Blog Archives

Descartes…L’Homme the Journey to Print

Title page from L'Homme

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French thinker of the empiricist thinker. Descartes was born in la Haye, in Touraine. He was the son of a provincial governor, Joachim Descartes, and his wife Jeanne Brochard.  After a short career of practicing law he went to fight under Maurice of Nassau, in the rebellion against the Spanish. In 1619, he had a series of visions that compelled him to devote his life to science. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the protestant Dutch republic where his teachings and experiments would be more accepted. While there he corresponded and tutored a number of pupils that followed and studied his Cartesian teachings and his traité des passions, the study of emotions.


L'Homme cover with acid specklingThe copy in the collection is bound in calf skin, a common binding of the 17th and 18th centuries. The speckling technique used on it was created by sprinkling acid over the leather and then wiping it clean after a period of time. This technique has created problems in some specimens in today’s world as the acid continues to erode the boards. The printer of this text, Jacques Le Gras, was the original publisher. Shortly afterward, the text was moved to a different printing house and released in a larger run from the printers Charles Angot and Théodore Girard.

The book itself is best described in the Heirs of Hippocrates (1974) text, “This first French edition is the original text as composed by Descartes and is edited by his good friend, Claude Clerselier (1614-1684). This edition also contains the first printing of his treatise ‘De la formation du foetus,’ completed just before his death. The fine woodcuts in this edition were partly based on Descartes’ drawings from the manuscript and partly prepared by the co-editors, Louis de la Forge (1632-1666?) and Gerard van Gutschoven (fl. 1660) … Descartes was prepared to publish this book in 1633 but decided to withhold it when he learned of Galileo’s condemnation by the Church. As a result, the first edition was not published until 1662 [in Latin], twelve years after Descartes’ death … It is sometimes called the first book on physiology, and that could be argued, but there is no doubt that the Cartesian philosophy exerted a tremendous effect on the evolution of medicine.”

Eye with muscle purportedly drawn by DescartesDescartes decision to withhold this text from the public may have spared him from the kind of persecution Galileo endured upon the publication of his Dialogs, 1632. However, Descartes did not escape allegations that his beliefs were atheistic and pelagianistic, which is the idea that people, can avoid sin without God’s grace. These accusations started in the 1640s when the rector at the university at Utrecht began making these charges. These denunciations regarding his atheistic thoughts become more heated as scholars from Leiden, a university town, became involved.  At one point in the summer of 1647, Descartes returned to France for the second time in that decade, where he contemplated staying to escape these charges. He did return to the Dutch republic, but by the end of the decade he had traveled to Stockholm to tutor Christina of Sweden. The arrangement for tutoring her was extremely strenuous, she required sessions before dawn in the brisk air of the Swedish winter. By February 1650, he had fallen ill and ultimately died from pneumonia.

Image from L'Homme drawn by an illustrator other than Descartes.The journey to publish L’homme was led by Claude Clerselier, a staunch Catholic, who came into the ownership of Descartes’ papers via his brother-in-law, the French ambassador to Sweden. Clerselier edited this text and considerable correspondence, which helped shape Descartes’ image in the following years. The quality of the 1664 French edition made Clerselier the understood guardian of Descartes’ body of manuscripts. The book itself is interesting because Descartes’ essay is the smallest portion of the over four hundred page text. The accompanying essays, forwards and remarks make up the majority of the pages. Clerselier’s remarks include, among other things, a reasoning of the illustrations included, of which many were provided by Florentius Shuyl and Clerselier himself. One image of particular interest was drawn by Descartes. Clerselier kept the original drawing, an eye held by muscle, to prove it was Descartes work. However, there is a notable difference in the artistic styles between the eye and some of the other pieces, particularly in their background detail.  The additional contributions to the text include Louis de La Forge’s remarks that expand on the Descartes text and attempt to clarify the conceptual leaps Descartes makes in L’Homme.

This exceptional text was purchased in the spring of 2010 by University of Missouri Ellis Library Special Collections and Rare Books, through a donation by Mr. Richard Toft.


