||The Correspondence of René Descartes: 1643
The Correspondence of René Descartes: 1643 / Theo Verbeek, Erik-Jan Bos, Jeroen van de Ven (eds.) - [S.l.] : [s.n.], 2003 - Text. - Published by Utrecht University
Keywords: René Descartes, Correspondence, 1643, History of Philosophy, Science, Mathematics, Medicine
Also published as:
The Correspondence of René Descartes: 1643 / Theo Verbeek, Erik-Jan Bos, Jeroen van de Ven (eds.)
in: Quaestiones Infinitae, Publications of the Department of Philosophy, Utrecht University, vol. 45.
Utrecht: Zeno, The Leiden-Utrecht Institute for Philosophy, 2003.
The Correspondence between Descartes and Henricus Regius
/ Erik-Jan Bos (ed.), Ph.D. Dissertation,
There is little disagreement that the standard edition of Descartes
by Charles Adam and Paul Tannery (1897-1913, known as AT) should be redone, in any case as far as the
correspondence is concerned. The reason is not only that its chronology is defective and that in its
latest reprint the edition is difficult to handle even for expert readers, but also that, after more
than hundred years, the problems raised by the correspondence deserve a fresh examination.
The aim of the present publication was to thoroughly test the format we had in mind for a new and critical
edition of Descartes’ complete correspondence. This comprised, not only the edition properly speaking - text,
apparatus, identification of quotations, persons and events, etc - but also a calendar of Descartes’ life,
based on documentary evidence rather than the biography of Adrien Baillet (1691), as well as a
biographical dictionary of correspondents and persons mentioned in the letters. More particularly we
aimed at providing an annotation which, without being overwhelming and as a result redundant,
was historically and scientifically informative - an ideal which is far from being reached in AT.
We choose the year 1643 because it is fairly representative of the correspondence as a whole.
It contains letters in French, Latin and even Dutch. The material includes autographs, copies and
abstracts as well as minutes published by Clerselier. The contents cover a large spectrum of
interests: personal and legal business, polemics, mathematics, physics, etc. It was the year
in which Descartes’ controversy with the Utrecht theologians reached its most violent and most
public phase with the publication of the Letter to Voetius and the start of legal procedures
but also the year in which Descartes started his correspondence with Princess Elizabeth and
virtually completed the Principia (1644).
Apart from the presentation, which in our view is more clear than it ever was in one of the older editions,
what is new in this volume? Here we will point out some highlights (for a more complete overview,
see pp. xxvii-xxxi). For the letters of Princess Elizabeth we retrieved and re-examined the only surviving
copy, formerly in the possession of the Van Pallandt family, now in the custody
of the Stichting Vrienden der Geldersche Kasteelen (Arnhem). Other copies of letters belonging
to that correspondence were found in the British Library and the Royal Library in The Hague
- they not only provided a better text than Clerselier but also allowed us to redate one of the letters
(now dated 29 November 1643). We found the autograph of a letter to Mersenne (2 February 1643),
which had not been seen by the editors of AT (nor for that matter by the editors
of the Correspondance de Mersenne). An autograph letter to Huygens (10 July 1643), which was
believed to be lost since its publication by Foucher de Careil, turned out to be kept in the Waller
Collection in Sweden (Uppsala). For a letter to Van Buijtendijck we found a new textual basis in a work
by Tobias Andreae of 1653 (Methodi Cartesiani Assertio).
We believe we provided a set of notes and commentaries that are much clearer than whatever can be found
in any of the existing editions. The mathematical problem discussed in letters to Pollot and Elizabeth
is expertly illuminated and clarified by Henk Bos and the various mechanical and physical problems
are explained by Carla Rita Palmerino. For incidents that spill over into many other letters we
decided to provide a synthesis at the end of the book - for 1643 there are three of such appendices:
1) on the ‘Utrecht Crisis’; 2) on the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady in ’s-Hertogenbosch
(Bois-le-Duc), which is the subject of Pt VI of Descartes’ Letter to Voetius (1643);
3) the Problem of Apollonius or ‘Problem of the three circles’, which is discussed in the
correspondence of Descartes and Elizabeth. A calendar, based on a fresh exploration of the sources,
and an extensive biographical lexicon complete the volume.