Initia doctrinae physicae, dicta in academia Vvitebergensi.Wittenberg: J. Lufft, 1549

MELANCHTHON Philip (1549)


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128; 166, [2(blank)]ff. Roman & Greek type, device on title-page, one diagram in text, PRIMUS misprinted PIMUS on f. 24r.

(Bound with:) STURM (Johann).  De literarum ludis recte aperiendis liber. Emendatus et auctus ab ipso authore. Strassburg: W. Rihel, (August 1543). 45, [1]ff. Printed in italic, device on title-page.

2 works in one vol. 8vo (160 x 100mm) Contemporary German blind-stamped binding of pigskin over bevelled wooden boards, dated 1550, decorated with a roll of the virtues (with date 1543), fore-edge with shelf number '15' in ink, spine with raised bands, metal clasps.

This beautifully preserved volume, in a strictly contemporary binding executed for one C H, marries two important educational texts by the greatest educators of the sixteenth century, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), ‘Praeceptor Germaniae,’ and Johann Sturm (1507-89) the great Strassburg teacher.  


I. First edition. Preparemus etiam nos ad illam aeternam academiam, in qua integram physicen discemus, cum ideam mundi nobis architectus ipse monstrabit. (A3r) (Let us prepare ourselves for that everlasting academy in which we shall learn all physics, when the architect of all shall show us the idea of the world).


Melanchthon, second only to Luther in the annals of German Protestantism,  a man of deep religious conviction, was also the reformer of German higher education, teaching and writing a variety of textbooks. This introductory textbook - ‘exiguum vestibulum’ (A3v) as he calls it - of physics (and metaphysics) contains nothing original, and is a statement of Aristotelian doctrine, written in clear and elegant Latin and beautifully printed by Lufft. Clarity of exposition and presentation springs from every page.  As Hartfelder wrote over a century ago ‘Melanchthon is no philosopher like Francis Bacon or Descartes. He is a man of learning… a humanist whose linguistic skills have enabled him to go to the best sources and from them create a philosophy’ (K. Hartfelder, Melanchthon als Praeceptor Germaniae, Berlin, 1889, p. 247).  In no way was he a scientist; heliocentrism he rejects, placing his trust in Revelation, tradition, and the evidence of his eyes. In the section of this work headed ‘Quis est motus mundi’ (47v-51v) with an astonishing display of ‘logic’ he proves that the earth is static. But he was open to change, and in the edition of 1550 he made changes removing some of his excessively critical remarks about Copernicus, as was noted in 1904 by Emil Wohlwill.  


The work, dedicated to Michael Meienburg, burger of Nordhausen in a deeply religious style, is divided into three books. Book I constitutes the first part of the work (ff. 9-128) and discusses God, the world, providence, contingency, the rejection with horror of a plurality of worlds, the planets, the sun (diagram on 66v), the moon, the division of time, and so on. Book II  considers matter, ‘qualities found in matter, and their effects which are the causes of changes in bodies, such as generation, nutrition, alterations, decay…’ Book III is short and deals with physical bodies and phaenomena, much of it considered from a medical standpoint. There are a few ms notes at beginning. On 13v is a note on the nature of atoms.  


By 1600 the book had been printed 21 times in Germany and there was certainly one edition printed in Lyons by de Tournes 1552 (BNF). VD17 however records no editions. There is a modern (2008) German translation by Walther Ludwig. See Westman, Robert S. “The Melanchthon Circle, Rheticus, and the Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory.” Isis, vol. 66, no. 2, [The University of Chicago Press, The History of Science Society], 1975, pp. 165–93,  


II. Sturm arrived in Strassburg in 1537, lodging with Martin Bucer, and in 1538 set up what became a famous school of which he remained rector until 1581. In this work he sets out a plan of education at various levels, and not only does he address what the pupil must learn but also he is very clear about the responsibilities of the master who must not be too harsh towards his charges. His aim is to make ‘the end of study a piety which is wise and eloquent’ (f. 19r)- ‘Praepositum a nobis est, sapientem atque eloquentem pietatem, finem esse studiorum’, and this is done in various stages, encompassing not only Latin but Greek (class 5), with details of which books are to be read, but also Hebrew. In class 1 (‘ordo primus’)  he recommends that Aristotle’s De interpretatione  and De mundo  be read along with arithmetic, geography (Pomponius Mela) and the elements of astrology. He then goes on to discuss public lectures and which of these should be attended by various categories of superior students. The book is an excellent plan for a system which held sway for centuries. Sturm’s little treatise was first published in 1538 and again in 1539 by Rihel. This ‘third’ edition claims to be revised and enlarged, but seems to be identical with the edition of 1539. There are a few annotations drawing attention to words in the text and written in a minuscule hand (also found in a few places in the Melanchthon).

See Arnold, M. & Julien Collonges, Jean Sturm Quand l’humanisme fait école (Strasbourg, 2007).    

I. VD16 M3469. II. VD16 S9947..

Stock Code: 243508

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