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Historia insectorum generalis; ofte, algemeene verhandeling der bloedeloose dierkens.Utrecht: Merinardus van Dreunen, 1669.
The very rare first edition of Swammerdam's important entomology work in which he "rejected spontaneous generation and proposed that the process of decay in organic matter was the result of living organisms" (Dibner on the later re-worked edition of this work by Boerhave from 1737, i.e., Bybel der natuure). ❧ Garrison-Morton 294; Barchas 2018. See Dibner 191; Norman 2037; Sparrow 187 for the later Bybel der natuure. "The Biblia natura, Swammerdam's major work, was published fifty-seven years after his death by Herman Boerhaave, who assembled it from unpublished manuscript materials integrated with a slightly revised version of Swammerdam's Historia insectorum generalis (1669)." (Norman).

"The 1669 Historia was devoted to the over-throw of the idea of metamorphosis, as its title explains: 'General Account of the Bloodless Animals, in Which Will be Clearly Set Forward the True Basis of Their Slow Growth of Limbs, the Vulgar Error of the Transformation, Also Called Metamorphosis, Will be Effectually Washed Away, and Comprehended Concisely in Four Distinct Orders of Changes, or Natural Budding Forth of Limbs.' The idea of metamorphosis, which Swammerdam was so determined to refute, was that of a sudden and total change from one kind of creature into another, comparable to the alchemical transmutation of a base metal into gold.

"The impact of the New Philosophy is clearly shown in Swammerdam's famous Historia insecianem generalis of 1669. From early childhood, Swammerdam had had a strong interest in insects. This was a highly original field of research. Except for some species, insects were usually considered vermin, representing the lowest stage in the 'great chain of being'. Most insects, natural philosophers since Aristotle maintained, originated from spontaneous generation, that is to say from putrefying plants, meat or excrements. Unlike the higher animals, they had no entrails. As a consequence, insects were not only neglected in scientific research but even loathed. There were some exceptions to this rule, like the bee, the ant and the butterfly. Their status, however, was not the result of a thorough knowledge of their generation but was largely due to their symbolic meaning. The Bible, the Ancients, emblem-books and contemporary natural histories all described the life of bees as a model for human society, since the ruler of the beehive was believed to be a King. Likewise, the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly was considered a metaphor, even a proof of the Resurrection of the Dead!. It was such assumptions Swammerdam attacked vehemently.

"Close scrutiny led Swammerdam to the conclusion that the so-called 'king-bee' had female sexual organs. And, even more importantly, the idea of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar via chrysalis into a butterfly was entirely nonsensical. There was no such thing as a sudden, miraculous change of one creature into another. The butterfly did not resurrect from the rotting body of the dead caterpillar, but essentially was the caterpillar, since all the basic organs of the butterfly could already be discerned in the early stage of the creature's life. He maintained that this process was basically the same as the life cycle of the higher creatures. These were the more spectacular discoveries Swammerdam presented to his readers in 1669.

"Moreover, in his Historia, Swammerdam sketched the general outlines of an entirely new theory of the generation of all insects. He vehemently attacked axioms that were three centuries old: (1) insects lack internal anatomy; (2) they originate by spontaneous generation; (3) they then develop by metamorphosis. Swammerdam self-confidently declared that he, 'by means of experience' ('door middel van de ondervindingen') had solved the mystery that for two thousand years had puzzled the most brilliant minds. Swammerdam scorned almost every predecessor who he believed had been more preoccupied with reading books or with 'vain speculations' than with observing the processes of nature. Aristotle, Pliny, Aldrovandi, Moffet and other contemporary authors were all attacked in a most aggressive manner as not seeking truth and thereby not serving God, the almighty creator.

At first sight, Swammerdam takes an entirely empirical approach. He denies the value of bookish knowledge and folklore, and bases himself exclusively on his own observations. Others were only to be believed insofar as he himself could verify their conclusions. The Historia offers many valuable observations on different kinds of insects and is in this respect far superior to Hooke's famous Micrographia (1665) and Redi's Espierenze intorno alla generazione degl'insetti (1668)." (The Early Enlightenment in the Dutch Republic, 1650-1750, pp. 92-94).. 4to (197 x 150 mm), contemporary full calf, outer front hinge starting, lower capital chipped, but in all a fine and unrestored copy, text fresh and clean, plates with some light browning. Pp xxviii 168; 48, followed by a letterpress folding table paged 49 pp

      [Bookseller: Sophia Rare Books]
Last Found On: 2014-10-02           Check availability:      Antikvariat    


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