JF Ptak Science Books Post 1508
Well, not really, no. But sort of--when you open up the Big Book of Big Discovery, and go to the "N" section, and read about the Principia, the fish and the dog will at least be there.
The story of Edmond Halley and his wide importance in getting Isaac Newton to write what may be among the most supreme efforts in the history of science is very well known. In pursuit of an answer to an excellent question put to him and Robert Hooke by Sir Christopher Wren in a London coffeehouse, Halley pursued his answer to the very doorstep of Newton, right to Cambridge, in a personal visit. Newton of course knew the answer and knew more than the question, as his response provoked some of the deepest thoughts in the history. The answer to Wren's question involved something much bigger than what he knew, and it took Newton to recognize the elemental issue at play. Of course the answer would require a lot of collected observations and accurate data, which Halley could certainly provide via John Flamsteed (who was the founder of the Greenwich Observatory, and the first astronomer royal of England), but the answer involved the ability to do the calculations in a fundamentally different way. It was the genius of Newton through and through that made the Principia (the full title by the way being Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which is Latin for "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"), the Essential Book, but without the intercession and data provided by Halley, the whole deal gets a little muddy.
I can imagine that Hooke, who even though had come to the top of Newton's s-list, knew how he could answer the question, and knew that it was Newton that he needed to see, but he just couldn't do it. As a matter of fact the Hooke/Newton business would get a little deeper as the Principia came closer to publication, with Hooke claiming some priority and influence in the ideas forming Book III--a claim that nearly prevented Newton from publishing that section of the work--but Halley again stepped in and smoothed the matter over, at least for the sake of publication. Hooke though didn't let go, and neither did Newton, whose ultimate revenge over Hooke was by living significantly longer.
He was prodded into publishing by Halley, who flattered and beguiled and pushed and preened and all the rest, skillfully managing the spectacular and difficult Newton, pressing him to completion. It might be said, I think, that had Halley not been there to press Newton along, the Principia might not have been written at all, and we would know Sir Isaac for other things, but perhaps not for his great masterpiece.
Aside from Halley's insistence, there was also the issue of money and getting the Principia printed, and even though the Royal Society had given its imprimatur1 on Newton's project and had agreed to see it published, the publication was not necessarily a done deal.. The Royal Society hadn't gotten gotten over its disastrous investment in Francis Willoughby's History of Fishes (1686)2--an expensive edition with beautiful illustrations, a project that they funded but which just didn't sell. And so the Society was a little gun shy, and tight. As a matter of fact, Halley was at the time under consideration for the position of subordinate clerk, and was to receive a salary of 50 pounds (a substantial amount for the time) but was to be paid in copies of Willoughby's book, which was evaluated as one pound per copy (so Halley would make 50 copies of the Willoughby book for his work, per year). But Halley guaranteed to pay for the publication of the Principia, paying for the thing out of his own pocket.
Luckily Halley wasn't dependent upon his income as clerk, having inherited a legacy as well as a number of productive properties from his father3. Halley had at least an inheritance of 150-200 pounds from his father's estate, not including 60 pounds that he received every year before his father died. In addition to the cash was "property in several parishes in the city of London, including 13 houses in Winchester Street, two others on Canon Street...[others]...and the Dog Tavern." Halley was making enough money from the property investments to live a comfortable life, plus he had his own sources of income, plus he was living in a house without payment, also inherited from his father. Halley was comfortable.
There was evidently one piece of property that was a major source of trouble to Halley's father and which it seems for a time threatened the stability of the family's legacy--the Dog Tavern. But the elder Halley--also named Edmond--overcame those issues and held onto his other properties without major liabilities, and was able to make his bequest to the younger Halley, who was then (after much else happens) able to proceed funding the publication of the Principia.4
1. Following the Halley visit in 1684 (August) Newton would send his De motu off to the Royal Society (received 10 December) ; after two and a half years of work on 28 April 1686 Newton's sent the Principia, Book I to the Royal Society, which on 19 May decided to publish it and which liscensed the book (via Samuel Pepys, the President of the Royal Society) on 30 June.
2. The book was actually completed by John Ray following the death of Willoughby.
3. That information comes from an article I read yesterday which sparked this post (Cook, Alan (07/01/1991). "Edmond Halley and Newton's Principia. Notes and records of the Royal Society of London, 45 (2), p. 129}, Cook determining through his own careful research that Halley had ample funding to take care of the Principia (and also why it might have taken Halley so many months to make his trip to Cambridge, rather than just heading off to see Newton straight away from his coffeehouse meeting with Wren and Hooke).
4. After it was all said and done, it looks as though the entire printing (300-400 copies, including 100 copies for presentation) of the first edition of the Principia cost under 100 pounds. Part of this cost was offset because a number of copies were sold as sheets that were to be bound by the purchaser. The second edition of 1713, with a print run of about 700 copies, cost 117 pounds. It is interesting to note that the prices paid for copies of the first edition of the Principia didn't reach their astronomical proportions until the last decade or so, when lovely copies might demand a million dollars or more. A.N.L. Munby (Munby, A N L (10/01/1952). "The Distribution of the First Edition of Newton\'s \'Principia\'". Notes and records of the Royal Society of London (0035-9149), 10 (1), p. 28) determines that he average price for the 17 copies of the Principia sold during the 1930's at auction was about 50 pounds, and that a signed presentation copy made 1 pound (!!) at auction in 1894. Munby makes a good observation that the copy of the Principia for the Learned Gentleman's library in days gone by wouldn't necessarily have been the first edition, but the best edition, which would've made that the third edition of 1726.