A Catechisme of Christian Doctrine …

Printed at Paris [by the widow of J. Blagaert], 1637.

24mo., pp. [2], 318, with an engraved vignette of SS Peter and Paul on the title-page, the approbation leaf (printed as V8) bound here after the title-page; a fine copy, ruled in red throughout, in contemporary red morocco, covers ruled gilt and with the central gilt arms of Sir Kenelm Digby, spine with his cipher (‘KVD’, in memory of his wife) repeated in each compartment, gilt turn-ins, gilt edges, leather and metal clasps intact; later signatures to endpapers of Robert Stanford; bookplate of Robert S Pirie.


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First edition, very rare, the first published work of the secular priest and natural philosopher Thomas White, with a ten-page address ‘To the Reader’ by his intimate friend Sir Kenelm Digby, then wrestling with his conversion to Catholicism: ‘This Catechisme having luckily arrived into my handes, I thought it became me … to be a meanes that others should have the like contentment and profit … The Authors name alone (would he take it well to have it here mentioned) were enough to justify thus much: who for profoundnesse of scie[n]ce, and consumateness in all partes of litterature, both divine and humane, is the honour of our times’.

After the sudden death of his wife Venetia in 1633, Digby spent two years in hermetic mourning at Gresham College, then moved to Paris, arriving in September 1635. He quickly confirmed his reconversion to Catholicism, but spent several years working through his intellectual position, debates that resulted in 1638 in A Conference with a Lady about Choice of Religion, printed on the same press and in the same format as the present work.

Thomas White, alias ‘Blacklo’, was Digby’s mentor in both spiritual and scientific matters, and they both mixed in the same circles in Paris, where they knew Mersenne, and were visited by Hobbes. Mersenne introduced Digby to the works of Descartes, and Digby sent a copy of Discours de la métode to Hobbes in 1637; in 1638 Digby himself wrote to Descartes, enclosing a refutation of the philosopher’s proof of the existence of God, almost certainly written by White. White’s major work of natural philosophy, De mundo dialogi tres (1642), heavily influenced Digby’s own Two Treatises (and elicited a critique from Hobbes).

White’s Catechisme, which had several further editions, is a characteristically philosophical work in fifteen ‘conferences’ between a master and student, plus an appendix on the use of prayer beads. Rigorous intellectual endeavour is the shown as the means to acquire faith – ‘the understanding infinitely surpasseth the bodye, because as Philosophers say it seeth at once all particulars’.

This is Digby’s own copy, with the smallest version of his arms stamped to the covers and the ‘KVD’ monogram that he used on books acquired and bound in Paris in memory of his late wife.

ESTC shows six copies only, none in the USA; the present copy, Bodley, Heythrop College, St Edmund’s College (Ware) (imperfect), St Mary’s Seminary (New Oscott), and in a private collection (Marquess of Bute).

STC 25403.5; Allison & Rogers, II, 801.

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