Recent Acquisitions

(Newton, Isaac) Brewster, David | The Life of Sir Isaac Newton

  • First edition of the first scholarly biography of Isaac Newton, written by the man who would go on to uncover Newton's previously unknown alchemical studies. This copy with an 1884 gift inscription presenting the work to a woman, Betsy Motherwell.

    Author Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) was a highly regarded scientist and university administrator who did significant work on optics, contributed to the invention of the stereoscope and the kaleidoscope, and was an intimate of William Henry Fox Talbot, being "involved in the history of photography from its very beginning" (ODNB).

    But he is best remembered for his two important biographies of Isaac Newton, written in the hope of defending Newton from accusations of madness. This, his first attempt, was published in an affordable, popular format in 1831, and was was well-received. Brewster had sought out unpublished material and was able to incorporate a group of previously unknown letters between Newton, Samuel Pepys, and the physician John Millington.

    Building on this success, Brewster continued to seek material that would shed further light on the great man's life. In 1837 he was finally able to access the tightly-controlled Portsmouth manuscripts, which revealed for the first time Newton's deep interest in alchemy and his unorthodox religious views. "Despite these traumatic discoveries—which essentially negated the purpose behind his historical biography—Brewster attempted to synthesize his findings." His second biography, Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, published in 1855, "remained the best available until 1980" and "managed to include all the problems of the enigmatic figure of Newton for the first time, and attempted to solve them in the light of Brewster's own times. The work is remarkable as much for the insights it gives about Brewster, as it is for information about Newton" (ODNB).

  • London: John Murray, 1831.

    Duodecimo (141 x 92mm). Later blue-green half calf, spine gilt in compartments, black morocco label, marbled sides, rear endpapers pink, all edges gilt. Engraved frontispiece after the portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, vignette title, engravings within the text. Gift inscription dated 1884 to front blank. Front pastedown renewed and front free endpaper lacking. Binding rubbed and scuffed, frontispiece and titled toned and a little spotted, foxing to M8, N1, and N2. Very good condition.