20 October 1999
NEWTON, Sir Isaac. Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Also Two Treatises of the Species and Magnitude and Curvilinear Figures. London: for Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford, 1704.
4 (238 x 186mm). Title printed in red and black. 19 folding engraved plates. (Very slight dampstain on 6 plates, last plate spotted, few ink stains on title.) Contemporary calf panelled in blind, gilt spine, red speckled edges (expertly rebacked and restored, endpapers renewed). Provenance: L.W. Haslehurst (19th-century title inscription in gothic script).
FIRST EDITION, containing Newton's fullest account of his discoveries and theories concerning light and colour. Newton's invention of the reflecting telescope at the beginning of the 1670s brought him to the attention of the Royal Society, resulting in his election to membership in 1672. At the same time Newton began experiments with prisms and other lenses, and the first of these were published in a letter to the Royal Society in 1672. Criticism and further experiments refined Newton's theories, resulting ultimately in the Opticks. Newton is thought to have delayed publication of the Opticks until after the death of his chief critical colleague, Robert Hooke, in 1703, although the year of its publication may just as well be seen as a response to the appearance in 1703 of work on the same subject by George Cheyne (DSB, p.56).
Of Newton's more important discoveries in the Opticks are his analysis of white light as a compound of many pure colours; interference effects; discovery of periodicity (which led to wave theory); and his full explanation of the rainbow. 'For over a century, [the Opticks] remained a work of great authority, "supreme" in Andrade's words, "as a record of experiment and scientific deduction from experiment"' (PMM).
The first edition is also important as it contains Newton's first mathematical papers in print, added to assert Newton's priority to the discovery of the calculus over Leibnitz. Babson 132; Dibner Heralds of Science 148; Grolier/Horblitt 79b; Norman 1588; Wallis 174; PMM 172.
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