Item #8122 A Plurality of Worlds. Bernard de Fontenelle, John Glanvill.
A Plurality of Worlds.

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A Plurality of Worlds.

[London]: The Nonesuch Press, 1929. 8vo (8.125” x 5.25”), full limp vellum, gilt title at spine and decorative gilt stamping at upper cover. ix, 138 pp., colophon. Bookplate of Wyman Parker at lower left corner of front paste-down. CONDITION: Very good, corners slightly bumped.

Nonesuch Press edition of this work first published in 1686, first translated into English by John Glanvill in 1688.

Declaring to those aware of recent developements in Natural Philosophy that he does "not pretend to instruct, but only to divert them by presenting…in a gay and pleasing dress, that which they already know,” Fontenelle’s A Plurality of Worlds is a classic of popular-scientific writing from the Age of Reason. First published forty-five years after Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and a century after the Copernican revolution, this dialogue not only explains the Cartesian dualism of mind and body with respect to terrestrial and intergalactic bodies, but like Descartes before him, Fontenelle’s writing in French rather than Latin made this book accessible to the less-educated. Tremendously popular both in France and across the Channel, the first English-edition, whose text is reproduced in the present edition, “seemed to the British peculiarly their own book, read for at least a century both by men and…ladies,” becoming known as a book “that warranted a subtitle…‘Science made clear to the Meanest Capacities, even to those of Women and Children’” (Nicolson 59).

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (February 1657–January 1757) was neither an astronomer nor a scientist by training, but rather a poet, dramatist, and lawyer. Writing and revising A Plurality of Worlds throughout his life to best-accord with the then-most accurate astronomical observations, he became a precursor to the boom of popular-science writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who, like Fontenelle, sought especially to educate women and children (Stableford 394). Best remembered today for explaining “in terms that could be understood by an intelligent but untrained mind, recent discoveries in the world of stars,” Fontenelle treated “difficult subjects in a light style, playfully and with a touch of affectation that detracted nothing from the seriousness of the given explanations” (Gillespie 59).

John Glanvill (1664–1735) was an English poet, translator, and barrister, known for his penchant for drink and his foul-mouth, who died a wealthy bachelor. Best remembered for his translation of Fontenelle’s text, he also translated Seneca and Horace.

This is copy 834 of 1200 distributed by the Nonesuch Press; 400 additional copies were printed for sale by Random House in the U.S. From the colophon: “This edition of Fontenelle’s La Pluralité des Mondes in John Glanvill’s translation of 1688…has been designed by Francis Meynell, composed by T. W. Hay at the Nonesuch Press, and printed on Van Gelder paper at the Curwen Press. The colour-stencilled decorations are by T. L. Pouton; the remainder are composed of astronomical signs.…”

REFERENCES: Dreyfus, A History of the Nonesuch Press, 65; Gillespie, Charles Coulston. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. vols 5&6. New York: Scribner, 1981; Nicolson, Marjorie Hope. Voyages to the Moon. New York: Macmillan, 1948; Stableford, Brian. Science: Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2006.

Item #8122

Price: $95.00

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