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Navigating Newton’s Novels: Exhibiting the Value of Personal Libraries

decoration21 Aug. 2015|21 Aug. 2016
Sir Isaac Newton is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time. As a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, he not only laid the foundations for classical mechanics with his "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" (1687), but also removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric system. He built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a theory of colour based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colours of the visible spectrum - to mention only a few of Newton's enormous scientific credits. Now, an online exhibition curated by Emma Carter (Trinity College Library) explores Newton’s personal library and follows the traces of its history.

Personal libraries of famous people and scholars are informative, instructive and fascinating. They provide us with thorough insight into the lives, thoughts and knowledge of their collectors. We can track the signatures and dedications inscribed in the books as well as the annotations, handwritten notes and manuscripts to map social circles or to examine the books for signs of use – weakened spines and marginalia. Pamphlets pressed inside as bookmarks tell us how treasured or useful a book may have been to its owner.

Upon his death in 1727, due to the lack of a last will and testament the personal library of Sir Isaac Newton was purchased by John Huggins for his son Charles, rector of Chinnor in Oxford. A catalogue known as the Huggins List was conceived which is now kept in The British Library. This is the most reliable list of the original contents of Newton’s library of approximately 1,934 volumes. After Charles Huggins death in 1750, Newton’s library was once again sold, this time to James Musgrave who seems to have had a lot more involvement with the books, compiling a much more detailed catalogue and adding his own shelf marks. Over generations the library had been owned by the Musgrave family, before parts of it were set up for auction in 1920. Since then the Newton collection has never been together again. Volumes can be found in institutions all over the world from the Huntington Library in California, to Babson College in Massachusetts, to Cambridge University Library. Besides, 864 volumes were donated to Trinity College Library by The Pilgrim Trust in 1943.

Click here to learn more and to view the online exhibition.

(Picture: Wikipedia)


21 Aug. 2015|21 Aug. 2016
Online exhibition
Trinity College Library
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