter in it’ (Kołos, p.170).

Based on similar experiments, Blumnau’s ‘Dissertatio’ sought to prove instead that ‘vacuum in nature is impossible’. ‘Although the Jesuits continued to perform experiments, their philosophical conclusions had to be in line with the position established by […] the Society on certain core issues (e.g., the void, terrestrial motion). […] They could examine the experiment as a phenomenon, […] but they were prohibited from using it as an instrument with which to acquire quantitative knowledge about other aspects of nature’ (Gorman, p.32). Dedicated to Wladislaus IV and Innocent X, Blumnau mentions, without naming the author, Torricelli’s experiment and others in Italy and France. Part I includes a definition of vacuum and 14 chapters describing, with detailed engraved illustrations, how various containers and substances (e.g., oil, wine, mercury) were used to replicate the experiment and why they were unsuccessful. These include a clay vase, an elongated glass vessel, a cylindrical container with a pump, several syphons, an oil lamp, and a vase immersed in water. Part II explains the role played by the condensation and rarefaction of air where Magni said was ‘space with no physical matter’, describing further (illustrated) experiments to obtain condensation by compression, attraction, cold and the use of sundry containers. Part III describes Torricelli’s experiment in detail, debunking it with two counterarguments, explained through 9 experiments: the air that is said to be unable to penetrate the glass tube is instead already mixed with added mercury; when mercury descends down the tube, the trapped air moves upwards and fills the space freed by the mercury. A very interesting, very rare work testifying to the reception of major scientifical experiments in areas of Europe not well-represented in print.

No copies recorded in WorldCat, Sommervogel, Estreicher or other major catalogues, databases and bibliographies. One unlocated copy mentioned in Bibliotheca Stoschiana (1759), n.2052. Zeitschrift für die Geschichte und Altertumskunde Ermlands, 17 (1908); T. Nejeschleba, ‘Light and Void’, Perspectives on Science, 27 (2019), pp.767–86; M. Gorman, ‘Jesuit explorations of the Torricellian space’, Mélanges de l’école française de Rome, 106 (1994), pp.7-32; A. Kołos, ‘Batalia „szklanej rury”’, Poznańskie Studia Polonistyczne, 31, pp.167-90.