“HAS EXERCISED AN INFLUENCE UPON THE HUMAN MIND GREATER THAN THAT OF ANY OTHER WORK EXCEPT THE BIBLE”: VERY RARE AND IMPORTANT FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF EUCLID’S ELEMENTS OF GEOMETRIE, 1570
EUCLID. The Elements of Geometrie of the most auncient Philosopher Euclide of Megara. Faithfully (now first) translated into the Englishe toung, by H. Billingsley… With a very fruitfull Preface made by M. I. Dee, specifying the chief Mathematicall Sciences. London: John Daye, (1570). Folio (8-1/2 by 12 inches), contemporary full brown paneled calf rebacked with original spine laid down, raised bands, later tan morocco spine label, later endpapers. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $55,000.
Rare first edition in English, with John Dee’s important preface and allegorical woodcut title page by John Blagrave. This copy with 48 of the original 60 folding overslips (small hinged paper slips tipped onto in-text woodcut diagrams) accompanying figures in Book XI, by their fragile nature often missing.
This first edition in English "is a remarkable production, a stout folio in the well-known manner of John Day whose portrait trademark fills the last page. Apart from the introductory matter, there are 930 pages of text with diagrams well executed. The title page is elaborately emblematic" (Thomas-Stanford). "No work can compare to Euclid's Elements in scientific importance, and its first appearance in English was an event of great significance" (Rosenbach 19: 225). "Euclid's Elements of Geometry is the oldest mathematical textbook in the world still in common use today. Its author was a Greek mathematician living about 300 B.C. who founded a mathematical school in Alexandria in the reign of Ptolemy I. The Elements is a compilation of all earlier Greek mathematical knowledge since Pythagoras, organized into a consistent system so that each theorem follows logically from its predecessor; and in this simplicity lies the secret of its success. Of the 13 books into which it is divided, numbers 1 to 4 are on plane geometry; 5 and 6 on the theory of proportion due to Eudoxus and its application; 7 to 9 on the properties of numbers; 10 on irrational quantities; 11 to 13 on solid geometry culminating in the proof that there are only five regular solids; books 14 and 15 were added later but are not by Euclid… The Elements remained the common school textbook of geometry for hundreds of years and about one thousand editions and translations have been published" (PMM 25). The importance of Sir Henry Billingsley's translation of Euclid was overshadowed by John Dee's Mathematicall Praeface. "Even a cursory reading of this introductory piece will reveal that any simple definition of mathematics would be insufficient to encompass Dee's approach to his subject. As the man was attracted to a mathematical spectrum that ranged from the study of navigation and mechanics to mysticism, so too his Preface reflected the study of this subject on all levels" (Debus). "Truly a monumental work. The print and appearance of the book are worthy of its contents" (Heath). The printing by John Day of this large folio, complete with folding overslips, was a monumental task, and Day's woodcut portrait is included both on the colophon and possibly as the bearded figure of Mercury at the foot of the title page. This copy is without Dee's rare folding Groundplat, a folding table to accompany his preface (not always present), and the two leaves of the translator's preface, but is textually complete. The overslips were originally printed as six bifolia bound in at the end of the book, to be cut into 60 discrete slips of paper and tipped to 37 figures to form three-dimensional figures. In this copy 48 of the 60 slips have survived, 14 are tipped in where appropriate, most of the others have come loose and are laid in at the appropriate pages. A further seven have been supplied in manuscript, two attached, five laid in. Elaborate woodcut initials and tailpieces. First published in Latin in 1482 in Venice by Erhard Ratdolt. STC 10560. Thomas-Stanford 41. Horblit 342. Lowndes, 756. See PMM 25. Engraved armorial bookplate of the Earl of Rosebery.
Text generally clean; minor dust soiling to title page; marginal tear to upper corner of first leaf of text, not affecting letterpress. Contemporary binding restored in early 19th-Century with spine tooling, spine label, endpapers and sprinkled edges dating to that period. Recent expert restoration to joints and spine ends, particularly at head. A very handsome copy, desirable with many of the overslips, in an attractively restored contemporary calf binding.