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History of Science and Technology

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Newton, Isaac
Autograph Manuscript in Latin, 2 pp, 4to (199 x 155 mm), [np], [c. 1670], being an unpublished listing of chemical authors with some citations of their works that Newton has worked with or is intending to research, some light soiling to edges and a few very minor spots.
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Provenance

Bonhams, 2015, lot 49

Catalogue Note

VERY RARE UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPT WRITTEN AT THE BEGINNING OF HIS CHEMICAL RESEARCHES, in which Newton composes a list of chemical authors he has either worked with or is intending to research, together with some citations of their works. ALMOST ALL OF NEWTON'S MANUSCRIPTS ARE IN INSTITUTIONS, AND MANUSCRIPTS BEARING ON HIS SCIENTIFIC RESEARCHES ARE ESPECIALLY RARE IN PRIVATE HANDS. The authors listed range from Democritus, the ancient proponent of atomic theory, to the Elizabethan scientist/magus John Dee, and include many of the most famous alchemists and "chymists": e.g. Albertus M[agnus], Arnold de Villa Nova, Basil Valentine, Flamel, Geber, Heinrich Kunrath, [Raymond] Lull, Marsilio Ficino, Ripley, and Sendivogius. Illustrations in the work of 4 noted author are singled out in the final two lines on the recto (beginning "Tabulae Senioris"). The text on the verso is written as a paragraph, where Newton intercalates the author citations with his own thought and comments. The text on the recto lists authors alphabetically on distinct lines. John Dee's work on the Monas Hieroglyphica is especially singled out for its excellence — Newton here writing: "There numbers, points, lines and geometrical figures are used with remarkable industry to signify natural things. Once you put your foot there, more will immediately open." This manuscript bears relationship to Newton's famous "Index Chemicus," and is very possibly a first effort to its creation. It was compiled over the course of years and ultimately ran to some 100 pages,.

The new scholarly paradigm of Isaac Newton evidences the integral linkage of Newton's "chemical philosophy" and his "natural philosophy" (i.e. physics). It is widely recognized that Newton thought chemistry held the solution to "the active cause of gravity" (which the Principia did not provide). Many scholars would argue that Newton's pre-Principia researches into the "active principles" of chemical philosophy had a formative influence on the concept of gravitational force expressed in his natural philosophy — a concept of "attraction" which, in turn, subsequently appears to have framed his post-Principia conclusions about chemical philosophy. The scientific fruit of this mutual intercourse of fields is most prominently evident in Newton's "De natura acidorum," where we observe "the transition from the alchemical concept of active principle to the Newtonian concept of attraction expressed in his own words."

Newton spent some 30 years in the research of chemistry and was highly guarded about his studies throughout his lifetime. Indeed his sole lifetime published work in the field, "De natura acidorum" (printed in Harris' Lexicon Technicum), was perhaps published without his official permission. It is only in recent decades that scholars have had access to Newton's chemical manuscripts and have begun their formal study.

History of Science and Technology

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New York