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 (242 x 182 mm). Collation: A4 (+-1 title in second state with Smith's imprint added, 2 author's dedication to the Royal Society, 3 preface to the reader, 4 Halley's Latin ode to Newton); B-O4 P4(+-4) 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); folding engraved plate (155 x 340 mm) of cometary orbit, inserted at the end. Woodcut and typographical diagrams. (Marginal repair to Nn1, quire Ss browned.) Contemporary French sprinkled calf, gilt spine, red-and-green sprinkled edges, morocco fall-down-back box.
Provenance: an early or mid-18th-century French mathematician, who evidently read what Newton himself called this "hard Book" and has annotated proposition 1 section 2 (p. 37) and proposition 4 section 2 (pp 41-42): manuscript calculations in brown ink, 2 pp, on two half sheets (bell watermark, papermaker's name P. Bouson, crown surmount), loosely inserted, brief manuscript references at corollaries 3-5 on p. 42 apparently in the same hand.
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 Norman copy in its original French 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.
The Norman copy is IN EXTREMELY FINE CONDITON, the paper fresh and the binding unrestored. Babson/Newton 10; I.B. Cohen, Introduction to Newton's "Principia", ch. iv; Dibner 11; Horblit 78; 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's bibliography in Koyr & Cohen's ed. of Newton's Principia II, 851-3; Wallis 7; Wing N-1049; Norman 1586.