History of Science

The Library has large and comprehensive collections in the history of science, in several key areas. The library's general Science Collection, which contains approximately 8,000 items, covers many branches of theoretical and applied science. One of the principal focuses of the collection is the science of the Renaissance, prior to Galileo, whose work, and that of his contemporaries, form a separate special collection.


The works of early Renaissance scientists are complemented by scholarly editions of the rediscovered texts of the ancients. Early editions of the Greek mathematicians Diophantus of Alexandria, Archimedes, Pappus of Alexandria, Apollonius of Perga, and especially of Euclid, are well represented. The first Latin edition of Euclid's Elements of Geometry, printed by Ratdolt at Venice in 1482, the Greek editio princeps (Basel, 1533), and the first printed Arabic version (Rome, 1594), are complemented by translations into modern languages, including the first Italian (1543), English (1570), and German (1562) versions. In all, the library has twenty-six editions of Euclid, published between 1482 and 1620.

The Renaissance produced many important mathematical texts, particularly in Italy. Multiple editions of the works of Niccolò Tartaglia, Girolamo Cardano, Federico Commandino, Raffaelle Bombelli, Bonaventura Cavalieri, to name a few, are all among the collections. French mathematics is represented by the works of Marin Mersenne, Pierre Fermat, and François Viète. The Renaissance was also renowned for fine printing, two of the most beautiful texts in the field of mathematics being Luca Pacioli's Divina proportione (Venice, 1509); and Viète's Canon mathematicus (Paris, 1579). Other mathematical landmarks in the collection include Simon Stevin's work on the decimal system, John Napier's Mirifici logarithmorum canonis constructio (Lyon, 1620). and G.W. Leibniz's announcement of the discovery of differential calculus that predates Newton's (1684). Important mathematical texts of the nineteenth century include C.F. Gauss' revolutionary work of number theory, Disquisitiones arithmeticæ (1801); Augustus De Morgan's treatise on double algebra (1849); Sir W.R. Hamilton's discovery of quaternions (1853), George Boole's ground-breaking work on logic and probability (1854); G.F.B. Riemann on the theory of functions (1867); N.I. Lobachevskii on non-Euclidean geometry (1866); and Georg Cantor on multiplication (1883). The writings of Henri Poincaré, Gottlob Frege, and A.N. Whitehead are also well represented.

English experimental science of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, centred predominantly on the activities of the Royal Society, is another prominent aspect of the collection. The extensive writings of Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, including a first edition of the splendid Micrographia (1665), stand alongside the works of Sir Isaac Newton, among which are first and subsequent editions of Principia (1687), and Opticks (1704). Works by foreign members of the Royal Society, such as the Dutchmen Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and Christiaan Huygens, including a fine copy of the latter's Horologium oscillatorium (1673), inscribed by the author to Sir Christopher Wren, are also represented in the collection.

Alchemy and Chemistry

The history of chemistry is represented by alchemical works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and by the pioneering writings of A. L. Lavoisier and Joseph Priestley at the end of the eighteenth century. The first edition of Lavoisier's Traité élémentaire (1789), one of the cornerstones of modern chemistry, is among the highlights of the collection. The library has copies of most of the important chemical texts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, many of them from the library of Franz Sondheimer.


Among the major landmarks in the history of electromagnetism, are William Gilbert's De Magnete (1600), and Michael Faraday's Experimental Researches in Electricity (1839-1855).

Mining and mineralogy

The collection includes several editions, including the first, of Georgius Agricola's De Re Metallica (1556, 1561, 1657; and an Italian version 1563), as well as the first edition of his De Ortu & Causis Subterraneorum Lib. V. (1546), said to be the first book on physical geography. Lazarus Ercker's work on ores and assaying, Beschreibung allerfurnemisten mineralischen Ertzt vnnd Bergwercksarten (1629) is complemented by the 1686 English translation entitled Fleta Minor, to which the translator, Sir John Pettus, appended his own Essays on Metallick Words. Other highlights include William Prynne Mineralogia Cornubiensis (1778), Richard Kirwan Elements of Mineralogy (1794), and Geological Essays (1799), Robert Jameson's Manual of Mineralogy (1821) and an English translation of Friedrich Mohs' Treatise on Mineralogy (1825). Among the works on fossils is K. Gesner's De Omni Rerum Fossilium Genera, Gemmes, Lapidibus Metallis (1565), and on crystallography, the first scientific contribution to the field, Robert Boyle's An Essay about the Origine & Virtues of Gems (1672).


