Catalogue Entry: OTHE00089

Life of Sir Isaac Newton

Author: J. B. Biot

Source: ‘Life of Sir Isaac Newton’ in Lives of Eminent Persons, trans. H. Elphinstone (London: 1833).

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


These details of the infancy of Newton are taken chiefly from "Collections for the History of the Town and Soke of Grantham, containing authentic Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton, &c. by Edmund Turner, (London, 1806.)" And from the Eloge on Newton, written by Fontenelle.


The title is Logicæ artis Compendium, auctore Robert Sanderson. Oxon. 8vo.


Particularly in his Optics, where he attributes the discovery of the true theory of the rainbow to Antonius de Dominis, Archbishop of Spalatro, leaving to Descartes only the merit of having "mended the expli <3> cation of the exterior bow;" and yet ever impartial reader, who refers to the original works, will see that the theory of Descartes is exact and complete, either as to the cause of the bow, its formation, or its size, and that he was only unacquainted with the cause of the different colours; and even, notwithstanding his ignorance relative to this part of the phenomenon, Descartes, with great sagacity, refers it to another experimental fact, by assimilating it to the colours formed by prisms. It is this formation of colours that Newton has so completely explained by the unequal refrangibility of the rays of light; but all the rest of the explanation is due to Descartes. The book of Dominis contains absolutely nothing but explications entirely vague, without any calculations or real result.


These details are mentioned by Newton himself, in a letter sent through Oldenburg to Leibnitz, dated October 24, 1676. It is No. LV. in the Commercium Epistolicum, published by order of the Royal Society of London.


Newton afterwards shewed the truth of this result, by deducing it from a law observed by Kepler, in the movement of all the planets, which consists in the description of areas proportional to the times, by the radius vector drawn from each planet to the sun; but he did not know how to make use of this law till he had discovered the means of calculating the motion in an elliptic orbit; that is, about the end of the year 1679.


Vide Whiston's Memoirs of Himself, page 23, &c.


Born in Holstein: he passed the greater part of his life in England.


Com. Epist. LVI.


At the end of the Optics.


This model, made by Newton himself, is still preserved in the Library of the Royal Society.


Birch, vol. iii, p. 3.


At that time published in monthly numbers, by the Royal Society.


Dated Trinity College, February 10th, 1671.


Birch, vol. iii. p. 4.


Birch, Hist. R.S. vol. iii. p. 10.


Philosoph. Transact. vol. vii. No. 88.


These discoveries were given to the world in Grimaldi's posthumous work, Physico-mathesis de lumine, &c. (Bononiæ, 1665, in 4to.) — a book also containing the undulatory hypothesis afterwards reproduced by Hooke. Vide Montucla, Histoire des Mathématiques, vol. ii.


Comm. Epist. LVII.


Dated 9th Dec. 1675. Birch, vol. iii. pp. 247, 261, 296.


Birch. Hist. R.S. vol. iii. p. 249.


Birch, Hist. R.S. vol. iii. pp. 254, 5.


Birch, Hist. R.S. vol. iii. p. 256.


Birch, Hist. R.S. vol. iii. p. 279.


Ibid. vol, iii. p. 512.


Vide Newton's original Letters in the Biographia Britannica, article Hooke, p. 2659.


Birch, Hist. R.S. vol. ii., p. 70.


London, 4to, 1674.


Bullialdus, Astronomia Philolaica.


Theoricæ medicearum planetarum ex causis physicis deductæ. (Firenze, 1666.) This same Borelli was the author of the celebrated work de Motu Animalium.


Vid. lib. ii, p. 141. Christianii Hugenii Kosmotheoros, sive de terris cœlestibus, eorumque ornatu conjecturæ. (4to. Hagæ Comm. 1698.)


The following anecdote is told on this subject. Dr. Stukely, an intimate friend of Newton, called upon him one day when his dinner was already served up, but before he had appeared in the dining-room. Dr. Stukely having waited some time, and becoming impatient, at length removed the cover from a chicken, which he presently ate, putting the bones back into the dish and replacing the cover. After a short interval, Newton came into the room, and after the usual compliments, sat down to dinner, but on taking up the cover, and seeing only the bones of the bird left, he observed with some little surprise, "I thought I had not dined, but I now find that I have."


Birch, Hist. R.S. vol. iv. p. 370.


This letter is printed in the Biographia Britannica. — Art. Hooke.


Book 1, Prop. 4.


Exposition du Système du Monde, par Mons. Le Compte LAPLACE. Paris, 1813. 4to. pp. 413, 426.


M. Biot examined this correspondence at Cambridge.


Vide Burnet, History of his Own Time, vol. i. p. 698.


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.


The letters composing the anagram formed the following sentence – datâ equatione quotcumque fluentes quantitates involvente, fluxiones invenire et vice versâ.


Scholium, Prop. vii. Lib. 2.


A Genevese settled in England.


These letters were published in France by Desmaizeaux.


Age of Apocalypse.


Prophecies, part 1. chap. 2.


Prophecies, part 1. chap. 2. p. 8.


This anecdote is mentioned in a manuscript of Conduit. Vid. Turner.


This anecdote is mentioned by Whiston in his work, "Longitude Discovered," – 8vo. London, 1738.


Biographia Britannica, p. 3242.

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