Christiaan Huygens 'under construction'
Started: March 17, 2008
Last Update: March 20, 2008
The Hunting of the Huygens' Molyneux
A tale of Searching and a little Serendipity.
It was in the last week before christmas 2007.
I had added some references from Christiaan Huygens' correspondence about books
he had received or did discuss that were also in the 1695 sales catalogue
of his library. One of these books was William Molyneux' Dioptrica Nova from 1692 (Math 4o:154).
In 1695 we see a copy of the Dioptrica Nova appear in the sale of Huygens library.
Although we have no written evidence of this, it seems safe to assume that
after April 1692 he obtained a copy of his own.
We can also see a copy of the Dioptrica Nova appear in the sale of Constantijn
Hugens jr in 1701(Libri Mathematici, &c 4o:688), that may or may have not
been the same as the one mentioned in 1695 sale. And there the trail
ends. Or so it seemed until december 2007.
I decided to check the EEBO digital collection of pre-1700 books published
in England, for the presence of the Dioptrica Nova, to see what it was all
about. Within a few minutes the title page appeared on my screen as part
of a two page image. It was however the left part of the image, i.e. the
page opposite of it, that made my jaw drop.
- It is referred to in a margin note added by Huygens to letter # 2739 from
Fatio de Duillier 15 feb 1692.
- In letter # 2748 to Fatio de Duillier of April 5, 1692, Huygens mentions
that he has borrowed the Dioptrica Nova from Johannes Georg Steigerthal,
who had recently visited England.
- On April 9, 1692, Huygens returns the book to Steigerthal. Huygens' advice
to produce a latin edition was never followed up.
This page contained some lines in latin:
Nobilissimo Clarissimoque Viro
Christiano Hugenio Zulichemio Const. F.
Inter Principes Mathematicos Philosophosque
Hoc Observantiae Testimonium Mittit
Sui Nominis ac Eruditionis
This could only mean, that I was looking at Christiaan Huygens' copy of the
Dioptrica Nova that Willaim Molyneux had send to him, at some date after
April 1692. As Huygens had already read Steigerthal's copy and commented
upon it to Fatio de Duillier, one could hardly expect a second reaction
(in writing), after receiving this personalized copy from the author.
The EEBO record describing the Dioptrica Nova, mentioned that the digitized
version represented a copy owned by the Harvard University Library.
Title: Dioptrica nova, A treatise of dioptricks in two parts : wherein the
various effects and appearances of spherick glasses, both convex and
concave, single and combined, in telescopes and microscopes, together with
their usefulness in many concerns of humane life, are explained / by
William Molyneux of Dublin, Esq. ...
Author: Molyneux, William, 1656-1698.
Other authors: Halley, Edmond, 1656-1742.
Imprint: London : Printed for Benj. Tooke, 1692.
Bib name / number: Wing / M2405
Arber's Term cat. / II 381
Pages: , 301,  p., 42 folded leaves of plates :
Notes: Reissued in 1709 with cancel t.p.
"Appendix" (p. 295-301) by Edmond Halley.
Errata: p.  at end.
Advertisement: p.  at end.
Reproduction of original in Harvard University Libraries.
Copy from: Harvard University Library
UMI Collection / reel number: Wing / 392:01
From the Harvard HOLLIS library catalogue system, I learned there were two locations among the various branches of the Harvard University Library where a copy of the Dioptrica Nova was to be found:
And then my transatlantic quest for the Molyneux copy was afoot
- Countway Medicine Rare Books QC353 .M73
- Houghton *EC65 M7394 692d
- On Friday, January 04, 2008, I entered an inquiry about the Molyneux copy in the Hollis request entry system, wich was forwarded to the Houghton Library. From them I received a message that they would try to answer my question within three weeks.
- On Monday, January 14, 2008, I received a message from Jennie Rathbun, telling that they had almost no provenance information on the book.
- On Thursday, January 31, 2008, I replyed, asking if she could inspect the copy for markings and notes on the (inside) cover.
That same day I received a reply that their copy was not the one that was scanned on EEBO, as it lacked the manuscript dedication to Huygens.
I replyed with an apology, assuming that the initial request was relayed to the wrong library.
I immediately repeated my initial inquiry, sending it now to the Countway Library of Medicine.
That same day I received an extensive reply from Jack Eckert, explaining that theirs was not the copy I looked for, suggesting to defer my question to the Houghton Library, but also suggesting that the EEBO information might be incorrect as he recognized a perforated stamp of the John Crerar Library on one of the EEBO images, that was now part of the Chicago University Library.
- On Friday, February 01, 2008, I send an inquiry to EEBO and to the Special Collections branch of the Chicago University Library. From the last one I initially received an out of office reply, that shortly afterwards was followed by a second reply that my question had been added to their queue and that they were able to respond to e-mail requests in 3-4 weeks.
- On Monday, February 04, 2008, I received an reply from Peter White, who had checked the EEBO information with the old printed reel guides for the EEB microfilm collection, He had found at both places identical information (i.e. the Harvard Library). Mr White also pointed out the presence of the John Crerar Library stamp, suggesting that the EEBO information was probably incorrect.
- On Monday, March 10, 2008, I send a gentle reminder to the Special Collections branch.
- On Friday, March 14, 2008, I received a reply from Julia Gardner of the Special Collections branch, apologizing for the delay and stating that regrettably they had no information about the book's provenance, but that their copy did indeed had the inscription I had described. Finally Huygens' copy of Molyneux' Dioptrica Nova was located: at the Special Collections site of the Chicago University Library (SQC353.M65 1692).
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