Catalogue Entry: OTHE00082

Chapter XXI

Author: David Brewster

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

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


Dr. Johnson says that it was written in 1700 by Dr. William King, "a man of shallowness;" and Mr. Weld, who has looked into the copy of it in the British Museum, characterizes it as "of so low and ridiculous a nature, that it is surprising the Council should have thought it worth their while to notice it." — History of the Royal Society, vol. i. pp. 352-355.


Mr. Waller was reinstated in place of Dr. Harris at the next election on the 30th November 1710.


The following account of the quarrel I find in an anonymous letter addressed to Sir Isaac Newton, and dated March 28, 1710.


Dr. Harris was the author of a work published in 1697, in defence of Woodward's "Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth." It was entitled, "Remarks on some Late Papers, relating to the Universal Deluge, and to the Natural History of the Earth." — Ward's Lives of the Gresham Professors, p. 286.


Without better evidence than that of a partisan, we cannot believe that these words were in Newton's vocabulary. When he was irritated at the conduct of Flamsteed, he could not command a harsher term than that of Puppy. See p. 239. The letter, however, is well written, and contains many useful and temperate suggestions for improving the Society. The author, too, seems not at all disposed to maintain his incognito, as he expresses a willingness to have a personal interview with Sir Isaac.


Sir Hans Sloane and Dr. Woodward were both of them distinguished men, and great national benefactors. Dr. Woodward was Professor of Physic in Gresham College. He not only collected much valuable information respecting the geological structure of the earth, but so early as 1695, he began to form a collection of fossils, which after arranging and cataloguing it, he bequeathed to the University of Cambridge, of which he was a member, with the sum of £150, "for the maintenance of a lecturer to read there on the subject of the Doctor's Natural History of the Earth," &c. He was born May 1, 1665, and died April 25, 1728. His expulsion from the Council of the Royal Society does not seem to have alienated him from Newton, as in 1714 he dedicated to him his Naturalis Historia Telluris, of which he says, "it is wholly owing to you, it being begun, carried on, and finished at your request." — Fossils of all Kinds, 1728. Letter I.

Sir Hans Sloane, who was of Scotch extraction, was born in Ireland on the 16th April 1660. In the year 1705, he published the first volume of his Natural History of Jamaica, and the second volume in 1725. He wrote also twenty-four Papers for the Phil. Transactions. He was created a Baronet in 1716, and died on the 11th January 1753. On the condition of his family receiving £20,000, he bequeathed his museum to the public, with his library of 50,000 volumes, and 3566 manuscripts. The original cost of his museum was £50,000. Parliament accepted the trust, and these valuable collections form the nucleus of the British Museum. — Weld's History of the Royal Society, vol. i. p. 456.

During the time of the dispute, however, in the Royal Society, Newton is said to have remarked, "that Dr. Woodward might be a good natural philosopher, but that he was not a good moral one."

In consequence of some difference of opinion on medical subjects, Woodward and Dr. Mead fought a duel under the gate of Gresham College. Woodward's foot slipped, and he fell. "Take your life," exclaimed Mead: "Any thing," replied Woodward, "but your physic." An amusing account of this duel, by Dr. Wood <248> ward, will be found in the Weekly Journal of June 20, 1719, and in Nichol's Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, vol. vi. p. 641.

In writing to Abraham Sharp on the 14th July 1710, Flamsteed says, "Sir Isaac Newton has hurt our Royal Society by his partiality for E. Halley and Dr. Sloane, upon a small and inconsiderable occasion; so that they have broke up some few weeks before their time. Dr. Harris has lost all his reputation by actions not fit for me to tell you." — Baily's Flamsteed, p. 276, note.


See vol. i. p. 312.


Dr. Clarke had probably come up to perform some exercises for the degree of D.D. which he took in 1710.


This picture was bequeathed by Bentley to Trinity College.


I find it stated in Conduitt'a MSS., that Halley once dined with Newton at the Mint.


Literary and Historical Memorials of London, 2 vols.: Lond. 1847. Mr. Croker, in his edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson, mantions a plan of converting Newton's house into a lecture-room.


See vol. i. pp. 314-319.


A very large number of foreign ambassadors and persons of distinction were chosen Fellows of the Society at this period.


Swift's Works, January 2d and 4th, 1713, vol. xiv. pp. 333, 335. Edit. 1784.


This letter, dated February 25, 1714, and an English version of it, are preserved in the Royal Society, A 55, 56.


This letter, dated May 27, 1714, is published in the Macclesfield Correspondence, vol. ii. p. 420.


Histoire Critique de la Philosophie, par Mr. D. [Deslandes,] 4 vols. 12mo. Amst. 1737. Vol. ii pp. 264, 265.


This letter, dated Petersburg, Aug. 23, 1714, has been preserved. The Prince's signature, as if written with a paralytic hand, is illegible.


Three drafts have been preserved of Newton's letter written in Latin, and dated October 25, 1714.


Baily's Flamsteed, pp. 37, 38.


Ibid. pp. 111, 112.


See vol. i. p. 351.


Journals of the House of Commons, vol. xvii. pp. 641, 671, 677, and 716.


