Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China Factae à Patre Francisco Noël Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1684. usque ad annum 1708. François NOËL.
Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China Factae à Patre Francisco Noël Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1684. usque ad annum 1708
Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China Factae à Patre Francisco Noël Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1684. usque ad annum 1708
Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China Factae à Patre Francisco Noël Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1684. usque ad annum 1708
Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China Factae à Patre Francisco Noël Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1684. usque ad annum 1708
Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China Factae à Patre Francisco Noël Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1684. usque ad annum 1708
From Peking To Prague
The Chinese Astronomy of François Noël
With A Large Folding Star Chart
Of the Southern Hemisphere
Prague, Joachim Joannes Kamenicky, 1710.

Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China Factae à Patre Francisco Noël Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1684. usque ad annum 1708.

4to [19.1 x 15.2 cm.], 133 pp., (1) pp., including full-page engraved Chinese Calendar (p. 59), numerous woodcut diagrams and tables with woodcut Chinese letters, a full-page engraved plate of astronomical observations (verso of p. 133), and with (1) large folding engraved star chart for the epoch 1687 (signed Balthasar van Westerhaut), woodcut headpiece and initials. Bound in contemporary calf, gold-tooled spine, red sprinkled edges. Some rubbing and edge wear to spine and boards, minor warning to covers. Contemporary annotations, moderate browning in a few quires, occasional minor toning, small (3 mm.) hole in chart not affecting images.

Rare first and sole edition of one of the few works published in Europe to record detailed, first-person observations made at Jesuit astronomical observatories in China in the 17th century, and one of the first works to convey information on Chinese observational data and astronomical traditions to a Western audience. Compiled by the Belgian-born polymath François Noël (1651-1729), the Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae in India et in China represents a full account of this Jesuit’s astronomical career. The volume is illustrated with a large folding celestial chart of the southern skies incorporating observations Noël made at the Jesuit Colleges at Rachol in Goa, Macao, and Bahia in Brazil. Other illustrations include a full-page plate engraving the 1690 transit of Mercury, Noël’s observations of Jupiter, and his method for recording magnetic inclinations for use in navigating by compass at sea, as well as a full-page plate illustrating the Chinese Sexagenary calendar.

Noël’s discussion of Chinese astronomy (Chapter V) not only serves as an introductory primer, but also is a fastidious record of Chinese observational data collected by Noël from Chinese star catalogues and charts, and he even retains information which was at odds with European observations. Noël produces a chart of the relevant Chinese calendrical characters (the Ten Heavenly Stems and the Twelve Earthly Branches), an engraving of the Sexagenary calendar, a table of the 28 Chinese constellations, a list of Chinese zodiacal signs (with a chart comparing them to European signs). His extensive Catalogus Latino-Sinicus (pp. 65-103) compares Chinese and European stellar nomenclatures. Here Noël lauds the “extreme antiquity of Chinese astronomy, which began some 4000 years ago,” but puzzles over the fact that the Chinese tradition records, “many small stars which are no longer visible”; he dutifully records these numerous stars in the Catalogus, but notes that “they are either very faint or perhaps made up” (“minimae aut fictae,” “vel minimae, vel fictae,” etc.). Noël apologizes for not printing the Chinese characters for star names, “because of the difficulty of having them cut in Europe” (p. 67). Chinese weights and measures are also discussed.

In other chapters, Noël offers his observations of Jupiter’s satellites made while in Huai’an in 1689-90 (including tables comparing his data to observations made by others in Nanjing and Paris), as well as a description of 16 observations (both telescopic and made with naked-eye instruments) of lunar and solar eclipses he made in Goa, Macau, Siam, Peking, Shanghai, Nanjing, Huai’an, Tshusima Island, Trincomalee (Sri Lanka) etc., between 1684 and 1707. He provides an extensive list of his longitude and latitude observations for numerous locations in China and India which he made between 1687-1708, as well as readings from Bahia in Brazil (including a table summarizing the longitude and latitude of more than 80 cities and towns in China). In his 13-page catalogue of some 350 southern stars (ascensions, declinations, magnitudes) for the epoch 1687, Noël cites the recent work of Riccoli, Hevelius, and Halley, taking issue with several of their measurements; the folding Mappa Stellarum Australium, engraved by Balthasar van Westerhaut, illustrates the placement of southern stars as observed by Noël.

The work’s final chapter includes Noël’s extensive notes on the Comets of 1695, 1701, and 1702, (which he observed from Peking and Java), meteorological curiosities he saw in Asia (twilight, unusual rainbows), and planetary observations, including an unusual visual aberration that occurred when he viewed Jupiter through a 13.5-foot telescope in Nanchang in 1694 (this observation is illustrated), aberrations he encountered in viewing Venus through a 40-foot telescope in 1697, and data from Jean de Fontenay’s (1643-1710) observation in Canton of the 1690 transit of Mercury (also illustrated here).

Interestingly, the present example preserves contemporary annotations to Noël’s catalogue of magnetic declinations and inclinations he made (Chapter VIII) using a magnetic needle during his 1706 journey from Portugal to India and his 1708 voyage from the Sunda Strait (between Java and Sumatra) westward to Brazil. The annotator has carefully underlined and enumerated Noël’s 201 location readings, apparently for incorporation into a larger table or chart he hoped would be useful in resolving the ongoing problem of pinpointing longitude in sea navigation. (Halley had only recently published his groundbreaking map of magnetic variation in Atlantic waters [1701] and his world chart was still decades away from publication.)

Noël joined the Society of Jesus at age 19, in 1670, and studied theology, mathematics and astronomy at the University of Douai. He departed on his first Asia journey in 1684, hoping to join the Japan mission, but the longstanding ban on Western missionaries by the Tokugawa shogunate foreclosed on this possibility. Noël instead spent two years learning Chinese at Macao before traveling to the Chinese mainland in 1687, where we traveled widely, doing missionary work primarily related to the lower classes and abandoned women and children. He was a major figure in the Chinese Rites controversy and his role in this and other Jesuit Roman Embassies was the impetus for the various journeys recorded in the Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae. Known in Chinese as Wei Fangji, Noël published widely on Chinese Confucian classics. He returned to Europe for good in about 1709, settling in Prague to teach mathematics at the Jesuit-staffed Charles-Ferdinand University, under whose auspices he quickly published the Observationes Mathematicae, et Physicae.

OCLC locates U.S. copies at the Library of Congress, Adler Planetarium, Boston College, Michigan, Princeton, and Wisconsin.

* De Backer Sommervogel V.1791.6; NBG xxxviii.174; Warner, Sky Explored, p. 194 (incorrectly giving his nationality as Czech), with star chart illustrated; Pfister I.414-19; J. Needham, Science and Civilization in China, III.454.

 

Price: $28,500.00

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