Newton's Optical Papers

In the mid-1660s, Newton became so fascinated by the nature of light and vision that he seriously risked blinding himself by staring at the sun, and by poking the sides of his eyeball with a 'bodkin' (i.e. a small knife), in order to assess how such activities would affect his sight. These experiments, together with a number of rather more sensible ones, led him to formulate revolutionary theories about the nature of the spectrum and the refraction of light.

Newton burst onto the scientific world on 19 February 1672 with the publication, in the Royal Society's journal Philosophical Transactions, of his 'New Theory about Light and Colors', recounting the experiments he had conducted six years earlier which led him to the conclusion 'that Light it self is a Heterogeneous mixture of differently refrangible Rays'. This seems a commonplace enough remark today but at the time it stood all the accepted theories of the nature of light on their heads and elicited a number of critical responses to which Newton reacted very badly.

Newton's own writings on optics can be accessed from the table below. Those interested in understanding the debates that Newton's theories engendered can access both Newton's writings and the critical responses to them from our survey of Newton's Optical Disputes.

Optical papers sorted by date

Viewing 1-55 of 55

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.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, 16 March 1671

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/35, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00307

6.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, 19 March 1671

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/36, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00308

7.

Newton's figure of his reflecting telescope with explanations

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/37, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00309

8.

Note about his reflecting telescope

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/50, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00320

9.

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

10.

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

11.

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

12.

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

13.

Copy of a letter to John Collins, dated 9 April 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/46, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00316

14.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, dated 13 April 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/38, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00310

15.

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

16.

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

17.

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

18.

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

19.

Letter to to Henry Oldenburg for Ignatius-Gaston Pardies, dated 10 June 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/40, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00312

20.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, dated 11 June 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/39, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00311

21.

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

22.

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

23.

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

24.

Letter to to Henry Oldenburg, dated 30 July 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/41, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00313

25.

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

26.

Copy of an extract from Newton to John Collins, dated 10 December 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/42-44, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00314

27.

Copy of an extract of a letter to John Collins, dated 10 December 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/45, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00315

28.

Answer to Huygens' critique of Newton's new theory of light and colours, dated 10 June 1673

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/47, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00317

29.

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

30.

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

31.

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

32.

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

33.

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

34.

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

35.

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

36.

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

37.

Optical diagrams

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00287

38.

Response to Linus's second letter concerning Newton's new theory of light and colours, dated 13 November 1675

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/48, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00318

39.

Letter to Oldenburg concerning Thomas Mace's Otocousticon, dated 30 November 1675

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/49, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00319

40.

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

41.

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

42.

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

43.

Letter to Oldenburg answering Linus's second letter on Newton's new doctrine of light and colour

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/51, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00321

44.

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

45.

Letter to Oldenburg on his experiments to show colour and light

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/52, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00322

46.

Letter to Oldenburg on the lengths and angles of prism images, dated 18 August 1676

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/53, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00323

47.

Letter to Oldenburg on delays conducting experiments

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/54, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00324

48.

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

49.

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

50.

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

51.

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

52.

Copy of a letter to John Flamsteed from a committee of the Royal Society

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/64, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00335

53.

Letter to Louis d'Aumont, dated 3 June 1714

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: EL/N1/65, Royal Society Library, London, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00336

54.

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

55.

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 1-55 of 55

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Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

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