the father or russian science

[Spine label:] Opera academica.

St. Petersburg, Typis Academiae Scientiarum, [c. 1751-1761].

Together nine works in one vol., 4to, a superb volume in contemporary marbled calf, red leather label; spine somewhat dry.


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I. Panegyricus Elisabetae Augustae Russiarum Imperatrici Patrio Sermone dictus … Latine redditus eodem auctore. [St. Petersburg, c. 1751]. Pp. 42; title printed in label format and pasted onto initial blank.

II. Oratio de utilitate chemiae in publico conventu … Ex Rossica autem in Latinam linguam conversa a Gregorio Kositzki. St. Petersburg, Typis Academiae Scientiarum, [1752]. Pp. [2], 30.

III. Oratio de meteoris vi electrica ortis. [and:] Orationis de meteoris electricis explicationes. [St. Petersburg, 1753]. Pp. [1], 46; [60-]68, with three engraved plates, one folding.

IV. Panégirique de Pierre le Grand prononcé dans la Séance publique de l’Académie Impériale de Sciences, le 26. Avril 1755. St. Petersburg, [1755]. Pp. 42.

V. Oratio de origine lucis sistens novam theoriam colorum, in publico conventu academiae Scientiarum Imperialis Petropolitanae propter nominis festivitatem Serenissimi Principis Magni Ducis Pauli Petridae habita Calendis Iuliis Anni 1756 … Ex Rossica in Latinam linguam conversa a Gregorio Kositzki. St. Petersburg, [1756]. Pp. [2], 40.

VI. Oratio de generatione metallorum a terrae motu, habita in solemni conventu quo Academia Scientiarum Imperialis diem lustricum Elisabetae Augustae Autocratoris omnium Rossiarum celebravit IIX. ID. Sept. Anno MDCCLVII … St. Petersburg, [1757]. Pp. [2], 28.

VII. Meditationes de via navis in mari certius determinanda praelectae in publico conventu academiae Scientiarum Imperialis Petropolitanae Die VIII. Mai, A.A. 1759. [St. Petersburg, 1759]. Pp. [1], 63, with 3 folding engraved plates.

VIII. Meditationes de solido et fluido solemnibus sacris Augustissimi nominis serenissimae potentissimae magnae dominae dominae Imperatricis Elisabetae Petri Magnai Filiae Autocratoris omnium Rossiarum praelectae in Academia Scientiarum Petropolitanae conventu publico, Die Vi. Sept. A. MDCCLX … St. Petersburg, Typis Academiae Scientiarum, [1760]. Pp. [2], 18, with one folding engraved plate.

IX. Erscheinung der Venus vor der Sonne beobachtet bey der Kayserlichen Academie der Wissenschaften in St. Petersburg den 26. May 1761. [St. Petersburg, 1761]. Pp. [15], with one folding engraved plate.

a superb volume, one of twelve copies issued for presentation (see below), containing nine publications of the russian scientist, linguist and poet, revered by pushkin as ‘russia’s first university.’

‘Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov … studied science in Moscow (1731) and then went to Germany to study science, philosophy (under J. C. wolf in Marburg), and also metallurgy in Freiberg (1735). He returned to Russia in 1741, becoming a member of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, founded in 1724, where he built a laboratory for teaching and research. He also set up a factory for making coloured glass and mosaics. Lomonosov worked in astronomy and was a grammarian, poet, historian and man of affairs as well as a scientist … Lomonosov’s first scientific publication was on electricity. He emphasised the importance of the study and application of chemistry in Russia. Some important memoirs by Lomonosov were published by the St. Petersburg Academy’ (Partington III pp. 201-202).

The volume includes publications in the fields of chemistry, metallurgy, electricity, physics, optics, astronomy, as well as panegyrics on Elizabeth, Empress of Russia, who encouraged Lomonosov to establish Moscow University, and Peter the Great. ‘His scientific creativity consisted especially in his theoretical union of two basic concepts – the atomic (recognition of the discrete structure of matter) and the kinetic (recognition that particles of matter are endowed with motion). It was by basing this theory on the most general concept of the law of conservation of matter and motion that Lomonosov demonstrated experimentally the conservation of matter. A number of predictions in physics and chemistry derived from the combination of these three concepts were not verified until many years after his death’ (DSB).

His work in the field of chemistry and experimental chemistry is represented by two papers. In his Oratio de utilitate chemiae, ‘an extremely rare and important tract’ (Duveen), he speaks ‘of the problems of chemistry and of training chemists, noting that the discipline “requires a highly skilled practical worker and a profound mathematician in the same person.”’(DSB) Following his constructing of the first scientific chemical laboratory in Russia, he then ‘worked toward elevating chemistry to the level of genuine theoretical, rather than a purely empirical science’ (ibid.). His General law of the conservation of matter and motion is stated in the Meditationes de solido et fluido. The same paper also contains an account of the first successful attempt to freeze Mercury.

The Oratio de origine lucis contains Lomonosov’s discovery of the primary colours. ‘Descartes had attempted to develop a mechanical theory of light and color, and his ideas obviously served as a basis for those of Lomonosov, but the latter could not agree with the direction taken by Newton. In particular he objected to what he called Newton’s “streaming theory of light.” He retained the idea of corpuscles, as he had to to keep his mechanical philosophy, but he combined his own version with many elements of Cartesian theory to produce a very original theory of the nature of light, and especially of color. A striking feature of his color theory was his recognition of the three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue [Mariotte had earlier proposed these three primary colours, but had added black and white to them]. His predecessors had never been able to agree on the number of primary colors, and here Lomonosov shows his originality’ (H. M. Leicester, Mikhail Vasil’evich Lomonosov on the Corpuscular Theory, 1970, p. 35).

‘During the late 1750’s Lomonosov became interested in exploration and, extending his earlier work on mining and metallurgy, in the exploration of Russia’s natural resources … Interested in navigation, especially of the northern seas, in 1759 he invented a number of instruments for astronomy and navigation, including a self-recording compass, and reflected on the precise determination of a ship’s route’ (DSB). These instruments, including several improved telescopes, are described and illustrated in Meditationes de via navi in mare certius determinanda.

The final paper, on the transit of Venus of 1761, contains the discovery of the planet’s atmosphere (illustrated by one plate), generally credited to Schröter and Herschel.

The third, sixth, and eighth paper are first editions; the second, fifth and seventh are first Latin editions (they appeared in Russian simultaneously); the fourth is a first French translation, and the ninth a first German. The Panegyric on Elizabeth may be a later edition.

All of these papers are very rare: OCLC records an identical volume, the spine lettered ‘Opera academica’, as here, and with the note: ‘one of twelve copies prepared for the author.’ Harvard also have a similar volume, with a presentation inscription from Lomonosov.