Optical Theories & Optical Correspondence

To appreciate many of Newton's writings on optics fully, it is essential to be aware of the contemporary comments and criticisms to which Newton was responding. He was particularly incensed at having the accuracy of his observations queried by two French Jesuits, Francis Linus and Ignace Pardies. In fact, both men had misunderstood Newton's essay and he had little difficulty refuting them: Linus frankly admitted defeat, and Pardies died before Newton's reply was published. More serious were the reservations expressed by two of the few individuals who could be said to belong in Newton's intellectual league, Christiaan Huygens and the Royal Society's own Curator of Experiments, Robert Hooke. Huygens considered that Newton's data, although interesting, did not warrant the inferences he drew from it. Hooke objected that Newton had not conducted enough experiments and that other theories (i.e. his own) could explain the phenomena equally well. The deeply neurotic Newton took great exception to these criticisms and repeatedly threatened to withdraw from public discussion of natural philosophy altogether. However, this did not stop him from engaging in intermittent but increasingly bitter semi-public feuds with Hooke until the latter's death in 1703.

Despite Newton's often-proclaimed detestation of such controversies, these critical reactions to his optical writings played a vital role in stimulating his thought by spurring him to refine and elaborate his theories. This page presents Newton's writings within this larger context. It offers three of Newton's optical manuscripts followed by the shorter essays written against his theories as well as Newton's responses to them. So far as possible, these printed works are listed in the order of their composition (which is not always the same as the order of their publication), in order to make it possible to follow the progression of these disputes over time.

Newton's Optical Theories & Optical Correspondence

Sorted by date

Viewing 1-45 of 45

1.

Pierpont Morgan Notebook

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, USA

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00001

2.

'Quæstiones quædam Philosophiæ' ('Certain Philosophical Questions')

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3996, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: THEM00092

3.

'Of Colours'

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3975, pp. 1-22, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00004

4.

Lectiones Opticae

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 4002, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00306

5.

Draft of 'A Theory Concerning Light and Colors'

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3970.3, ff.460-466, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00003

6.

A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton … containing his New Theory about Light and Colors

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 80 (19 Feb. 1671/2), pp. 3075-3087.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00006

7.

Robert Hooke's Critique of Newton's Theory of Light and Colors (delivered 1672)

Author: Robert Hooke

Published in: Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society, vol. 3 (London: 1757), pp. 10-15.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00005

8.

An Accompt of a New Catadioptrical Telescope invented by Mr. Newton

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 81 (25 March 1672), pp. 4004-4007.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00007

9.

Christiaan Huygens' comments on Newton's telescope

Author: Christiaan Huygens

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 81 (25 March 1672), pp. 4008-4009.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00052

10.

An Extract of a Letter, received very lately, (March 19th) from the Inventor of this new Telescope, from Cambridge

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 81 (25 March 1672), pp. 4009-4010.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00030

11.

Mr. Newton's Letter … containing some more suggestions about his New Telescope

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 82 (22 April 1672), pp. 4032-4034.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00008

12.

An Extract of another Letter … by way of an answer to some Objections, made by an Ingenious French Philosopher [Adrien Auzout] to the New Reflecting Telescope

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 82 (22 April 1672), pp. 4034-4035.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00009

13.

Mr. Isaac Newton's Considerations upon part of a Letter of Monsieur De Bercé

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 83 (20 May 1672), pp. 4056-4059.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00010

14.

Some Experiments propos'd in relation to Mr. Newton's Theory of light … together with the Observations made thereupon by the Author of that Theory

Author: Robert Moray

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 83 (20 May 1672), pp. 4059-4062.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00011

15.

The Observations, made upon these proposals [of Robert Moray]

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 83 (20 May 1672), pp. 4060-4062.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00053

16.

A Latin Letter … by Ignatius Gaston Pardies … containing some Animadversions upon Mr. Isaac Newton … his Theory of Light

Author: Ignace Gaston Pardies

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 84 (17 June 1672), pp. 4087-4090.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00012

17.

Mr Newtons Letter of April 13. 1672 … being an Answer to the fore-going Letter of P. Pardies

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 84 (17 June 1672), pp. 4091-4093.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00013

18.

A Serie's of Quere's propounded by Mr. Isaac Newton … positively concluding his new Theory of Light and Colours

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 85 (15 July 1672), pp. 5004-5007.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00014

19.