Bibliographic Information:


A Paris: Chez Iacques Le Gras, au Palais, à l’entrée de la Gallerie des Prisonniers, MDCLXIV, [1664]

QP29 .D44 1664


Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in New Books, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Russian Maps Digital Exhibit!!!!

Russian Map Banner


Mapping the Past: Rare Russian Maps from Special Collections has been created as a digital highlight of books and maps on the website of the Special Collections and Rare Books department.  This virtual exhibit describes the cartographic trade and the exploration of the Russian empire from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The display was originally mounted as a physical exhibit in the Ellis Library colonnade at the University of Missouri in April 2011.


Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Rare Book Collection

John Miles Foley’s Lord Library Donation Lecture

University of Missouri Professor John Miles Foley, director for The Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, presented a talk entitled, “Albert Lord and the Study of Oral Tradition,” on Thursday, February 10th, 2011. Below is a full length version of Professor Foley’s Lord Library Donation Lecture.

[flv:/blogs/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/FLVdirectory/foley_lecture_edited.flv /blogs/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/FLVdirectory/posterframe/foley_lecture_screencap.png 480 368]

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Albert & Mary Lord Collection

Albert Bates Lord and Mary Louise Lord’s private libraries were donated by the generous Lord family to the University of Missouri Libraries in 2010. A University of Missouri Classics and English Professor, John Miles Foley and former student of Albert Lord, was able to secure the collection for the use in University Libraries. On Thursday February 10, 2011 there was a reception and talk by John Miles Foley about Lord and his library. In continued celebration of the Lord collection we thought we should share some images, with our blog readers.

Albert Lord documented oral tradition world-wide; he was specifically interested in oral performance and composition. Due to his B.A. in Classics from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature he was well suited for a career exploring oral tradition. He specialized in recording Serbian heroic poems, but also studied Homeric epics, Beowulf and Gilgamesh.  Lord accumulated a large and unique library while professor at Harvard College.  Additionally, he chaired and helped found the Department of Mythology and Folklore at Harvard from its inception through 1983, when he retired.

Mary Louise Lord, an academic herself, was a professor of Classics for many years at Connecticut College. She also contributed to her husband’s work through editing and helping him reflect on his work. Her part of the library represents her professional interests, contributing many classic works. Specifically of significance is part of Heinemann Publishing’s classic literature texts. They are pictured to the right and provide either Latin/English or Greek/English texts. She helped publish The Singer Resumes the Tale, one of Albert Lord’s books published posthumously.

One of the books is a signed copy of, Heinrich Schliemann’s, “Ithaka Der Peloponnes und Troja.” On the left is the title page with an inscription, which could be translated as:  “To the lover of the arts Mr. Erik Barren (or Henry Warren?) as a memorial. 1874. Schliemann.” Schliemann, an archeologist of the 19th century, is credited with the archeological dig that unearthed ancient Troy. He submitted this work, written in Greek, to the University of Rostock in hopes of attaining a doctoral degree. He was

granted a Ph.D. based on this work, in 1869. Albanian Shepard Costume Additional interesting items from the donation include an Albanian shepherd’s costume that is from the 20th century, two Sviralas, Croatian reed-type instruments, and Lord’s typewriter. This collection is currently being cataloged and processed. After, these important steps the items will be housed in MU Libraries. You can find a listing of all the books through the MERLIN catalog through:   Lord Collection University Of Missouri Columbia Libraries

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Closed Collection, Special Collections

A trip to Special Collections!

Students Reading

This past semester, Rare Books and Special Collections librarians and staff held over 20 instruction sessions with students from the University of Missouri and beyond. We’ve compiled a list of subjects that were covered by our materials last semester. We think you’ll see that Rare Books and Special Collections has something for all research interests!

  • Charles Schulz alternative literature
  • History of Book Cataloging
  • Women’s life in the Middle Ages
  • Men’s life in the Middle Ages
  • Slavery in the British West Indies
  • Greek Mythology
  • Shakespeare and Jews
  • Beetle Bailey Overview

Perhaps Rare Books and Special Collections could offer your Spring 2011 course a session! Send us an e-mail SpecialCollections(at)!

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Classes, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections
Be Sociable
Facebook  Twitter  Tumblr Special Collections and Rare Books
%d bloggers like this: