4to [30.3 x 19.6], (6) ff., 554 pp., with 3 volvelles, title and several text leaves with red printing, woodcut device on title page, numerous woodcut diagrams in text, woodcut initials, headpieces, and tailpieces. Bound in contemporary vellum, title in ink on spine, double-ruled borders on upper and lower covers, remnants of ties, blue edges. Some staining and handsoiling to covers, minor edge wear. Contemporary annotations on front endpapers, very minor occasional staining, small wormhole in inner margin of last quarter of volume.
Rare first edition of the collected mathematical writings of the François Viète (1540-1603), who was “the first extensively to use letters of the alphabet to present numerical quantities and the foremost algebraist of the sixteenth century” (Hutchinson’s Dictionary of Scientific Bibliography, p. 690). Viète used letters “both for known … and for unknown quantities” and “this innovation, considered one of the most significant advances in the history of mathematics, prepared the way for the development of algebra” (DSB) and thereby earned him the sobriquet “the father of algebra” (DSB, pp. 18-2). Viète’s Isagoge in artem analyticam, the earliest work on symbolic algebra, opens the present edition and is followed by 15 further tracts on geometry, logic, trigonometry, and the newly adopted Gregorian calendar, the reckoning of which is aided here by 3 volvelles. Also called “the first mathematician of his age to think occasionally as mathematicians habitually think today” (Bell, p. 99), Viète developed “the systematic application of syncopated algebra to the solution of geometric problems” and thus is widely considered to have paved the way for René Decartes’s (1596-1650) groundbreaking geometrical system (Boyer, p. 62). That several of the tracts printed here were originally privately printed and quickly became quite rare makes this collected volume as valuable a resource today as it was for such a scholar as Isaac Newton (1642-1726), who carefully studied the copy in the Cambridge University libraries (Whiteside, vol. 1, p. 21).
Remembered principally for his mathematical work, Viète was a lawyer by trade, serving as a privy councilor to Henry III and Henry IV, for whom he worked primarily as a code-breaker during the French Wars of Religion. The present volume was edited by the Dutch mathematician Frans van Schooten (1615-1660), an influential professor at he University of Leiden, who numbered among his students the young Christiaan Huygens (1629-95), and was renowned for popularizing the geometrical ideas of Descartes.
* Bierens de Haan 4225; Norman 2152; Willems 609; Cajori, A History of Mathematics, pp. 137-39; D.S.B., XIV, pp. 18-25; E. T. Bell, The Development of Mathematics, (1945); Carl B. Boyer, History of Analytic Geometry (1956); D. T. Whiteside, ed., The Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton (1967-81).