Erasmushaus, the Swiss bookseller specializing in antiquarian works prior to 1800, has released a new catalogue, Intermezzo 50. It is filled with a variety of books, but the topics are mostly what you would expect from this time – theology, travel, science and such. Latin books are frequently found, though German, French, and occasionally English appear. The catalogue itself is written in German, so some familiarity with this language will be very helpful in navigating the selections. However, there are some you may recognize even if you struggle with the German description. Here are a few selections from these very old books.
We begin with one of the most important science books ever published, the Dialogo (dialogue) of Galileo. Galileo was not the first to conclude we lived in a heliocentric (sun centered) universe. Copernicus first came up with the theory. However, the latter had the good sense to have an editor who added a preface, saying it was just a mathematical formula, not a picture of reality, and then he promptly died. Galileo made no bones that he was talking about the real world. Oh, he did disguise his views a bit. The book is called a dialogue as it is a discussion between one who favors the new model and a proponent of the old. However, Galileo did not do a very good job of concealing his belief that the one who followed an earth-centered model was a fool. The Church did not approve. The Bible, it believed, placed the earth at the center of the universe. Galileo was a heretic. The Inquisition condemned him, Galileo was forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under a form of house arrest. Item 41 is a copy of the 1632 first edition of this monumentally important work. Priced at CHF 42,000 (Swiss francs, or approximately $41,593 U.S. dollars).
Galileo may have been too scientific, too rational for theological tastes. Not so Michel de Nostradamus. Item 92 is his Les vrayes centuries et propheties, a 1689 edition of a book of prophecies already over a century old at the time. As we all know, Nostradamus predicted everything of significance that has happened since the 16th century. Or maybe he has predicted some of it or none of it. And, much of what is still to happen in the future can be found in his pages, or maybe it can't. Nostradamus is hard to use to figure out what will happen next, but with hindsight, and the correct interpretation of his words, we discover it was all there all along. CHF 1,200 (US $1,188).
Here is another writer not concerned with historical accuracy. Item 120 is a French translation of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, or Voyages de Gulliver in French. This is from the Collection Bleuet of 1797, printed on vellum. Gulliver's Travels is seen today as a fantasy, and indeed it is, but it was not meant by Swift to be mere entertainment. It is filled with political satire, along with being a satirical imitation of the travel books of the day. Those original purposes mostly have been lost on today's readers for whom the entertainment value is as great as ever, even if the jokes are no longer understood. This copy was once part of the collection of Sir David Salomons. Salomons was a 19th century British M.P. and the first Jewish sheriff and Lord Mayor of London. CHF 9,500 (US $9,402).
Here was another discovery in a far off island, similar to Gulliver, at least similar in its fantastic fiction. It is also like Gulliver in being a work of satire more than fantasy. Item 4 is Description de l'isle des hermaphrodites nouvellement découverte (description of the island of hermaphrodites newly discovered). It was written by Thomas Artus and originally published in 1605. This is a second edition from 1724. The title goes on to explain that it is a supplement to the journal of Henry III, wherein lies its humor. The target was not so much the French King himself as his court, and the perhaps lax morals of those who served the King. CHF 2,000 (US $1,979.