"THE LAST WORK OF AS GREAT A GENIUS AS ANY AGE EVER PRODUCED": FIRST EDITION OF NEWTON'S CHRONOLOGY, 1728, WITH THREE FOLDING PLATES OF SOLOMON'S TEMPLE, VERY SCARCE LARGE-PAPER COPY IN BEAUTIFUL CONTEMPORARY MOROCCO-GILT
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. London: J. Tonson, J. Osborn and T. Longman, 1728. Quarto, contemporary full crimson morocco neatly rebacked with original elaborately gilt-decorated spine laid down, gilt-decorated covers with gilt centerpieces, raised bands, all edges gilt. $6500.
First edition, scarce large-paper issue, of Newton's posthumously published, intriguing revision of accepted chronologies, based largely on mythology and Ptolemaic astronomy, illustrated with three engraved folding plates depicting Solomon's Temple, especially scarce in beautiful contemporary morocco-gilt.
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). Upon its publication, it 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). With lovely engraved headpiece and initial by Fourdrinier on dedication page, as well as three engraved folding plates of Solomon's Temple. With page 96 mispaginated as 66, as issued without loss of text. Gray 309. Wallis 309. Lowndes, 1674. Penciled annotations to front endpapers.
Interior clean, light expert restoration to extremities, a few light rubs to front joint. A scarce large-paper copy, most desirable in beautiful contemporary morocco-gilt.