Letter | Published:

On Editing Newton

Naturevolume 113page744 (1924) | Download Citation



THE recent presidential address of Dr. J. L. E. Dreyer at the Royal Astronomical Society, remarking on the lack of a standard edition of the writings of Sir Isaac Newton, has given rise to some misconception in the daily Press. It would, of course, not be correct to infer any want of interest in that great heritage, or in the mode in which it has come down to us. Dr. Dreyer has naturally a special claim to attention in matters of scientific bibliography. His work on Tycho Brahe and on Sir W. Herschel, including the valuable introductions, will be a permanent possession. The writings of Newton involve, however, difficulties that were absent in these cases, as also in the immense outputs of Huygens and Euler and Laplace, to which he refers. There all is straightforward: the material had been published in standard form, and the main task was to collect and arrange it. With Newton scarcely anything was systematically published except the “Principia”, that stupendous result of eighteen months' labour, and the “Opticks”. The rest circulated largely in fragments, printed often long afterwards, and in part the subject of intricate international controversy, now perhaps mainly of antiquarian interest, if not largely obsolete. Moreover, the effect of Newton's writings reverberated all through the eighteenth century, and their adequate presentation should involve discussion of their indirect influence on the mode of progress of physical science in Britain and elsewhere.

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