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2003-06, 338, Neil Boness, Science

Walter Moore, book collector and donor

Walter Moore, Emeritus Professor of Physical Chemistry of the University of Sydney, first approached the Fisher Library in January 1990 with a proposal to donate his collection of over 300 scientific books. This was a collection which the Library was only too happy to accept, complementing as it did the Library’s existing strengths in the history of science, especially the materials in the Library’s W.H. Deane Collection. Walter’s collection was especially strong in the areas of thermodynamics, electricity and 20th century physics and the titles he had collected over the years ranged in date from the 16th to the 20th centuries. While there was inevitably some duplication of existing items, the majority of his collection was accepted and came to be housed within the Rare Book Library, these arriving in several lots over the period 1990 to 1993.

A collection such as this represents almost a lifetime’s work as many of the titles are exceptionally rare and are not commonly offered for sale. Among the authors to be found are Roger Bacon, Giovanni Beccaria, Berzelius, Boyle, Curie, Davy, Fludd, Gassendi, Kircher, Lavoisier, Newton, Priestley and Schrödinger, to name but a few.

The items selected below are just a few of those donated and give an idea of the richness of this collection.

Flamel, Nicolas, [Villain, Abbé Estienne François]: Histoire critique de Nicolas Flamel et de Pernelle sa femme. Recueillie d’actes anciens qui justifient l’origine & la médiocrité de leur fortune contre les imputations des alchimistes […]. Paris: G. Desprez, 1761.

Nicolas Flamel is the famous alchemist, who has become well known to readers of the Harry Potter books. He lived in Paris during the 14th century, where he worked as a copier of documents. During the course of this work, he came across an ancient manuscript – “The Book of Abraham the Jew”. It took Flamel and his wife many years to decipher the secrets of this book, and when they finally succeeded they discovered the ancient alchemical secret of turning base metal into gold – a process that requires the creation of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone.

The wealth Flamel acquired was devoted to the building, restoring and decorating of churches and hospitals. He is reputed to have died in the year 1419, but Paul Lucas relates that when travelling in Asia Minor he met a dervish who said that Flamel and his wife were still alive. This story and the reports about Flamel’s wealth were examined and criticized by Estienne François Villain in his history of Flamel.

Hero of Alexandria [Heron] (fl. ca. 60 A.D.), Spiritali di Herone Alessandrino ridotti in lingua volgare da Alessandro Giorgio da Urbino. Urbino: Bartholemeo e Simone Ragussi, 1592.

Hero of Alexandria (fl. ca. A.D. 62) is the name under which number of works of mathematics and physics have come down to us today. This book is the first Italian translation of his Pneumatics, a work which was not translated into English until 1851. The book is the most extensive of Hero’s surviving works and until recently the only one well-known in the West. Since the publication of his Metrica, Dioptra and De mensuris, his reputation as an original thinker has increased greatly.

Though portions of the book are borrowed from Philo, much is clearly original. It consists of notes for a textbook on the subject, written in a discursive style and contains drawings and descriptions of 76 small machines and mechanical toys, including the famous stationary steam engine, musical instruments and a double acting force pump. This use of toys has been the cause of despair to pedants, but it is probable that they were used as examples of the physical principles involved .

Kircher, Athanasius, Magnes sive de arte magnetica opus tripartitum […]. Rome: B. Deversin & Z. Masotti, 1654.

Third edition, the first folio edition and virtually a new work, rewritten and expanded from the first edition in quarto (1641, reprinted 1643). The 1654 edition is Kircher’s largest, most complete, and definitive work on magnetism and electromagnetism (a term coined by Kircher and first used in this work on p.640), which he conceived of as a universal force of nature. An extensive chapter discusses the magnetic properties of the planets. William Gilbert’s De magnete (1600), the first thoroughly modern treatment of magnetism, influenced Kircher considerably. Kircher adapts Gilbert’s theories of magnetism and Kepler’s work in astronomy, but does not hesitate to refute either.

