Friday, the day after I posted De Revolutionibus, I went to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto to have a look at their copy of the 1566 second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’s book.
The Fisher is a great place. If you’re in Toronto, drop by and have a look. The outside is a repulsive brutalist structure; the inside is a beautiful, majestic temple to books, history, and knowledge, dark and redolent of old paper. There are no interior floors, and you can see the shelves around the walls going up six storeys. Anyone can get a card and ask for a book to be brought down to the reading room. Go in. Inhale deeply and smell a good library.
In An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) (Leiden: Brill, 2002), Owen Gingerich says this about the provenance of the Fisher’s copy (item):
- “Possibly the copy of Philips Lansbergen (1561-1632), Dutch astronomer.”
- Later a fellow named James Erskine had it.
- In late Victorian times, the library of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet had it.
- Historian and ollector Stillman Drake bought it at auction, and later donated it to the Fisher.
Five owners over 450 years leaves a lot to be filled in.
There’s a sign of another owner in some writings on the beginning blank pages. Someone wrote in by hand a chronology, “Chronographia,” the first part labelled “Christum praecedens” (before Christ, i.e. B.C.) and the second the Latin equivalent of after Christ (I forgot to note it). It identifies 6984 BC as the year Adam was created and runs through other Biblical and historical events down to 753 BC, when Rome was founded. Someone (the same person?) did a sum beside and added 1668 to 753 to get 2421. Whoever did that must have been looking at this chronology in 1668 and wondered just how many years it had been since Rome’s founding, and did the addition on paper because it was a bit too tricky to do it mentally. Later notes in the chronology mention Plato, Euclid, Archimedes, and other mathematics and astronomy dates and names.
Gingerich says about this item:
Heavily annotated, especially in Book III, in a small script and much faded brown ink. There are nine preliminary flyleaves, mostly blank, with schematic diagrams of the heliocentric celestial sphere on pp. 2-3, and a chronological table on pp. 5-7.
At the top of the title page, DULCES ANTE OMNIA MUSAE. At the end of the Osiander “Ad lectorem,” “Petrus Ramus in Epist[ola] sua ad Rheticum de conformanda Logicis Legibus Astrologia existimat hauc esse Rhetici praefationem.” (“Petrus Ramus in his letter to Rheticus concerning the agreement of astronomy with the rules of logic thinks that this preface is from Rheticus.”) This refers to the letter of Ramus to Rheticus of 25 August 1563, apparently first published in 1599 in ref 1 and reprinted by Birkenmajer [ref. 2] and Burmeister [ref. 3]; see ref. 4. A copy of this annotation is found in Warsaw 2.
“Warsaw 2″ is another copy (item) of this same second edition (manifestation), in Warsaw. It’s the second one Gingerich lists in that city. He says it is “clearly closely related to the Toronto copy,” and that the annotations throughout it are generally the same. It has a note in it that Kepler wrote in one of his own copies that Schreiber named Osiander as the writer of the introduction.
Phew! So we have:
- Nicolaus Copernicus (person), his book De Revolutionibus (work), its expression, its two manifestations, their printers (persons or corporate bodies, I don’t know), etc.
- Lansberger (person) who might have owned the Toronto copy (item).
- James Erskine (person) who owned the Toronto item.
- The Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet (corporate body) who owned the Toronto item.
- Stillman Drake (person) who owned the Toronto item and donated it to …
- The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library who own the Toronto item now.
- Whoever (person) did the chronology on the blank pages at the start. Lansberger? Someone else?
- Possibly a post-Lansberger owner (person) who did the 1668 + 753 sum. Lansberger died in 1632 so it seems very unlikely he’d have done the calculation.
- Andreas Osiander (person) who did the introduction to De Revolutionibus, but anonymously.
- Kepler (person) who got his copy (item) of a manifestation of De Revolutionibus (work) from Schreiber (person) who was given it by the printer (person).
- Petrus Ramus (person), who wrote a letter to …
- Rheticus (person) discussing De Revolutionibus (work).
- Works, expressions, manifestations where this letter is reprinted (the Berkenmajer and Burmeister references).
- The Warsaw 2 item, another item from the same manifestation (edition) as the Toronto item.
- Whatever persons and corporate bodies owned Warsaw 2.
- Whatever person wrote the annotations in Warsaw 2. Since they are very close to those in the Toronto item, I assume that either one was copied from the other or both were copied from a third item.
- Owen Gingerich (person), who examined the Toronto and Warsaw 2 items, lists them in An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) (work) and discusses this work and De Revolutionibus (work) and its manifestations and items in The Book Nobody Read (work).
- William Denton (person), who has a copy (item) of The Book Nobody Read (work) and looked at the Fisher’s (corporate body) copy (item) of De Revolutionibus (work) and copy (item) of the Census (work).
- A.R. (person), a journalist and documentary film maker, who I met at a party Thursday night, who once interviewed Gingerich (person) about another Renaissance work on astronomy (work) for an article (work) she was writing for a magazine …
- This post in its original form and in a slightly modified updated version, the previous post and its comments, this blog’s RSS feed, the copy of this post on Planet Code4Lib, Planet Code4Lib’s RSS feed, blog posts that link to the previous post …
It’s complicated enough just doing all the entities and relationships that Gingerich covers in the Census. When we add discussion of Gingerich and De Revolutionibus that takes place on the Internet, it gets even more complicated and confusing. That’s a lot of works, expressions, manifestations, item, persons, and corporate bodies, and all kinds of different relationships between them all.
Right now it’s all in Gingerich’s Census, which I say again is an astounding piece of scholarship, but is trapped on paper. If its contents were also available in RDF, for example, related to controlled vocabularies or ontologies about people and publishing and astronomy and countries and provenance and the history of science … Well, imagine the possibilities.