Wrote Letter 53 of 1687-04-04 (AB 98) to Members of the Royal Society about the structure of the teeth of elephant, pig, humans, ox, and horse and about toothache

April 4, 1687
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Text of the letter in the original Dutch and in English translation from Alle de Brieven / The Collected Letters at the DBNL - De Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren.

The original manuscript, written by a copyist and signed by Leeuwenhoek, is preserved at the Royal Society (MS. 1917. L 2. 8).


The original drawings are lost. The Dutch and Latin editions that Leeuwenhoek published had the five figures on the same three small plates placed within the text where he discussed them. The figures on the left sidebar came from the 1730 fourth edition of Continuatio Epistolarum. In the text, he noted that a local engraver drew them.

Now in order to put their structure before our eyes - as far as I was able - I have had part of two distinct teeth drawn.

Now in order to put before our eyes the thickness of the tubules of which the tooth is composed, I placed a small piece of the tooth before a magnifying glass, and handed that glass to a draughtsman (teijckenaer), and ordered him to draw whatever he might come to see (without the same knowing what he saw).

He ended the letter by mentioning the figures again.

I had ordered the draughtsman (who is also an engraver) to draw the accompanying fig: most accurately, whereupon he requested me to allow him to cut the same in copper, because they were not easy to draw in red chalk; and this, then, is the reason why I am sending a print of the same.

Since the drawings and print that Leeuwenhoek sent to London are lost, we can only speculate with figure or figures he referred to. In any event, this letter did not appear in Philosophical Transactions, so the Royal Society did not have to make another plate.

Other publications

While the Royal Society did not publish this letter in Philosophical Transactions, it was extracted twice in foreign journals, as were all the letters in Vervolg der Brieven, Letters 53 through 60. In the year after it was written, Jean Le Clerk published an excerpt, without any figures, in Bibliothèque universelle et historique, vol. 9, pp. 292-294.

In 1689, Otto Mencke pubished a short extract, again without figures, in Acta eruditorum, vol. 8, pp. 171-172.