THE DISCOVERY OF THE VITAL PRINCIPLE, OR, PHYSIOLOGY OF MAN. London: Published by G. A. Starling, 40, Leicester Square, 1838. Octavo, pp. [i-v] vi-x [xi] xii-xx [1] 2-566, two inserted folded diagrams, other figures in the text, early twentieth-century quarter-leather and cloth, the text block is untrimmed. First edition. According to Wikipedia, "John Barlow FRS (1799–1869) was an Anglican cleric and Secretary of the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1843–1860) and later Chaplain-in-Ordinary at Kensington Palace ... Barlow published some of his research in THE DISCOVERY OF THE VITAL PRINCIPLE, OR, PHYSIOLOGY OF MAN (1838). He also published ON MAN'S POWER OVER HIMSELF TO PREVENT OR CONTROL INSANITY (1849), which highlighted the importance of moral management of the insane rather than the use of intimidation." "The present work can easily be dismissed as crank science, and perhaps should be, but it would be salutary to remember that almost all former works of science and medicine can be seen in the light of present knowledge as defective to a greater or lesser degree. The search for 'the vital principle' -- the assumption that there exists some single characteristic that distinguishes the animate from inanimate -- was endorsed by many respectable minds and has only with difficulty given way to a recognition of the wild variety of life forms and the present hypothesis that unicellular life (on Earth, at least) probably began as a symbiosis between two vital principles: a genetic structure (i.e., a virus) and a metabolic structure. By its nature science is progressive and eats its ancestors. Literature, on the other hand, is ageless, and this work could also be read as an essay in the hermetic tradition, of interest for its vivid imagery and odd motifs, the underlying one -- that of a correspondence between the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of man -- being of great antiquity. From a lighter point of view the work can be read simply for the amusement of its follies, of which it supplies a cornucopia. A sampling from the chapter topic summaries: 'All matter diamond. It varies with combustion. When condensed it forms iron ... The Principle of Life sought unsuccessfully from the remotest ages. Dew has not been sufficiently considered ... The Deluge caused by the condensed atmosphere produced by man. Moon changes to the foetal stage. Is converted to the heart shape. Compresses the earth's atmosphere ...' In the conclusion of his chapter on 'The Foetus of the Universe,' the author predicts the future destruction of Earth from its continual approach to the sun, but this will produce a sort of purification by fire and the 'animal productions of the foetal body ... will be restored to their natural form and kind, resuming their existence in a more exalted sphere.' Two pages later he expresses the hope that 'the virtuous remnant of mankind may be saved alive in the last day by the very powerful invention of balloons.' Another way to approach this bewildering text is as a psychological document (as Jung approached alchemical texts) and see in it an unconscious projection of personal or archetypal contents unto the blank canvas of matter. In any event, the book is both a marvel and a monstrosity, the sort of thing that might have been submitted as a doctoral thesis by Victor Frankenstein." - Robert Eldridge. Old library shelf number painted in white at bottom of spine, but no other library markings. The book does have interesting inscriptions and/or marginalia from four former nineteenth-century owners, three of them signed, two them dated. Edges of text block dusty, a very good copy in a solid if unattractive binding. A very scarce book. (#147693).

Price: $850.00

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