This work, like others of Kircher’s printed works, became very popular. The Magnes had a powerful influence upon Otto von Guericke, while Jungius, Leibniz and others quoted from Kircher’s works. The work does not deal solely with what modern physicists call magnetism. The book is divided into three parts: the first on the magnet itself; the second on its application encompassing magnetic statics, magnetic geometry, magnetic astronomy and magnetic natural magic; and the third on such topics as the magnetism of the earth and other heavenly bodies, the use of the thermometer, natural and artificial weather, magnetism of medicines, poisons and antidotes, the attractive force of the imagination, and the magnetism of music and of love. Part III contains a large section featuring the role of magnetism in medicine, including a chapter on Tarantism, the “Dancing Mania” of the Middle Ages caused by the bite of the tarantula and centred on the Italian city of Taranto in Apulia. This section includes a fine engraved plate of anatomical illustrations of the tarantula. The disease is described and musical examples are provided, including lyrics, musical instruments, and dance steps used in effecting a cure.

Marat, Jean Paul, Recherches physiques sur le feu. Paris: Chez Cl.Ant. Jombert, ??? 1780.

Marat, before his revolutionary career took off, wrote a number of scientific books, heavily influenced by the Mesmerist theories of the time. Marat was refused admission to the “higher circles of science”, although he himself thought he had surpassed Newton. As a result, during the French Revolution Marat was one of those who were instrumental in closing the Academies.

In his book Marat attempts to give a mechanical explanation of the phenomena of heat by the use of his theoretical “fluide igne”. Some 166 experiments are described in support of his views. It includes chapters on the nature of igneous fluid and its distribution throughout the universe, on the form and colour of fire, on fusion, evaporation and explosion, on the heat of the sun, and on the relative inflammability of combustible materials. The engraved plates illustrate a number of the experiments described in the text.

Musschenbroek, Petrus van, Essai de physique…Avec une description de nouvelles sortes de machines pneumatiques, et un recueil d’expériences par Mr. J.V. M[usschenbroek]. Leyden: S. Luchtmans, 1751.

One of the best 18th century introductions to Newtonian physics. This is a book filled with interesting experiments and problems. Some of the subjects covered are gravity, mechanics, machinery, elasticity, electricity, capillarity, hydraulics, optics (with a long account of vision and the eye), celestial mechanics, comets, and the weather system.

Musschenbroek (1692-1761), professor of natural philosophy and mathematics at Utrecht and, later, professor of experimental physics at Leyden, was one of the most celebrated physicists and most important investigators of his time. The experiments described in his books have become classics in elementary instruction.

Musschenbroek came from a well-known family of instrument makers in Leiden. He studied medicine, but devoted himself chiefly to experimental physics, in which he made several important discoveries, especially in magnetism and the cohesion of bodies. He went to England in 1717, where he met Newton, and he became one of the first to introduce Newton’s ideas into Holland.

Boyle, Robert, An Essay About the Origine & Virtues of Gems […]. London: William Godbid, 1672.

A monumentally important work in the history of crystallography. Mentioned in every thorough history of science, the Essay marks the beginning of the modern development in knowledge of crystal structure. This celebrated treatise really has little to do with gemstones except as they happened to conveniently provide crystals for Boyle’s inquiries into the solid state of matter. While Boyle never stated the principle directly, his discussion “clearly demonstrates he was aware … that crystals grow from solution from very minute particles which attach themselves to the growing crystal in such a manner that they add bulk and create characteristic external planes”.

One of Boyle’s primary reasons for writing this work was to determine whether pulverized gemstones, as used by the apothecaries, held curative powers. While he concedes that water-soluble ingredients may possibly be absorbed in the digestive tract, he generally finds little merit in the claim.

Boyle, Robert, New experiments and observations touching cold, or, an experimental history of cold, begun. To which are added an examen of antiperistasis, and an examen of Mr. Hobbs’s doctrine about Cold. Whereunto is annexed An account of freezing, brought in to the Royal Society, by the learned Dr. C. Merret, a Fellow of it. Together with an Appendix, containing some promiscuous Experiments and Observations relating to the precedent History of Cold. London: printed for John Crook, 1665.

This is an important precursor of thermodynamics and a pioneering work in scientific instrumentation. Boyle made important improvements in the thermometer and his suggestion of constructing a scale between fixed points probably influenced Newton, Fahrenheit and Réamur. “ ‘The Treatise on Cold’ is a milestone in the history of chemistry since it applies a quantitative tool, namely the thermometer, to the study of the interaction of elemental substances and mixtures”. Both Boyle and his friend Christopher Merrett were invited by the Royal Society to make observations on cold, and Merrett’s “Account of Freezing made in December and January, 1662” is printed as an appendix. It was in this year that Boyle suggested to Merrett that he should translate Neri’s “Art of Glass” -perhaps Boyle’s experience in having his thermometers and the receivers for his air pumps made alerted him to the need for an examination of glass making in England.

