University of Notre Dame


Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

René Descartes Collection Description

In 1966 the University of Notre Dame acquired a large number of volumes relating to René Descartes that had been collected by the Rev. Elias Denissoff. A comparison to Bibliographie des Oeuvres de René Descartes Publiées au XVIIe Siècle by A. J. Guibert (Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1976) shows that Notre Dame has twelve of the seventeen works listed and fifty-nine of the 137 editions. In addition Notre Dame owns seven editions unrecorded by Guibert.

The majority of the seventeenth-century editions of Descartes' works appeared in both French and Latin. Most of these were published in Amsterdam by three publishers and in Paris by a consortium of four booksellers. The leading publisher of Descartes was Elzevier in Amsterdam, who produced seven of his first editions and many later ones. Eighteen works in Notre Dame's collection (twenty-eight percent) were produced by Elzevier. The other leading publishers of Descartes were Blaeu and Jeansson in Amsterdam and Girard, Bobin, Le Gras, and Angot in Paris, all of whom are represented in the collection. The four Frenchmen appear to have coordinated the publication of particular editions among themselves. They apparently produced variant copies which were similar but which were intentionally distinctive only in the name of the bookseller in the imprint. Le Gras and Girard were brothers-in-law.

Descartes' first and arguably most significant publication was Discours de la Méthode which was published in Leiden by I. Maire in 1637. Of the five seventeenth-century editions Notre Dame owns the first edition and also two published in 1668.

His next work was La Géométrie, which was also published in 1637. Of seven editions Notre Dame owns the 1664, 1683, and 1695.

Descartes' next work, Les Méditations Métaphysiques, appeared in eighteen editions. Notre Dame has eight, including the 1673 Paris edition in two copies, of which one lists the name of Girard and the other of Bobin & Le Gras. The two copies are similar down to the errata. Notre Dame also has an unrecorded Dutch translation published by J. Rieuwertsz in Amsterdam. Guibert lists no works by this publisher, although this is one of three translations by Rieuwertsz in the collection.

His Lettres appeared in 1643. Notre Dame owns the 1657 and 1667 French editions, the 1668 Latin, and volume three of the 1682 Latin.

The Specimina Philosophiae appeared in 1644. Notre Dame has the first edition and four of the other nine editions. All but one of the recorded editions were published in Amsterdam. Notre Dame's unrecorded edition appeared in 1664 without a publisher's name but with Amsterdam publisher J. Jeansson's device on the title page. It varies from both Jeansson's 1656 edition and from Elzevier's 1664.

Les Principes de la Philosophie appeared in twenty-four recorded editions from 1644 to 1706. Our collection contains nine of them plus three unrecorded editions; the twelve range from the first by Elzevier in 1644 to a Dutch translation published by J. ten Hoorn in 1690. Among the nine recorded titles is the 1681 Paris edition in all three variants by Le Gras, Girard, and Bobin. In addition to these nine is an unrecorded edition of a 1657 Dutch translation by Rieuwertsz. Also unrecorded is a 1664 edition which names no publisher but displays the device of Jeansson on the title page. The page states that this is the fourth edition. The text is unlike either Jeansson's 1656 edition or Elzevier's fourth Latin edition of 1664, although like the Elzevier the title page adds "diligenter recognita, & mendis expurgata." The third unrecorded edition is a Dutch translation published by bookseller J. ten Hoorn in 1690.

Second only to Les Principes in number of editions was Les Passions de l'Ame, which appeared in twenty-three editions from 1649 to 1707. Notre Dame owns eight, including two copies of the Latin edition by Elzevier in 1650. Seven editions were published in 1650 alone; they include five French versions published in Amsterdam and Paris and two Latin translations published by Elzevier in duodecimo and quarto. Of the four 1650 editions owned by Notre Dame, one is an unrecorded variant of Guibert number 5 (p. 154). Ours matches the description in all details except the publisher, Jean Hénault, is not one of the six Paris booksellers identified as variants.

Abrégé de Musique was published in seven editions from 1650 to 1695 and Notre Dame's collection contains five of these. It also has an unrecorded English translation printed in London by T. Harper for H. Mosely in 1653.

Of the eleven recorded editions of L'Homme from 1662 to 1692 the collection has five, including the first which was published in Leiden by P. Leffen and F. Moyardum. Guibert warns that this publication, based on a French manuscript copy, was "imparfaite et peu appréciée." Notre Dame also owns the first French edition (1664) which presumably was more accurate.

Le Monde appeared in 1664 in Paris with three variants by Girard, Bobin, and Le Gras. The collection has that by Le Gras.

Opuscula Posthuma, Physica et Mathématica was published in 1701 by Blaeu of Amsterdam. Notre Dame owns this work, which is the Latin translation of three works which had appeared in French.

Of eleven editions of Opera Philosophica the collection includes nine ranging from the second in 1650 to one volume of the 1697. These include four of the six published by Elzevier as well as the last four published in the sixteenth century by Blaeu of Amsterdam and Knoch of Frankfurt.

There are twelve eighteenth-century editions of Descartes in the library's collection. These include a 1728 Discours de la Méthode; a 1714 edition of Lettres; five editions of Specimina Philosophiae dating from 1705 to 1724; 1723 and 1724 Paris editions of Principes de la Philosophie; 1707 and 1726 editions of Les Passions de l'Ame; and a 1729 edition of L'Homme.

Twenty-one contemporary and eighteenth-century editions in the collection responded to Descartes and his ideas. They were published from 1663 to 1739. Eight editions are by Gabriel Daniel; other authors include Bayle, Cordemoy, Du Roure, Erber, Huet, La Forge, Le Bossu, Petermann, Philipps, Regis, Rochon, and Spinoza.

Laura Fuderer
(Curator for Special Collections, March 1997)