Newton Papers : Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

Newton, Isaac, 1642-1727

Newton Papers

<p style='text-align: justify;'>MS/69 is the manuscript of Newton’s <i>Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica</i>, which was sent in sheets to the printer Joseph Streater and published under the auspices of the Royal Society in 1687. Now bound in a single volume, the manuscript is still held in the Library of the Royal Society of London. It is neatly written in the hand of Newton’s amanuensis, Humphrey Newton (no relation) and one can trace in it the compositor’s marks corresponding to the intended beginnings of each printed page.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>On 28 April 1686, the Royal Society received the text of Book I of the <i>Principia.</i> Despite the prolonged absence of many members of its Council, the Society decided on 19 May that it should publish Newton’s work. The astronomer Edmond Halley (1656-1742), who was the Society’s Clerk, was ‘intrusted to look after the printing it’. He immediately wrote to Newton on 22 May to consult him about publication and to warn him that Robert Hooke had ‘some pretension upon the invention of [the] rule of the decrease of Gravity, being reciprocally as the squares of the distances from the Center. He sais you had the notion from him, though he owns the Demonstration of the Curves generated thereby to be wholly your own…’ Newton’s reply dismissed Hooke’s claims and he welcomed the first proofs that Halley sent him in June. But the prospect of bitter controversy made Newton anxious about some of what he had written. On 20 June he wrote to promise Halley the text of Book II of the <i>Principia</i>, which he had finished the previous summer, but warned that he would suppress the intended third book ‘on the theory of comets’. He continued: ‘Philosophy is such an impertinently litigious Lady that a man had as good be engaged in Law suits as have to with her. I found it so formerly & now I no sooner come near her again but she gives me warning.’</p><p style='text-align: justify;'> The final form of the <i>Principia</i> owed much to Halley’s tact and patience. He encouraged Newton to persevere with Book III and waited quietly for its arrival. He supervised the printer and designed the woodcuts to illustrate the text. He tolerated Newton’s further delays, agreeing to his desire that the completion of the book be postponed until at least late spring 1687. Above all, Halley accepted the costs of the publication of the book himself. The Royal Society was at the time as good as bankrupt, reduced to paying its officers, including Halley, in unsold copies of the lavish <i>History of Fishes</i> that it had published in 1686. On 5 July 1687, Halley wrote to Newton: ‘I have at length brought your Book to an end, and hope it will please you. the last errata came just in time to be inserted.’</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript bears corrections in Newton’s hand as well as in Halley’s. The printed <i>Principia</i> reveals some variants compared to this fair copy. Evidently, Newton and Halley intervened during the process of printing of the book devoted to the laws of motion and universal gravitation that secured Newton’s fame as one of the greatest scientists of all ages.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Niccolò Guicciardini, Università degli Studi di Milano, and Scott Mandelbrote, Peterhouse, Cambridge. <br /><br /></p><p style='text-align: justify;'>To license images from this item please visit the <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Royal Society Picture Library</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'><img style="padding:10px;" src="/images/royal_society_logo.jpg" /></p>

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