Joseph Priestley’s Book on Optics

Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), famous in the history of science for his co-discovery of oxygen and other gases, lived at a time when there was no independent livelihood for the working scientist. To help his penury as an unorthodox clergyman (he was a co-founder of Unitarianism), he wrote a book on Benjamin Franklin’s electrical experiments. When this turned out to be financially successful, he conceived of a whole series of such books on scientific subjects. The first in this series in 1772 was “ The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light and Colours ”. The book actually had little to say about vision but it was the most comprehensive treatise on optics in English since Isaac Newton. Unfortunately it sold poorly, did not recover his cost of writing it, and Priestley aborted the series. However, he was also a prolific writer on education, political theory, and theology. After Priestley emigrated from Britain to the United States in 1794, Thomas Jefferson recognized him as in the same league with Benjamin Franklin as an outstanding man of American science.

Submitted by Ron Fishman from the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society.

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Jan 8, 2017 | Posted by in OPHTHALMOLOGY | Comments Off on Joseph Priestley’s Book on Optics

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