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 1-35 of 35

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.

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

8.

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

9.

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

10.

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

11.

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

12.

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

13.

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

14.

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

15.

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

16.

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

17.

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

18.

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

19.

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

20.

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

21.

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

22.

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

23.

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

24.

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

25.

Optical diagrams

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00287

26.

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

27.

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

28.

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

29.

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

30.

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

31.

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

32.

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

33.

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

34.

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

35.

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 1-35 of 35

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Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

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