The Generation of Living Things from Non-living Matter

Needham, John Turbeville (1713-1781)

New Microscopical Discoveries; containing observations, I. On the calamary... II. On the Farina foecandans of plants... III. On the pistil, uterus and stamina of several flowers... IV. On the supposed Embryo Sole found on the bodies of shrimps... V. On Eels or Worms... VI. On several other curious particulars relating to the natural history of animals, plants, &c.

London: Printed for F. Needham, 1745


20 x 12 cm. pp. viii, 126, (2) adverts, 6 fine folding stipple-engraved plates by Henry Roberts.

FIRST EDITION, second issue.

A lovely copy in contemporary mottled calf, spine richly tooled with gold ornaments. An excellent, crisp copy with all six plates. Provenance: 18thc. armorial bookplate of Hugh Rose, the Younger, of Kilraick, Scotland. Near-contemporary ownership inscription on free endpaper, "Doctor John Stephane Kilraick, 1759."

Needham’s first book, containing some important biological discoveries. “His valuable discoveries have been somewhat overshadowed by the spontaneous generation controversy. In fact he made admirable contributions to the physiology, sexual and general, of cephalopods and cirripedes, he studied pollen grains as analogues of spermatozoa and was the first to see Brownian motion in them, and he described the horned eggs of elasmobranch fishes” (Needham, History of embryology).

"While at Twyford, Needham made microscopic observations of blighted wheat, and in Lisbon he investigated the organs of the squid, producing the first description of its milt sac, now called Needham's sac. These and other observations were published by his brother Francis as An Account of some New Microscopical Discoveries (1745)…

"Among other things, Needham established that micro-organisms do not grow from eggs, and proposed a theory according to which all living organisms develop from non-living matter at a microscopic level; this conflicted with the prevailing view that organisms were individually ‘preformed’ either in the egg or in the seed and simply grew in size once the process of maturation was triggered. His theory was widely misrepresented by preformists as an attempt to revive the long-disproved notion of spontaneous generation.

"[In addition to the Royal Society,] Needham was elected to many learned societies, including the Society of Antiquaries of London (1761), the Royal Basque Society (1771), the Société d'Émulation of Liège (1779), and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1781). Remarks by Boswell and Wilkes suggest that by the mid-1760s Needham was himself becoming one of the sights of the grand tour."(ODNB)

Cole Library 1491 (indicating that this issue, with the altered title and cancel title leaf, is the later of two which appeared in 1745)