Paris: Rocolet, 1657. FIRST EDITION. Beautiful engraved frontispiece title, full-page engraved illustration to begin the dedication to Mazarin, engraved initials, head- and tailpieces, text diagrams. Contemporary calf; paper a bit toned, otherwise an excellent wide-margined copy. Item #16042
First edition. This treatise provided an expansion and up-to-date reporting of La Chambre’s earlier work in optics. In his Nouvelles observations et coniectures (Paris, 1650), La Chambre first developed his important doctrines on light, which he refined here. He perceived that light was a quality, not a substance; that it was capable of a local motion which, nevertheless, took place in an instant; and he offered as the general causes of reflection and refraction the “animosity” and “natural antipathy” between light and matter. This optical phenomena not only anticipated but likely had a direct affect on Newton’s views on the subject.
The battle to “liberate colour from the clutches of philosophers of the old school” had been fully engaged with the controversy between Fermat and Descartes (and Clerselier), with Fermat pointing out the failure of the Cartesian theory of refraction to provide a plausible physical interpretation fitting the mathematical assumptions used by Descartes. La Chambre corresponded with Fermat (as set forth in Fermat’s letter, p. 156 of his Varia opera mathematica, 1679), urging him “to add Geometry to my Principle and to put forward a demonstration which could serve as the real foundation to refraction.” The mathematical expression of the law of refraction was to be a great asset in helping the further development of geometrical optics and of experimental research.
Marin Cureau de la Chambre (1594-1669) was a French physician and philosopher. He moved to Paris around 1630, and became a physician to Louis XIV. Reportedly the monarch was impressed by la Chambre’s ability to judge human character based on physical appearance. Indeed, la Chambre is largely known for his work in physiognomy, publishin a five-volume study on mans’ character and “passions” (Caractères des passions). He also wrote articles on many other topics, including optics, digestion, and occult practices. He was an original member of the French Academy of Sciences.