JF Ptak Science Books Post 1907
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"...Where Light is declared to be not Similar..."--from the "abstract" of Newton's experimentum crucis
There were four main contributors to the 19 February 1672 issue of the yet-young Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, (No. 80, pp. 3075-3087). One original papers and three reviews of recently published books: the first book was a description of the coast of eastern India by Phil. Baldeus; the second, a work on the philosophy of "Renati Des Cartes"; and third, "an essay on the advancement of MUSICK, by Thomas Salmon1. These three have a common trait in that they are mostly entirely forgotten though the works seem interesting to me. The scientific paper was written by Isasac Newton: "New Theory about Light and Colors". Though it was his very first publication2 (coming at age 29), it was already the result of years' worth of hard thought and experimentation3. It also among the most important things he ever published, and was a direct link to his superlative and iconic work published as Opticks in 1704.
(It is interesting to note that the date on the title page is given as "February 19, 1671/72". This refers to a bubble int he calendar system at the time, where in some quarters the old first day of the year was celebrated on March 25, a practice which didn't firmly disappear until 1752. So th e"1671/72" bit refers to the year being 1671 according to the Old System and 1672 according to the New.)
Newton was simply the most important person in the history of science. Aside from all of his many iconic and revolutionary accomplishments, one thing that sands out over the collective of greatness is that he applied a sameness in investigation of different fields, a constant standard of scientific method across the disciplines, which was not necessarily the case with science folks, even extending back into the dimness of the great ancient philosophers. This in itself was a most major accomplishment.
The paper of course is his famous account of placing a glass prism in the path of a ray of light, the experiment set up in a darkened room and the light entering through a slit in the window, with the result being an oblong spectrum displayed opposite the prism, the refracted light then returned to a white ray with the intervention of a second (inverted) prism.
1. The contents of the issue, abstracted, as follows, from The Newton Project website:
"A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton, Mathematick Professor in the University of Cambridge; containing his New Theory about Light and Colors: Where Light is declared to be not Similar or Homogeneal, but consisting of difform rays, some of which are more refrangible than others: And Colors are affirm'd to be not Qualifications of Light, deriv'd from Refractions of natural Bodies, (as 'tis generally believed;) but Original and Connate properties, which in divers rays are divers: Where several Observations and Experiments are alledged to prove the said Theory. An Accompt of some Books: I. A Description of the EAST-INDIAN COASTS, MALABAR, COROMANDEL, CEYLON, &c. in Dutch, by Phil. Baldæus. II. Antonii le Grand INSTITUTIO PHILOSOPHIÆ, secundùm principia Renati Des-Cartes; novâ methodo adornata & explicata. III. An Essay to the Advancement of MUSICK; by Thomas Salmon M. A. Advertisement about Thæon Smyrnæus. An Index for the Tracts of the Year 1671."
2. The full paper may be read here, again, from the Newton Project
Here's the preliminary text from the mos texcellent The Newton Project website:
To perform my late promise to you, I shall without further ceremony acquaint you, that in the beginning of the year 1666 (at which time I applyed my self to the grinding of Optick glasses of other figures then Sphericall) I procured me a triangular glasse Prisme to try therewith the celebrated phænomena of colours. And in order thereto having darkned my chamber & made a small hole in my window-shuts to let in a convenient quantity of the sun's light, I placed my Prism at its entrance that it might be thereby refracted to the opposite wall. It was at first a very pleasing divertisement to view the vivid & intense colours produced thereby; but after a while applying my selfe to consider them more circumspectly, I became surprized to see them in an oblong form, which according to the received lawes of refraction I expected should have been circular....
3. Newton entered trinity in 1661, staying until his graduation in August 1665, which was also just before the school was closed to escape the scythe of the raging plague. Even then, in the early 1660's, Newton had laid the groundwork for what would be the infinitesimal calculus; and when he was studying on his own at home--before returning to Trinity as a Fellow in 1667--he had also already polished his glasses and done the fundamental work on his theory of light.