At the Hugh Owen Library there is a collection of rare volumes relating to the famous physicist and mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton. These include an early edition (1721) of Newton’s own Opticks in which he overturned the accepted theory of the time – that ‘pure’ light from the sun was white or colourless. Through analyses of light’s behaviour through prisms, he proved that just the opposite was true, and that light is composed of seven different colours. Also on display is a 1760 edition of his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – a seminal work laying out in mathematical terms the laws of motion and an account of universal gravitation.
We also hold a copy of Bernhard Varen’s Geographia Generalis, a 1672 edition that Newton published himself – in it Varen discusses the general principles of geography as a scientific subject using the knowledge of the time. This includes mathematical facts about the dimensions and motions of the earth, as well as their practical applications in navigation and map-making.
Recently a book from Newton’s own library has come to light. This is William Baxter’s Glossarium Antiquitatum, published 1719, and acquired when Newton was Master of the Mint – later bookplates indicate that this volume was in Newton’s possession when he died.