Welcome Émilie, Madame Newton

Rare Books Program acquires important first edition

Emilie title pageThe MIT Libraries now have a rare book acquisitions fund, and our initial purchase is a knockout.

There is only one complete French translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, and it was produced by an extraordinary woman, Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, the Marquise du Châtelet (1706-1749). It wasn’t until her 28th year that the Marquise began studying mathematics seriously, but within a decade she was at work on both a translation of the Principia and a commentary to accompany the text. Her intelligence was so powerful that she actually became famous for it, known throughout French society – and the intellectual community – simply as “Émilie.”Emilie spines

She didn’t live to see her book’s publication in 1759: though she completed it in 1749, she died that same year, after giving birth to her fourth child. The book was finally seen through the press by her friend and champion, the eminent mathematician A.C. Clairaut.

Our first edition of Émilie’s complete Principes Mathématiques is a beautiful 2-volume set. It’s bound in contemporary leather with marbled endpapers, a pristine textblock, and all plates intact. The book is prefaced with a poetic tribute to Émilie written by her admirer Voltaire who, in recognition of her brilliance, had nicknamed her “Madame Newton du Châtelet.”

Cataloging is nearly complete, and the title is available now for onsite use in the Institute Archives and Special Collections (14N-118). Contact the IASC at mithistory@mit.edu or 617-253-5690 and request call number QA803.N414 1759.

Story credit:
Stephen Skuce