<1r>

Sir Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day 1642 Old Style at Woolstrope in the parish of Colsterworth in the County of Lincoln, near three months after the death of his father, who was descended from the eldest branch of the family of Sir Iohn Newton of Lincolnshire Baronet & was Lord of the said Mannor of Woolstrope, which appears by authentick deeds to have been near 200 years in his family which came thither from Westby in the same County but originally from Newton in Lancashire from whence they probably had their name. His mother was Hannah Ascough an antient & honourable family in the County of Lincoln <1v> She was married a second time, to the Reverend Mr Benjamin Smith Rector of North Witham & had by him a son & two daughters from whom are descended the four nephews & nieces who inherit Sir Isaac's personal estate —

Sir Isaac was sent when 12 years old to the great school at Grantham which was then under Mr. Stokes who had the character of being a very good Schoolmaster where he shewed a strong disposition towards mechanicks & gave early tokens of an uncommon genius after he had been there some years his mother took him home intending he should apply himself to the <2r> management of his own estate, but his genius could not brook such an employment & the strong inclination he shewed for reading & inattention to every thing else induced his mother to send him to Grantham school again for nine months & thence to Trinity College at Cambridge, where he was admitted the 5th of Iune 1660 — He always informed himself before hand of the books his tutour intended to read & when he came to the lectures found he knew more of them than his tutour, the first books he read for that purpose were Sanderson's logick & Kepler's opticks

<2v>

A desire to know wether there was any thing in judicial astrology first put him upon studying Mathematicks, he discovered the emptiness of that study as soon as he erected a figure for which purpose he made use of 2 or 3 problems in Euclid which he turned to by means of an Index & did not then read the rest looking upon it as a book containing only plain & obvious things, he went at once upon Descartes's Geometry & made himself master of it by dint of genius & application without going through the usual steps or the assistance <3r> of any other person – In 1664 he bought a prism to try some experiments upon Des Cartes's doctrine of colours & soon found out his own Theory & the erroneousness of Descartes's Hypothesis. – About this time he began to have the first hint of his method of fluxions & in the year 1665 when he retired to his own estate on account of the Plague he first thought of his system of gravity which he hit upon by observing an apple fall from a tree —

He laid the foundation of all his discoveries before he was 24 years old, & <3v> communicated most of them in loose tracts & letters to the Royal Society of which an ample account is given in the Commercium Epistolicum & now I am on that subject give me leave to observe to you that since many new lights have appeared relating to that dispute it is expected from your candour & justice that you will in some measure recall several passages in your works printed before those discoveries were made, — In your Eloge upon the Marquis de L'Hopital you say – le calcul differentiel inventè par Monsieur Leibnitz et <4r> en meme tems par Monsieur Newton. I am confident you are perswaded (as I am credibly informed the Germans now are) not only that Sir Isaac invented the method of fluxions many years before Mr Leibnitz knew any thing of it, but that Mr Leibnitz took it from him – If the chain of circumstances & the clear evidence which has been laid before the world were not sufficient, Mr Leibnitz's manner of defending himself would convince every body of what I have advanced. Mr Leibnitz lived several years after the Commercium Epistolicum was printed & Instead of answering matter of fact had recourse to little chicane & philosophical problems that were nothing to the purpose, & never offered one <4v> single proof in his own justification; the Commercium Epistolicum promised by him in his life time & by his friends after his death has never yet appeared, nor I beleive ever wil —– I have seen a letter wherein Mr Bernoulli absolutely denies in the strongest terms that he was the author of the Charta volans fathered upon him by Mr Leibtnitz which is a farther reason to suspect that he himself was the author of that libel , & that his cause was so bad as to oblige him to have recourse to shifts & practices very <5r> unworthy of so great a man –

In your Eloge of Mr Leibnitz, you say – Ce que Monsieur Newton appelloit fluxions Monsieur Leibnitz l'appelloit differences et le caractere par lequel Monsieur Leibnitz marquoit l'infiniment petit etoit beaucoup plus commode et d'un plus grand usage que celui de Monsieur Newton. As this passage leaves an opinion, at least with cursory readers that Mr Leibnitz was the first inventor , I flatter my self you will do <5v> Sir Isaac the justice to mention to the world that though Monsieur Leibnitz pretended to be the first inventor of the method of fluxions he not only was not an inventor but never understood it enough to apply it to the system of the Universe which was the great & glorious use Sir Isaac & I appeal to your own knowledge whether that great man the Marquis de L'Hopital did not own he was convinced of this before his death —

2 You are so well acquainted with the books Sir I. published that I need not say any thing to you on that subject – 1. I must not omitt telling you that Sir I. received the famous problem which was intended to puzzle all the Mathematicians in Europe at 4 a clock in the afternoon when he was very much tired with the business of <6r> the Mint where he had been employed all day, & yet solved it before he went to bed that night —

In 1667 he was elected fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge & in 1669 Dr Barrow resigned the Mathematical professorship to him – In 1671 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society. In 1675 he had a dispensation from King Charles 2 to continue fellow without taking orders. In 1687 he was chosen one of the delegates to represent the University of Cambridge before the High Commission court to answer for their refusing to admitt Father Francis Master of arts upon the <6v> King's mandamus without his taking the oaths prescribed by the Statutes, & he was a great instrument in perswading his collegues to persist in the maintenance of their rights & priviledges.