Materials in the history of geology range from the early speculative writings of such writers as Thomas Burnet, John Woodward, and William Whiston, to the various theories of the origins and structure of the earth debated in the geological controversies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. First editions of James Hutton's Theory of the Earth (1794), and of Sir Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-1833) are both in the collection.


Agricultural books, ranging from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, form a significant part of the science collections. The library's earliest book on agriculture is Pietro de Crescenzi's Ruralia Commoda, dating from the early 1490s. It is adorned with delightful woodcuts, depicting various aspects of husbandry. The library's copy bears evidence of attempts by a would-be censor to efface the images of various beasts of the farmyard in the act of procreation. Other early works of agriculture include a 1540 edition of Geoponica; Palladius' De Re Rustica (1543); and Charles Estienne and Liebault's L'agriculture et maison rustique (1564). Notable among English books of husbandry from the sixteenth century are Reginald Scot's A Perfite Platforme of a Hoppe Garden (1578); a 1576 edition of Thomas Tusser's Fiue Hundreth Points of Good Husbandry, written in verse; and first editions of Sir Hugh Plat's The Jewel House of Art and Nature (1594), and of Leonard Digges Tectonicon (1600).

The collection is particularly rich in British agricultural books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many of which are practical treatises on the cultivation of crops, and the raising of livestock, designed to bring about improvements in the overall general standard of farming practices. Highlights from the seventeenth century include Walter Blith's The English Improver Improved (3rd edition, 1653); Samuel Hartlib's His Legacy of Husbandry (3rd edition, 1655); Andrew Yarranton's Englands Improvement by Land and Sea (1677); and John Houghton's A Collection of Letters for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade (1681-1683), which is considered to be the first agricultural periodical. There are also several works by Gervase Markham, including a copy of the sixth edition of Markham's Maister-piece of Farriery (1644) that once belonged to John Evelyn, the diarist. Evelyn's own writings on various aspects of husbandry are well represented, including copies of the first four editions of his Sylva.

The profusion of books on agriculture in the eighteenth century, a period of innovation and reform, is reflected in the collections, including John Mortimer's Whole Art of Husbandry (1707); Richard Bradley's A Complete Body of Husbandry (1727); Edward Lawrence's The Duty of a Steward to his Lord (1727); Edward Lisle's Observations in Husbandry (1757); Thomas Hale's A Compleat Body of Husbandry (1756); and many of the voluminous writings of Arthur Young, John Wynn Baker, William Marshall, and James Anderson. The library also possesses many of the county surveys, conducted under the auspices of the Board of Agriculture at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries.

Agricultural works of the nineteenth century are also include a copy of the important 1829 edition of Jethro Tull's The Horse-hoeing Husbandry, edited by William Cobbett.


Books on horticulture, a field closely related to agriculture, deserve special mention, among them Estienne's De Re Hortensi Libellus (1539); Antoine Mizauld's Historia Hortensium (1577); Marco Bussato's Giardino di Agricoltura (1592); A.J. Dezallier d'Argenville, La theorie et la pratique du jardinage (1709). The collections also has several notable works on landscape gardening, including first editions of Batty Langley's A sure method of improving estates (1728), and Humphry Repton's Observations on the theory and practice of landscape gardening (1803), adorned with colour plates with flaps, demonstrating before-and-after treatments.


Among the earliest botanical works in the collection are two incunables: the Herbarius Latinus (Louvain, ca. 1485), and the above mentioned Pietro de Crescenzi's Ruralia commoda. (Speier, ca. 1490-1495), both illustrated throughout with woodcuts. The collection is also rich in herbals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, notably those of Hieronymus Bock, Dietrich Dorsten, Leonhart Fuchs, and Rembert Dodoens. Editions of P.A. Mattioli's commentaries on Dioscorides are particularly numerous, and include the 1565 Venice edition. The library is fortunate to possess one of the actual original woodblocks used in this latter edition. Early English herbals are well represented by John Gerard's Herball (1597, 1633 and 1636 editions), and John Parkinson's Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (1656 edition), and Theatrum botanicum (1640).

