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PLUCHE, Noël Antoine.

(1688 – 1761)

(Born: Rheims, France, 13 November 1688; Died: Rheims, France, 19 November 1761) French naturalist.

Pluche was a professor first of humanities, then of rhetoric in his hometown of Rheims, before taking holy orders. He became notorious for refusing to swear adherence to the bull Unigenitus (1713). His major work, Spectacle de la Nature, was a study of life and creation that was translated into virtually all European languages, still appearing in abridged editions in the early nineteenth century.

Biographical references: ABE: I 752, 282-283. ABF: I 842, 262-274. Biographie Universelle. Dezobry, Dictionnaire de Biographie, 1889. Feller, Biographie Universelle, 1851. Le Moyne, Nicolas Toussaint., Les siecles litteraires de la France. Paris, 1800-3. 4 vols. [Reprinted, Genève, Slatkine, 1971.]. Nouvelle Biographie Générale (Hoefer). WBI.

Le Spectacle, 1732

1. French, 1732-51 [First edition].
Le Spectacle | De | La Nature, | Ou | Entretiens | Sur Les Particularites | De | L'Histoire Naturelle | Qui ont paru les plus propres à rendre | les Jeunes-Gens curieux, & á leur | former l'esprit. | Premiere Partie. | Contenant cè qui regarde les Animaux & | les Plantes. | [ornament] | A Paris, | [Next 4 lines braced on the left by: "Chez {"] la Veuve Estienne, rue S. Jacques, | à la Vertu. | & Jean Desint, visà-vis le Collége | de Beauvais. | [rule] | M. DCC. XXXII. | Avec Approbation & Privilege du Roy.

8 vols. [Vol 1: 1732] 12°: 528 p. [Vol 2: 1735] 12°: 486 p. [Vol 3: 1735] 12°: 574 p. [Vol 4: 1739] 12°: 599 p. [Vol 5: 1746] 12°: 596 p. [Vol 6: 1746] 12°: 571 p. [Vol 7: 1746] 12°: 555 p. [Vol 8, part 1: 1751] 12°: 436 p. [Vol 8, part 2: 1751] 12°: 388 p., index. With numerous engraved copperplates, many folding. Page size: 105 x 170 mm.

Very scarce. Pluche's Spectacle looks at philosophy, religion, and history through a scientific lens. He presents polite dialogues on natural history and human artifice among four fictional characters: a knowledgeable Prior, an inquisitive Knight, a Count and a Countess. The discussion tends toward the discovery of good design in its exposition of natural phenomena and of their usefulness for human industry. The Prior states that God placed stone in the earth expressly for human use in building. The ferocity of wild animals is explained as an opportunity provided by God for our training in arms against the depredation of fellow humans. In another example, God's purpose for burrowing worms was to provide commerce and productivity for the Norwegians and Dutch: the Norwegians manufacture pine tar and the Dutch apply it to ship hulls in efforts to halt the worms divinely commissioned devastation.

Pluche was important because his work proved widely popular, passing through dozens of French editions before 1800 and it was translated into Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian and English translations. It was the fourth most common work to be found in private libraries between 1750-1780.

Pluche's role in the history of science is, however, is fairly complex. Even while he drew upon the work of Newton, Musschenbroek, Galileo, Copernicus, d'Gravesande, Nollet, Leeuwenhoek and other eminent scientists, he was frequently skeptical of "gentlemen who can't perceive the hand of the Almighty in any of the works of nature." Many scholars argue that Pluche's devout approach, rather than making new scientific advances truly intelligible to the public through the medium of everyday language, succeeded rather in diluting the scientific content. However, this criticism by no means diminishes Pluche's influence and success.

Bibliographical references: BL. Dryander, Catalogus Banks, 1796-1800: 1, p. 77. NUC. Quérard, France Littéraire, 1964: 8, p. 217-218. Trinkle, Dennis. "Noël-Antoine Pluche's Le Spectacle de la nature: An encyclopaedic best seller", Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 358 (1997), 93-134.

2. French, 1746-9 [Second edition].
Le spectacle de la nature, ou Entretiens sur les particularités de l'histoire naturelle, qui ont paru les plus propres à rendre les jeunes-gens curieux, & à leur former l'esprit. Paris, Chez la veuve Estienne & fils, 1746-1749.

7 vols. Title varies. Vols. 5-7: Nouvelle édition. [Vol 1] 8°: [Vol 2] 8°: [Vol 3] 8°: [Vol 4] 8°: [Vol 5] 8°: [Vol 6] 8°: [Vol 7] 8°: Very scarce.

Bibliographical references: NUC.

3. French, 1754 [Another edition].
Le Spectacle de la Nature. Ou Entretiens Sur Les Particularités De l'Histoire Naturelle, Qui Ont Paru Les Plus Propres à Rendre Les Jeunes - Gens Curieux , & à Leur Former l'Esprit. Par l'Abbe Pluche ... Parisis, Frères Estienne, 1754.

