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

1.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, 16 March 1671

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00307

2.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, 19 March 1671

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00308

3.

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

4.

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

5.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00006

6.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00007

7.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00030

8.

Christiaan Huygens' comments on Newton's telescope

Author: Christiaan Huygens

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00052

9.

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

10.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, dated 13 April 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00310

11.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: Isaac Newton, 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

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00009

13.

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

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00011

14.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00053

15.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00010

16.

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

17.

Letter to Henry Oldenburg, dated 11 June 1672

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00311

18.

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

Author: Ignace Gaston Pardies

Source: Ignace Gaston Pardies, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 84 (17 June 1672), pp. 4087-4090.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00012

19.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00013

20.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00014

21.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00029

22.

A second Letter of P. Pardies

Author: Ignace Gaston Pardies

Source: Ignace Gaston Pardies, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 85 (15 July 1672), pp. 5012-5013.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00015

23.

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

24.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00028

25.

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

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.

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

28.

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

Author: Christiaan Huygens

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00016

29.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: Isaac Newton, 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

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00018

31.

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

Author: Christiaan Huygens

Source: Christiaan Huygens, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 97 (6 October 1673), pp. 6112.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00019

32.

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

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00020

33.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00054

34.

Hypothesis explaining the properties of light

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00002

35.

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

36.

Optical diagrams

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00287

37.

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

38.

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

39.

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

40.

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

41.

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

42.

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

43.

An extract of another Letter of Mr. Newton

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00023

44.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00022

45.

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

Author: Francis Linus

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00021

46.

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

47.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00024

48.

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

49.

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

50.

Letter to Oldenburg on delays conducting experiments

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00324

51.

Mr Newton's Answer to the precedent Letter

Author: Isaac Newton

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00026

52.

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

Author: Anthony Lucas

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

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00025

53.

Letter from Arthur Storer to Isaac Newton, dated 10 August 1678

Author: Arthur Storer

Source: MS Add. 3978/1, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00337

54.

Letter from Arthur Storer to Isaac Newton, dated 4 September 1678

Author: Arthur Storer

Source: MS Add. 3978/2, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00338

55.

Letter from Arthur Storer to Humphrey Babington, dated 19 September 1678

Author: Arthur Storer

Source: MS Add. 3978/3, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00339

56.

Letter from Arthur Storer to Humphrey Babington, dated 1 October 1678

Author: Arthur Storer

Source: MS Add. 3978/4, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00340

57.

Letter from Arthur Storer to Humphrey Babington, dated 18 April 1681

Author: Arthur Storer

Source: MS Add. 3978/5, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00341

58.

Letter from Arthur Storer to Isaac Newton, dated 26 April 1683

Author: Arthur Storer

Source: MS Add. 3978/6, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00342

59.

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

60.

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

61.

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

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: Isaac Newton, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 465 (1742), pp. 155-156.

Newton Catalogue ID: NATP00027

© 2017 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL - newtonproject@history.ox.ac.uk

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