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GALVANI, Luigi (1737–1798)

De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius.
Bononiæ, ex Typographia Instituti Scientiarum, 1791.

First edition of one of the most important works in the history of electricity in the excessively rare offprint believed to have been issued in only twelve copies, one of which was sent to Volta, who repeated Galvani’s experiments. This is the second issue of the offprint of Galvani’s famous paper from the journal De Bononiensi Scientiarum et Artium Instituto atque Academia Commentarii, volume 7, pp 363–419. There are two different issues, both separately paginated, one printed from the standing type of the journal, with the addition of an ornamentral border printed above the beginning of the article, and published with a half-title only. In this second issue gathering A (eight pages) has been reset distinguished from the first issue by the catch syllables ”si”, ”His,” and ”mi-” on pp 3, 5 and 7 respectively. The first issue has no title-leaf and is known in just two copies (the Fulton copy at Yale and the one from the library of the Italian scholar Giaconto Amati (1778?-1850), which is the first ever offered for sale (Bernard Quaritch, Cat. 1332, item 37). The four engraved plates by Galvani’s friend Jacobo Zambelli, which graphically illustrate Galvani’s dissections and electrical apparatus, belongs to the most famous of all illustrations in the history of biology. ”By the end of the eighteenth century the connexion between nervous action and electricity had been the subject of investigation for some time. Newton, when discussing the properties of aether, had made suggestions that an electric spirit might convey sensations to the brain along the nerves and produce muscular reactions. Haller also made experiments trying to prove a connexion between electrical action and reflexes of the muscles. It was left to Luigi Galvani, professor of anatomy at Bologna, in ’On the Effects of Electricity on Muscular Motion’, to provide, as he thought, dramatic experiments on what he called ’animal electricity’ and afterwards ’galvanism’. Galvani observed in his laboratory that when a nerve in a frog’s leg was touched with a scalpel, violent contractions of the muscles occured simultaneous with the sparks discharged from a nearby electrical machine. He further discovered that when one metal was placed in contact with a frog’s nerve, another with a muscle, and the metals touched, contraction of the muscle took place, without needing a spark from an electrical machine. As a physiologist, Galvani thought that this action was due to the presence of electricity in the animal itself, as in the ’electric eel’ and that the metal wires simply served as conductors. He did not realize that he had not discovered just a new physiological source of electricity, but a new source of continuous eletric flow in chemical action. It was Alessandro Volta, a physicist, who proved that animals were inessential to ’galvanic’ electricity, and who constructed the first battery to cause a current to flow by chemical action” (Printing and the Mind of Man).

Collation: Pp (2) title, 3-58. With 4 folding engraved plates. Sign. A–G4 H1. Small hole burnt in outer margin of plates 3 and 4 repaired.

Binding: Nineteenth century green half cloth, marbled boards, marbled edges. Gilt title on spine.

Provenance: A note at foot of title-page in Anders Johan Hagströmer's hand tells that the book was a gift from Axel Fredric Almqvist (1805–1881), probably in 1828: ”Af Philos. Mag. och Stipend: vid Kongl. fält Läkare Corpsen Herr Almqvist skänckt til Carol. Med. Chir. Instit: Nya skåpet.”

References: Garrison-Morton 593; Grolier, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine 50; Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science 37a; Fulton, John F. & Harvey Cushing, ’A Bibliographical Study of the Galvani and the Aldini Writings on Animal Electricity, in Annals of Science, vol. 1, No. 3, 1936, pp 239-68 with 9 plates; Galvani, Commentary of the Effects of Electricity on Muyscular Motion. Translated into English by Margaret Glover Foley, with Notes and a Critcal Introduction by I. Bernard Cohen. Together with a Facsimile of Galvani’s De Viribus . . . and a Bibliography of the Editions and Translations of Galvani’s Book prepared by John Farquhar Fulton and Madeline E. Stanton (1953); Dibner, Heralds of Science 59; Printing and the Mind of Man 240; Bernard Quaritch Ltd. Catalogue 1332 Medicine, item 32. Waller 11346 (second edition, 1792).

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