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Sir Isaac Newton's Principia

Nature volume 5, page 59 | Download Citation



FINDING that all editions of the Principia are out of print, the Glasgow Professors of Natural Philosophy and of Mathematics have issued a careful reprint of the last (third) edition as finally revised by Newton himself; attending, of course, to the Corrigenda, but wisely abstaining from the insertion of either note or comment. We have had far too much of such things. Think only of the painfully elaborate notes of poor Bishop Horsley, which deface an otherwise splendid edition, and of the truly amazing comments made by Lord Brougham in his “Analytical Views!” True, these are coarse attempts at painting, or rather at “whitewashing,” while the Glasgow professors are quite able to “gild.” But even gilding would have had a smack of profanation about it, and we are delighted to have Newton left to speak for himself in the old, imperishable, words whose full meaning is only now gradually dawning on the world. So far as we have compared it with other copies, this edition seems to be better than any of its predecessors; the printing and paper are excellent, and the cuts especially are greatly improved. There is, however, one remark which is forcibly thrust upon us by this performance. How eccentric and inscrutable are mathematicians! Comets are nothing to them; and the greater they are, the less do they seem subject to any law of what would be called common sense by mere average humanity. One man of exceptional genius is found wasting day after day in neatly rounding off a sonnet; anon he calculates, to fifty places more than can ever be required, the root of some transcendental equation. Others occasionally burst from their seclusion and rush wildly into gymnastic feats, high-jinks, and what not; but in cold blood to determine to verify, letter by letter, a reprint of a somewhat bulky Latin book seems a species of self-torture, of which nothing we ever before heard concerning our northern friends, could have led us to imagine them capable. They have gone through it, however; and, having done it well, deserve our hearty thanks.

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