Catalogue Entry: ALCH00110

Notebook containing notes and experimental reports

Author: Isaac Newton

Source: MS Add. 3975, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

[Normalized Text (at Chymistry of Isaac Newton)]


Covers a range of subjects, principally optics and chemistry. A number of the chemical notes are closely related to those in Additional Ms. 3973.

On both sides of the fly-leaf: a table with notes of the value, hardness and other properties of various gems.

pp. 1-22 'Of Colours': a series of 64 'articles'. Articles 1-5: notes on experiments 9, 10 and 11 in Boyle's Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours (1664). Arts. 6-26: experiments with prisms. Arts. 27-43: on the effects of thin layers of air or water between prisms. Arts. 44-8: further experiments with prisms, including (46-8) the production of white and other colours of light by admixture. Art. 49: reflection at two contiguous glass surfaces. Art. 50: on the phenomena of colours in thin flakes of glass, soap bubbles and thin films of metal or water. Arts. 51-3: experiments on the effects of internal reflection of light in spheres of water, with several references to Descartes. Art. 54: on the effect of oblique rays on the size of the spot at contact of two glasses. Art. 55: on the diminished reflective power of a glass surface when placed in water. Arts. 56-7: on the reflective effects of powders and 'flawed' bodies with multiple reflecting surfaces. Arts. 58-62: notes on the effects of distorting the eyeball, including a diagram of Newton's experiment of putting a bodkin 'betwixt my eye & ye bone as neare to ye backside of ye eye as I could: & pressing my eye with ye end of it' (facsimile in Westfall, Never at Rest, 95). Art. 63: on the after-image of colours on the retina. Art. 64: an account of the retina and optic nerve, with a diagram.

p. 22 Calculations of the 'thicknesse of a vibration' of light passing through various media; notes from Boyle's 'Of ye determinate nature of Effluviums' [1673] on heightened sense perception during illness; notes on vegetable substances that 'turn vitriol to a black precipitate'.

p. 23 Recipe 'To make excellent Ink'.

pp. 25-41 'Of Cold, & Heate'. Notes 'On the Mechanical Origin of Heat and Cold', mainly from Boyle [Experiments, Notes, &c. about the Mechanical Origine or Production of divers particular Qualities (1675)] but including some observations either of Newton's own or from another source.

[pp. 42-4 blank]

pp. 45-6 More notes from Boyle. An incomplete experiment on the height of the thermometer in various substances. Others on the expansion of air and linseed oil when heated.

pp. 49-51 'Of fire, flame, ye heate & ebullition of ye heart & divers mixed liquors & Respiration': notes from Boyle's New Experiments Physico-mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air (1660). An account of experiments on flame, with the conclusion 'yt flame & vapour differ onely as bodys red hot & not red hot' (pp. 49-50), and that heat is 'made by division of parts: for when two particles are parted it makes ye æther rush in betwixt ym and so vibrate' (p. 51).

p. 51 'The Phosphorus': a recipe for making it from urine and sand.

[pp. 53-60 blank]

pp. 61-5 'Of fformes & Transmutations wrought in them': notes from Boyle [The Origine of Formes and Qualities (1666)] with page references.

p. 65 Excerpts from Starkey's Pyrotechny Asserted [1658].

p. 66 Note on a petrifying spring in Peru, from a Spanish treatise on 'The Art of metals' translated by the Earl of Sandwich.

[pp. 57-70 blank]

pp. 71-80 'Of Salts, & Sulphureous bodys, & Mercury & Mettalls': extracts from Boyle [The Origine of Formes and Qualities (1666)].

p. 80 Recipe for the extraction of mercury from the nitrate and from corrosive sublimate by various other metals.

pp. 81-2 Recipes for making regulus of antimony by different metals.

pp. 83-4 Notes of alloys which fuse at low temperatures, and others which give a crystalline mass from fusion. Notes on the reaction of various chemicals with salt, including that of tartarum vitriolatum ('it makes a great effervescence, and an earthy sediment is precipitated out of the salt of Tartar [...] This precipitate some fools call Magisterium Tartari Vitriolati' (p. 84)): reference to David Vonder Becke as an authority for this.

pp. 85-92 Notes and extracts mainly from various works of Boyle.

pp. 93-100 Various recipes and extracts on chemical reactions, chiefly from Boyle.

p. 101 Recipes for various preparations of antimony. Note of the action of corrosive sublimate on various ores.

p. 102-4 Notes of experiments on the preparation of regulus of antimony and the action of corrosive sublimate on antimony, silver, and mercury; of the heat produced by mixing oil of vitriol with water or spirit of wine [alcohol]; of the preparation of ether and oil of wine.

pp. 104-5 Notes on the warmth emitted on mixing water with spirit of antimony, and of various chemical reactions: the last (on saturation of spirit of antimony by different substances) has blanks left for the quantities.

pp. 106-7 Further chemical experiments. Note on the composition of fusible metal.

pp. 108-12 Chemical experiments chiefly on preparations of antimony and scoria of reguluses. 'N' [presumably 'N[ota]'] marked in the margin against several of these.

