London: John Murray, 1869. First edition. Full blue calf armorial binding (bearing the Magdalen College motto Garde ta Foi) with morocco spine labels and gilt to spine and boards. All edges marbled. Marbled endpapers. Collates xi, [1, errata], 432; viii, 320 pages: complete, including plates. Internally tight and bright. Rare on the at institutions and in trade, this is the only copy of Somerville's On Molecular and Microscopic Science currently on the market; and it has appeared only once at auction since 1934.
Mary Somerville was one of the most influential science writers of her time. "Perhaps no woman of science until Marie Curie was as widely recognized in her own time...not only did [Somerville's works] bring scientific knowledge in a broad range of fields to a wide audience, but thanks to her exceptional talents for analysis, organization, and presentation, they provided definition and shape for an impressive spread of scientific work" (ODNB). It was later in life, following the death of her first husband, that Somerville gained access to the scientific community, gaining entree to intellectual circles with the encouragement of her second husband, Dr. William Somerville. In 1835, she became one of the first two female members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Focusing on "some of the most prominent discoveries in the life and structure of the lower vegetable and marine animals in addition to a few of those regarding inert matter," Somerville's work broke new ground as a serious study of the base makeup of microscopic matter, including atoms and molecules. While Somerville's work, unlike her contemporary Jane Marcet, was addressed to the professional scientific community as opposed to focusing on the education of women or children in the sciences; and in this sense she broke through a glass ceiling to be taken seriously by mathematicians including Laplace. And the philosopher John Stuart Mill so highly valued her work that he requested hers to be the first signature on his Parliamentary petition advocating for women's suffrage.
Women in Science 245. Feminist Companion 1006. Near Fine (Item #3337)