NEWTON, Sir Isaac (1642-1727, knighted 1705). 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 Samuel Smith and other booksellers, 1687.
Median 4o (238 x 185 mm). Folding engraved plate of cometary orbit, inserted at the end (thin spot near fold, few minor stains). Woodcut and typographical diagrams. (Title with 3-inch and 1½-inch internal repaired tears, one crossing horizontal rule, the other above first three letters of text, a few internal breaks, B2-3 with upper margins renewed, rusthole on C4 affecting a few letters, marginal tear and misimpression of last three lines of text on 2L3 with ten words supplied in manuscript facsimile, 3H4 with paper flaw crossing last two lines of text, some occasional pale browning or spotting, pale dampstaining near gutter at end.) Contemporary Scandinavian calf, spine gilt in five compartments, vellum letteringpiece in second, color-sprinkled edges (covers extensively restored); cloth folding case.
Provenance: Petrus Elvius, the elder (1660-1718), Swedish astronomer (inscription on title: "Petrus Elvius 1698"); late 18th-/early 19th-century inscription in Latin on flyleaf noting that this is the first edition.
FIRST EDITION OF THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE, "perhaps the greatest intellectual stride that it has ever been granted to any man to make" (Einstein). The edition was divided between two compositors working concurrently, one setting the first two books, the other setting the third. W. Todd has identified a number of stop-press corrections, while P4 was cancelled to correct the orientation of the woodcut figure on verso. Two apparently simultaneous or near-simultaneous issues can be distinguished, identified by their title in uncancelled or cancelled state. One was distributed by Halley and Newton themselves through a number of unnamed booksellers, the other was largely turned over to Samuel Smith for distribution on the Continent. (H. Zeitlinger first noticed the frequent occurrence of foreign bindings on copies of the Smith issue.) The present copy in a contemporary Scandinavian binding belongs to the Continental issue, which is strikingly rarer than the British one.
"Following the pioneer researches of Galileo in the study of motion and its mathematical analysis and the important contributions of Descartes and Huygens, the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century culminated in the massive achievements of Newton in dynamics and gravitational astronomy. Kepler's law of planetary motion came to be gradually accepted in the latter half of the century and unsuccessful attempts were made to account for them in terms of a central force emanating from the sun. The dependence of such a force on the inverse square of the distance was suggested by Robert Hooke, in particular, but neither he nor his scientific colleagues in London could prove that Kepler's laws follow mathematically from a law of this form" (PMM). Halley put the problem to Newton, who showed that his LAW OF GRAVITY would cause a planet to move in an ellipse about the sun as focus. Halley then saw Newton's mathematical analysis of motion through the press, and also bore the cost of printing, the Royal Society's funds having been depleted. Newton's new principles were based on his own innovations in mathematics. He showed that the dramatic aspects of nature that were subject to the universal law of gravitation could be explained, in mathematical terms, within a single physical theory. His work provides a great synthesis of the cosmos and proves its physical unity. Newton's scientific views were not seriously challenged until Planck's quantum theory and Einstein's theories of relativity, but his principles and methods remain essential for the solution of many scientific problems.
COPIES WITH A CONTEMPORARY PROVENANCE ARE NOTABLY SCARCE. Petrus Elvius of Uppsala wrote a number of astronomical textbooks and logarithmic tables. He is known for being the first professor to conduct his lecures in Swedish, not Latin, and for his design of a planetarium based on the Copernican model. In addition to his astronomical publications and several almanacs, he published a dissertation on the early voyages to India in 1704. His son Pehr, also an astronomer, was a founding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Copies of Newton's Principia with a 17th-century ownership are quite uncommon: Macomber's census lists only 7 other copies of the first edition with a dated 17th-century ownership inscription (this excludes copies assumed to have been owned in the 17th century, by Newton and his intimates for example, but which lack a date).
Babson/Newton 10; I.B. Cohen, Introduction to Newton's "Principia", ch. iv; Dibner 11; Horblit 78; H.P. Macomber, "Census of owners of the 1687 first edition of Newton's Principia,' in: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 47 (1953) 269-300 (this copy listed as #117); A.N.L. Munby, "The two title-pages of Newton's Principia" in Notes and Records of the Royal Society 10 (1952); Norman 1586; PMM 161; W. Todd's bibliography in Koyr & Cohen's ed. of Newton's Principia II, 851-3; Wallis 7; Wing N-1049.