EXPERIENCES DE PHYSIQUE, by POLINIÈRE, Pierre.

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Invaluable insight into early 18th scientific experimentation - with over 300 figures on 10 throw-out plates

EXPERIENCES DE PHYSIQUE, A Paris, Chez Jean de Laulne... Claude Jombert... Jacque Quillau... Avec Approbation et Privilege.

1709. 12mo, pp. [viii], 508; with woodcut printer’s device on title-page, woodcut head- and tail-pieces, and ten folding engraved plates; some occasional light foxing and spotting, but otherwise clean and crisp; contemporary signature of ‘De Bleumand’ on title-page; in contemporary full calf, spine in compartments with raised bands, decorated in gilt and with red morocco label, head of spine discretely restored, with further refurbishment to extremities, though still with some light rubbing and wear, upper cover a little stained; Rare first edition of this work on experimental physics by Pierre Polinière (1671-1734), considered the founder of such in France who did much to introduce scientific method into French universities. ‘The course of experiments described here was one of the first public science lectures series given in France. The book includes the announcement of Polinière’s discovery of electroluminescence produced by rubbing partially evacuated glass containers. The lectures were based on 107 experiments using the air-pump and electrical and optical apparatus - the experiments on electricity, light and colours are of particular importance. Polinière perfected experimental demonstrations from a number of sources and around 1700, at the request of the Faculty of Philosophy, began public presentations to students at the Collège of Harcourt and at other colleges of the University of Paris’ (Gaskell, 38:53 second edition 1718).
Polinière carefully describes 100 detailed experiments, all of which are illustrated by figures on one of the ten engraved plates bound at the end of the volume. These include demonstrations on magnetism, light and colours, hydrostatics, the properties of air, sound, chemistry and aspects of physiology. Nearly 300 figures are included illustrating instruments, apparatus and the experiments themselves, thus providing a fascinating visual representation of early 19th century experimentation in action. As a note on p. 508 reveals, Polinière specifically requested for the plates to be bound in such a way so as to fold out ‘entierement hors du livre’, so that they can be opened fully and used in conjunction with the text. The work proved immensely popular with an expanded second edition published in 1718 (with 16 plates and reprinted in 1722), a third edition in 1728, a fourth in 1734 and finally a fifth edition in 1741.
‘One of the first in France to present public lectures on natural philosophy, Polinière enjoyed a considerable reputation as a popular demonstrator and as such was an important precursor of Nollet. He made independent, though unappreciated, discoveries in electroluminescence and was one of the earliest on the Continent to advocate Newton’s theory of color.... His courses were received with such enthusiasm that he continued to offer them annually until his death; and their great success, both with students and the educated public, brought him to the attention of both the court and scientific circles. In 1722 he presented a series of experiments before the young Louis XV and, according to Michaud, Fontenelle was himself a vocal supporter of Polinière and entrusted to him the education of his nephew’ (Corson, DSB 11: 67-8).

Bibliography: Wheeler Gift 248 (1718 edition); OCLC locates copies at Harvard, the Bakken, Yale, UCSF, Oklahoma, Linda Hall, Cornell, Edinburgh, Oxford, the Wellcome and a number of European locations.

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