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Trending in 1688: Newton, Locke … and notiometers

By Joan Milligan

As an avid reader you may, on a lazy Sunday, get yourself another cup of coffee, sink into your favorite chair and check out what’s new at But how did 17th-century booklovers learn what hot new books were hitting the market?

In the University of Dayton rare books collection, we recently came across Volume 8 (1688) of Bibliotheque universelle et historique, a book review journal published in Amsterdam, Europe’s 17th-century cultural center. The hot titles that year included one “new” book that is still talked about even now, 330 years later: Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica by Isaac Newton, a review of which appeared in the March issue. Few books reviewed today would see the acclaim this book has had — or have a chance of being in print, in many editions, centuries later.

Yet, surprisingly, an excerpt of another seminal work also appears in Volume 8. The January issue contains an excerpt of John Locke’s new “Essay concerning human understanding.” It was a work in progress at the time, not published in its final form until 1689. This is where Locke famously said a child is a “blank slate,” neither inherently good nor inherently evil, but a personality to be developed.  

For the intellectual blockbusters, these two are it, but other other works in this small leather-bound volume could prove entertaining as well. Enjoy a treatise on barometers, thermometers and “notiometers”; a “modest inquiry” into whether Peter ever visited Rome; or a “Discours shewing Protestan[t]s are on the safer side.”

You can see all of Volume 8 of Bibliotheque universelle et historique in our collection of rare books or online thanks to Google Books.

Check it out in person or online

Isaac Newton’s Principia:

John Locke’s Essay concerning human understanding:

Joan Milligan is a special collections cataloger for the University of Dayton Libraries.

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