In consequence of this Act, Henry Gully, an Englishman, devoted himself to the improvements of timekeepers. He settled in Paris, made various improvements upon watches, and had for his pupil the celebrated Julien le Roy, to whom, and to his son, M. Berthoud, the art of watchmaking is under great obligations.


Macclesfield Correspondence, vol. ii. p. 419.


See vol. i. p. 239.


See vol. i. pp. 350-352.


Historical Preface to some of the copies of his "Longitude Discovered, Lond. 1738," p. v., dated, as Mr. Edleston conjectures, in 1742. — Correspondence, &c., p. lxxvi.


Mr. Clayton, M.P. for Liverpool.


"Les trois derniers (Halley, Cotes, and Clarke) exprimèrent leur avis verbalement; mais Newton lut le sien, sur un papier écrit qu'il avait apporté, et qui ne fut compris de personne; puis il se rassit, et garda obstinément le silence, quelque instance qu'on lui fit de s'expliquer plus ouvertement. Enfin Whiston voyant que le bill allait être retiré, prit sur lui de dire que si M. Newton ne voulait pas s'expliquer davantage, c'était par crainte de se compromettre; mais qu'au fond, il trouvait le projet utile: Alors M. Newton répéta presque mot à mot ce qu'avait dit Whiston, et le projet du bill fut accepté. Cette conduite presque puérile, dans une circonstance si solennelle pourrait prêter aux plus étranges conséquences, surtout si on la <267> rapporte au fatal accident que Newton aurait éprouvé en 1695." Biot, Biog. Univ. Art. Newton, pp. 192, 193.

Mr. Edleston justly remarks, that "this is not a model of accurate condensation," and he leaves it to the reader, who will, of course, make the requisite allowance for the forwardness and vanity of the reporter, to judge whether M. Biot's term "presque puérile" be a proper epithet to apply lo the part that Newton took on the occasion." — Correspondence, &c., p. lxxvi., note 167.

A more correct view of Newton's conduct was taken by my distinguished friend the late Professor Rigaud. "What kind of persons," he says, "the committee must have consisted of, that such a plain statement as Newton's should not have been understood by any one of them, I cannot tell. The whole story is evidently tinctured by Whiston's spleen and disappointment." — MS. letter, Oct. 21, 1830. M. Biot is mistaken in saying that the act of 1714 is still in force. It was repealed, along with various Longitude Acts, in 1774.


The name Mrs. was then given to unmarried women.


Conduitt's MSS.


Born April 16, 1661.


The Poetical Works of the late Right Hon. CHARLES EARL OF HALIFAX. London, 1716, 2d edit.


Conduitt's MSS.


Born 1679, married August 26, 1717, died 20th January 1739.


The words love and affection had not, in Halifax's day, the same meaning which they have now. Swift, for example, writes to Stella that he "loves Mrs. Barton better than any one here." Speaking of the Duke of Argyle, he says, "I love that Duke mightily. Lady Mountjoy is a little body I love very well." Speaking of the pictures of Lady Orkney, Lord Bolingbroke, and Lady Masham, he says, "I shall have the pictures of those I really love here." In like manner, Pope writes to H. Cromwell, "I should be glad to tell all the world that I have an extreme affection and esteem for you."


The Earl of Shaftesbury. See his Letters to Robert Molesworth, Esq. Edit. 1750, lett. iii. pp. 70-72.


Baily's Flamsteed, Letter to Sharp, July 9, 1715. He adds, "Sir I. Newton loses his support in him (Halifax,) and having been in with Lord Oxford, Bolingbroke, and Dr. Arbuthnot, is not now looked upon as he was formerly," p. 314. See also pp. 73 and 317, where the great intimacy of Newton and Halifax is mentioned.


This Life of Halifax, written by some literary hack of the disreputable house of Curll and Co., cannot be regarded as a work of any authority upon the statements of which we can safely rely. The anonymous author obviously received no information from the family of Halifax, and therefore any fact which he did not derive from public documents, must be considered as resting upon vulgar rumour. The author himself says in his Dedication to George Earl of Halifax, that "he is sensible that he has been guilty of many omissions through want of intelligence from persons who might have obliged him with proper information." In a copy of the first edition of the Life of Halifax, in the University Library of Cambridge, the author is said to be William Pittis.


The Countess Dowager of Manchester, whom Charles Montague married "some time before the Revolution in 1688." — Life of Halifax, p. 3.


Oldisworth, in "The British Court" says —

"Give Cowper wit, still Barton will have sense."

[43] Life of Halifax, pp. 195, 196, 2d edit. Lond. 1716.

[44] See APPENDIX, No. XIX.

[45] Born 1688; died May 20, 1737, æt. 49.


The sneer of Voltaire in ascribing Newton's promotion to the Mint to the beauty of his niece, scarcely deserves our notice. Miss Barton was only sixteen when he received the appointment, and Montague could not then have seen her. Voltaire, however, makes no insinuation against the character of Miss Barton. "J'avais cru, dans ma jeunesse," says he, "que Newton avait fait sa fortune par son extrême mérite. Je m'étais imaginé que la cour, et la ville de Londres l'avait nommé par acclamation grand maître des monnaies du royaume. Point du tout. Isaac Newton avait une nièce assez aimable nommé Madame Conduitt, elle plut beaucoup au grand Trésorier Halifax. Le calcul infinitésimal et le gravitation ne lui auraient servi de rien sans une jolie nièce." — Dict. Philos. tom. iv. p. 61.


