Description

    "The Greatest Work in the History of Science"

    Sir Isaac Newton. Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica. London: Jussu Societatis Regiæ ac Typis Josephi Streater. Prostant Venales apud Sam[uelis] Smith...nonnullas Bibliopolas, 1687.

    First edition, the rare second issue, with the cancel title bearing the three-line imprint including the name of the bookseller Samuel Smith. Quarto (9.1875 x 7.0625 inches; 234 x 180 mm.). [8], 383, 400-510, [1, errata], [3, blank] pages. (Numbers 384-399 omitted in pagination because of a change of compositors.) Errata leaf bound in at end. Complete with blank leaf Ooo4. Leaf P4 a cancel, as usual, with the diagram on the verso (page 112) correctly printed. Folding engraved plate showing a cometary orbit bound in at end. Numerous woodcut diagrams in the text. This copy with the following variants as identified by Todd: the woodcut figure on page 22 is correctly oriented; the catchword on page 29 is "ve,"; page 65 is correctly numbered; page 72 is correctly numbered, with the last word "punctum" and the catchword "Scho-"; page 91 is signed "N2"; the last line on page 110 begins "fecet Ellipsin" and the catchword is "quæ-"; page 209 is signed "Dd"; page 261 is misnumbered "262"; page 267 is signed "Kk2"; the catchword on page 481 is "c2,".

    Contemporary sheep, expertly rebacked, with original spine laid down and with corners renewed. Covers with gilt single fillet border, spine decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt in compartments, edges sprinkled red and blue. Paper repair to the upper gutter of the front free endpaper. A few leaves slightly browned, occasional light foxing, a few small, mostly marginal, rust spots, especially in gathering W (pages 153-158), including a small rust hole in the outer margin of W2 (pages 155/156), not affecting text. Small wormtrack, expertly filled in, in the upper margin of the four preliminary leaves, just affecting the rule border on the title and on the third leaf. Small stain in the lower margin of the title, in the lower margin of D1 (pages 17/18) and D2 (pages 19/20), to the folding engraved plate, and in the lower margin of the errata leaf at the end. Faint dampstain in the lower inner margin from Kk1 (page 257) to the end, and in the upper inner margin from Nn1 (page 281) to the end, both slightly heavier at the end. Small repaired hole in Y2 (pages 171/172), affecting a few letters in two lines, small hole in Xx3 (pages 357/358), just touching the woodcut on the recto and a few letters on the verso, a few minor marginal paper flaws or tiny holes. Overall, an excellent copy. Housed in a custom book-backed quarter brown morocco clamshell case with the spine decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt.

    The second and rarer issue of "the greatest work in the history of science" (Printing and the Mind of Man). In the Principia, Newton formulated the three laws of motion from which he derived the principle of universal gravitation, "wherein all bodies, of whatever mass, attract one another in proportion to their masses and in inverse ratio as the square of the distance between them. This applies to dust particles as to the mightiest celestial bodies" (Dibner).

    "Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler had certainly shown the way; but where they described the phenomena they observed, Newton explained the underlying universal laws. The Principia provided the great synthesis of the cosmos, proving finally its physical unity. Newton showed that the important and dramatic aspects of nature that were subject to the universal law of gravitation could be explained, in mathematical terms, within a single physical theory...The same laws of gravitation and motion rule everywhere; for the first time a single mathematical law could explain the motion of objects on earth as well as the phenomena of the heavens. The whole cosmos is composed of inter-connecting parts influencing each other according to these laws. It was this grand conception that produced a general revolution in human thought, equalled perhaps only by that following Darwin's Origin of Species" (Printing and the Mind of Man).

    The expenses of publication of the first edition of the Principia were borne by Newton's close friend Edmond Halley (1656-1742), who also edited the work and saw it through the press. William B. Todd, in his "Bibliography of the Principia" states that there were between 250 and 300 copies printed of the first issue, and only fifty printed of the second issue.

    A. N. L. Munby "researched the significance of the two states of the title-page of the Principia, concluding that the more commonly found state, with the title page uncancelled and the so-called two-line imprint, reflects Halley's initial sales stategy [sic] of placing the work on consignment with various booksellers ('apud plures Bibliopolas'). The state with the three-line imprint, which includes the name of the bookseller, Samuel Smith, reflects Halley's decision to turn over a significant portion of the edition to Smith, probably for foreign distribution...Copies with the three-line imprint are much rarer than those with the two-line, suggesting that the so-called 'Smith' copies may only have comprised between seventeen and thirty-three percent of the edition. Munby's bibliographical researches have also suggested that the two-line imprint and three-line imprint issues of the first edition were published simultaneously" (Norman Library).

    Babson 11. Dibner 11. Grolier/Horblit 78. Honeyman 2302. Milestones of Science 151. A. N. L. Munby, "The Distribution of the First Edition of Newton's Principia," in Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London X (October 1952), pages 28-39. Norman Library 1586. Printing and the Mind of Man 161. William B. Todd, "A Bibliography of the Principia. Part I: The Three Substantive Editions," in Koyré & Cohen, Isaac Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica II, pages 851-853. Wallis 7. Wing N1049.




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