Dublin: A. Ewing and W. Smith, 1745. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION, FIRST PRINTING OF A RARE 18th c. WORK INCLUSIVE OF NEWTON’S WRITINGS ON THE AETHER, A LETTER FROM NEWTON TO BOYLE ON THE SUBJECT, & ROBINSON’S OWN WRITINGS TRYING TO ACCOUNT FOR ANIMAL MOTIONS BY NEWTON’S PRINCIPLES. It gathers all Newton’s known queries into the aether.
“In the 1740s alone, there were at least half a dozen major efforts to explain the behavior of observable bodies by postulating a variety of invisible (and otherwise imperceptible) elastic fluids” (Laudan, Science and Hypothesis, 112). But for the most part, 18th c. natural philosophers thought that Newton “had always believed in, and had virtually demonstrated, the existence of an active, spring, non-material aether” (Heilbron, Elements of Early Modern Physics, 61). Bryan Robinson’s work was one of the half dozen or so 18th century efforts to understand the aether; of those, it was particularly “influential” and had “considerable impact” (Brewer, Consumption, 496; Roos, Natural Philosophy, 137).
In 1744, a letter from Newton to Robert Boyle was published for the first time [and is reprinted in this volume]. “Although written sixty-five years earlier, it turned out to be of immediate scientific interest. [In it, Newton] describes an aether that lies in all bodies in amounts inversely proportional to their densities. The action of this aether derives primarily from the gradients set up in it across the interfaces between bodies of different densities; for example, the aether just outside the surface of a piece of glass surrounded by air gradually increases from that appropriate to glass to that characteristic of air. When pushing two smooth plates of glass together, one feels a resistance (or repulsion!) from the aether squeezed aside; but once the plates lie flat, the pressure from the circumambient aether holds them firmly together. The aether therefore is the principle both of cohesion and separation; once dissolved in it the particles of vapors ‘endeavor to recede as far from one another, as the pressure of the incumbent atmosphere will let them.
“Although…the letter conflicted with much in Newton’s public writings, including [his] Opticks’ aether queries, and although it ended with the usual disclaimer (‘I have so little fancy to things of this nature, that, had not your encouragement moved me to it, I should never, I think, have thus far set pen to paper about them’), British natural philosophers took it as evidence that Newton had always believed in, and had virtually demonstrated, the existence of an active, springy, non-material aether.
These were also the inferences drawn by Robinson who, while at Trinity, “taught that Newton’s aether operated the nerves and muscles of the body. In 1743 Robinson published a pseudo-mathematical account of the attractive, repulsive, elastic, cohesive and miscellaneous activities of the aether, most of which violate the laws of motion; and in 1745 he issued [this work] an aetherial chrestomathy [essentially an inclusive gathering of all Newton’s queries into the aether] derived from the Opticks, the newly published letter to Boyle, and his own work on muscle action. [Robinson greatly admired Newton, and he tried to account for animal motions by Newton's principles and to apply the latter to the rational treatment of diseases. He attributed the production of muscular power to the vibration of an ethereal fluid pervading the animal body.] All this publicity had an effect, [and beginning with Robinson’s 1745 work] all significant British electricians postulated a special electrical matter identical with, or similar to, the springy, subtle, universal Newtonian aether” (ibid).
Bryan Robinson graduated M.D. in 1711 from Trinity College, Dublin, where he later served as an anatomical lecturer and as Regius Professor of Physic from 1745. He was also thrice president of the Kings and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland and of the Irish Royal College of Surgeons” (Roos, Natural Philosophy, 137). Item #727
CONDITION & DETAILS: Complete. 8vo. (7.75 x 5 inches; 194 x 125mm). , 4, , 6. Bound in full leather with minor rubbing and scuffing; 5 raised bands at the spine; archival quality repairs at the spine. Tightly and solidly bound. Some toning of the endpapers. Otherwise bright and very clean throughout; woodcut device. Housed in fine custom made black cloth covered chemise; gilt-lettered at the spine and housed in a similarly bound gilt-lettered slipcase. Very good + condition. Wallis 228. Not in Babson (but see Babson 159 for later related work).