HISTOIRE DES PHILOSOPHES MODERNES Avec leur portrait gravé dans le goût du crayon d’après les planches in 40 dessin par les plus gds peintres. I. Partie [-Tom VIII. Histoire des Naturalistes]. Contenant les Metaphisiciens.
A Paris, de l’Imprimerie de l’Academie ... Avec Aprobation et Privilege du Roy, 1760-1773. Eight volumes, 8vo; I. pp. lvii, , 360, with engraved title-page and frontispiece and 10 engraved portraits; II. pp. lix, , 366, engraved title-page, frontispiece and 11 portraits; III. [ii], [lxxvi], 377, , engraved title-page, sepia frontispiece and seven portraits; IV. pp. lxxx, 309, , with engraved title-page, frontispiece and seven portraits; V. pp. [ii], lxxxviii], 273, , engraved title-page, pen and ink frontispiece and ten engraved plates; VI. pp. [ii], [ii], 398, with engraved title-page, frontispiece and eight engraved plates; VII. pp. [ii], lxvi, 300, engraved title-page, frontispiece and nine engraved portraits; VIII. pp. [ii], [v]-lxxxii, [ii], 258, engraved title-page, frontispiece and 10 engraved plates; in all 16 engraved title-pages and frontispieces and 72 portraits and allegorical plates, nearly all soft-ground etched engravings in the style of chalk using the crayon method; some occasional light foxing and soiling, with sporadic light marginal dampstaining, but otherwise clean and crisp; An attractive set of this striking illustrated biographical compendium of noted scientists and philosophers from the 16th to the 18th centuries. First published in 1760, a second edition appeared in 1769, before this, seemingly the third edition. Saverien drew upon the rich source of academic éloges available to compile his work, and though perhaps largely anecdotal, the underlying plan of the work was significant and original. The biographies are grouped by class, beginning with metaphysicians and philosophers, moralists and legislaturists, before turning his attention to the exact and natural sciences, including chemists, astronomers, natural philosophers, naturalists, mathematicians, geometers, algebraists, opticians, and mechanicians. Each volume is prefaced with a ‘preliminary discourse’ giving an overview of the history of the discipline, and in so doing Saverien inaugurated a style combining historical narrative with biography, which was to influence successive works.
The remarkable feature of the work, however, lies in the illustrations, which are the work of the French engraver and printmaker Jean Charles François (1717-1769). As seen here, François was the innovator of the crayon method in 1757 through which the engravings imitate chalk drawings, a process which is described in a letter addressed to Saverien in Vol. I (p. 347 ). Though two colleagues, Gilles Demateau and Louis Bonnet, both claimed to have made the discovery, it was François who was officially acknowledged by the French Royal Academy, given a Royal Pension and the title ‘graveur du Roi’. The work includes a number of attractive allegorical plates in addition to the portraits, after artists including Boucher and Eisen.
Seemingly a slightly complicated publication bibliographically, it also appeared in various formats, including eight parts in four 4to volumes, and sometimes four volumes bound in two. The number of plates also seems to vary. At least, copies should have eight frontispieces and 67 portraits. The present copy is one that has the attraction of having additional engraved title-pages, as well as 52 portraits and 20 allegorical figures (substituted for portraits, and in four cases additional to the portraits). In more luxurious copies, the plates are all in red and sepia, though here predominantly plain. Amongst the luminaries includes are Hobbes, Locke, Clarke, Grotius, Wollaston, Bacon, Gassendi, Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, Halley, Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, Hygens, Boyle, Hartsoeker, Paracelsus, Boerhaave, Gesner, Hales and Reaumur.
Saverien (1720-1805), wrote several books on marine science, and is noted for having invented two machines for determining the speed of a ship. He also edited the French edition of Maclaurin’s Traité des Fluxions (1749). As is reflected by the present work, he was also the author of several historical works on the exact and natural sciences, which reflected a deep knowledge of the history of science and philosophy. He published a separate five volume biographical work ‘Historie des Philosophes anciens jusqu’à la renaissance des letters (1770-1773). Cohen de Ricci 942; Brunet V, 154; for a detailed discussion of the work see Ribard, 'Raconter, vivre, penser: histoire(s) de philosophes, 1650-1766', ff. 357.
Condition: in contemporary marbled calf, spines in compartments with raised bands, attractively tooled in gilt, with two morocco labels lettered in gilt, head-bands exposed on volumes VI and VIII, with light wear to the heads of all spines with some minor nicking, minor soiling to covers, extremities lightly bumped and rubbed; an attractive, clean, fresh set.