Philosophiae recentioris … versibus traditae libri X … Cum adnotationibus, et supplementis P. Rogerii Josephi BOSCOVICH S.J.

Rome, Nicola and Marco Palearini, 1755, 1760.

Two vols., 8vo, pp. xxxiv, [2], 434; [2], xii, [4], 504, [4], with six folding engraved plates; contemporary inscription of the Philosophical Faculty, Bamberg, and later stamps of the Augustinian convent, Münnerstadt with shelf mark on titles; very good copies in contemporary sheep, spines and corners a little worn.

£2250

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very rare first edition of the first six books (of 10, see below) of stay’s ‘elegant latin verses on newtonian philosophy’ (dsb), with extensive notes and several important supplements by roger joseph boscovich.

‘It was during his career as a professor in Rome that Boscovich began the task of annotating the work of Benedict Stay, a scholar from his native Dubrovnik. Taking as his model Lucretius’s De rerum natura Stay wrote in verse of Descartes’ and Newton’s philosophy. He had composed this poem in Dubrovnik as a young man of 24 and sent the manuscript to Boscovich in Rome. It was published in Venice in 1745, but later, when the poet, as a reputed Latinist, had been called by Benedict XIV to hold a university post in Rome and was appointed Professor of Eloquence, he revised his poem and prepared it for a new edition. This consisted of ten books with over 24,000 lines of verse. Boscovich wrote long and elaborate notes to the poem, and the first volume appeared in 1755. These notes are highly valuable philosophical and scientific material: Stay’s work served Boscovich as a stimulus to what ultimately amounted to some thirty disquisitions on metaphysics and the philosophy of mathematics’ (Whyte p. 41).

Included in the form of supplements are extensive and highly important notes by Boscovich on dynamics, time and space, infinitesimal calculus, gravitational theory, the theory of sound, cometary theory; the libration of the moon, tidal theory, etc., many of which still little studied. ‘Boscovich had been severely criticised by later writers for choosing to publish some of his original scientific work in the notes to Stay’s poem … Commenting on a passage from Stay (1760, pp. 498-504) which had indeed suffered this fate [of remaining undisturbed for over a century] and which was concerned with the form of the cells of bees, James Whitbred Lee Glaisher (1848-1928) observes (1873, p. 112): “It thus appears that Boscovich discussed the whole topic with completeness, penetration, and … accuracy. Had his remarks been published in a work better known and more accessible to naturalists, a detailed refutation of Réaumur and Koenig [by Glaisher] a hundred and thirteen years later would have been rendered superfluous”’ (R. W. Farebrother, Fitting Linear Relationships. A History of the Calculus of Observations 1750-1900, p. 21).

Boscovich died in 1787 and a third volume, containing the final four books of Stay’s poem, was published posthumously in 1792. Published over a period of almost four decades, the three volumes are hardly ever found together. A number of institutions hold single volumes only.

Whyte p. 218.

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