“perhaps the greatest intellectual stride that it has ever been granted to any man to make”— Einstein on Newton’s Principia
NEWTON, ISAAC. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
London: for the Royal Society by Joseph Streater, 1687
4to. Folding plate. 215 woodcut diagrams. William B. Todd’s “Bibliography of the ‘Principia’” (Cambridge, 1972) identifies a number of textual variants occurring in the press. These appear to occur with equal frequency between the two issues and thus do not constitute a point of issue. In this copy all but two of Todd’s variants (267 and 481) are in the corrected state. Original or contemporary Cambridge paneled calf, with double blind rule at edges of boards and four small cornerpieces, morocco title label “NEWTON / PHILOS,” edges sprinkled red. Joints cracked but secure, minor loss of leather, old coloring to exposed areas. Minimal dampstain to blank corners of last few leaves, wear to lower margin of some leaves, several quires browned as usual, some foxing and spotting as usual, a few small stains. Old manuscript shelf number 1074 on front free endpaper. An exceptionally wide-margined copy, with a number of leaves untrimmed.
First edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia, “generally described as the greatest work in the history of science” (PMM). This is an excellent, entirely unrestored copy of the first state with the preferred two-line imprint.
“Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler had certainly shown the way; but where they described the phenomena they observed, Newton ex- plained the underlying universal laws. The Principia provided the great synthesis of the cosmos, proving finally its physical unity” (PMM). “For the first time a single mathematical law could explain the motion of objects on earth as well as the phenomena of the heavens. … It was this grand conception that produced a general revolution in human thought, equaled perhaps only by that following Darwin’s Origin of Species” (PMM).
This treatise on dynamics and gravitation is undoubtedly “the most influential scientific publication of the 17th century” (Horblit). Newton presents his three laws of motion, discusses the movement of bodies through gases and liquids, defines mass and force, presents the corpuscular theory of light, and sets forth the principal of universal gravitation.
No work was more seminal in the development of modern physics and astronomy than Newton’s Principia. Its conclusion that the force retaining the planets in their orbits is one in kind with terrestrial gravity ended forever the view dating back at least to Aristotle that the celestial realm calls for one science and the sublunar realm, another. Just as the Preface to its first edition had proposed, the ultimate success of Newton’s theory of gravity made the identification of the fundamental forces of nature and their characterization in laws the primary pursuit of physics” (Stanford Philosophy).
Neither the Royal Society nor Newton was willing or able to finance the publication of the Principia. Newton’s friend, astronomer Edmund Halley, underwrote the edition and supervised publication; about 300-400 copies were printed.
There are two variant title pages. This is the first state, the so-called English issue, with the title conjugate and the two-line imprint; the name of the bookseller Samuel Smith, was added to the cancel title-page for copies presumably bound for export. We have always preferred the English issue of this epochal book, particularly when found in a contemporary English calf binding.
Printing and the Mind of Man 161.