Item #8653 A Plurality of Worlds. Written in French by the Author of the Dialogues of the Dead. Bernard le Bovier de. John Glanvill trans Fontenelle.
A Plurality of Worlds. Written in French by the Author of the Dialogues of the Dead.

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A Plurality of Worlds. Written in French by the Author of the Dialogues of the Dead.

London: Printed for R. Bentley and S. Magnes, in Russell-Street, in Covent-Garden, MDCLXXXVIII [1688]. Hardcover. 24mo (6.25” x 4”), recent polished calf spine, original speckled calf covers. [12], 152 pp. Gift inscription: “To Madame Brooks, present,” in ink on ffep. CONDITION: Very good, worn at extremities and corners slightly bent, minimal foxing.

The first English edition of this Enlightenment-era popular science Socratic dialogue written for lay men and women, explaining the heliocentric worldview and indicating the possibility of extraterrestrial life on the Moon, Venus, and beyond.

Declaring “to those who have any knowledge of natural Philosophy, that I do not pretend to instruct, but only to divert them by presenting…in a gay and pleasing dress, that which they already know,” and hoping that those for “whom the Subject is new, may be both diverted and instructed,” Fontenelle’s A Plurality of Worlds is a classic of popular-scientific writing from the Age of Reason. 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 decision to write in French rather than Latin made this book accessible for the less-educated masses. Tremendously popular both in France and across the Channel, this first English-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). Interestingly, as a work of popular-science set in Socratic dialogue, the conversation between a wise man (the Philosopher) and a curious aristocratic woman (a Marquise) has recently been interpreted as a romantic drama, inspiring the 2020-film Around the Sun.

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 Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (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.

REFERENCES: Wing F1416; ESTC R26138; 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 #8653

Price: $1,750.00