Priestley, Joseph, The History and Present State of Electricity, with original experiments. London: Printed for J. Dodsley…and T. Cadell…, 1767.

The History of Electricity was easily the largest book on the subject up to that time, and “supplies an excellent account of previous work both treated historically and summarised systematically”. In his History, he anticipated Henry Cavendish and Charles Augustin de Coulomb in the important suggestion that the law of electric attraction is that of the inverse square, deducing this from an experiment suggested by Benjamin Franklin. He found that an electrified body is discharged by the proximity of flame, that charcoal, blacklead and red-hot glass are conductors, and he satisfactorily explained the formation of rings (since known as Priestley’s rings) when a discharge takes place on a metallic surface.

He showed great insight by pointing out the need for the measure of electrical resistance, and proposed a method for measuring what is now called “impedance”, which at the time was not distinguished from resistance.

Fludd, Robert, Philosophia Moysaica. Gouda: P. Ramazenius, 1638.

Robertus de Fluctibus, British physician, author, and mystical philosopher is often best remembered for his occultist opposition to science. Robert Fludd was one of the last true “Renaissance men” who took all learning as their preserve and tried to encompass the whole of human knowledge. His voluminous writings were devoted to defending the philosophy of the alchemists and Rosicrucians and applying their doctrines to a vast description of man and the universe.

Fludd had a genius for expressing his philosophy and cosmology in graphic form, and his works were copiously illustrated by some of the best engravers of his day.

Guericke, Otto von, Experimenta Nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica De Vacuo Spatio [….]. Amsterdam: Johann Jannsson, 1672.

Guericke was the German physicist who built the first air pump in 1654. The descendent of a well-off family in Magdeburg, he studied Law at the Universities of Leipzig (1617-1620), Helmstedt (1620) and Jena (1621-1622), then going to Leiden, where, in addition to his legal studies, he went to a course of mathematics and started to deal with engineering problems. After holding various public posts in his home town, he moved in 1631 to Erfurt, to work as an engineer for the Swedish government, transferring then to the service of the Elector of Saxony in 1635. In the years between 1646 and 1676, he held the post of Burgomaster of Magdeburg. Despite the fact that his time was largely filled by the burdens of public life, von Guericke continued to interest himself in experimental science, and constructed – alongside many failures – various models of pumps to produce a vacuum.

Guericke demonstrated the properties of the vacuum when he showed that a ringing bell could not be heard, that candles would not burn, and that animals could not live in an evacuated vessel. It is in this context that, in 1657, von Guericke performed his most famous experiment. Two bronze hemispheres, around 50 cm in diameter, and fitting together perfectly, were put together, and then, with an air-pump, a vacuum was produced between them. Incredibly, to separate the two parts took the combined forces of two teams of 8 horses, pulling in opposite directions. The evocative experiment, first described in Gaspar Schott’s Mechanica hydraulico-pneumatica (1657), and then spectacularly repeated before the Berlin court in 1663, confirmed the torricellian discoveries and highlighted the surprising effects of atmospheric pressure.

Also described are electric conduction and repulsion and the discharging power of points. Guericke constructed a sulfur globe mounted on a crank which could be used to accumulate large amounts of charge and produced the first visible and audible sparks.

Franklin, Benjamin, Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America … to which are added, Letters and Papers on Philosophical Subjects. London: for David Henry, 1769.

This is the most complete edition of Franklin’s renowned work on electricity. Benjamin Franklin is generally considered the first great American scientist in the world scientific community. The book is a series of letters addressed to Peter Collinson, the English naturalist, and includes Franklin’s description of his famous kite flying experiment in a thunderstorm, which proved that lightning was just another manifestation of electricity.

The first part contains Franklin’s first reports on the novel electrical experiments with the Leyden jar performed by himself and three other researchers during the later half of the 1740s. These experiments led to Franklin’s successful analysis of the electrical properties of the Leyden jar, and the enunciation of his “single fluid” theory of electricity, a full statement of which appears at the end of this part.

The second part includes Franklin’s account of the famous kite experiment establishing lightning as an electrical phenomenon. The third part of the work developed Franklin’s explanation of induced charges.

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