NEWTON, Sir Isaac (1642-1727, knighted 1705). Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. [Edited by Edmund Halley (1656-1742).] London: Joseph Streater for the Royal Society [at the expense of Edmund Halley], 1687.
4o (238 x 188 mm). Collation: A4 (1 title in the first state with two-line imprint, 2 author's dedication to the Royal Society, 3 preface to the reader, 4 Halley's Latin ode to Newton); B-O4 P4 (+-P4) Q-V4 W4 X-Z4 Aa-Uu4 Ww4 Xx-Zz4 ***4 (Definitiones, De motu corporum books 1-2); Aaa-Nnn4 Ooo4 (De mundi systemate book 3, +-Ooo4 errata). Engraved folding plate (152 x 322 mm) of cometary orbit inserted after p. 496, woodcut diagrams in text. (Occasional slight foxing, small losses to blank margins of ca. 5 leaves.) Contemporary English sheep (worn, restored and rebacked with spine laid down); modern morocco-backed cloth box.
Provenance: early marginalia and corrections in ink; pencilled annotations including mathematical equations and diagrams and notes in Latin and in English; James Wilson, early signature on title page; Harrison D. Horblit, book label.
FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, of the "GREATEST WORK IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE" (PMM). The Principia elucidates the universal physical laws of gravitation and motion which lie behind phenomena described by Newton's predecessors Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler. In this work Newton set forth the mathematical basis for the motion of bodies in unresisting space, i.e., the law of inertia; the motion of fluids and the effect of friction on bodies moving through fluids; and, most importantly, 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 the Species" (PMM). Newton's work provided a synthesis of the cosmos and proved its physical unity. His scientific views were not seriously challenged until the development of Planck's quantum theory and Einstein's theories of relativity, but his principles and methods remain essential for the solution of many scientific problems.
Edmund Halley was instrumental in bringing the Principia to print. As secretary of the Royal Academy, he posed to Newton the problem of demonstrating that Kepler's law of planetary motion would cause a planet to move in an ellipse with the sun as a focus, and then urged him to amplify his argument. After Newton's proof had been presented to the Royal Society, Halley saw the book through the press, and also bore the cost of printing, the Royal Society's funds being depleted. The printing history of the Principia is well documented. The edition was divided between two compositors working concurrently, one setting the first two books, the other setting the third. The first compositor was allocated too few sheets and too many page numbers; hence, it was necessary to add a gathering signed *** at the end of book 2, while the pagination skips from p. 383 to p. 400 between books 2 and 3. P4 was cancelled to correct the orientation of the woodcut figure on the verso, which had at first been printed upside down, and there were a number of stop-press corrections which do not appear to indicate priority and which do not correspond to the two states of the title page. The two versions of the title represent two simultaneous, or near-simultaneous, issues of the work. The first, with an uncancelled title and a two-line imprint, is thought to represent the domestic distribution of the book, undertaken by Halley and Newton in cooperation with several unnamed booksellers. The second issue, which has a cancel title with a three-line imprint naming the bookseller Samuel Smith, was evidently intended for foreign distribution.
A FINE COPY. Babson/Newton 10; I.B. Cohen, Introduction to Newton's "Principia" (Cambridge Mass., 1971), ch. iv-v; Dibner Heralds of Science 11; Grolier/Horblit 78 (this copy); A.N.L. Munby, "The two title-pages of Newton's Principia," in Notes and Records of the Royal Society 10 (1952); PMM 161; W. Todd, "A Bibliography of the 'Principia'," in A. Koyr & I.B. Cohen, ed., Isaac Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Cambridge Mass., 1972), vol. II, pp. 851-3; Wallis 7; Wing N-1048.