Publisher Information: Siena: Rossi... 1767. 1st edition.
Fontana, Felice (1730-1805). De irritabilitatis legibus . . . In : Atti dell'Acc. sci. Siena III, pp. 205-31. Whole volume, 4to. viii, 317, [1), blank; 165, [3)pp. (A2, contents, bound at end). 19 folding plates. 264 x 192 mm. Contemporary vellum, gilt spine lettering, hinges repaired. Some dampstaining & light foxing, 1 or 2 minor tears but a very good copy. From the library of Walter PAGEL (1898 - 1982), with his bibliographical note on pastedown & marker slips. 1 or 2 notes in a contemporary or 19th century hand laid in. Siena: Rossi . . . , 1767 (appendix: Bindi, 1766).Book Id: 7024
FIRST EDITION. First Edition, journal issue, of the first publication of Fontana’s laws of irritability, preceding the book-form edition published in Lucca the same year. Like his mentor Albrecht Haller, who had set forth the groundbreaking theory of “sensibility” and “irritability” in his De partibus corporis humani sensibilibus et irritabilibus (1752), Fontana used experimental evidence to show that irritability, or muscular contractility, was an intrinsic property of muscle tissue independent of the nerves; he also discovered the existence of the physiological refractory period, i.e., the amount of time it takes for an excitable membrane to be ready for a second stimulus after returning to its resting state. He used this evidence to vigorously denounce the traditional doctrine of “animal spirits,” which medical writers from Galen to Boerhaave had used to explain both sensation and muscular motion. The work of Fontana and other followers of Haller “marked the onset of irreversible decline for the time-honored idea of animal spirit” (Smith et al., The Animal Spirit Doctrine and the Origins of Neurophysiology, p. 194) and introduced a new era of experimental neuromuscular physiology.
Fontana published his first three laws of irritability in the present paper, which includes a preface dated 1765; it is likely that he submitted his paper to the Siena Academy of Sciences in that year. “The first law concerned Haller’s concept of contractility as a property of muscle fiber itself, and pointed out that a contraction follows only after some stimulus. The discussion displayed insight into the underlying nature of tetanic muscular contraction. The second principle was the refractory period discovered by Fontana in heart muscle and applied to better understanding of the function of other muscles. The original third principle was a disproof of the efficacy of a theoretical entity, the ‘animal spirits’” (Marchand and Hoff, p. 202). Fontana followed this paper with an expanded book-form edition in which he added thee more laws..