Amsterdam: M. M. Rey, 1762. 1st Edition. 1762 FIRST EDITION IN TWO VOLUMES OF CHARLES BONNET’S IMPORTANT THEORY OF ‘PRE-FORMATION’, THE BELIEF THAT FEMALE EGGS CONTAIN PREFORMED INDIVIDUALS. Bonnet was “one of the founders of modern biology” and his “theory of generation offered the best synthesis of 18th-century ideas of development and remained a leading authority until von Baer” (Dictionary of Scientific Biography, II, 286; Garrison-Morton 472). It is important to note as well that “in a biological development (ontogeny) setting, the word evolution was first used in 1762 by Charles Bonnet in [this work], but [that as] a 'preformationist' [he] used it in opposition to 'epigenesis' (Campbell, Evolution of Evolution, 2009).
Bonnet’s work “is distinguished for both his experimental research and his philosophy, which exerted a profound influence upon the naturalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (DSB). He wrote Considerations sur les Corps Organisés with the specific intent of refuting the theory of epigenesis and explaining the doctrine of pre-existent germs. After studying chick development, Bonnet remained a preformationist, “insisting that form exists from the beginning of each individual organism and only experiences growth over time”, essentially, that the female organism contains within its germ cells an infinite series of preformed individuals (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Bonnet’s “ theory of evolution… was radically different and even diametrically opposed to the theory of evolution as now commonly held”, as well as to a theory proposed by Wolff just prior to Bonnet’s writing ((Whiteman, Bonnet’s Theory of Evolution, p. 412). Wolff and others had looked at the same chick development studies but come to a different conclusion, instead arguing their theory of ‘epigenisis’, that organs are formed in differentiated layers from undifferentiated cells. “Epigenesis and Preformation are two persistent ways of describing and seeking to explain the development of individual organic form” (Stanford). Epigenesis turned out to be correct.
“A true theoretician of biology, [Bonnet] exercised an enormous influence in this field and maintained a correspondence with almost all the scientists of his time” (DSB). Item #1105
CONDITION & DETAILS: Amsterdam: M.M. Rey. Two volumes. (I) [xlii], errata, 274 pp.; (II) [xx], 328 pp. Provenance: Front pastedown with bookplates of Fratelli Salimbeni “G.P.C.” (with woodcut image of Pegasus and motto “Nec adversa retorquent”). On the rear of the half-title and on the last page, each volume bears two quite early (contemporary) and small circular stamps, apparently with the names of professors though this is a bit unclear. They’re actually quite beautiful. Woodcut vignettes by Picart on title pages and at the foot of each chapter. Marbled endpapers and textblocks. Handsomely bound in polished mottled calf, gilt-tooled lettering pieces at the spine and in the compartments. Minor scuffing at the edges and front boards; tightly and solidly bound. Very good +.