The voluminous output of Carl von Linné (Linnæus) is well represented in the collection, with almost fifty editions of his major works, including the imposing Hortus Cliffortianus (1737), one of the few Linnean works to be illustrated.

Many of the beautifully illustrated botanical books in the collection have been displayed in several exhibitions held at the Library. Among the notable illustrated botanical books in the collections are Carolus Clusius' Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601); various editions of Philip Miller's Gardener's Dictionary; John Hill's The British Herbal (1756); J.P. de Tournefort's Complete Herbal (1719) and History of Plants Growing about Paris (1732); and William Withering's landmark An Account of the Foxglove, which introduced digitalis into the materia medica. The rich botanical drawings of P.J. Redouté adorn C.-L. L'Heritier de Brutelle's Stirpes Novæ, aut Minus Cognitæ (1785) and Cornus (1789), André Michaux's Flora Boreali-Americana (1803), and J.J. Rousseau's Botanique (1805). Other spectacular nineteenth-century botanical works are Charlotte and Juliana Sabina Strickland's Select Specimens of British Plants (1797-1809); and James Bateman's The Orchidaceæ of Mexico and Guatemala (1837-1843).


Among the earliest writers on zoology were Pierre Belon and Conrad Gesner. First editions of Belon's L'histoire naturelle des estranges poissons marins (1555), and of his Les obseruations de plusieurs singularitez & choses memorables, trouuées en Grece, Asie, Iudée, Egypte, Arabie, & autres pays estranges (1555), the latter richly illustrated, are in the collection. A second edition of Gessner's influential Historian Animalium (1585-1602), a work that is regarded as marking the beginning of the scientific study of zoology, is another highlight. The writings of Ulisse Aldrovandi are well represented, notably his Ornithologiæ (1600), and the posthumously published work on snakes Serpentum et Draconum Historiæ (1640). Other notable early books on ornithology are George Edwards A Natural History of Birds (1743) and John Legg's A Discourse on the Emigration of British Birds (1795), often attributed to Edwards.

The important role of the horse in the economic and military life of nations is reflected in the numerous works on farriery in the collection. The earliest is a 1559 Italian version of Laurentius Rusius's Opera de l'Arte del Malscalcio (1559), and a 1573 edition of Claudius Corte's Il Cavallerizzo. Seventeenth-century works on the horse include a copy of the sixth edition of Gervase Markham's Markhams Maister-peece (1644), that belonged to the diarist John Evelyn; Jacques de Solleysel Le parfait mareschal (1664); and Francesco Liberati's La Perfettione del Cavallo (1669).

Early entomological works include Francesco Redi's Esperienze Intorno alla Generazione degl'Insetti (1668); Jan Swammerdam's doctoral dissertation Historia Insectorum Generalis (1669) and a 1682 French translation of the same, and his important study in Dutch of the mayfly, Ephemeri Vita (1675). R.A.F. de Réaumur authored the richly illustrated six volume Mémoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes (1737-1748), and a landmark work on artificial incubation, Art de faire éclorre et d'élever en toute saison des oiseaux domestiques de toutes especes (1749), with an English translation in 1750.

Comparative zoology is treated in a number of works: M.A. Severino's Zootomia Democritæa (1645); Gerardus Blasius Anatome Animalium (1681); James Douglas's Myographiæ Comparatæ Specimen (1707 and 1729) which compares the muscles in humans and various quadrupeds; Buffon's monumental forty-four volume Histoire naturelle générale et particulière (1749-1804), as well as his three-volume Histoire naturelle des oiseaux (1770-1772); Francis Willoughby's Ornithology (1678); and Lamarck's Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertebres (1815-1822).

A fascinating illustrated account of the anatomy of the elephant is appended to William Stukeley Of the spleen (1723); and sheep breeding is discussed in A compleat system of experienced improvements, made on sheep, grass-lambs, and house-lambs (1749) by William Ellis. One of the most visually impressive zoological works is Anatomie descriptive et comparative du chat (1845) by Hercule Straus-Durkheim.

Voyages and Exploration

The collection is also notable for accounts of eighteenth and nineteenth century scientific voyages and expeditions.

Special Collections

In addition to the general Science Collection, there are several notable special collections in the field of science.

