Newton had a favourite little dog called "Diamond." One winter's morning, while attending early service, he inadvertently left his dog shut up in his room; on returning from chapel, he found that the animal, by upsetting a taper on his desk, had set fire to the papers on which he had written down his experiments; and thus he saw before him the labours of so many years reduced to ashes. It is said, that on first perceiving this great loss, he contented himself by exclaiming, "Oh, Diamond! Diamond! thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done." But the grief caused by this circumstance, grief which reflection must have augmented, instead of alleviating, injured his health, and, if we may venture to say so, for some time impaired his understanding. This incident in Newton's life, which appears to be confirmed by many collateral circumstances, is mentioned in a manuscript note of Huygens, which was communicated to M. Biot, of the French Institute, by Mr. Vanswinden, in the following letter: —

"There is among the manuscripts of the celebrated Huygens, a small journal in folio, in which he used to note down different occurrences; it is side Z., No. 8, page 112, in the catalogue of the library at Leyden: the following extract is written by Huygens himself, with whose hand-writing I am well acquainted, having had occasion to peruse several of his manuscripts and autograph letters.[1] On the 29th May, 1694, a Scotchman of the name of Colin, informed me, that Isaac Newton, the celebrated mathematician, eighteenth months previously, had become deranged in his mind, either from too great application to his studies, or from excessive grief at having lost, by fire, his chemical laboratory and some papers. Having made observations before the Chancellor of Cambridge, <26> which indicated the alienation of his intellect, he was taken care of by his friends, and being confined to his house, remedies were applied, by means of which he has lately so far recovered his health as to begin to again understand his own Principia. Huygens mentioned this circumstance to Leibnitz, in a letter, dated the 8th of the following June, to which the latter replied on the twenty-third. 'I am very happy that I received information of the cure of Mr. Newton, at the same time that I first heard of his illness, which, without doubt, must have been most alarming. It is to men like Newton and yourself, Sir, that I desire health and a long life."

This account by Huygens is corroborated by the following extract from a MS. at Cambridge, written by Mr. Abraham de la Pryne, dated Feb. 3. 1692, in which, after mentioning the circumstance of the papers being set fire to, he says, "But when Mr. Newton came from chapel, and had seen what was done, every one thought he would have run mad, he was so troubled thereat, that he was not himself for a month after." From these details, it would appear that the mind of this great man was affected, either by excess of exertion, or through grief at seeing the result of its efforts destroyed. In truth, there is nothing extraordinary in either of these suppositions; nor ought we to be astonished that the first sentiments arising from the great affliction which befell Newton were expressed without violence, for his mind was, as it were, prostrated under their weight. But the fact of a derangement in his intellect, whatever may have been the cause, will explain how, after the publication of the Principia, in 1687, Newton, though only forty-five years old, never more gave to the world a new work in any branch of science; and why he contented himself with merely publishing those that he had composed long before this epoch, confining himself to the completion of those parts that required development. We may also remark, that even these explanations appear in every case to be taken from experiments or observations previously made; as for instance, the additions to the second edition of the Principia in 1713, the experiments on thick plates, on diffraction, and the chemical queries placed at the end of the Optics, in 1704; for Newton distinctly announces them to be taken from manuscripts which he had formerly written; and adds, that though he felt the necessity of extending, or of rendering them more perfect, yet henceforth such subjects were no longer in his way.[2] Thus it appears, that though he had recovered his health sufficiently to understand all his researches, and even, in some cases, to make additions or useful alterations (as is shown by the second edition of the Principia, for which he kept up a very active mathematical correspondence with Cotes), yet he did not wish to undertake new labours in the department of science where he had done so much, and where he was so well able to conceive what remained to do. But whether this determination were imposed on him by necessity, or merely caused by a sort of moral weariness, the result of so long and severe an exercise of thought, what Newton had already done is sufficient to place him in the first rank of discoverers in every branch of pure and applied mathematics. After having admired him as almost the creator of Natural Philosophy, as one of the chief promoters of mathematical analysis, we must acknowledge, also, that to him we owe the first idea of mechanical chemistry; since he regarded its combinations as the result of molecular action, and by the boldest and most felicitous inductions raised himself to a conception of the composition and variation in the state of bodies, such as before his time was unknown and unthought of. Uniting so much theoretical and experimental knowledge, Newton must have been of the greatest service in superintending the melting down of the old coinage, which, from its worn and depreciated state, it was necessary to call in; and we find, accordingly, that in three years time (1699) he was recompensed for his services by the lucrative appointment of Master of the Mint. Hitherto, his means had been small[3] for his domestic wants. This new accession of fortune, however, did not render him unworthy of it; having gained it by merit, he maintained his title to it by the use he made of it. At this time, all the clouds had disappeared with which the spirit of jealousy had endeavoured to obscure his glory. He had raised himself too high to have a rival remain <27> ing, and due homage was paid from all quarters to his transcendent talents.


The Latin words used by Huygens are as follows: "1694, die 19 Maii, narravit mihi D. Colin, Scotus, celeberrimum ac rarum geometram, Ism. Newtonum, incidisse in phrenitin abhinc anno ac sex mensibus. An ex nimiâ studii assiduiate, an dolore infortunii, quod in incendio laboratorium chemicum et scripta quædam amiserat. Cum ad archiepiscopum Cant. venisset, ea locutum quæ alienationem mentis indicarent; deindè ab amicis cura ejus suscepta, domoque clausâ, remedia volenti nolenti adhibita, quibus jam sanitatem recuperavit, ut jam nunc librum suum Principiorum intelligere incipiat."


Vide Optics, end of second book.


The estates of Woolsthorpe and Sustern were valued, at that period, at about 80l. per annum. He derived, also, some revenue from the university and from Trinity College. — Vide Turnor.

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Professor Rob Iliffe
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Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL -

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