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TREMBLEY, Abraham (1710–1784)

Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire d’une genre de polypes d’eau douce, à bras en forme de cornes.
A Leide, chez Jean & Herman Verbeek, 1744.

First edition of one of the most beautifully illustrated scientific books of the 18th century. Trembley, scientist and philosopher from Geneva, discovered the regenerative powers of the polyp; a discovery which threw the biological world of France and England into a ferment. His conclusions were taken up by Bonnet, Haller, Reaumur, and others. Maupertuis, as early as 1745, expressed his amazement and saw new perspectives opening up. Trembley laid the foundations of what has become a very important part of the science and medicine of modern times. Trembley was the first person to show that certain animals can be artificially multiplied by division, the first to make permanent grafts of animal tissues, the first to prove by rigorous experiment that asexual reproduction by budding occurs in animals, and the first to witness cell-divison; he also discovered the process by which Protozoa multiply. These are only a few of his contributions to biological knowledge. A large part of his research was concerned with the little fresh-water polyp, hydra, an animal of particular importance today because it is one of the standard “types” used all over the world in teaching elementary biology to students of science, medicine, and agriculture. At the time of publication, the immediate philosophical repercussions were even more startling. The animal soul was clearly shown to be material. The heterogenetic origin of life seemed to be confirmed. Bonnet suggested that the polyp bridged the animal life and vegetable kingdoms, nullifying their supposedly complete separation. Later he declared the polyp to be the key to the interpretation of nature. The most radical conclusions were drawn by La Mettrie in his L’Homme Machine, published towards the end of 1747. “Trembley discovered the hydra and was the first to observe in it asexual reproduction, regeneration, and photosensitivity in an animal without eyes. His experiments were of great importance in the study of regeneration of lost parts. He was the first to make permanent grafts and to witness cell-division” (Garrison-Morton).

Collation: Pp xv, (1), 324, (2) Avis au Relieur. With 13 folding-out engraved plates drawn by Pieter Lyonet (1708–1789), pl. 1-5 etched by Jacob von Schley (1715–1779) and pl. 6-13 by Lyonet. Four engraved tail-pieces. Each of the four chapters opens with a charming head-piece showing the tutor, Trembley, with two pupils, Antoine and Jan Bentinck. Two of these depict fishing in the grounds of the Chateaux Sorgfliet and one when they are examining their catch in the laboratory (drawn by C. Pronk, engraved by J. von Schley).

Binding: Contemporary mottled calf with five raised bands, red spine label, richly gilt in spine compartments, red edges, and marbled endpapers.

Provenance: Bookplate on verso of title-leaf: "Bibliothèque de Mr le Syndic Masbou. 1827".

References: Garrison-Morton 307; Norman Library 2094; DSB, XIII, 457-58; Nissen ZBI, 4163; Barchas Collection 2051; Cole Library 1497; Lenhoff, Sylvia and Howard, Hydra and the Birth of Experimental Biology, 1744. Abraham Trembley’s Mémoires concerning the Polyps (1986).With English translation; Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought (1982), pp 201, 674; Baker, Abraham Trembley, pp VIII ff.; Glass & Temkin & Straus, Forerunners of Darwin, pp 116 ff; Vartanian -’Trembley’s Polyp, La Mettrie, and 18th century French Materialism’ in Journ. Hist. Ideas, vol. 11, pp 259-86. Waller 11974.

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