Catalogue Entry: OTHE00083

Chapter XXII

Author: David Brewster

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

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


Essais de Théodicée sur la Bonté de Dieu, la Liberté de l'Homme, et l'Origine du Mal.


Journal de Trevoux, May 1712.


Memoirs of Literature, No. XVIII. p. 137. See Cotes' letter to Newton in Edleston's Correspondence, &c., p. 153.


The scroll of this letter, which occupies two folio pages, has no date. It does not appear in the Memoirs of Literature for which it was written.


Vol. I. p. 60.


The words in England are not in the original paragraph, but they were added either by the Princess or Dr. Clarke, and, as we shall presently see, were meant to be understood by Leibnitz himself.


All these papers, which passed through the hands of the Princess, were published at Amsterdam in 1720, under the title of Recueil de Diverses Pièces sur la Philosophie, la Religion Naturelle, l'Histoire, les Mathématiques, &c., par Messrs. LEIBNIZ, CLARKE, NEWTON, &c. They wEre published also in French and English in 1738 in Dr. Clarke's Works, vol. iv. pp. 580-710.


We hope that those who possess the originals of the Commercium Epistolicum of Leibnitz and Bernoulli, will supply the numerous elisions which the editor had not the courage to insert, as they would throw much light on the temper with which the Fluxionary controversy was carried on by these eminent mathematicians. No such eliminations have been made in the letters of Newton or his friends.


It has been supposed by many persons that the Théodicée of Leibnitz, which was written for the information of the Queen of Prussia, with the view of counteracting the sceptical opinions of Bayle, did not express his own sentiments, and that Leibnitz really believed the doctrines which he impugned. Professor Pfaff of Tübingen, whose opinion of the Théodicée Leibnitz had requested, thus replied to him: "It seems to me that you have invented that theological system only in jest, while at the bottom you receive the doctrines of Bayle; but it is necessary that some one give the dangerous principles of Bayle a serious and thorough refutation." To this letter Leibnitz answered, "You are right, venerable sir, in what you say respecting the Theodicea. You have hit the nail on the head; and I wonder that no one before has taken this view of my intentions, for it is not the business of philosophers always to treat of subjects seriously; they who, as you correctly observe, so tax the powers of their mind in the invention of hypotheses. You who are a theologian, will pursue the theological course in the refutation of errors." This letter was, of course, understood in its natural meaning; but the biographer of Leibnitz, Dr. Gurhauer, maintains it to be an ironical answer to the presumptuous Professor! We do not venture to say, though he has himself said it, that Leibnitz's real opinions were not expressed in his Théodicée, and in his letter to the Princess of Wales, but we call the attention of the reader to the ludus et jocus, with which our metaphysical gladiator carried on his contest with Dr. Clarke, and pointed out the decay of natural religion in England.


Comm. Epistol. Leibnitii et Bernoullii, tom. ii. pp. 381, 382.


I have found, among Sir Isaac's papers, many folio pages of manuscript containing the same views as those given by Dr. Clarke.


Letter to Conti, April 14, 1716.


Raphson's Fluxions, p. 111.


"By the contrivance of some of the court of Hanover I was prevailed with to write an answer to the postscript of a letter written by Mr. Leibnitz to Mr. L'Abbé Conti, that both might be shewed to the King. I did it with reluctancy; and by the letters which Mr. Leibnitz thereupon wrote to several at court, I found that he was at the bottom of the design. It is now about forty years since I left off all correspondence by letters about mathematics and philosophy, and therefore I say nothing farther to you about these matters." — Scroll of a letter to the Abbé Varignon in 1718.


This was Newton's letter to Conti of the 26th February 1716.


Published in Raphson's Fluxions, p. 111.


In this scroll, of which there is a duplicate, another page is added, giving the usual history of his discovery of fluxions. In the duplicate, apparently the first written, there is added after the word dead, "For I have always industriously avoided disputes. If anything more were to be added, it should be what follows the following declaration." The pen is drawn through this last sentence, and the declaration is not mentioned. This paper was probably drawn up for the use of M. Des Maizeaux, in writing his preface to his Recueil, &c., which contains a clear account of the Fluxionary dispute. The Preface is dated October 27, 1719.


This extract from Fontenelle's letter, dated February 5, 1717, is in Mrs. Barton's handwriting, and seems to have been sent by Chamberlayne to Newton.


This scroll occupies nearly two closely written folio pages, and one part of it is almost obliterated with alterations.


These annotations occupy about ten closely written folio pages.


Pages 71-75.



[23] Sept. 26, 1721, o. s.


Dated December 9, 1721.


Spero dominum Varignonium curaturum, te presertim hortatore, ne quid in Gallia fiat de quo queri possim. Aug. 19, 1713, Com. Epist. Leib. et Bern. tom. ii. p. 321.


September 9, 1713.


