Sir Isaac Newton: Principia

London: Joseph Streater for the Royal Society, 1687
Sp Coll Ea7-b.10

In the Principia, Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) provided a new context for exploring and refining Copernicus’ model. He demonstrated that the motions of heavenly (and earthly) bodies were governed by the law of gravitation. The first edition was published in 1687 under the supervision and with the financial support of Edmond Halley, who later became the second Astronomer Royal.

Newton soon realized, however, that certain sections would benefit from revision. For the second edition of 1713, he made substantial revisions of the text in collaboration with Roger Cotes, the young Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge. These improvements make it the authoritative edition.

Newton worked on these improvements for over twenty years. Although a private, sometimes secretive, man, he allowed some intimate associates to read and copy his amendments. Several copies of the first edition, including ours, therefore exist with marginal notes that update the work, showing changes that were incorporated into the second edition of 1713. It has not yet been possible to identify the person responsible for the annotations in our copy. Undoubtedly from Newton’s close circle, one contender is David Gregory, who was professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. He is known to have owned a first edition of the Principia, and his handwriting is similar - however, further research is required before any positive identification can be made. 

'Scholium' from Newton's 'Principia'
Image: commentary and diagram, scored out, with explanatory annotation.

Go to the next book in the exhibition: John Flamsteed: Historia Celestis Britannica