In 1688 he was chosen by the University of Cambridge member of the Convention Parliament & sate in it till its dissolution – In 1696 the late Earl of Halifax, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, that great Patron of the learned writt him a letter to Cambridge acquainting him he had prevailed with the King <7r> to make him Warden of the Mint in which post he did signal service in the great recoinage at that time.

In 1699 he was made Master & Worker of the Mint in which he continued to his death & behaved himself with an universal character of integrity & disinterestedness & had frequent opportunities of employing his skill in Mathematicks & Chymistry particularly in his table of Assays of foreign coins which is printed at the end of Dr Arbuthnott's book of coins —

In 1701 he made Mr Whiston his <7v> deputy professor of the Mathematicks at Cambridge & gave him all the salary from that time though he did not absolutely resign the professorship till 1703. Upon the choice of a new Parliament in 1701 he was reelected member for the University

In 1703 he was Elected President <8r> of the Royal Society & continued so above 23 years to his death, being the first who was President so long & was never discontinued. In 1705. he was Knighted by Queen Anne at Cambridge

At the University he spent the greatest part of his time in his closet & when he was tired with his severer studies of Philosophy his only releif & amusement was going to some other study as History Chronology Divinity & Chymistry all which he examined & searched thoroughly as appears by the many papers he has left on those subjects, after his coming to London all the time he had to spare from his business & the civilities of <8v> life in which he was scrupulously exact & complaisant was employed the same way & he was hardly ever alone without a pen in his hand & a book before him – & in all the studies he undertook he had a perseverance & patience equal to his sagacity & invention –

You know already how the abstract of his Chronology came to be printed in France & what passed upon it which determined him to print the work from whence the extract was made as privately as possible & keep the copies in his own possession, it is now in the press & will I hope be out before the 12. of November. I will do my self the honour to send you one as soon as it is printed. –

Having been apprehensive that the manner in which Pere Souciet attacked the <9r> abstract of the Chronology might affect Sir I. more than the arguments themselves I prevailed with a friend to give an extract of all the real objections, stript of the extraordinary ornaments with which they are cloathed , & I had the pleasure of finding the only effect they had upon him was to convince him of the ignorance of the author, he read afterwards the whole book without altering his opinion, & Dr Halley has lately laid before the Royal Society a little tract in answer to the Astronomical part <9v> , without ever having seen the proofs & authorities used by Sir Isaac in his larger work.

Sir I. lived at London euer since the year 1696 when he was made Warden of the Mint, no body ever lived with him but my wife who was with him near twenty years before & after her marriage – He always lived in a very handsome generous manner though without ostentation or vanity, always hospitable & upon proper occasions gave splendid entertainments. He was generous <10r> & charitable without bounds, he used to say they who gaue away nothing till they died never gaue, which perhaps was one reason why he did not make a will – I beleive no man of his circumstances ever gave away so much during his life time in alms in encouraging ingenuity & learning & to his relations, nor upon all occasions shewed a greater contempt of his own mony or a more scrupulous frugality of that which belonged to the publick or to any society he was entrusted for, He refused pensions & additional employments that were offered him <10v> he was highly honoured & respected in all reigns & under all administrations even by those he opposed, for in euery station he shewed an inflexible attachment to the cause of liberty & our present happy establishment. — Their present Majestys always shewed him very particular marks of their favour & esteem & often did him the honour to admitt him to their Royal presence for hours together The Queen who shews so much favour & countenance to all learned men & entertains herself often with hearing arguments concerning matters of Philosophy & Divinity frequently desired to see him, & always expressed great satisfaction in his conversation She was graciously pleased to take a part in the disputes he was engaged in during his life & expressed a great regard for every thing that concerned his honour & memory after his <10vB> & was highly honoured & respected in all Reigns & under all administrations even by those he opposed, for in every station he shewed an inflexable attachment to the cause of liberty & our present happy establishment

Their present majestys always shewed him very particular marks of their favour & esteem & often did him the honour to admitt him to their royall presence for hours together. The Queen who shews so much favour & countenance to all learned men & entertains her self often with hearing arguments concerning matters of Philosophy & Divinity, frequently desired to see him and always expressed great satisfaction in his conversation, she was graciously pleased to take part in the disputes he was engaged in during his life & expressed a great reguard for every thing that concerned his honour & memory after his death <11r> * death – I must not omitt telling you that I have often had the honour to hear her Majesty say before the whole circle that she kept the abstract of Chronology Sir Isaac gave her written in his own hand among her choicest treasures, & that she thought it a happiness to have lived at the same time & have known so great a man — I conjure you, Sir, to insert this in the Eloge because I am perswaded you can say nothing that will do him more honour than such a commendation from a Queen who is the Minerva of her age

<12r>

Notwithstanding the extraordinary honours that were paid him he had so humble an opinion of himself that he had no relish of the applause which was so deservedly paid him & he was so little vain & desirous of glory from any of his works that as it is well known he would have lett others haue run away with the glory of those inventions which have done so much honour to humane nature if his friends & country men had not been more jealous than he of his & their glory

