Further Elucidations on Newton’s Thoughts

how acceptable I thought it might be to the Learned World, upon a second edition of Mr. Newton’s Phil. Nat. Princ. Math. to receive some further Elucidations upon those sublime thoughts therein containd. I do not know how far Mr Newton himself may be inclinable to undertake such a task, I am apt to think he may not conceive it worth his While, but may rather leave it to others to build on that Foundation that he has laid. If therefore by your Advice and Incouragement any of the Curious Witts of Lond[on] could be put upon such an undertaking, I should think it very wel worth his Pains. We have in some Measure already an Instance of the Relish Many would have of such a Work in what Mr Whiston has Publishd in his New-Theory. Which you know has had an abundance of Mr Newtons doctrine in it, and has invited a Multitude of Readers that would hardly ever have lookd into Mr Newtons own Work, By reason of the Difficulty of the One, and the Familiarity of the Other.

From a letter dated November 13, 1697, from William Molyneux (born 17th April 1656) to Hans Sloane (born 16th April 1660). Sloane MS 4036, fol. 367, as quoted in Science and the Shape of Orthodoxy: Intellectual Change in Late Seventeenth Century Britain by Michael Hunter.

This letter is characteristic of the roles both men played: Molyneux (one of the few who could appreciate Newton’s Principia without assistance, per Hunter) seeking to disseminate Newtonian physics more widely, and seeking the support of Sloane, editor of the Philosophical Transactions and centre of a network of those “witts” interested in natural philosophy. The book Molyneux recommended emulating is A New Theory of the Earth. At the time of writing the spread, let alone the widespread acceptance, of Newton’s physics had only just begun.

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