London: T. Osborne, 1765. 12mo. [vi], [ii], 208 pp., including an inserted advertising leaf promoting the translator (recto) and for books printed by the publis. FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH. Woodcut headpiece and 2 folding engraved plates. Contemporary full calf, boards gilt-ruled, minor wear to spine; title with staining around edges, otherwise interior in excellent condition. Item #17478
Extremely rare first English edition (a second English edition was published in 1768) translated from the 1758 Italian (Ragionamento sopra il fatto avvenuto in Bergemoletto) edition printed in Turin. This is an early account of (as the title notes) an extraordinary event which resulted in a condition identified by the author and what is now deemed post-traumatic stress disorder. Somis describes in incredible detail the harrowing survival tale of three women trapped in a stable during an avalanche in the town of Bergemoletto in Piedmont which occurred on March 19, 1755. Mary Anne, Anne, and Margaret survived for thirty-seven days on a small supply of milk with a decreasing air supply and deteriorating conditions. The trauma these women suffered is encapsulated in a passage describing Mary Anne’s first encounter with fresh air and sunlight after their rescue: she “was attacked by a very acute pain in the eyes … and was attended with so violent a fainting fit, that she had almost like to have lost in the first moments of her deliverance that life which she had so long and with such difficulty preserved.” Somis additionally provides biological and physiological hypotheses as to how these women survived. He states that adolescent bodies have less resistance and energy reserves, and since these women were adults, their bodies were more hardy. He supports this by referencing medical works by prominent physicians such as Haller, Swammerdam, Eustachio, Harvey, and Scheuchzer. Of particular interest is his reference to the fate of Count Ugolino and his children at the end of canto 32 in Dante’s Inferno. After betraying the city of Pisa, the Count and his children were locked in a tower and left to starve to death. The children died before their father thereby aligning with Somis’s theory that younger individuals are less resilient than adults. One plate shows a map of the town and mountain where the avalanche occurred; the other plate illustrates equipment used by the author to simulate the bladders of the women in their captivity.
Somis (1718–1793), count of Chiavrie, was a physician who taught at numerous universities and academies across Italy, and he dedicated most of his life to reconfiguring the courses at these institutions. He published his first book about the spinal cord and nervous system in 1743, and continued to write on the topics of medicine, chemistry, and biology.