Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Joseph Priestley, 21 November 1770

From Joseph Priestley

ALS: American Philosophical Society8

Leeds 21 Novr 1770.

Dear Sir

I took the liberty to trouble you with a line the last post, and being but just able to finish my letter in time, I recollect a mistake in the catalogue of books wanted, which I beg you would rectify as follows,

  • Vitelliones Optica best edition 1572
  • Kepler’s Paralipomena in Vitellionem

I also very much want De la Hire’s diffirens Accidents de la vue. But I should think it might be got without a public advertisement. I have already collected from that writer as much as will make a considerable section. I cannot well do without Du Hamel’s History of the French Academy, and tho’ it is inserted among books I have got, it is only in the library at Manchester, and I cannot, without great loss of time, and expence, go and study there. Many other books I foolishly inserted in the catalogue of those I had access to, which are only there, particularly the Petersburg Memoirs which I must absolutely purchase, tho they will cost me, I believe, above £20. I shall give Johnson orders for them this post. I have not yet got Boyle’s Works, and I find a tract of his on colours quoted, but I believe it relates to the chymical production of colours. However it is within my subject, but Johnson, tho he has had my order for Shaw’s Boyle several months, has not yet been able to get it.9

I have just dispatched the discoveries of Newton and his Contemporaries, and from his time to the present have such a number of Memoirs, dissertations, tracts, and books on the subject of Light and colours to read, compare, and digest, as, I think, would make any person not practised in the business of arrangement, absolutely despair: Till I had actually taken a list of them, I did not think there had been a tenth or a twentieth part so much upon the subject. And other subjects, I see, will be much times more embarassing than this.

If you be obliged to advertise for the books I think it would be better not to mention my name, but only say A Person being employed &. I am, with the greatest respect Dear Sir your friend and Servant

J Priestley

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8Parts of the letter, illegible in photocopy, have been silently supplied from the printed version in Robert E. Schofield, ed., A Scientific Autobiography of Joseph Priestley (Cambridge, Mass., [1966]), pp. 81–2.

9Priestley was beginning a comprehensive study of the development of experimental philosophy, for which see his letter to BF above, June 2. The books he wanted from Joseph Johnson, the London bookseller and one of his publishers, were the following: a treatise on optics by the thirteenth-century Polish mathematician Vitello or Witelo, first published in 1535 and reprinted with the translation of a work on the same subject by the Arabian philosopher Alhazen in Friedrich Risner, trans. and ed., Opticæ thesaurus … (Basel, 1572); Johann Kepler, Ad Vitellionem paralipomena (Frankfurt, 1704); Philippe de la Hire, Mémoires de mathématique et de physique, contenant … un traité des differens accidens de la vue … (Paris, 1694); Jean Baptiste du Hamel, Regia scientiarum academiœ historia … (Paris, 1698); two series of the proceedings of the Russian Academy, Commentarii Academia scientiarum imperialis petropolitanæ and Novi commentarii … (St. Petersburg, 1728–), which eventually came to 34 vols.; and Peter Shaw, ed., The Philosophical Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq.; Abridged … (3 vols., London, 1725).

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