“Passions of the Soul”

By: René Descartes

Collection ID



Printed Book








Printed on paper


7.8 × 6.9 × 3.1 in. (19.8 × 17.5 × 7.8 cm)

Exhibit Location

Not on View

René Descartes was a towering figure in the history of philosophy and mathematics. He was also a devout Christian. In The Passions of the Soul, Descartes outlined his theory of human passions (or emotions), an important issue in the history of Christian thought. The text, which began as a series of letters between Descartes and Elisabeth of Bohemia, explored the relationship between the passions and rationality, arguing that humans must master their passions lest they corrupt their minds. This 1656 edition, which appeared seven years after the original French, is part of a collection of Descartes’s works produced by Louis and Daniel Elvezir.

Printed in 1670 by Daniel Elvezir, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, bound with other printed works of Descartes.[1] Acquired by 1827 by Hieronymus Fränkel, Dessau, Germany.[2] Acquired by Jonas Cohn;[3] Gifted between 1939 and 1947 to Selly Oak Colleges Library, Birmingham, England.[4] Acquired by 2020 by Ted Steinbock, private collector, Louisville, Kentucky;[5] Privately purchased in 2020 by Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.

Notes: [1] Descartes’s collected works were printed in many editions throughout the latter half of the seventeenth century, with varied and unpredictable arrangements of individual texts contained in each copy. The bulk of this book is a 1656 third edition of Descartes’s Opera philosophica printed by Daniel and Louis Elvezir. It contains: Meditationes de prima philosophica (1670) by Daniel Elvezir, Principia philosophiae (1656), Dissertatio de methodo with Dioptrice and Meteora (1656), Tractatus de passionibus anime (1656) by Daniel and Louis Elvezir, and Tractatus de homine (1686) by Joan Blaeu. [2] Handwritten note on the title page of Meditationes reads, “Hieronymous Fränkel Dessauiensis 1827.” This is likely F. Hieronymous Fränkel, a physician who practiced in Dessau, Germany, in the nineteenth century. [3] Jonas Cohn was an early twentieth-century German-Jewish philosopher. His bookplate appears on the front pastedown. It includes Cohn’s name and a line from Goethe’s “Vermächtnis” reading, “Das alte wahre, fass es an.” [4] Cohn fled to England during World War II and eventually settled in Birmingham, where the now-defunct Selly Oak Colleges was located. A bookplate on the front flyleaf indicates the book was presented to Selly Oak Colleges Library by Jonas Cohn. [5] Written records from Ted Steinbock indicate the purchase of collected volumes of Descartes’s works in 1985, 1987, and 1991—the former two from Rootenberg Rare Books & Manuscripts in Los Angeles, California, and the latter from an unidentified seller. Further research is necessary to confirm the exact purchase date and seller.

Questions about our Collections?

Visit Contact Us Page

(866) 430-MOTB

To acquire permission to use this image, please visit our Rights and Reproduction page .

© Museum of the Bible 2023
Designed by PlainJoe