Alexander Wilson: Thoughts on General Gravitation and Views Thence Arising as to the State of the Universe

Alexander Wilson: Thoughts on General Gravitation and Views Thence Arising as to the State of the Universe

London: 1777
Sp Coll Hunterian Ae.5.6

Although published anonymously, this short work is generally attributed to Alexander Wilson. The epigraph is from Newton’s Optics: “What hinders the fixed Stars from falling upon one another?”. Wilson’s tract focuses on a question which Newton had left unanswered: namely, how the law of gravitation could be explained in terms of mechanical principles.

Wilson prefaces his Thoughts with disclaimers emphasising that what follows is hypothetical and speculative. He proposes that our solar system and innumerable others revolve in periodic motion around a single centre in a “grand system of the universe”. Wilson refers to recent observations by astronomers Edmond Halley, Pierre Lemonnier, Nevil Maskelyne and Tobias Mayer which suggest that the stars are moving through space at great velocity. This unbound copy is inscribed by Wilson on the first page.

 First Page of Wilson's 'Thoughts on General Gravitation...'
Image: front cover with inscription 'from the author'. Although published anonymously, this short work is generally attributed to Alexander Wilson.

Go to the next book in the exhibition:  Letter from Patrick Wilson to Henry Dundas