Baillie Collection: James L. Baillie (1904-1970) was a member of the ornithological department of the Royal Ontario Museum from 1922 to 1970. During this period he formed an extensive library of books, pamphlets and periodicals on the birds of North America, with a special emphasis on Ontario. Complementing this personal library are Baillie's own manuscript files, his field notes, correspondence and diaries, which provide a unique record of bird life in Southern Ontario over a period of fifty years.

Bronowski Collection: During a long and varied career, ranging from his early days as a mathematician at Cambridge to his final work on the subject of 'human specificity' at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) made significant contributions to the intellectual life of the twentieth century. This collection, the gift of Mrs Jacob Bronowski, consists of the papers arising out of Bronowski's work in such diverse areas as poetry, literature, mathematics, the history and philosophy of science and the evolution of language. The records relating to the creation of The Ascent of Man television series, perhaps Bronowski's crowning achievement, are especially complete. Complementing the manuscript resources is an extensive collection of Bronowski's published books, essays and lectures, many with his holograph corrections. An exhibition guide, The Legacy of Jacob Bronowski, published by the Library in 1977, surveys Bronowski's career and provides additional information about the collection.

Darwin Collection: The life and work of Charles Darwin and the history and development of the theory of natural selection are exhaustively refelcted by this collection. All editions and issues of Darwin's books, illustrating the significant textual changes made by him as his ideas developed, are represented. The important works on evolution by Darwin's predecessors, works by his scientific colleagues and many of the books resulting from the controversies surrounding the publication of Origin of Species (1859) broaden the concept and the value of the collection. The major part of the collection was assembled by Richard B. Freeman, who has compiled a bibliographical handlist of the works of Darwin. Species of Origin, a pamphlet by Richard Landon describing and discussing the collection, was published by the University of Toronto Library in 1971.

Einstein Collection: This small but important collection of books and offprints by and about Albert Einstein includes copies of both the 1905 paper on the special theory of relativity and the famous general theory of 1916. Works by many of Einstein's distinguished scientific colleagues are also included.

Stillman Drake Galileo Collection: Acquired, for the most part, from the library of the noted Galileo scholar, Stillman Drake, this collection complements the library's holdings of works of Renaissance science in the general Science Collection. Centred on the commanding figure of Galileo, the collection possesses first editions of most of Galileo's works, including the 1632 Dialogo and the 1638 Discorsi, as well as translations into English and other languages. One of the rarest items is the Dialogo de Cecco di Ronchitti (1605), believed to be by Galileo. Important precursors of Galileo in the field of the physical sciences, such as G. Cardano, Niccolò Tartaglia, G.B. Benedetti, are also acquired, as are the scientific writings of his contemporaries. Galileo's contributions to astronomy are accompanied by other landmarks in the history of astronomy, notably a second editon of Nicolai Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (1566), the important observations made by Tycho Brahe, and first editions of Johannes Kepler's Astronomia Nova (1609) and Harmonices Mundi (1619).

The collection is especially rich in materials reflecting the religious and scientific controversies in which Galileo became embroiled. A description of these and other materials are described in Galileo and scientific controversy, the catalogue of an exhibition held at the library in 1981. An extensive range of secondary materials about Galileo and his writings, from the 16th to the 20th centuries, completes the collection.

Simcoe Collection: Formed from the library of Captain John Simcoe and his son John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, this collection consists mainly of works on military science and tactics as practised in the eighteenth century.

Victorian Natural History Collection: The enthusiasm of the Victorians for the study of natural history created a constant demand for books on botany, marine zoology, conchology, mycology and all the other classes of natural phenomena open to investigation. This collection brings together about one thousand such books ranging from popular field guides and manuals to more substantial scientific treatises. It complements the Darwin Collection, providing evidence of the background against which evolutionary theory grew. The works of Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) are particularly well represented, including the rare Illustrations of the Birds of Jamaica (1849) and an album of Gosse's original water colour drawings of Rotifera, dated 1886.

Daniel and Lois Lowe Collection: Original drawings and watercolours of plants and animals from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries make up this collection. Several Asian, European and British artists are represented, including the Redouté brothers, Pierre Vallet, Cornelius Nozeman, Chang T'ing Hsi, and the sisters Charlotte and Juliana Sabina Strickland.