Of manuscripts and men: the editorial history of Isaac Newton’s Chronology and Observations

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This article introduces the editorial history of the most important of Isaac Newton's posthumously published scholarly writings, a history so far unwritten. Often attributed solely to Newton's executor, John Conduitt, the Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728) was in fact co-edited with the antiquarian Martin Folkes, who would eventually follow in Newton's footsteps and become President of the Royal Society. Likewise, the Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St John (1733) was edited by at least half a dozen of Newton's closest friends and colleagues. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but in particular during the twentieth, these publications were treated as solely Newton's, and analysed as such by both contemporaries and modern historians. However, as this paper shows, the Chronology and in particular the Observations were as much the product of their editors as of their author, and should be considered as such. Reconstructing the editorial history of Newton's posthumous publications reveals a fascinating tale of how his friends, relatives and colleagues tried to piece together meaning from the thousands of manuscripts with which they were confronted, a challenge that continues to this day.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-408
Number of pages22
JournalNotes & Records of the Royal Society of London
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2020

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