Philosophia Britannica: or, A New and Comprehensive System of the Newtonian Philosophy, Astronomy, and Geography, in a Course of Twelve Lectures, with Notes

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by Benjamin Martin

Philosophia Britannica

Title page from Philosophia Britannica, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Benjamin Martin
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed for John, Francis, Charles Rivington; and Thomas Carnan
Date 1788
Edition Fourth
Language English
Volumes 3 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 8vo (21 cm.)
Location Shelf N-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Armorial bookplate, front pastedown, volume three.

Benjamin Martin (1704-1782), lexicographer, science lecturer, and scientific instrument maker, was born into a farming family in Surrey and spent the early part of his life working the lands.[1] In his twenties, Martin started a school in Sussex where he taught a range of subjects, including writing, mathematics, physics, and astronomy.[2]

In the 1740s, Martin began giving lectures and demonstrations in Bristol, Bath, and London, and in 1743, he published A Course of Lectures in Natural and Experimental Philosophy.[3] Three years later, in 1747, he expanded this work into the two-volume Philosophia Britannica, which was expanded again into a three volume edition in 1759.[4] Although the text of Philosophia Britannica matched that of the Course of Lectures, Martin added detailed footnotes, which themselves took up more space than the main text.[5] Lectures included in the book included "Mechanics," "Hydraulics," "Of Winds and Sounds," "Of Light and Colours," "Optics," "Astronomy," and "The Use of Globes." In the 1750s, the book was included as part of the course of study at Princeton, where it was used as the natural philosophy textbook.[6] In 1785, Thomas Jefferson sent copies of Martin’s Philosophical Grammar and Philosophia Britannica, along with various other titles, to his nephew Peter Carr.[7]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Martin’s Philosophia Britannica. 3.v. 8vo." and given by Thomas Jefferson to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. We do not have enough information to conclusively identify which edition Wythe owned. George Wythe's Library[8] on LibraryThing indicates this, adding "Three-volume editions in octavo were published at London in 1759, 1771, and 1788." The Brown Bibliography[9] lists the second (1712) edition based on the copy Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress.[10] Because we do not know which edition Wythe owned, and because not all editions were available for purchase, the Wolf Law Library acquired a copy of the fourth (1788) edition.

Inscription, front flyleaf, volume two.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary speckled calf with red morocco gilt-lettered title labels and gilt-decorated red and black morocco volume labels. Includes the armorial bookplate of Ellis Wade, M.A., Rector of Blaxhall on the front pastedown of each volume. Volume two includes the inscription "Given by Rev. Wade to E. J. Denton of St. John's College Cambridge" on the front free endpaper.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this view in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. John R. Millburn, "Martin, Benjamin (bap. 1705, d. 1782)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed November 21, 2013.
  2. Ibid; John R. Millburn, "The London Evening Courses of Benjamin Martin and James Ferguson, Eighteenth-Century Lecturers on Experimental Philosophy," Annals of Science 40, no. 5 (1983), 438.
  3. Millburn, "Martin, Benjamin."
  4. Ibid.
  5. David A. Goss, "Benjamin Martin (1704-1782) and his Writings on the Eye and Eyeglasses," HindishgT: Journal of Optometry History 41, no. 2 (April 2010): 46.
  6. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, John De Witt, and John Howard Van Amringe, Universities and Their Sons: History, Influence and Characteristics of American Universities, with Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Alumni and Recipients of Honorary Degrees (Boston: R. Herndon Company, 1898), 1:466.
  7. Thomas Jefferson, “The Letters of Thomas Jefferson: To Peter Carr, Paris, August 19, 1785,” The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, accessed October 9, 2014.
  8. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe", accessed on November 18, 2013.
  9. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012, rev. May, 2014.) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  10. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 4:31 [no.3726].