Tag Archives: Isaac Newton

Flying Sheets

The Keynes Bequest is not merely a collection of books. Interspersed among first editions of Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Hobbes, Kant and Locke are a number of pamphlets of historical, literary and scientific significance, ranging in size from one sheet to several pages. In the extensive collection of first and early editions of Isaac Newton’s works is an anonymous pamphlet with the caption “29. Julii 1713”. This is the so-called Charta volans (flying sheet), an important document written by Gottfried Leibniz during the bitter controversy between him and Newton over which of them invented the mathematical study of change, calculus. Given the rarity of this pamphlet (the only other copies are in Yale, Chicago and in the Burndy Library), and in the interest of scholarship, we provide a scan of all four pages:

Charta Volans 1-2

Gottfried Leibniz’s Charta volans (1713), in which he argues that Newton had not published anything on calculus before him, adding that Newton’s fluxional method was in imitation of his calculus (Keynes.Ec.7.2.27)

Charta Volans 3-4

Charta volans, pp. 3-4

Its acquisition history is also rather fascinating. Keynes had originally bought two copies of the pamphlet, and observed in a letter to K. G. Maggs when the latter offered to purchase the duplicate copy in May 1942 that he had done so “not because I wanted them, but because they were fastened together, never having been separated by a paper knife when issued. So far I have not had the heart to split the Siamese twins.” The correspondence between Keynes and Maggs throws an interesting light on his relationship with booksellers and how he went about augmenting his collection of rare books and pamphlets:

Keynes-Maggs 1

J. M. Keynes’s correspondence with K. G. Maggs, 15 May-18 May 1942

Keynes-Maggs 2

J. M. Keynes’s correspondence with K. G. Maggs, 28 May-29 May 1942

The “American library which specialises in Newton material” that bought the second copy of the Charta volans is almost certainly the Burndy Library, founded the previous year by the industrialist and historian Bern Dibner. Their copy is now at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

As the above correspondence reveals, the loss of one of the “Siamese twins” to the Burndy Library led to Keynes’s acquisition of another exciting “flying sheet”, namely a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed using movable type which marked the beginning of the Printing Revolution. The iconic 42-line Bible was printed in Mainz, ca. 1454-55, by Johannes Gutenberg. Of the about 180 copies printed, 49 are known to have survived, only 21 of which are complete. This leaf includes all of Jeremiah XX and part of Jeremiah XXI:

Gutenberg Bible Leaf 2

The first printed book: recto and verso of leaf 80 from the Gutenberg Bible (1454-55). Printed in two columns, one column on each side being defective; 2 initials supplied in red, chapter numbers in red and blue (Keynes.Ec.7.2.13)

The addition of a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible to Keynes’s collection means that the items in the Keynes Bequest cover five centuries of printing, from its very inception in the middle of the fifteenth century, right up to the middle of the twentieth.


Isaac Newton’s dog-ears

Keynes.Ec.7.3.26 Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum - title page

The title page of Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Bookplate on inside front board of Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Bookplate on inside front board of Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Among the highlights of the Keynes Bequest are two volumes from Sir Isaac Newton’s library, with a fascinating history behind them. This copy of Johann Buxtorf’s third edition of Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum (Basel: Ludwig König, 1621) features an armorial bookplate with motto ‘Philosophemur’ and ‘Case G. F.4. Barnsley’ in ink underneath the bookplate. On the rear fly-leaf is the shelfmark ‘F2_27’. The ‘Philosophemur’ bookplate belonged to Dr James Musgrave, who was Rector of Chinnor, near Oxford. After he died in 1778 the library was removed to Barnsley Park, Gloucestershire, the home of his son, where the books were re-catalogued and re-classified with ‘Barnsley’ shelfmarks. Musgrave’s books had been previously owned by his predecessor at Chinnor, Charles Huggins, who received them from his father, John Huggins, Warden of the Fleet Prison. John Huggins had bought the collection from the estate of his late neighbour, Isaac Newton, for £300.

Signature of Isaac Newton

Signature of Isaac Newton

Newton’s library was preserved almost intact until 1920, when more than half of the items were auctioned off and dispersed. Before securing one of the most important collections of Newton’s manuscripts in the world, which he acquired during and after a sale at Sotheby’s in 1936, John Maynard Keynes purchased two of Newton’s books from the Guildford bookseller Thomas Thorp in March 1921. This Latin-Hebrew dictionary is signed on the front and rear fly-leaves: ‘Isaac Newton’, who also noted the price on the rear fly-leaf: ‘Pret: 4s: 8d’.

Newton highlighting the word 'Lutum' in Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Newton highlighting the word ‘Lutum’ in Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Newton had the habit of ‘dog-earing’ his books, turning back the corner of leaves to note a reference, the corner of the leaf pointing to the exact word he wished to highlight. Eight pages (pp. 11, 18, 29, 45, 164, 247, 593 and 636) are turned back in this way in this dictionary. For more information, see John Harrison, The Library of Isaac Newton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978). Some of the information in this post is drawn from the SCOLAR blog of Cardiff University.