Catalogue Entry: OTHE00078

Chapter XVII

Author: David Brewster

Source: Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: 1855).

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


These letters, which were first printed by Richard Cumberland in 1756, and reviewed by Dr. Samuel Johnson in the Literary Magazine, vol. i, p. 89, have been reprinted in Dr. Horsley's Newtoni Opera, vol. iv. pp. 429-442; and in Nichol's Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, vol. iv. pp. 50-60; but in both these works, the third and fourth letters are transposed, as their dates will show.


See vol. i., APPENDIX, p. 463.


Dated December 10, 1692. This letter is indorsed in Bentley's hand. — "Mr. Newton's answer to some queries sent by me after I had preached my two last sermons." — Monk's Life of Bentley, p. 34, note.


Dated Jan. 17, 1692-3.


Dated February 11, 16923.


Dated February 19, 16923, and printed in APPENDIX, No. X. This is the only letter of Bentley's on this subject which I have found aniong the Portsmouth Papers.


Dated February 25, 16923.


"These things," says he, "follow from my Principia Math. lib. i. prop. 33-36."


The originals of these four letters "were given by Dr. Richard Bentley to Richard Cumberland, his nephew and executor, while a student at Trinity College, and were printed by him in a separate pamphlet in 1756. This publication was reviewed by Dr. Samuel Johnson in the Literary Magazine, vol. i. p. 89. See Johnson's Works, vol. ii. p. 328. In one or two cases Newton acknowledges that he had not before considered some of the conclusions from his own discoveries, and that some of the queries proposed by Bentley were new to him. Whence Dr. Johnson beautifully remarks "how even the mind of Newton gains ground gradually upon darkness." Dr. Monk, who notices this remark, justly observes, that as Bentley "availed himself of all the suggestions of his illustrious correspondent, his reasonings and conclusions appear with the highest of all human sanctions, and this department <131> of natural theology has perhaps never yet been so satisfactorily illustrated." — Life of Bentley, p. 34.


The views of Newton and Bentley, so distinctive of the College which they adorned, have been maintained and illustrated, with all the lights of modern science, by Professor Sedgwick in his noble Discourse on the Studies of the University.


Life of Newton, Biog. Universelle, tom. xxxi. p. 168.


It appears from a letter of Newton to Flamsteed, that he had proposed Sir Collins, of "this University," as one of the candidates for the vacancy in Christ Hospital, <132> occasioned by the resignation of Mr. Paget. He thought that he had mathematics enough, though young and inexperienced. From Flamsteed's unpublished reply to this letter, it would appear that Sir Collins was a son of John Collins, Newton's great and early friend. "Young Collins," he says, "may live to restore it, (the Hospital,) whom, therefore, you may do well to encourage to mind these studies. I doubt not he will be good in algebra; that was his father's talent. Astronomy will be most useful in the school. Our teachers in town understand little of it. Pray advise him to study the theory of the planets, and to make himself expert in calculation. Though I never saw him, yet for his father's sake, my good friend, and his own good report, he shall find me always ready to serve him." — April 27, 1695.


M. Uylenbroek, the editor of the correspondence between Huygens and Leibnitz, has given in an appendix the correct text of this passage, with his own observations upon it: —

"29 Maj. 1694. — Narravit mihi D. Colm (not Colin) Scotus virum celeberrimum ac summum geometram Is. Neutonum in phrenesin incidisse abhine anno et sex mensibus. An ex nimia studii assiduitate, an dolore infortunii, quod incendio laboratorium chymicum et scripta quædam amiserat? Cum ad Archiepiscopum Cantabrigiensem (Cantuariensem, as Mr. Edleston conjectures) venisset, ea locutum, quæ alienationem mentis indicarent. Deinde ab amicis cura ejus susceptam, domoque clauso remedia volenti nolenti adhibita, quibus jam sanitatem recuperavit, ut jam rursus librum suum Principiorum Philosophiæ Mathematicorum intelligere incipiat."