A second Letter of P. Pardies

Author: Ignace Gaston Pardies

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 85 (15 July 1672), pp. 5012-5013.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00015

20.

Mr. Newton's Answer to the foregoing Letter [of Ignace Pardies]

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 85 (15 July 1672), pp. 5014-5018.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00029

21.

Mr Isaac Newtons Answer to some Considerations [of Robert Hooke] upon his doctrine of Light and Colors

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 88 (18 November 1672), pp. 5084-5103.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00028

22.

An Extract of a Letter lately written by an ingenious person from Paris [Christiaan Huygens]

Author: Christiaan Huygens

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 96 (21 July 1673), pp. 6086-6087.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00016

23.

Mr. Newtons Answer to the foregoing Letter [of Christiaan Huygens]

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 96 (21 July 1673), pp. 6087-6092.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00017

24.

An Extract of Mr Isaac Newton's Letter … concerning the Number of Colors

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 97 (6 October 1673), pp. 6108-6111.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00018

25.

An answer (to the former Letter) … by the same Parisian Philosopher

Author: Christiaan Huygens

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 97 (6 October 1673), pp. 6112.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00019

26.

A Letter of the Learn'd Franc. Linus … animadverting upon … Mr. Isaac Newton's Theory of Light and Colors, date 6 October 1674

Author: Francis Linus

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 110 (25 January 1674/5), pp. 217-219.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00020

27.

An Answer to this Letter [of Francis Linus], written 5 December 1674

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 110 (25 January 1674/5), pp. 219.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00054

28.

Hypothesis explaining the properties of light

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society, vol. 3 (London: 1757), pp. 247-305.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00002

29.

Draft of the 'Hypothesis Concerning Light and Colors'

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3970.3, ff. 475r-482v, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00121

30.

Draft of the 'Discourse Concerning Light and Colors'

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3970.3, ff. 501r-517r, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00122

31.

Draft of the 'Discourse Concerning Light and Colors'

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3970.3, ff. 519r-529r, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00126

32.

Draft of the 'Discourse concerning Light and Colors'

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3970.3, ff. 549r-567v, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00127

33.

Optical diagrams

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 9597/2/18/89-90, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00287

34.

Covering letter to the Hypothesis, Dec. 7 1675

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3970.3, f. 459r-v, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00120

35.

A letter of Mr. Franc. Linus … being a reply to the Letter printed in Numb. 110

Author: Francis Linus

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 121 (24 January 1675/6), pp. 499-500.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00021

36.

Mr. Isaac Newton's Considerations on the former Reply [of Francis Linus]

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 121 (24 January 1675/6), pp. 501-502.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00022

37.

An extract of another Letter of Mr. Newton

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 121 (24 January 1675/6), pp. 503-504.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00023

38.

A particular Answer of Mr. Isaak Newton to Mr. Linus his Letter

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 123 (25 March 1676), pp. 556-561.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00024

39.

A Letter from Liege concerning Mr Newton's Experiment of the colour'd Spectrum

Author: Anthony Lucas

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 128 (25 September 1676), pp. 692-698.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00025

40.

Mr Newton's Answer to the precedent Letter

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 128 (25 September 1676), pp. 698-705.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00026

41.

Opticks: Or, A treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Also Two treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures (London: 1704)

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Opticks: Or, A treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Also Two treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures (London: 1704).

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00031

42.

Draft Versions of 'The Queries'

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3970.3, ff. 231r-301r, 359r, 477v-478r, 610r-612r, 618r-623r, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00055

43.

Optice: Sive De Reflexionibus, Refractionibus, Inflexionibus & Coloribus Lucis. Libri Tres (London: 1706)

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Optice: Sive De Reflexionibus, Refractionibus, Inflexionibus & Coloribus Lucis. Libri Tres. (London: 1706).

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00062

44.

Opticks: Or, A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. The Second Edition, with Additions (London: 1718)

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Opticks: Or, A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. The Second Edition, with Additions (London: 1718).

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00043

45.

An Instrument for observing the Moon's Distance from the Fixt Stars at Sea

Author: Isaac Newton

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 465 (1742), pp. 155-156.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00027

Viewing 1-45 of 45

© 2014 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Sponsored by:

  • University of Sussex
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC
  • CORDIS