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Friday, December 16, 2011

"I Am Your Most Humble Servant, Is. Newton"

Portrait of Newton
engraved by James MacArdell
from a painting by
Enoch Seeman
 Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was one of the most remarkable figures in the history of science and mathematics. His Principia (first published in Latin as the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687) established the principle of universal gravitation and outlined the mathematical basis for the laws of motion. The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, one of the rare book collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, has a number of early publications by Newton, as well as several manuscripts written in his own hand. Shown here is the reply that the economically-minded Newton scrawled on the back of a letter that had been sent to him in 1687 by Gilbert Clerke, a Cambridge mathematician who had written to Newton asking for clarification on some of the points in the Principia. Newton's reply begins at the bottom of the column on the left side and continues down the right-hand side:

Dibner MSS 001008 B

S[i]r, I do not wonder that in reading a hard book you meet with some scruples & hope that the removal of those you propound may help you to understand it more easily ... I thank you for signifying your doubts to me in these things because they might have proved my mistakes. If there be any thing else you think material for me to know or stick much at in reading my book, pray do me the favour of another letter, or two. I am your most humble servant, Is. Newton.

This week, Cambridge University Library has launched its digital collection of Newton materials. Two multi-institutional collaborative websites that make reference to the Dibner Library's collection of Newton material include The Chymistry of Isaac Newton, an Indiana University-Bloomington project which focuses on Newton's alchemical writings, and The Newton Project, hosted by the University of Sussex. You can search the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center to see other works related to Newton that are owned by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Clerke, Gilbert, 1626-1697? Correspondence [manuscript], 1687. (The letter shown is dated 26 Sept. 1687).
MSS 001008 B SCDIRB Dibner Library

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Libraries, with assistance from Kirsten van der Veen, Technician, Dibner Library

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