<12v>

He was exceedingly courteous & affable even to the lowest & never despised any man for want of capacity but always expressed freely his resentment against any immorality or impiety —– He not only shewed a great & constant regard to religion in general as well by an exemplary course of life as in all his writings but was also a firm beleiver of revealed religion which appears by the many papers he has left on that subject , but his notion of the Christian religion was not founded on a narrow bottom, nor his charity & morality so scanty as to shew a coldness to those who thought otherwise than he did in matters indifferent, much less to admitt of persecution of which he always expressed the strongest abhorrence & detestation —

<13r>

He had such a meekness & sweetness of temper that a melancholy story would often draw tears from him & he was exceedingly shocked at any act of cruelty to man or beast, mercy to both being the topick he loved to dwell upon —

An innate modesty & simplicity shewed it self in all his actions & expressions, his whole life was one continued series of labour patience charity generosity temperance piety goodness & all other virtues without a mixture of any vice whatsoever —

He was never married,. He was very temperate in his diet but never observed any regimen he was blessed with a very happy & vigorous constitution, he was of a middle stature & plump in his later years , had a very lively & peircing eye & a comely & gracious aspect <13v> had a fine head of hair as white as silver without any baldness & & when his periwig was off was a venerable sight, & to his last illness had the bloom & colour of a young man & never used spectacles nor lost any more than one tooth to the day of his death

About five years before he died he was troubled with an incontinence of urine & sometimes with a stillicidium both which continued upon him more or less according to the motion he used upon which he put down his chariot & went always in a chair & left off dining abroad or with much company at home & eat little flesh & lived cheifly upon broth & vegetables & fruit which he always eat very heartily of — in August 1724 he voided without any pain a stone about the bigness of a pea which came away in two pieces one at some days distance from the other

In Ianuary 1724/5 he had a violent cough & inflammation of the Lungs upon which he was with much ado perswaded to take a house at Kensington where he had in his 84th year a fit of the            gout <14r> for the second time having had a slight attack of it a few years before, after which he was visibly better than he had been some years the benefit he found from that air at Kensington induced him to keep the house till he died –

In the winter 1725 he was very desirous to resign to me his employment of Master of the Mint his indisposition disabling him from officiating himself & his old deputy being confined by a dropsy. I being satisfied how unwilling he would be to venture a trust of that consequence & nicety with any stranger, & how prejudicial all motion was to him offered to transact the whole business for him <14v> & for above a year before he died I made him so easy on that subject that he hardly ever went to the Mint, but though he found the greatest benefit from rest & the air at Kensington & was always the worse for leaving it no methods that were used could keep him from coming sometimes to town

On Tuesday the last day of February 17267 he came to town in order to go to a meeting at the Royal Society, the next day I was with him & thought I had not seen him better in many years & he was sensible of it himself & told me smiling that he had slept the Sunday before from 11 at night till 8 in the morning without waking, but his great fatigue <15r> in going to the Society & making & receiving visits brought his old complaint violently upon him, he returned to Kensington on the Saturday following, as soon as I heard of his illness I carried Dr Mead & Mr Cheselden to him, who immediately said it was the stone in the bladder & gave no hopes of his recovery, the stone was probably moved from the place where it lay quiet by the great motion & fatigue of his last journey to London from which time he had violent fits of pain, with very short intermissions & though the drops of sweat ran down from his face with anguish he never complained or cry'd out or shewed the least signs of peevishness or impatience and during the short intervals from that violent torture would <15v> smile & talk with his usual chearfulness – On Wednesday the 15th of March he seemed a little better & wee conceived some hopes of his recovery, but without grounds on Saturday morning the 18th he read the news papers & held a pretty long discourse with Dr Mead & had all his senses perfect but that evening at six & all Sunday he was insensible & died on Monday the 20th of March between one & two in the morning. He seemed to have stamina vitæ (except the accidental distemper of the stone) to have carried him to a much longer age & to the last had all his senses & faculties strong & vigorous & lively , & continued writing & studying many hours every day to the time of his last illness –

I here enclose the account given in the Gazette of his funeral, (which pray translate), & shall only add that the relations who inherit his personal estate have agreed to lay out £500 in a monument & the Dean <16r> & chapter of Westminster have permitted a tomb to be erected in the most conspicuous part of the Abbey a place which they had often refused the greatest noblemen. —

he died worth about £32,000 personal estate which is divided between his 4 nephews & 4 nieces of the half blood the land which he had from his father & mother went to his heir of the whole blood Iohn Newton whose great Grandfather was Sir Isaac's uncle a little before he died he gave away an estate in Berkshire to the sons & daughter of my wife's brother who by their father's dying before Sir Isaac had no share of the personal estate, & an estate he bought at Kensington of about the same value to my daughter

<17v>

Memoirs relating to Sir Isaac Newton sent by me to Monsieur Fontenelle in October 1727.

© 2019 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL - newtonproject@history.ox.ac.uk

Privacy Statement

  • University of Oxford
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC