Class B - Drafts of Fundamental Theory, and related papers

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Drafts of Fundamental Theory, and related papers


  • 1938?–1982 (Creation)

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Shortly after Eddington’s death Edmund T. (later Sir Edmund) Whittaker was invited by Winifred Eddington and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press to supervise the publication of the monograph on which Eddington had been working when he fell ill. This work was published in 1946 as Fundamental Theory, a title chosen by Whittaker, the printer’s copy being Eddington’s latest draft (B1/3–14) with a few minor alterations by the editor, supplemented by a title page and a list of contents (B1/1–2). This draft, which Eddington had purposely separated from the rest of his papers shortly before his death, contains complete versions of chapters I to XI and four sections of chapter XII, and ends with the writer’s summary of his plan for the rest of the book, namely four more sections of chapter XII, and chapters XIII and XIV. An editorial note at this point records that Noel B. Slater and G. L. Clark went through Eddington’s papers in the hope of finding first drafts of the missing chapters, but that the search was unsuccessful. A similar search was made by W. M. Smart, also in vain (see B4/10). However, early drafts of other chapters did survive, together with various related papers, and in 1956 Slater brought out a detailed study of these under the title The Development and Meaning of Eddington’s ‘Fundamental Theory’, which included a compilation of some of the manuscripts. Notes on the provenance of the manuscripts appear in section 2∙2 of the book (pp. 10–11). Slater first inspected Eddington’s papers during a visit to Cambridge one evening in June 1945—a visit presumably made with the principal aim of discovering the missing part of the monograph—and he recalled being shown by Miss Eddington two piles of papers, some of which she had found that day:

‘First, there was a large pile of loose sheets, each partly written, ending abruptly any-where from near the top to near the bottom of the page. Dr G. L. Clark went through these in some detail, after the publication of Fundamental Theory, and found nothing he considered noteworthy. These sheets are not extant.

‘Secondly, there was an equal pile of manuscripts, headed and clipped in chapters. I had time during my visit merely to list the titles and to number the chapters 1, 2, 3, … downwards from the top. These were obviously versions of the manuscript which Sir Edmund Whittaker was then preparing for publication as Fundamental Theory.’

At the end of 1947, Slater says, he received from Miss Eddington ‘most of these early manuscripts’, and it is probably the receipt of these, delivered by a Dr Daniels, which he acknowledges in an undated draft letter (B4/11), adding that:

‘These MSS that Dr Daniels brought are all clipped together in bundles representing each a draft chapter of the book or the Dublin paper. I saw these when I visited you two evenings ago: but there was also then a large collection of loose sheets, representing draft pages of the book: these loose sheets are recognisable by the fact that many are only half or ¾s written. I regard these sheets as being the most promising place to begin the search for the missing parts of the book. If you still have them, and are willing to lend them to me, I should be grateful if you will let me know: I shall try to arrange for their transport. It is possible that some one else (for example Mr. Clark) has been through these,—it would be a very heavy task, however.’

The manuscripts which Slater received were probably substantially those he had previously numbered, though, as we shall see, the chapter numbered 11 was clearly absent, as it was not received till 1954, and others may also have been missing. Slater made a preliminary examination of the papers, noting that his numbering had ‘generally’ survived (the significance of the qualification is unclear, unless it merely refers to the fact that some of the numbered chapters were missing), and then classified them in the apparent order of their composition, distinguishing five partial drafts of the book, to which he assigned the letters A, B, C, G and H. (F he assigned to Fundamental Theory as printed, and D to the printed paper The Combination of Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory (see below); E was not used.) A tabular description of the several drafts appears in his book (p. 14). Numbers 12, 20 and 23 are excluded from the table, which may indicate that they were not in Slater’s possession. Number 11 was added at the foot of the table as the single ‘unclassed’ item. The surviving chapters of Slater’s numbered sequence are B2/1–10, 13–22, 24–35. Note that numbers 11, 12 and 23 are now missing from the sequence but number 20 is present.

In September 1954, following Miss Eddington’s death, A. Vibert Douglas and F. J. M. Stratton found among her papers manuscripts similar to those which Slater had al-ready received, and sent them to him. These papers, which Slater describes as ‘mainly … fragmentary early chapters of Fundamental Theory or complete versions of other publica-tions’, included the chapter numbered 11 (now wanting, as has been noted) and the chapter to which Slater assigned the letter ‘a’ (B3/1). The remaining papers were presumably the rest of the ‘alphabetical’ series (B3/2–22), the papers in ‘Folder A’ (B4) (except Dewhirst’s note), and the printed paper The Combination of Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory (B5/1).

All these papers appear to have come to Trinity from the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy in 1982, but it is not known when the Institute acquired them. Two notes, or labels, by D. W. Dewhirst of the Institute are still with the papers (B4/13, B5/2). The first relates only to the contents of a folder; the second runs as follows:

‘Eddington papers relating to “Fundamental Theory”: second (of the two) boxes of papers formerly in the possession of Professor N. B. Slater. See introduction, etc. to Slater’s book on Eddington’s Fundamental Theory. Most of the papers are in Eddington’s hand or are typescripts corrected by him.

‘There were a few loose sheets in this box and I have put them together in a folder lettered “A”. Otherwise the papers are lettered in red by Slater according to his scheme and are in the order as left by Slater.’

The precise contents of the box in question are unclear, but they probably comprised the whole of what has now been catalogued under the letter B. The note also does not make it clear whether both boxes of papers formerly in Slater’s possession were transferred to Trinity at the same time, though it seems likely that this was the case and that the other box contained all the papers catalogued under A, C and D.

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The constituent sections of each chapter (including those actually published) have been included in the item descriptions in order to make the interrelation of the various drafts clearer.


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