Enlightenment to Modernity

Driven and financially supported by the cheap labour of enslaved persons and the enormous exploitation and extraction of wealth from overseas colonial possessions, the eighteenth century in Western Europe was paradoxically associated with significant secular advances in humanistic and scientific ideals — so much so that the era came to be characterised as the "Age of Enlightenment." During this time, the philosophical aesthetic of classical liberalism — charitably associated with rationalism, political activism, individual liberties, the belief in progress, and increased emphasis on education and social mobility — assumed pride of place in the self-conception of Western European societies and their colonial derivatives. This is also a time period when most scientific disciplines began to attain a fixed form and clear boundaries. These ideas gave rise to profound political changes and numerous genuine (if flawed) attempts to understand and ameliorate the human condition; they continue to animate us today.

DU CHÂTELET, Emilie. Institutions de physique. (First edition; Paris, 1740). Born into a minor aristocratic family, Émilie du Châtelet went on to become one of France’s most scintillating scientific minds. She was particularly interested in physics, mathematics, and philosophy; the publication of the Institutions de physique in 1740 led to her being one of the first women inducted into the Accademia delle Scienze dell'Istituto di Bologna. She is also remembered for her remarkable translation of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica — published posthumously after her tragic death in childbirth, it remains the standard French rendering of the Principia to this day.

MONTAGU, Mary Wortley. Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M—y W—y  M—e: written, during her travels in Europe, Asia and Africa. (London, 1763). Wortley Montagu’s attainments were numerous — she is rightly celebrated for her wit, her prose, and the astonishing breadth of her correspondence — but she also played an instrumental role in promoting smallpox inoculation. Having observed the practise during her travels in the Ottoman Empire, she defied convention and outraged the medical establishment by inoculating her children and encouraging others to do so. Here, Montagu describes the traditional Turkish practise of inoculation to a friend.

LAVOISIER, Antoine (trans. Robert Kerr). Elements of chemistry : in a new systematic order, containing all the modern discoveries. (Edinburgh, 1799). Lavoisier’s contributions to chemistry were numerous and profound. He was the first to demonstrate that mass is a constant regardless of the form or shape of matter and was instrumental in moving chemistry away from Becher and Stahl’s phlogiston theory. The Traité élémentaire de chimie was his masterpiece; first published in 1789, it had been translated into English by 1790 by Robert Kerr. As this 1799 edition demonstrates, the work was tremendously popular. Lavoisier himself was not so fortunate; his experiments were heavily financed by tax extortion, in which he was an enthusiastic participant, and he was executed for his crimes against the people of France in 1794.

SCHMIDT, Franz. Anleitung zur sicheren Erziehung und Vermehrung derjenigen Ahornarten, die allgemein vermehret zu werden verdienen, &c. (First edition; Vienna, 1812). Franz Schmidt was one of the great gardeners and horticulturalists of early nineteenth century Europe. In addition to a prestigious university professorate, Schmidt also served as chief gardener to the city of Vienna, then accorded one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. In this work, Schmidt explores the horticulture of maple trees. Of note are the beautiful hand-coloured copperplate illustrations. To the best of our knowledge, ours is the only public copy of this book in the world outside of Europe.