M. Uylenbroek adds his own opinion of the matter, as explained in my former Life of Newton: — "Hæc Colmi narratio, quam ex his ipsis MSS., Hugeniensis petitam, quondam evulgaverat Biotus, nuperrime Brewstero ansam præbuit inquirendi utrum revera Newtonus mentis morbo correptus fuerit necne. Testimonia, quæ attulit vir Cl. ea esse videntur e quibus probabiliter efficias Newtonum, currente anno 1692, solita mentis, corporisque valetudine non fuisse usum, at non ita eum morbo decubuisse ut eo impeditus fuerit quo minus studiis suis vacaret." — Christiani Hugenii Exercitationes Mathematicæ. Ed. P. J. Uylenbrock, fascic. ii. p. 171, Hag. An. 1833.


He made the same communication to the Marquis L'Hospital on the 16th June. Ch. Hug. Exercit. Math, fascic. i. p. 318.

[15] Ibid. fascic. i. p. 182.


Unpublished letter to Conduitt, April 7, 1727.


Correspondence, &c. pp. lxii. lxiii.


This observation, which is in another edition of the manuscript, is not inconsistent with the statement of Newton's having "worked them over again."


"Newton's temper was so mild and equal, that scarce any accident disturbed him. One instance in particular, which is authenticated by a person now living (1780,) brings this assertion to a proof. Sir Isaac being called out of his study to a contiguous room, a little dog called Diamond, the constant but incurious attendant of his master's researches, happened to be left among the papers, and by a fatality not to be retrieved, as it was in the latter part of Sir Isaac's days, threw down a lighted candle, which consumed the almost finished labours of some years. Sir Isaac returning too late but to behold the dreadful wreck, rebuked the author of it with an exclamation, (ad sidera palmas,) "O Diamond ! Diamond! thou little knowest the <139> mischief done!' without adding a single stripe." — Notes to Maude's Wensleydale, p. 102, fourth edit. 1816. M. Biot gives this piece of fiction as a true story, which happened in some year after the publication of the Principia, and he characterizes the accident as having deprived the sciences for ever of the fruit of so much of Newton's labours. Dr. Wallis received another edition of the story from his correspondent Sturm, a professor at Altorf. "Sturm sends me word of a rumour amongst them concerning Mr. Newton, as if his house and hooks, and all his goods were burnt, and himself so disturbed in mind thereupon as to be reduced to very ill circumstances; which being all false, I thought fit presently to rectify that groundless mistake." — Letter to Waller, Secretary to the Royal Society, quoted by Mr. Edleston from the Letter-book of the Royal Society. See pp. 93 and 97.


We entirely concur with Mr. Edleston in his opinion that this story refers to an antecedent period. It is obviously a repetition of the story referred to by Dr. Newton respecting the burning of the Optics before 1684.


In the Journal des Savans, 1832, p. 325, M. Biot has tried to reconcile these facts and dates by arguments which have been so ably exposed and refuted by Mr. Edleston, who entirely concurs with the view I have taken of the subject, that any further controversy is unnecessary. The evidence of Dr. Humphrey Newton leaves no doubt whatever that the fire in Sir Isaac's room took place before 1684. — See Correspondence, &c. pp. lx.-lxlii.


See Newtoni Opera, tom. iv. p. 480; and Wallisii Opera, 1693, tom. ii. pp. 391-396.


Optics, part iv. obs. 13.

[24] Dated January 29, 1964.

[25] See p.37


Gentleman's Magazine, tom. lxxxiv. p. 3, 1814.


The three first letters above-mentioned have been published by Lord Braybrooke in his Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, vol. ii. pp. 131-135: Lond. 1825. The fourth letter I have given in the APPENDIX, No. IX., in order to complete the published correspondence.


The system of Hobbes was at this time very prevalent. According to Dr. Bentley, "the taverns and coffee-houses, nay, Westminster Hall, and the very churches, were full of it;" and he was convinced, from personal observation, that "not one English infidel in a hundred was other than a Hobbist."— Monk's Life of Bentley, p. 31.


