BLTC Press Titles

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The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

Man a machine

by Julien Offray de La Mettrie



/T>HE French text presented in this volume is taken from A that of a Leyden edition of 1748, in other words, from that of an edition published in the year and in the place of issue of the first edition. The title page of this edition is reproduced in the present volume. The original was evidently the work of a Dutch compositor unschooled in the French language, and is full of imperfections, inconsistencies, and grammatical blunders By the direction of the publishers these obviously typographical blunders have been corrected by M. Lucien Arreat of Paris.

The translation is the work of several hands. It is founded on a version made by Miss Gertrude C. Bussey (from the French text in the edition of J. Assezat) and has been revised by Professor M. W. Calkins who is responsible for it in its present form. Mademoiselle M. Garret, of the Wellesley College department of French, and Professor George Santayana, of Harvard University, have given valued assistance; and this opportunity is taken to acknowledge their kindness in solving the problems of interpretation which have been submitted to them. It should be added that the translation sometimes subordinates the claims of English structure and style in the effort to render La Mettrie's meaning exactly. The paragraphing of the French is usually followed, but the italics and the capitals are not reproduced. The page-headings of the translation refer back to the pages of the French text; and a few words inserted by the translators are enclosed in brackets.

The philosophical and historical Notes are condensed and adapted from a master's thesis on La Mettrie presented by Miss Bussey to the faculty of Wellesley College.


JULIEN Offray de la Mettrie was born in Saint Malo, on the twenty-fifth of December, 1709, to Julien Offray de la Mettrie and Marie Gaudron, who were living by a trade large enough to provide a good education for their son. They sent him to the college of Coutance to study the humanities; he went from there to Paris, to the college of Plessis; he studied his rhetoric at Caen, and since he had much genius and imagination, he won all the prizes for eloquence. He was a born orator, and was passionately fond of poetry and belles-lettres, but his father thought that he would earn more as an ecclesiastic than as a poet, and destined him for the church. He sent him, the following year, to the college of Plessis where he studied logic under M. Cordier, who was more a Jansenist than a logician. It is characteristic of an ardent imagination to seize forcefully the objects presented to it, as it is characteristic of youth to be prejudiced in favor of the first opinions that are inculcated. Any other scholar would have adopted the opinions of his teacher but that was not enough for young La Mettrie; he became a Jansenist, and wrote a work which had great vogue in that party.

In 1725, he studied natural philosophy at the college of Harcourt, and made great progress there. On his return to Brittany, M. Hunault, a doctor of Saint Malo, had advised him to adopt the medical profession. They had persuaded his father, assuring him that a mediocre physician would be better paid for his remedies than a good priest for absolutions. At first young La Mettrie had applied himself to the study of anatomy: for two years he had worked at the dissecting-table. After this, in 1725, he took the degree of doctor at Rheims, and was there received as a physician.

In 1733, he went to Leyden to study under the famous Boerhaave. The master was worthy of the scholar and the scholar soon made himself worthy of the master. M. La Mettrie devoted all the acuteness of his mind to the knowledge and to the healing of human infirmities; and he soon became a great physician.

In the year 1734, during his leisure moments, he translated a treatise of the late M. Boerhaave, his Aphrodisiacus, and joined to it a dissertation on venereal maladies, of which he himself was the author. The old physicians in France rose up against a scholar who affronted them by knowing as much as they. One of the most celebrated doctors of Paris did him the honor of criticizing his work (a sure proof that it was good). La Mettrie replied; and, to confound his adversary still more, he composed in 1736 a treatise on vertigo, esteemed by all impartial physicians.

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