Newton's First Scientific Publication

    [Sir] Isaac Newton. "A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton, Professor of the Mathematicks in the University of Cambridge; containing his New Theory about Light and Colors: sent by the Author to the Publisher from Cambridge, Febr. 6. 1671/72; in order to be communicated to the R. Society." [London: John Martyn, 1672].

    First printing of Newton's first scientific publication. Extracted from Philosophical Transactions, Volume 6, Number 80, February 19, 1671/72. Caption title. Small quarto (8.5 x 6.25 inches). Pages 3075-3095, [3, index].

    Early twentieth-century calf. Covers decoratively paneled in blind, spine decoratively tooled in gilt in compartments with five raised bands and red morocco label tooled and lettered in gilt, marbled endpapers. Bookplate of the John Crerar Library, Chicago, on the front pastedown. Extensive underlining in an early hand, slight toning to contents, otherwise a superb copy.

    "This was Newton's first scientific publication and one of his most important, leading to his brilliant work in optics. In this he recounted how he placed a glass prism in the path of a ray of light entering his darkened chamber thru a window-slit. Instead of a circular pattern of light upon the opposite wall Newton saw an oblong spectrum. A second, inverted prism restored the refracted light into a white ray. He concluded that sunlight (or white light) was composed of a mixture of light of many colors, each having its own degree of refrangibility and that none could be converted into another. This paper led to extended controversies with Hooke, Huygens, Linuc, Lucas, Pardies, and others" (Dibner).

    "Newton had encountered the problem of colors during his years of discovery as an undergraduate, and very early he had entertained the idea that colors do not arise from the modification of homogeneous light, as the prevailing theory held, but from the separation of a heterogeneous mixture of rays each of which causes a different sensation of color. Near the beginning of 1666, he first performed his basic experiment of projecting a spectrum with a prism...On 6 February 1672, Newton mailed to Henry Oldenburg, the Secretary of the Royal Society, a summary statement of the theory he had expounded with far more detail and experimental support in his [Lucasian] lectures. Published at once in the Philosophical Transactions, it established Newton's reputation across Europe" (Lilly/Westfall).

    Babson 165. Dibner, Heralds of Science, 144. Gray 231, no. 1. Grolier/Horblit 79a. Lilly/Westfall 79. Wallis 231 (1).

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