7 vols., plus 2 vols. of supplement. Very scarce.

Bibliographical references: NUC.

4. French, 1771 [Another edition].
Le spectacle de la nature, ou Entretiens sur les particularites de l'histoire naturelle ... Paris, Estienne, 1771.

8 vols. [Vol 1] 12°: xxii, [2], 561, [3] p. [Vol 2] 12°: xxiii, [1], 468 p. [Vol 3] 12°: [4], 575, [1] p. [Vol 4] 12°: 599, [1] p. [Vol 5] 12°: [4], 596, [3] p. [Vol 6] 12°: [4], 598, [2] p. [Vol 7] 12°: [4], 554, [6] p. [Vol 8] 12°: [4], 436, [2] p. Very scarce.

Bibliographical references: Barbier: 4, p. 557-558. NUC.

English Editions

5. English, 1736 [English transl.].
Spectacle de la nature, or, nature display'd. Being discourses on such particulars of natural history as were thought most proper to excite the curiosity, and form the minds of youth. Illustrated with copper plates. ... Translated from the original French. By Mr. Humphreys. London, printed for J. Pemberton; R. Francklin; and C. Davis, 1736.

3 vols. Page size: 200x122 mm. Very scarce.

Bibliographical references: NUC.

6. English, 1757 [English transl.].
Spectacle de la Nature: | Or, | Nature Delineated; | Being | Philosophical Conversations. | Wherein | The wonderful Works of Providence, | in the Animal, Vegetable and Mineral Creation | are laid open; the Solar and Planetary System, and | wha'ever is curious in Mathematicks explain'd. | The Whole being a Complete Course of Natural | and Experimental Philosophy, calculated for the | Instruction of Youth, in order to prepare them for | an early Knowledge of Natural History, and | create in their Minds an exalted Idea of the Wisdom | of the Great Creator. | Translated from the Original French, by | John Kelly, of the Inner Temple, Esq; | D. Bellamy, of St. John's College, Oxford; And | J. Sparrow, Surgeon and Mathematician. | The Whole embellish'd with a great Variety of Copper - | Plates, beautifully engraved by the best Hands. | The Fourth Edition, with large Additions, | Carefully Revised and Corrected: With a particular Table | of Contents, and a general Copious Index to each Volume. | Nature is Nothing bu the Art of God; a bright | Display of that Wisdom, which demands an | Eternal Tribute of Wonder and Worship I. Watts. | London: | Printed for James Hodges, at the Looking-Glass, | near London-Bridge. 1757.

4 vols. 12mo. Volume I: 1757. 4th edition: [i-ii], iii-xii, [xiii-xxiv], [1], 2-318, (34) [Index] (lacks ad leaves). Volume II: 3rd edition 1744: [xvi], 1-317, (26) [Index]. Lacks final index leaf. Volume III 3rd edition 1744: [xxvi], 1-359, 369, 361-370, (14) [Index]. Integral ad. leaf bound in before page 1. Volume IV 3rd edition 1744: [x], 1-289, (14) [Index]. Page size: 165 x 100 mm.

Plates: 74 (of 75) plates, and four frontispieces in total. Plates: many of which are folding, are as follows: Vol 1 Engraved frontis by B. Cole and 22 of 23 plates, also signed by B. Cole. Plate 13 appears to be lacking. Plates in this volume mostly depict insects, (including folding plates of wasps nest), birds, mammals, marine life, and the structure of plants. Vol 2 Engraved frontis by B. Cole and 21 plates, also signed by B. Cole. All plates are present, and depict gardens, flowers, trees, and apple presses. Vol 3 Engraved frontis by B. Cole and 20 plates, also signed by B. Cole. All plates are present, and depict flowers, mammals, fish and marine life, shells and coral, fossils, diagrams of ships, and the orbit of the earth. Vol 4 Engraved frontis by B. Cole and 21 plates, also signed by B. Cole. All plates are present, and depict subjects related to astronomy and astrology, as well as maps of the earth and constellations.

Rare. These volumes are a four-volume distillation and translation from the work of Noël-Antoine Pluche, and catalogued as such, for example, by Wellcome. Hodges later appears to have brought our further volumes as means permitted, meaning that it is also possible to find vols 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Bibliographical references: NUC.

Spanish Editions

7. Spanish, 1756-68 [Spanish transl., 2nd edition].
Espectaculo de la naturaleza, o Conversaciones acerca de las particularidades de la historia natural, que han parecido mas a proposito para excitar una curiosidad util, y formarles la razon á los jovenes lectores: que contiene lo que pertenece al hombre en sociedad. Segunda edicion. En Madrid, En la oficina de Joachin Ibarra ..., 1756-1768.

16 vols. 4°.

Rare. Spanish translation of Le Spectacle de la Nature (1732-1751).

Bibliographical references: NUC. Palau, Manual, 1948-77: no. ??.