One of the most influential treatments of mechanics of its age (1819)

WHEWELL, William

An elementary treatise on mechanics. Vol. 1. containing statics and part of dynamics.

Published: Cambridge and London, J. Deighton & Sons, and G. and W. B. Whittaker

Date: 1819

8vo in 4s (215 × 140 mm), pp. xxii, 348; 15 folding illustrative plates; some damp-staining to the folded plates; ‘Vol. 1.’ scratched from title-page; very good in contemporary red half calf over marbled boards, a little rubbed, gilt decorative panelled spine, black morocco lettering-piece.

COPAC records UK institutional copies at the BL, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, the National Trust, St. Andrews and UCL.

While Whewell (1794-1866) was something of a polymath, and wrote on subjects as varied as morality, political economy, theology, and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, his first passion was mathematics, and this, his first book, followed directly on his student career at Cambridge where he was Second Wrangler in 1816, President of the Cambridge Union Society the same year, and then a fellow and tutor at Trinity from 1817 and 1818 respectively. Whewell began his work on mechanics in 1818 and in a letter to John Herschel (1792-1871) dated 19 June of that year he expressed his interest in the mechanics of the Flemish military engineer Simon Stevin, while at the same time recounting his progress on ‘my Statics’ and his intention to publish it separately from another volume on dynamics (the first edition is something of a compromise). What makes Whewell’s work significant more than anything else, however, is his use of Leibnizian notation for differential and integral calculus. In this he was heavily influenced by the Cambridge Analytical Society, founded in 1812 by Robert Woodhouse and Edward Bromhead. Other founder members included Charles Babbage, John Herschel and George Peacock. The Society’s aim was nothing less than the introduction of Leibniz’s notation in favour of Newton’s, which had been in use in England up to that time in spite of its cumbersome handling in comparison to the continental system. ‘The treatise may be considered as one which, in conjunction with the publications of Peacock and Herschel, introduced the continental mathematics, in order to the replace the system of fluxions which had so long prevailed at Cambridge. A copious account of both of the elementary and higher parts of Statics is given, and the Differential and Integral Calculus are very freely used.’ (Isaac Todhunter, William Whewell, D.D., master of Trinity college, Cambridge. An account of his writings with selections from his literary and scientific correspondence, I, 1876, p. 13) Whewell’s work was well received, especially, it must be said, by his Cambridge colleagues. ‘In the notice of Dr Whewell published by the Royal Astronomical Society [founded in 1820, founder members including Babbage and Herschel], the following opinion is pronounced on the treatise: “It was a work of great value, strikingly logical and accurate. It is considered by one of our most eminent living mathematicians to have been very far in advance of any then existing text-book in the clearness and correctness of the treatment of bodies in contact, and in the precision with which the assumptions involved in the laws of motion and the composition of forces are stated and illustrated.” Sir John Herschel quotes nearly the whole of this opinion of the work, which he assigns to “one excellently qualified to judge of its merits.”’ (Todhunter, op. cit., I, p. 13) A second edition appeared in 1824 ‘with numerous improvements and additions’, as well as a Syllabus of an elementary treatise of mechanics. With corrections and additions in 1821, comprising an abstract of the work in fifty octavo pages. Later editions then appeared in 1828, 1833, 1836, 1841, and 1847. While the reference to Vol. 1 was removed in the second edition, what would otherwise have been the second volume of the work appeared in 1823 as A treatise on dynamics. Over the coming decades Whewell made numerous revisions to both these works, each edition, in Todhunter’s estimation, almost comprising a new beginning, such were the advances then being made in mechanics. These numerous editions and amendments are testimony to the great popularity of Whewell’s work as a teaching aid, notwithstanding the reservations Todhunter expressed about the felicity with which Whewell presented his subject. Also see Stephen P. Timoshenko, History of strength of materials, p. 223.

Very good

Half calf