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[MAUPERTUIS, Pierre Louis Moreau de (1698-1759)]

Venus physique, contenant deux dissertations, l´une, sur l´origine des hommes et des animaux: et l´autre, sur l´origine des noirs.
A la Haye, Jean Martin Husson, 1746.

Second edition of this important book in the development of the theories of sexual generation, substantially anticipating the ideas of Darwin, Mendel and de Vries appearing over a century later. Stirred up by the appearance in Paris of a “White Negro” (a young African albino) Maupertuis began his researches on generation and heredity and in 1744 he anonymously published a little book entitled Dissertation physique a l’occasion du negre blanc. When a new edition appeared in the following year the title was changed to Venus physique. It had a second part added and was revised with more fully analyzed arguments against the then dominant biological theory of the preformation of the embryo. Maupertuis convincingly argued that the embryo could not be preformed, either in the egg or in the animalcule (spermatozoon), since hereditary characteristics could be passed down equally through the male or the female parent. Both works were published anonymously to avoid repercussions from Church authorities. Of particular interest is that Maupertuis in this book for the first time in the history of embryology draws a parallel between processes in living beings and those of the foetus and that of the 'Arbor Dianæ´– that is '”when one mixes silver and spirits of nitre with mercury and water, the particles of these substances come together themselves to form a vegetation so like a tree that it has been impossible to refuse it the name.” The 'Arbor Dianæ’ played a great part in the embryological controversies of the eighteenth century. It was a natural phenomenon quite unexplained by the chemists of the time. We know that its formation is a simpler process than anything which occurs in the developing embryo, but the growth of knowledge has made it undeniably clear that the same forces which operate in the formation of the 'Arbor Dianæ’ are at work also in the developing embryo” (Needham). By this remarkable observation Maupertuis may be said to be a prophetic precursor of the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA (1953) and its genetical implications. A Swedish edition was published in 1784 and an English, The Earthly Venus, was published in New York in 1966(!).

Collation: Pp. (8), Dissertation physique a l´occasion du negre blanc: pp 1-110, Second Partie: Dissertation sur l´origine des noirs: pp (2), 113-152, Table des matieres: pp 153-168.

Binding: Untrimmed in original grey-paper boards.

Provenance: David Schultz (1732-1823; ennobled von Schultzenheim).

References: Garrison & Morton, 215.1 (1744 ed.), 215.2 ( 1745 ed.); Heirs of Hippocrates, 847 (1845 ed.); Norman, 1459 (1744 ed.), 1460 (1745 ed.); Osler 3349 (1744 ed.), 3350 (1745 ed.); Wellcome IV, p. 175; Needham, A History of Embryology, 2nd ed. (1959), pp 218-220; DSB, IX, 186-89; Cole, Early Theories of Sexual Generation, pp 93-94. 174-75; B. Glass 'Maupertuis, Pioneer of Genetics and and Evolution’ in Glass (ed.) Forerunners of Darwin 1745-1859 (1959); Hagelin, The Womans Booke, p 109. Waller 6354 (1745 ed.), 6355 (this ed.).

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