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Du Châtelet first edition, joy and surprises

For the first time in all these years of working on Du Châtelet I finally got to touch a first edition of her Institutions. There is something very special about handling one of the copies of her book that came off the press in 1740, new into the world. It connects you back to that time and place in a visceral and concrete way, across hundreds of years and thousands of miles.

As many of you know, my mother played a hugely important role in the translation of the Institutions, so while she was visiting recently we went to Duke library to view their copy of the first edition. I had never seen it before.


One of the things that I hadn't expected -- had never thought about -- was its size. It's small! And the font size is tiny.


We were warned back at the Notre Dame conference in 2018 that there are different versions of the 1740 edition. My mother remembered the location of one very important difference: at the end of chapter 15 on Newtonian gravitation. Sure enough, the Duke copy differs from the version we used when making our translation.

One very cool thing about the tiny book is the way the pages with the figures, located at the end of the relevant chapter, fold out so you can view them while reading that chapter.


I have one or two unanswered questions about this particular copy of the Institutions, so I will be returning to the library again soon...

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