Newton and Locke occasionally corresponded on theological subjects. In the autumn of 1702, Newton visited Locke at Oates, and having read his Essay on the Corinthians, he promised to give him his observations and opinion upon it after a more careful perusal. Locke accordingly sent it to him before Christmas 1702; but in consequence of receiving no answer, he wrote to him again on the 30th April 1703, and received his observations in a letter dated May 15, 1703, published by Lord King. In this letter Newton tells him that he had purposed to pay him a visit at Oates, on his way to Cambridge, in summer, but was "now uncertain of this journey." We believe they never met again. Locke died on the 28th October 1704, in the seventy-third year of his age; and it has been stated that Newton visited his tomb at High Laver, in Essex, in all probability when he paid his next visit to Cambridge.


"The draft of this letter is indorsed J. L. to I. Newton." I have not found the original among Newton's papers.


The letter of Dr. Mill, dated Nov. 7, 1693, I found among Newton's papers. That of Newton, dated Jan. 29, 16934, is preserved in the library of Queen's College, Oxford, and is No. 26 of the printed Catalogue. Having been kindly favoured with a copy of this letter by Dr. Fox, I have given both of them in the APPENDIX, No. XII., as they possess a peculiar interest.


"Quoniam varii errores in propositiones 37 et 38 (Lib. 2) irrepsisse, illos omnes restitutos hic apponam, prout in auctoris exemplari inveni, ineunte Maio 1694, dum Cantabrigiæ hærerem, consulendi divini auctoris gratia." — MS. of David Gregory, Rigaud, Hist. Essay/>, p. 100. Mr. Rigaud adds, that this is "the place in which Fatio says he convinced Newton of his mistakes." See Edinburgh Transactions, 1829, vol. xii. p. 71.


The following account of this affair is given by Mr. Edleston from De la Pryme's Diary: — "On {the} Monday {night} likewise, there being a great number of people at the door {of the haunted house, — it was a house opposite St. John's College, in the occupation of Valentine Austin,} there chanced to come by Mr. Newton, Fellow of Trinity College, a very learned man, and perceiving our Fellows to have gone in {three Fellows of St. John's, with a Fellow Commoner of that College, had rushed in armed with pistols,} and seeing several scholars about the door, 'Oh ye fools!' says he, 'will ye never have any wit? know ye not that all such things are mere cheats and impostures? fie, fie! go home for shame,' and so he left them, scorning to go in." In this Diary, to which we have already referred, there is a full account of the proceedings of the "spirit," which the writer of the Diary had received in a letter from Cambridge. — Edleston's Correspondence, &c., p. lxiv.


Dr. Gregory concludes his account of this manuscript, which he kindly lent me, in the following words: — "I do not know whether it is true, as stated by Huygens, 'Newtonum incidisse in Phrenitim;' but I think every gentleman who examines this manuscript will be of opinion that he must have thoroughly recovered from his phrenitis before he wrote either the Commentary on the Opinions of the Ancients, or the Sketch of his own Theological and Philosophical Opinions which it contains." An account of this manuscript, by Dr. J. Gregory, has been published in the Edinburgh Transactions for 1829, vol. xii. pp. 64-67. — See Rigaud's Hist. Essay, p. 99.


This paragraph is as follows: — "Deum esse ens summe perfectum concedunt omnes. Entis autem summe perfecti Idea est ut sit substantia una, simplex, indivisibilis, viva et vivifica, ubique semper necessario existens, summe intelligens omnia, libere volens bona, voluntate efficiens possibilia, effectibus nobilioribus similitudinem propriam quantum fieri potest communicans, omnia in se continens tanquam eorum principium et locus, omnia per presentiam substantialem cernens et regens, et cum rebus omnibus, secundum leges accuratas ut naturæ totius fundamentum et causa constanter co-operans, nisi ubi aliter agere bonum est."

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