of Galilei and Kepler. Telescopes on this principle, differing however in some important particulars from Newton's, had already been described in 1663 by James Gregory (1638–1675), with whose ideas Newton was acquainted, but it does not appear that Gregory had actually made an instrument. Owing to mechanical difficulties in construction, half a century elapsed before reflecting telescopes were made which could compete with the best refractors of the time, and no important astronomical discoveries were made with them before the time of William Herschel (chapter xii.), more than a century after the original invention.
Newton's discovery of the effect of a prism in resolving a beam of white light into different colours is in a sense the basis of the method of spectrum analysis (chapter xiii., § 299), to which so many astronomical discoveries of the last 40 years are due.
169. The ideas by which Newton is best known in each of his three great subjects gravitation, his theory of colours, and fluxions seem to have occurred to him and to have been partly thought out within less than two years after he took his degree, that is before he was 24. His own account—written many years afterwards—gives a vivid picture of his extraordinary mental activity at this time:—