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Mathematical Treasure: Newton's 'Principia' in English

Author(s): 
Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

In 1729, English mathematician Andrew Motte (1696-1734) translated Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica from Latin to English. Perhaps this effort was at the behest of his brother, Benjamin, who was the printer who published the translation. Volume I of this work contains a rather dramatic frontispiece depicting Isaac Newton seated in heaven among the clouds, receiving instruction from the Muse of Geometry. Below this encounter, the clouds part revealing the universe obeying mathematical laws:

Frontispiece from Andrew Motte's English translation of Newton's Principia, volume 1, 1729

Here is an image of the title page of Volume II of Motte’s translation:

Title page from Andrew Motte's English translation of Newton's Principia, volume 2, 1729

Each of the three original books of the Principia is introduced by a decorative but relevant illustration. Here is the first page of text from the translation of the Principia’s third book, De Mundi Systemate:

First page of Book 3 from Andrew Motte's English translation of Newton's Principia, volume 2, 1729

For images from the first American edition of Motte’s translation in 1846, see Mathematical Treasure: English Translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

In 1728, a previously unpublished draft copy of De Mundi Systemate had been translated into English and published as The System of the World.  The following images are from the second edition, published in 1740.

Title page of The System of the World, second edition, 1740

The plate shown below illustrates the paths of projectiles issued from the Earth and subject to the force of gravity. Note the trajectories that would in later years indicate the orbits of satellites.

Page 6 of The System of the World, second edition, 1740

The plate on page 29 illustrates a discussion of potential measurement errors caused by the dilation of light.

Page 29 of The System of the World, second edition, 1740

The images above are presented courtesy of the University of Oklahoma Library.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Newton's 'Principia' in English," Convergence (October 2018)

Dummy View - NOT TO BE DELETED