"THE LAST WORK OF AS GREAT A GENIUS AS ANY AGE EVER PRODUCED": NEWTON'S CHRONOLOGY, 1770, WITH THREE FOLDING PLATES OF SOLOMON'S TEMPLE, IN CONTEMPORARY CALF
NEWTON, Isaac. The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended. To which is Prefix'd, A Short Chronicle from the First Memory of Things in Europe, to the Conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great… A New Edition. To which is added, A Letter from the Right Reverend Zachary Pearce… London: Printed for T. Cadell, 1770. Quarto, contemporary full brown mottled calf, later red morocco spine label.
1770 edition of Newton's controversial revision of accepted chronologies, issued with the unsold sheets from the first edition, and the first edition to contain a letter from the Lord Bishop of Rochester that features "an account of Newton's revision of the Chronology in the weeks before his death," illustrated with three engraved folding plates depicting Solomon's Temple, in contemporary calf.
In these pages, Newton uses astronomical data and calculations to verify "chronological points derived in the main from Ptolemy, which were held in his time" (Babson 214). Even as his health declined, Isaac Newton "kept writing. His niece's new husband, John Conduitt, saw him in his last days working in near darkness on an obsessional history of the world—he wrote at least a dozen drafts… He measured the reigns of kings and the generations of Noah, used astronomical calculations to date the sailing of the Argonauts, and declared the ancient kingdoms to be hundreds of years younger than generally supposed. He incorporated his analysis of the Temple of Solomon and said enough about idolatry and the deification of kings to raise suspicion of his heretical beliefs" (Gleick, 190). A pirated, French version of the work appeared in 1725, refuting Newton's conclusions; its publication spurred Newton to complete his text, but it would not see print until after his death, edited by Conduitt. Queen Caroline "played an important (though perhaps unwitting) role in bringing the text to publication. As early as 1716 her attention had been drawn to the fact that Newton was writing a work on chronology and she asked to see it… [Newton] provided the Queen with a 'Short Chronicle from the First Memory of Things in Europe, to the Conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great,' which contained nothing that could be deemed theologically suspect since it was a simple listing of dates… Conduitt's dedication of the heavily revised 1728 Chronology to the Queen not only drew attention to her support for Newton but also was a carefully chosen device to shield the book from the criticism which Conduitt obviously expected" (Edward Worth Library).
On its publication in 1728, Chronology did create controversy; furthermore, modern readers who revere Newton as an enlightened scientist often find his reliance here on mythology surprising. Nevertheless, the Chronology remains valuable as an exemplar of 17th-century historians' conviction "that by analyzing the records of prehistory they could delineate patterns useful in comprehending actions in the present… [anticipating] the definition of the discipline we think of as anthropology" (Knoespel, Eighteenth Century 30:3; 20, 39). "When the unsold sheets of the first edition of Chronology were reissued in 1770," this edition featured a new title page and a letter "that had been written in 1754 by Zachary Pearce to Thomas Hunt, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford… This contained an account of Newton's revision of the Chronology in the weeks before his death, which made it clear that sections of the published Chronology had never been property corrected, and that some of the problems which later authors had exposed were a product of confusion on the part of its editors" (Cambridge Companion, 566). Three folding plates bound between pages 346 and 347. Wallis 310.2. ESTC T82180. See Gray 309; Wallis 309; Babson 214; Lowndes, 1674.
Text and plates fresh with only light scattered foxing, endpapers renewed. Joints expertly repaired, contemporary calf with expert restoration.