NEWTON, Sir Isaac (1643-1727). Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. Edited by Edmond Halley (1656-1743). London: Joseph Streater for the Royal Society [at the expense of Edmond Halley], to be sold by various booksellers, 1687.
4° (245 x 189mm). Title in first state, uncancelled; P4 a cancel correcting the orientation of the diagram on verso; errata inserted at the end as cancel 3O4. Folding engraved plate of cometary orbit inserted before 3N1; woodcut and typographical diagrams. (Short tear in the top margin of the title strengthened from verso, small hole in 3P3 [a paper flaw], occasional light spotting, occasional light browning.) Contemporary sprinkled calf, sides ruled in blind, edges yellow (rebacked, endpapers renewed, corners repaired, extremities rubbed); blue buckram slipcase. Provenance: ?E. James M.A. (title signature dated 15 May 1773) – Bernard Quaritch (collation note and cost code dated 1941) – Lord Kennet of the Dene (bookplate).
'THE GREATEST INTELLECTUAL STRIDE THAT IT HAS EVER BEEN GRANTED TO ANY MAN TO MAKE’ (Einstein)
FIRST EDITION OF ‘THE GREATEST WORK IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE’ (PMM); the English issue (two-line imprint). The Principia elucidates the universal physical laws of gravitation and motion which lie behind phenomena described by Newton's predecessors Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler. Newton establishes the mathematical basis for the motion of bodies in unresisting space (the law of inertia); the motion of fluids and the effect of friction on bodies moving through fluids; and, most importantly, sets forth the law of universal gravitation and its unifying role in the cosmos. ‘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, equalled perhaps only by that following Darwin's Origin of Species’ (PMM). Newton’s scientific views were not seriously challenged until Einstein's theories of relativity and Planck's quantum theory, but his principles and methods remain essential for the solution of many scientific questions. Halley encouraged Newton to write Principia and Newton acknowledges his contribution in the preface: ‘Mr. Edmund Halley not only assisted me with his pains in correcting the press and taking care of the schemes, but it was to his solicitations that its becoming public is owing; for when he had obtained of me my demonstrations of the figure of the celestial orbits, he continually pressed me to communicate the same to the Royal Society...’ (translated by Andrew Motte). Halley also bore the cost of printing, the Royal Society's funds having been depleted, and was instrumental in its distribution.
The printing history of the Principia is well documented, owing particularly to the researches of A.N.L. Munby and W. Todd. Most notable are the two states of the title-page: one with a 2-line imprint, as here, and one with a 3-line imprint naming the bookseller Samuel Smith, each reflecting domestic versus foreign distribution of the work. This issue was distributed in Britain by Newton and Halley through a number of unnamed booksellers. The printing of the edition was divided between two compositors working concurrently, one setting the first two books, the other setting the third. A number of stop-press corrections have been listed by William Todd. Babson 10; Grolier Science 78 (‘the most influential scientific publication of the seventeenth century’); Koyr and Cohen, Isaac Newton's Principia, 2 vols, Cambridge: 1971-2; Norman 1586 (3-line imprint title); PMM 161; Wallis 6; Wing N-1048.