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[NEWTON, Isaac.]

Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions, and Colours of Light....

Also Two Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures.

Availability: In stock

Published: London Printed for Sam Smith, and Benj. Walford, Printers to the Royal Society, 1704

Stock Code: 131023

OR On display in 43 Dover Street


First edition, first issue, without Newton's name on the title. Newton's Opticks expounds his corpuscular or emission theory of light, and first contains his important optical discoveries in collected form. It also prints two important mathematical treatises (published here for the first time but omitted in later editions) describing his invention of the fluxional calculus, which are the grounds for his claim for priority over Leibniz.
Newton had arrived at most of his unconventional ideas on colour by about 1668; but when he first expressed them (tersely and partially) in public in 1672 and 1675, they had provoked hostile criticism, especially on the continent. The publication of Opticks, largely written by 1692, was held over by Newton until his most vociferous critics - especially Robert Hooke - were dead and, unusually for him, was first published in English, perhaps a further defensive measure. Nevertheless, Opticks established itself, from about 1715, as a model of the interweaving of theory with quantitative experimentation. The great achievement of the work was to show that colour was a mathematically definable property. Newton showed that white light was a mixture of infinitely varied coloured rays (manifest in the rainbow and the spectrum), each ray definable by the angle through which it is refracted on entering or leaving a given transparent medium. "Newton's Opticks did for light what his Principia had done for gravitation, namely place it on a scientific basis" (D. W. Brown, cited in Babson).
Provenance: bookplate of William Hillary (1697-1763), English physician and author on tropical diseases. Hillary's printed name has been cut from his bookplate by one John Gawne, who has written his own name to the bookplate, to the front free endpaper in elaborate calligraphic style incorporating the book's title, to the title page, and sporadically thereafter, most of which are dated 1842. An ownership signature has also been cut from the top of the title page (no loss to text or border), and a signature to the rear pastedown has been scratched out, probably by Gawne. Additionally, two other early notations are on the verso of the front free endpaper and title page, and there are some early corrections to the text.

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Quarto (245 x 191 mm). Contemporary panelled calf, rebacked preserving remnants of original spine with new label to style.


With 19 folding plates, title printed in red and black with double ruled border.


Extremities discreetly repaired, light abrasions to covers, one front endpaper excised, some staining around peripheries, last 30 leaves with substantial dampstaining, some soiling and creasing to contents. A very good copy.


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