This discussion will be found under the title of Lord Halifax and Mrs. Catherine Barton, in Notes and Queries, No. 210, November 5, 1853, pp. 429, 433, in an elaborate article marked by the usual acuteness of that distinguished writer.


Conduitt's MSS. I find it stated in the handwriting of Mrs. Catherine Barton, upon the back of a drawing of the arms of the Swinfords of Stamford, that "the Hartons were descended from the Swinfords," from Catherine Swinford, the wife of Sir Hugh Swinford, who became the mistress of John of Gaunt.


Swift's great admiration of Miss Barton, notwithstanding her Whig politics', is no slight proof of the purity of her social position. I have placed in APPENDIX, No. XX, a letter from Mrs. Conduitt to himself, and all the passages in which she and Halifax are mentioned in his journal to Stella.


I find letters addressed to Mr. Conduitt at Cranbury, his country house in Hampshire, where it is probable he and his family frequently resided, when he was not attending his duty in the House of Commons. During Newton's illness in 1726, Dr. Mead addressed several letters to him "at his house near Winchester." Miss Barton, as we have already seen, (p. 213), was boarded in Oxfordshire, where she had an attack of the small-pox, in August 1700. There is no evidence that she lived with Newton before this date, and we have not been able to determine at what time she took up her residence under his roof. If we suppose it to have been in 1701, we obtain sixteen years as the period of her residence in Newton's house before her marriage, and four years for her residence with him after her marriage in 1717 — the other six years having been spent with her husband.


Mr. De Morgan says, that Halifax bought this annuity for Miss Barton in Newton's name; but this is a conjecture, and not a fact; and we consider it quite certain, from a fair interpretation of the words, that Newton purchased this annuity, and, being nearly twenty years older than Halifax, made him the trustee. He is simply the trustee, and not the granter of the annuity. Had he granted the annuity, he would have mentioned it as one of the "gifts and legacies" which he left her. An annuity purchased in Sir Isaac Newton's name can mean nothing else than an annuity purchased by Sir Isaac Newton. I find among Newton's papers a scroll of the beginning of the act of transference from the executor, George Lord Halifax, in which the date of the trust is stated to be October 26, 1706. Mr. De Morgan remarks, that if "the annuity had been bought by Newton, Conduitt would haye mentioned it in his list of the benefactions which Newton's relatives received from him." But the annuity was not a benefaction like those contained in Conduitt's list. It was virtually a debt due to his favourite niece whom he had educated, and <280> who had for twenty years kept his house; and if she had not received it from Sir Isaac, his conduct would have been very unjust, as, owing to his not having made a will, she got only the eighth part of his personal estate along with his four nephews and nieces. Mr. De Morgan makes other statements which it is necessary to examine. After mentioning the important fact, that though "Swift writes to Stella of every kind of small talk, he never mentions Halifax and Miss Barton together, — never makes the slightest allusion to either in connexion with the other, though in one and the same letter he minutes his having dined with Halifax on the 28th, and with Miss Barton on the 30th, (September 1710)," he adds, "there must have been intentional suppression in this." Certainly, if Swift knew or believed that Miss Barton lived with Halifax; but the true inference is, that she not only did not live with him, but that it was never even reported that she did. Mr. De Morgan, however, adds, "All the world knew that there was some liaison between the two." On the contrary, we maintain that not one person in the world knew this, or could know it, in 1710. There is not a single fact to prove that the codicil of 1706 was known to any individual. Mr. De Morgan goes on to say, as if in proof of "intentional suppression," for which we can see no motive, that when Swift (November 20, 1711) records his having been "teased with Whiggish discourse" by Miss Barton, "he does not even drop a sarcasm about her politics having been learnt from Halifax." Why make Miss Barton the political pupil of Halifax, seeing that her own uncle, Sir Isaac Newton, with whom she had spent the greater part of her life, and from beneath whose roof she never strayed, was one of the most decided Whigs of the day? This Whig conversation took place in the house of Lady Betty Germain, from which "it appears," as Mr. De Morgan has justly observed, "that she (Miss Barton) was regarded as a respectable woman," — a fact of which there are abundant indications.


"In a poem called the Toasters, where all the distinguished beauties at that time are celebrated in distinct epigrams, these two appear in honour of Miss Barton: —

Stampt with her reigning charms this brittle glass

Will safely through the realms of Bacchus pass;

Full fraught with beauty, will new flames impart,

And mount her shining image in the heart.

Another —

Beauty and Wit strive each in vain,

To vanquish Bacchus and his train;

But Barton, with successful charms,

From both their quivers drew her arms,

The roving god his sway resigns,

And cheerfully submits his vines."

Art. MONTAGUE, Biographia Britannica, vol. v. p. 3156, note.

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