La Dioptrique [and] Les Météores.

[Leiden: J. Maire, 1637.]

2 parts in 1 volume with continuous pagination, 4to, 1 leaf, 294 pages. No title-page but half-title to the first part and including the half-title (pp. 155–156) to the second part. Woodcut illustrations and diagrams in the text. 18th century Italian half sheep, flat spine gilt with green and brown morocco label, marbled sides and endpapers. Foxing in gathering B, otherwise a fine copy but top edge cut a little close. Bookplate of Count Jacopo Francesco Riccati (1676–1754, eminent Venetian mathematician); and of David L. DiLaura.

FIRST PRINTINGS of two of the essays included by Descartes in the first edition of his Discours de la Méthode (Leiden, 1637). The third, and the last of the three to be printed, was on analytical geometry. Optics was a life-long interest of Descartes, and his earliest study was that of refraction, written in 1619–1621. The first full expression of these and other ideas was his Le Monde, nearly completed by 1633 but not published in his lifetime… In the following three years Descartes reworked Le Monde…writing what would become the Discours de la Méthode along with its three demonstrative essays…” (DiLaura). La Dioptrique has three principal topics: the nature of light and the laws of optics, vision, and dioptric improvement of vision. Les Météores, on atmospheric phenomena, is in ten Discourses, of which Discourse eight presents the correct explanation of the geometric aspects of primary and secondary rainbows. “It is known that the essays were produced in the order of La Dioptrique, Les Météores, and then La Géometrie, and that the Discours itself was written last. Printing was also in that order and took nearly a year. Written and printed before the rest of the book, copies of La Dioptrique and Les Météores were known to circulate in Europe in 1636… The advanced copies—as it were—of two of the essays drew responses, questions and criticisms from several European scholars” (ibid). Huygens, for instance, received a copy of La Dioptrique and invited Descartes to discuss it over dinner at his house in Amsterdam. The Géometrie was printed as a separate issue of only six copies on large paper. DiLaura, Bibliotheca Opticoria, 76. See Guibert, Bibliographie des oeuvres de René Descartes, pp. 14–16 and 26–27, who does not locate any separate issues of these two essays but does locate a single copy of the Géometrie (the Bodleian Library, Oxford).


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