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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) had a lengthy and influential career in the field of optics and was also a popular writer. He helped to give optical phenomena much broader exposure to public audiences, and explored many different aspects of light and colour, from his invention of the kaleidoscope to investigations into the physiology of vision.

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A treatise on optics, by Sir David Brewster
New Edition
London : Longmans & Co., [1853]

This Treatise was first published in 1831 as part of Dionysius Lardner’s ‘Cabinet Cyclopaedia’: books written by prominent scientists and literary figures of the time, aimed at a general audience. Brewster’s many publications also included a short and popular Life of Sir Isaac Newton in 1831. Although he challenged some of Newton’s theories about colour, Brewster remained committed to a Newtonian understanding of corpuscular light, even as his contemporaries increasingly supported wave theories. He continued to maintain that colour was an inherent property of light, and not a physiological function of the human eye.


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