Varignon had lost his copy of the first edition, from having lent it to a friend. The date of Newton's letter must have been in June or July 1722.


"1o. Lin. 12, 13. Legitur Jam velo sublato, ut militem in hac rixa pro se inducere: Mallem simpliciter Jam in hac rixa pro se inducere, ne quis sub illo velo prius la{illeg}itantem putet Dum. Bernoullium, cui Leibnitius epistolam predictam ascripsit. Adde quod ut Militem vilior est denominatio quam ut eundem Dum. Bernoullium non offendat.

"2o. Ibidem, Lin. 29. Legitur de Do Des Maizeaux et in lucem edidit: Mallem et me non consulto in lucem edidit ut nimirum hæc loquendi ratio concilietur cum Epistola quam ad Dum. Bernoullium, tua cum venia nuper scripsi.

"Hæc sunt quæ te lubente notavi in prædicti libri Præfatione prima ad Lectorem. At in notis ad Epistolam sine nomine datam die 7 Junii 1713, nibil mihi visum est quod sic paci noxium esse possit, ut Jam dixi." This letter is dated Paris, 4 Aug. 1722.


Pierre Varignon was born at Caen in 1654. In 1687 he published his Projet d'une Nouvelle Méchanique, in consequence of which he was elected a Member of the Academy of Sciences, and appointed Professor of Mathematics in the College Mazarin. Though of a robust constitution, his habits of severe study made such an impression upon it, that, in 1705, his life was for six months in great danger, and during the three following years, he was in a state of constant languor and fever, during the attacks of which, as he told Fontenelle, he believed that he was in the middle of a forest, where he saw the leaves of all the trees covered with algebraic calculations. After teaching his class at the College Mazarin, on the 22d December 1722, he was seized with an illness which carried him off on the following night. Newton contributed the plate for the portrait of Varignon to the edition of his Méchanique, re-published in 1725, as a present to the friends of Varignon.


Pages 71, 72.


Dated July 5, 1714. See APPENDIX, No. XXII.


Page 55, note.


I have found the scroll of this letter, but without a date. See APPENDIX, No. XXII.


See p. 72.


See p. 72, 73.


I have found among Newton's papers a copy of this very interesting letter. Montmort was the particular friend of Brook Taylor, and was much attached to Newton, to whom he sent in 1716 a present of fifty bottles of champagne. That Montmort was, as Bernoulli says, an impartial judge in this matter, can hardly be doubted, and as his letter expresses the opinion of continental mathematicians on the Fluxionary controversy, in a manner at once precise and intelligible, I consider it a duty to give it a place in the Appendix. In consequence of Bernoulli's reference to it in his correspondence with Newton, it has acquired a historical interest. See APPENDIX, No. XXIII., where I have prefixed to it Brook Taylor's letter to Sir Isaac, dated 22d April, 1716, in which Montmort's regard for Newton is specially mentioned.


This friend had seen in the list of Fellows for 1718 the name of Bernoulli; but in a work entitled Magnæ Britanniæ Notitia, by John Chamberlayne, the friend of Newton, published in 1718, p. 144, he saw a catalogue of the Fellows containing the name of his nephew, but not his own.


See p. 74.


John Bernoulli was born at Basle on the 7th August 1667, and died there on the 1st of January 1748, in the 81st year of his age. He was one of the most distinguished mathematicians of the last century. He was Professor of Mathematics at Basle, and one of the eight Associates of the Academy of Sciences. Two of his sons, Daniel and Nicolas, to the last of whom Newton sent copies of his Optics, were eminent mathematicians. His works were published in 1742 at Lausanne and Geneva, in 4 vols. 4to.


Page 263 of the 1st edit. and p. 232 of the 2d edit. In his letter to the Abbé Varignon, in the autumn of 1719, Newton mentions that N. Bernoulli had pointed out this mistake, and adds, "constructionem propositionis correxi, et correctam ei ostendi, et imprimi curavi non subdole, sed eo cognoscente." — Macclesfield Correspondence, vol. ii. p. 437. John Bernoulli had previously shewn in 1710, that Newton's result was erroneous when the curve was a circle, and he resumed the subject in the Leipsic Acts for February and March 1703. "It is remarkable," says Mr. Edleston, "that both of these mathematicians mistook the source of the error. They imagined that Newton had taken the coefficients of the successive powers of h in the expansion of xxpn for the successive fluxions of xx." — See Comm. Epist. Leib. et Bern. tom. ii. p. 229; Bernoulli Opera, tom. i. pp. 489, 509; and Edleston's Correspondence, &c., pp. 142, 145, 156, 170.


Dated Padua, May 31, 1717.


I find this fact stated in a letter to Newton from the Scotch mathematician James Stirling, who met with Nicolas Bernoulli when he was at Venice in 1719. The postscript to the letter containing a message from Bernoulli to Newton is interesting. I have given it in APPENDIX, No. XXIV.





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