Neuchatel: Chex Samuel Fauche, 1779-86. Item #03431
The First Accurate Understanding of the Structure of the Alps
SAUSSURE, Horace Benedict de. Voyages dans les Alpes, précédés d'un essai sur l'histoire naturelle des environs de Geneve. Neuchatel: Chez Samuel Fauche, 1779 [and] Geneva: Chez Barde, Manget & Compagnie, 1786.
First edition. Volumes I-II (of 4) only.
Quarto (10 1/4 x 7 3/4 inches; 260 x 197 mm.). , xxxvi, 540, [1, list of plates, verso blank]; , xvi, 641, [1, errata], [1, list of plates, verso blank] pp. Three vignettes included in pagination. Two folding maps, one folding table and fourteen engraved plates (all but one folding) on thirteen sheets. Small marginal paper flaw on lower corner of leaf O3 (pp. 109/110) in volume one and small marginal paper flaw on upper corner of leaf Aa4 (pp. 191/192) in volume two.
Contemporary full russia, covers with quadruple gilt borders, spines with five raised bands, decoratively tooled in compartments, two red and purple morocco labels lettered in gilt, all edges marbled in blue and white. Corners of volume one a little rubbed, joints of volume two very slightly cracked but absolutely sound. A fine copy.
First Edition of the first two volumes of de Saussure's Voyages dans les Alpes, containing his account of the natural history of Geneva and its environs along with the record of his explorations in the area of Mont Blanc.
The third and fourth volumes were not published until 1796, a decade after the appearance of Vol. II.
Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740-1799) was a Swiss aristocrat, physicist and Alpine traveler. He was considered to be the founder of Alpinism, and possibly the first person to build a successful solar oven. Between 1774 and 1787 he performed extensive geological investigations of the Alpine region, which he saw as holding the key to a true theory of the earth. His early interest in botanical studies led him to undertake journeys among the Alps, and from 1773 onwards he directed his attention to the geology and physics of that region. This work did much to clear up the topography of the snowy portions of the Alps, and to attract the attention of tourists to spots like Chamonix and Zermatt. In 1760 he first visited Chamonix, and offered a reward to the first man to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, at the time unscaled. Since 1774 he tried to find a way to reach the summit on the Italian side, accompanied by the Courmayeur alpine guide Jean-Laurent Jordaney on the Miage glacier and on Mont Crammont. He made an unsuccessful attempt himself in 1785, by the Aiguille du Goûter route. Two Chamonix men, Michel Paccard and Jacques Balmat attained the summit in 1786, by way of the Grands Mulets, and in 1787 Saussure himself made the third ascent of the mountain. In 1788 he spent 17 days making observations on the crest of the Col du Géant (3,371 m). In 1774 he mounted the Crammont, and again in 1778, in which year he also explored the Valsorey glacier, near the Great St Bernard in 1776 he had ascended the Buet (3,096 m). In 1789 he climbed the Pizzo Bianco near Macugnaga, to observe the east wall of Monte Rosa, and crossed the Theodulpass (3,322 m) to Zermatt, which he was the first traveler to visit. On that occasion he climbed from the pass up the Klein Matterhorn (3,883 m), while in 1792 he spent three days making observations on the same pass without descending to Zermatt, and then visited the Theodulhorn (3,472 m). In 1780 he climbed the Roche Michel, above the Mont Cenis Pass. The descriptions of seven of his Alpine journeys, with his scientific observations gathered en route, were published by him in four quarto volumes, under the general title of Voyages dans les Alpes from 1779 to 1796. The Alps formed the center of Saussure's investigations. He saw them as the grand key to the true theory of the earth, and they gave him the opportunity for studying geology in a manner never previously attempted. The inclination of the strata, the nature of the rocks, the fossils and the minerals received close attention. He acquired a thorough knowledge of the chemistry of the day; and he applied it to the study of minerals, water and air. Saussure's geological observations made him a firm believer in the Neptunian theory: he regarded all rocks and minerals as deposited from aqueous solution or suspension, and attached much importance to the study of meteorological conditions. His work with rocks, erosion, and fossils would also lead him to the idea that the earth was much older than generally thought and formed part of the basis of Darwin's Theory of Evolution. He carried barometers and boiling-point thermometers to the summits of the highest mountains, and estimated the relative humidity of the atmosphere at different heights, its temperature, the strength of solar radiation, the composition of air and its transparency. Then, following the precipitated moisture, he investigated the temperature of the earth at all depths to which he could drive his thermometer staves, the course, conditions and temperature of streams, rivers, glaciers and lakes, even of the sea. "As Saussure originally conceived of the structure of the Alps, the primitive and central chain of the mountains consists of vertical strata, while the marginal or secondary mountains adjacent to the primitive mountains consist of steeply inclined beds. These progressively approach the horizontal as they reach the margins of the chain… After some thirteen years of accurate observations and thinking, and particularly after having studied the St. Gotthard area, Saussure concluded that the dislocation, distortion, and even overturning of the alpine rocks had been caused by processes of horizontal compression, as well as by uplifting by internal explosions. He thus came close to an accurate understanding of the structure of the Alps" (Dictionary of Scientific Biography).
Barth, Hermann von, 18029; Lonchamp, Frédéric Charles. Manuel du Bibliophile Suisse, 2615.