p. 113 Notes on the action of distilled liquor of antimony on salts of lead, iron and copper; action of heat on tartarised antimony.

p. 114 Notes on the action of spar on distilled liquor of antimony, vinegar, and aquafortis, and of salt from the clay of lead mines on the same; action of nitre on antimony.

pp. 115-16 Notes on the action of oil of vitriol on lead ore, and of an antimonial sublimate on several substances.

pp. 117-20 Experiments with 'ven. vol.' ['venus volans' or 'volatisata'].

p. 121 Deleted note in Latin that on 10, 14 and 15 May 1681 Newton comprehended various alchemical names.

p. 122 Another deleted note in Latin that on 18 May [presumably 1681] he finished deciphering the alchemical symbol of the 'caduceus' ['rod of mercury'], followed by experiments dated 10 June on sublimation of green and blue vitriol with sal ammoniac and of the resulting sublimate with lead ore.

pp. 123-6 Experiments dated May and June 1682 on sublimation of various salts with sal ammoniac, and various metals and alloys with sal ammoniac and with antimony.

pp. 127-30 Experiments dated 6 June and 4 July 1682 on obtaining regulus from a mixture of lead ores, antimony and bismuth; and others similar.

p. 131 Experiments on the action of various reguluses with an unspecified spirit [of salt?].

pp. 132-4 Further experiments on sublimation, with the date Tuesday 19 July [no year] at the top of p. 133.

pp. 135-9 Experiment dated 29 Feb. 1683/4 on the preparation of chlorides of mercury.

pp. 140-49 Various experiments relating to 'the net' [an elaborate alchemical concept for discussion of which see Dobbs, Foundations, 161-3]. One experiment (p. 149) is dated 'Friday May 23' [no year].

p. 150 Experiments on the spirit of zinc, dated 'Apr. 26, 1686 Wednesday'.

pp. 151-8 Experiments on alloys of copper, antimony and iron, incomplete here but resumed on p. 267.

pp. 159-167, 169-174, 177-182 (intermediate pages blank) Extracts, chiefly from Boyle but with others from Starkey and van Helmont, on 'The medical virtues of Saline & other Præparations'.

[pp. 183-6 blank]

pp. 187-193 'Medical observations', principally drawn from Boyle.

[pp. 194-206 blank]

p. 207 'Of volatile salts of Animal & vegetable substances': further extracts from Boyle.

[p. 208 blank]

pp. 209-223 'Of Alcalia': extracts from Starkey's Pyrotechny Asserted (1658: H1553).

pp. 224-264 Largely blank, except for a series of headings (only two of which have any text attached), as follows: 'Gross Ingredients' (p. 227); 'ffirst preparation' (p. 229); '3 Principles' (p. 231); '4 Elements' (p. 233); 'Mercuries' (p. 235), 'Sulphurs' (p. 237); 'Salts' (p. 239); 'ffires' (p. 241); 'Of ye work wth common [gold]', followed by notes and excerpts from 'Philalethes'' Secrets Reveal'd and Snyders' Commentatio de pharmaco catholico, gaps being left for page references (pp. 243-4); 'Of ye work with artificial [gold]' (p. 245); 'Times' (p. 247); 'Proportions' (p. 249); 'Hieroglyphicks' (p. 251); 'Progress of ye Decoction' (p. 253); 'Vse of ye stone' (p. 257); 'Miscellanies' (p. 259) 'Of ye work with common sol.', followed by cryptic references to various works of 'Philalethes' (p. 261).

p. 265 Recipe for 'Spiritus dulcis Vitrioli' and notes on its medical uses, in Latin.

p. 266 ff. Three pages (two of which are unnumbered) of medical recipes.

pp. 267-283 Resumption of experimental reports from p. 158, with further similar experiments on regulus of antimony and various alloys, interspersed (p. 267) with an account [from an unidentified source] of a 'menstruum' for extracting the 'tinctures' of all metals).

The rest of the book is blank apart from four pages at the end, which are taken up with notes of Newton's expenses on chemicals bought in 1687 while he was in London to appear before the Ecclesiastical Commission, similar chemical expenses in 1693, and notes on the preparation of sal ammoniac.

The first, primarily optical, section of the manuscript (to p. 22) is discussed in A.R. Hall, 'Further optical experiments of Isaac Newton', Annals of Science 11 (1955), 27-43, and transcribed in McGuire and Tamny, Certain Philosophical Questions, 466-89. Article 64 (on the optic nerve) was first published (with due acknowledgment) in Joseph Harris, Treatise on Optics (1775), 108-10, with a copy of the diagram in the plate following p. 110, and again from Harris's edition by Brewster (1855), 1: 432-6. Several extracts from the following pages printed in A.R. and M.B. Hall, 'Newton's chemical experiments'. Experiments on pp. 45-6 printed in Brewster (1855), 2: 366-7. pp. 81-2 printed in Dobbs, Foundations, 249-50. See also H254-H276 for Newton's extensive Boyle collection.

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Professor Rob Iliffe
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