In Search Of Principia
Back in 2003, I enjoyed participating in the
project (in which many volunteers share the task of proofreading an
e-book before it goes to
In a conversation on one of the DP forums, someone remarked that
there were no books in PG by Sir Isaac Newton. Being interested in
satellites, and knowing what a revered work Newton's Philosophiae
naturalis principia mathematica (the "Principia") is,
I decided to look further into this work, to evaluate what needs to
be done to turn it into a PG e-book.
The first task was acquiring the text. Very quickly I discovered
that there have been many published versions of Principia;
some copyrighted, some partial, and some (which might be suitable
for digitizing) public domain and complete. This page summarizes
what I found in my search to choose the one most suitable for a PG
e-book. The Chittenden text seemed best suited to this. I obtained
the 1995 Prometheus printing (paperback) which has most of the
sections from Chittenden and is still available; I also obtained a
copy of Chittenden itself through inter-library loan.
Update, September 2009: Someone inquired whether I ever
completed an e-book. The answer is no: I did scan the text (and
still have the images), but just as I was about to start a PGDP
project, I found someone else who claimed he was nearly finished
with a proofread e-book. Rather than duplicate his work, I stopped
at that point. However, Project Gutenberg still does not have an
English-translation Principia e-book as of this date, so I don't
know if he ever published it. See below for an online site where
you can view the Chittenden text (as images).
Known Printings of Principia
Public Domain Printings
- Original: Latin, 3 editions by Isaac Newton, 1687
- Translation: English, by Motte, 1729: Nearly every English edition
is based on this. This translation apparently was based on Newton's
2nd edition (there were 3).
- Chittenden, N. W.,
"Newton's Principia: The mathematical principles of natural philosophy";
1846; New York (Daniel Adee); 581 p.: Billed as "1st American,
carefully rev. and cor., edition". Library of Congress No. QA803
.A45 1848. Chittenden also includes "Newton's System of the World"
at the end, plus a portrait and extensive biography of Newton.
(In comparing this book to the Cajori 1934 work, you can see that
Cajori turned the prose into formulas, which makes Cajori more
accessible.) You can view this text online at the following
- Prometheus Books "Great Minds" series,
printed 1995; 465 p.; ISBN 0-87975-980-1: This is a reprinting of the
core of Principia from the Chittenden 1846 work (i.e., the Prometheus
printing doesn't have the extensive Newton bio, nor "Newton's System
of the World").
- Cajori, Florian, "Principia in Modern English"; (c) 1934 (renewed
1962); U. of California Press (Berkeley, CA)
(c) 1999 U. of California Press (Berkeley, CA); ISBN 0-520-08817-4
paperback (-08816-6 hardback): A brand new translation based on
Newton's 3rd (final) edition
- Frost, Percival; 1878/1854/etc.; London(Cambridge?) (Macmillan):
Only has sections I II and III, OCLC 1239372, apparently 5 editions
(last in 1900?)
- Evans/Main; 1871; Cambridge/London (Deighton/Bell): Only has
sections I II and III
- Carr, John; 1821; London (Baldwin, Cradock, Joy): Only has
sections I II and III
Other Principia Digitizing Projects
- This one seems
to be the most cited. Currently it has sections I through IV, and
shows it was last updated in 1998. I emailed the address on the page
but received no response. The section headings don't line up with
Chittenden; I'm not sure what text this effort is working from
David's In-Progress List
shows that copyright clearance was given for the Percival Frost
(Macmillan) text on 20 Feb 2002 (but see above; this is only a
partial printing). It also shows "In progress 16 Mar 1999" which
might be the above effort.
If you have thoughts on Principia I'd love to hear them!
Last updated Friday, September 4, 2009.