Lot 27
  • 27

Galilei, Galileo and Thomas Salusbury

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  • The Systeme of the World in Four Dialogues. [In:] Mathematical Collections and Translations... London: William Leyboun, 1661
  • paper, ink, leather
2 parts in 1, quarto (335 x 210 mm). 4 engraved plates. Lacks the half-title and without the errata leaf found in some copies. Subtle paper repairs to general title as well as to title of first part, some very small repairs to edges of a few leaves. Expertly bound to style in period calf, covers bordered with a gilt double fillet, spine with raised bands in six compartments, morocco lettering piece in the second compartment, the others with a repeat decoration in gilt.


Carli-Favaro 276; ESTC R19153; Wing S-517.

Catalogue Note

First edition in English of Galileo's Dialogo, his celebrated defence of the Copernican view of the solar system: a milestone in the history of science.

After years of being forbidden to teach the Copernican theory, in 1632 Galileo was given the opportunity to express these views by the new Pope, Urban VIII, his friend, admirer and patron for more than a decade. Urban granted Galileo permission to write a book about theories of the universe, "provided that the arguments for the Ptolemaic view were given an equal and impartial discussion" (DSB). Galileo's formal use of the dialogue, casting the work as a hypothetical discussion, allowed him fully to explore the Copernican model within Urban's parameters. The work "is a masterly polemic for the new science. It displays all the great discoveries in the heavens which the ancients had ignored; it inveighs against the sterility, wilfulness, and ignorance of those who defend their systems; it revels in the simplicity of Copernican thought and, above all, it teaches that the movement of the earth makes sense in philosophy, that is, in physics ... The Dialogo, more than any other work, made the heliocentric system a commonplace" (PMM).

In casting the Pope as the simple-minded Aristotelian Simplicius, Galileo brought upon himself arrest, trial by the Inquisition and life imprisonment. The sentence was commuted to permanent house arrest, but the printing of any of his works was forbidden.

In 1664, English historian Thomas Salusbury published the present English collection of Galileo's work, including a translation of the Dialogo titled Systeme of the World, and followed by the short but important Epistle to the Grand Dutchesse Mother concerning the Authority of Holy Scripture in Philosophical Controversies (known today as the Letter to Christina), which was only the second work of Galileo's to be published in England. Apart from the two works by Galileo, Salusbury included other translations in volume I of his Collections, including Italian mathematician Benedetto Castelli's works on fluids in motion.

In 1666, the Great Fire of London swept through the city, destroying many copies of this work and nearly all copies of the 1665 second volume containing the first book-length depiction of Galileo's life. (The title-page to part two of volume I misstates that it is 'the second tome', an obvious cause of some bibliographical confusion).  The Brereton-Macclesfield copy, sold by Sotheby's London, in October 2005 is the only known copy to have contained both parts.