Soon: Newton’s library online

Devoted Newton groupies must have wondered: all is quiet on the Newton front? Indeed, I haven’t had much time in the past weeks to write a new post. But it was time well-spent: in a few days the Newton Project web site will see the launch of the full catalogue of books that Isaac Newton owned, and their current whereabouts.

What we have done is essentially digitize the catalogue part of John Harrison’s seminal The Library of Isaac Newton. Originally published in 1978, Harrison’s volume marked a breakthrough in Newton scholarship. It provided essential support for picturing “the new Newton”: not the man of science, but the man of scholarship. By examining the various lists that were drawn up after Newton’s death, and a few decades later when Newton’s library was sold again, as well as countless of auction catalogues, Harrison managed to reconstruct in sometimes minute detail the contents of the library as it was in 1727, the year of Newton’s death.

A table that attracted much attention from Newton afficionados provided a categorical summary of all the books, with many surprises. Of the 1763 volumes that Harrison identified (including doublures) most did NOT concern science or mathematics, but theology, history, classical literature and alchemy. And what about a volume on hand-reading: H1448: Saunders, Richard. Palmistry, the secrets thereof disclosed…As also that most useful piece of astrology…concerning elections…?

Harrison’s numbers, like the H1448 above, have become synonymous to the books he identified, and likewise his book to Newton’s library. Now, in the year 37 A.H. (Anno Harrison), a number of books whose whereabouts where unknown to Harrison have resurfaced, as I have blogged previously. We have sought to update Harrison’s catalogue where possible, and will try to do so. In the mean time, we still need you! So, whenever you handle a pre-1727 book, see if it comes with certain bookplates or has suspicious folds

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Seems strange that unlike both Galileo and Robert Hooke, Newton seems not to have had Gilbert’s ‘De Magnete’ ?

    1. Indeed it is. He did probably read it though, borrowing a copy from the University Library or others (he had access to a number of private libraries).

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