Catalogue Entry: OTHE00091
Life and Observations of Flamsteed — Newton, Halley, and Flamsteed
An anecdote has been told of Flamsteed's early life, which, though demonstrated by Mr Baily to be an entire fabrication, we cannot properly avoid mentioning. It is related by Mr Hutton, in his History of Derby (London, 1791), that Flamsteed, with some degenerate companions, was accused of being concerned in a highway robbery, for which he was tried, and condemned to be hanged; but that circumstances and friends being in his favour, he received a pardon from King Charles II. Mr Hutton farther says, that he received the anecdote from John Webb, who was an intimate acquaintance of Flamsteed's. Mr Baily has carefully sifted the particulars of this relation, and produced conclusive arguments to prove that the alleged fact could never have taken place. Without dwelling on the improbability of Mr Webb's statement, from the universal silence in every quarter of all Flamsteed's contemporaries on the subject, it will be enough to state, that, as King Charles II, was restored in 1660, the circumstance could not have happened before that year (and Flamsteed was then only fourteen years old); and that as he had become a public character before 1770, it would not have happened after without being generally known. Mr Baily therefore applied at the State Paper Office to be informed whether any trace of a pardon granted by King Charles, between those years, existed among the public records, The Deputy Keeper, the late Mr Lemon, readily entered into his views, and undertook the search himself. The result was communicated to Mr Baily in the following words: —
'I have myself (Mr Lemon) made a careful search through the whole of our warrant books, petitions, references, reports, and domestic correspondence, from 1660 to 1670 inclusive, and can state in the most explicit manner, that there is no trace of any grant of pardon to the celebrated John Flamsteed to be found in them; nor do I believe that any such ever existed; for if it had, it must have been entered amongst our warrants or petitions, the series of which, at that period, in my custody, is particularly perfect.'
In another account of this scene, Flamsteed says, 'he called me many I hard names; puppy was the most innocent of them. I desired him (as I had often done), to restrain his passion, keep his temper, &c. He said I called him Atheist. I never did; but I know what other people have said of a paragraph in his Optics, which probably occasioned this suggestion. I thought it not worth while to say any thing in answer to this reproach. I hope he is none.' — Pp. 228-229.
'Dr Wallis is dead — Mr Halley expects his place — who now talks, swears, and drinks brandy like a sea captain.' — Letter to Sharp, p. 215.
Brewster's Life of Newton, and No. CXI of this Journal.
In the statement originally published by M. Biot, the name of the Scotchman who conveyed the information to Huygens, is said to have been Colin; and Sir David Brewster (Life of Newton, p. 223) supposes he was a person employed by Newton in making calculations, and who, therefore, must have had opportunities of being acquainted with the state of Newton's health. But it appears that in the original statement, an error was made respecting the name. In the Exercitationes Mathematicæ of Huygens, printed at the Hague in 1833 (from manuscripts preserved in the library of the University of Leyden) it is stated, vol. ii. p. 171, that the name of the informant was not Colin but Colm. 'Ita nomen in MS. delineatum est, non COLIN, ut alii legisse videntur.'