Catalogue Entry: OTHE00093

Newton

Author: Augustus De Morgan

Source: ‘Newton’ in Cabinet Portrait Gallery of British Worthies, No. 11 (London: 1846), pp. 78-117.

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]

[1]

A sizar at Cambridge was, in the original meaning of the word, a student whose poverty compels him to seek to maintain himself in whole or part by the performance of some duties which were originally of a menial character. By this institution a youth could live by the work of his hands while he pursued his studies. In our days there is but little distinction between the sizars and those above them; except in college charges, none at all. Those who look upon universities as institutions for gentlemen only, that is, for persons who can pay their way according to a certain conventional standard, praise the liberality with which poorer gentlemen than others have been gradually emancipated from what seems to them a mere badge of poverty. But those who know the old constitution of the universities see nothing in it except the loss to the labouring man and the destitute man of his inheritance in those splendid foundations. If sizarships with paid personal services had not existed, Newton could not have gone to Cambridge; and the Principia might never have been written. Let it be remembered then that, so far as we owe this immortal work and its immortal work to the University of Cambridge, we owe it to the institution which no longer exists, by which education and advancement were as open to honest poverty seeking a maintenance by labour, as to wealth and rank. Let the juries who find on their oaths that scores of pounds' worth of cigars are reasonable necessaries for young college students, think of this, if they can think.

[2]

Let it be remembered that we are not told that Newton, when very young, took greatly to anything except arts of construction.

[3]

The status pupillaris lasts about seven years, that is, until the degree of Master of Arts is taken.

[4]

"A friend of mine here, that hath an excellent genius to these things, brought me . . . some papers. . . . which I suppose will please you." And again, some days after, "I am glad my friend's paper gives you so much satisfaction; his name is Mr. Newton, a Fellow of our College, and very young <83> (being but the second year Master of Arts), but of an extraordinary genius and proficiency in these things."

[5]

First, the committee consisted of Halley, Jones, De Moivre, and Machin, Newton's friends, and mathematicians; Brook Taylor, a mathematician, but not then otherwise known except as a friend of Keill, the accused party; Robarts, Hill, Burnet, Aston, and Arbuthnot, not known as mathematicians, but the two latter intimate personal friends of Newton; and Bonet, the Prussian minister. To call this a judicial committee would be to throw a great slur on the Society. Secondly, the names of the committee were never published with their report, which would have been anything but creditable, if that report had been a judgment: but if the committee were only counsel for Newton's case it mattered not who they were. Thirdly, the Society had committed itself to Newton's side, by hearing his statement, and thereupon directing Keill to write the second letter in the controversy, and to "set the matter in a just light:" the only light they had sought being that which Newton himself could give, Fourthly, Burnet wrote to John Bernoulli while the matter was pending, stating in express terms — not that the Royal Society was inquiring — but that it was busy proving that Leibnitz might have seen Newton's letters. Fifthly, De Moivre, as appears by the statement of an intimate friend, considered himself, by merely joining that committee, as drawn out of the neutrality which he had till then observed: which shows that he did not consider himself a juryman. Sixthly, no notice was given to Leibnitz of the proceeding, still less an invitation to produce documents on his own side. All these things put together show that the committee was not judicial, nor meant to be so, nor asserted to be so on the part of the Society. If any one will have it that it was so, he must needs, we think, hold that it was one of the most unfair transactions which ever took place.

[6]

A parcel (collectio) of extracts from Gregory's letters are found in the handwriting of Collins, with a memorandum by Collins that they were to be sent to Leibniz and returned by him: with a letter to Oldenburg, desiring him to send them: no mention of any one but Gregory in either memorandum or letter. With the parcel is this letter to Collins: what reason the Committee have for supposing this letter belonged to the parcel they do not say: they do not even say whether it was a separate paper or not. The papers of dead mathematicians, after going through the hands of executors, are, we suspect, not always tied up exactly in the order they were untied. Whether the parcel is otherwise known to have found its way to Oldenburg than from the intention expressed in the memorandum, we are not told — nor whether Oldenburg sent it to Paris — nor whether, having arrived at Paris, it was sent on to Hanover: and finally they state, without adding how they came to know it, that it was sent to Leibniz, June 26, 1676. If the letter belonged to the parcel, and if the parcel were sent to Olden <93> burg, and if Oldenburg sent it to Paris, and if his Paris correspondent sent it to Hanover, and if it arrived safe, and if Leibnitz, meaning to make an unfair use of it, was unwise enough to return this evidence against himself — the case of the Committee is good, with only one more if; that is, if the letter contained anything new to the purpose, which we think it palpably does not. That is to say, the letter itself is only what any strong mathematician might have drawn from Barrow and Fermat, who are almost the joint inventors of Fluxions, if that letter contained them. It is worth the remembering that Collins was not likely to tie up letters miscellaneously: he was a regular accountant, a methodical writer on and practiser of book-keeping, and a man of business. For aught we know, he may lie unquiet in his grave to this day, under the imputation of having sent a parcel which contained a paper neither mentioned in the docket nor in the letter of advice. Perhaps he never sent it at all: would not this methodical man have written on the parcel the date of its return?

[7]

Montague was deeply attached, says Sir David Brewster, to Newton's half-niece, Catherine Barton, to whom he left a large part of his fortune. Mrs. Barton, to use Sir D. Brewster's words, "though she did not escape the censures of her contemporaries, was regarded by those who knew her as a woman of strict honour and virtue." Sir D. Brewster, who copies the words from the 'Biographia Britannica', declines in his reverence for all that belonged to Newton (a feeling with which we have more sympathy than our readers will give us credit for), to state the whole case. — After the death of Montague's wife, he was disappointed in a second marriage which he projected, "which was the less to be regretted as he had some time before cast his eye upon a niece of his friend Sir Isaac Newton, to be the superintendent of his domestic affairs. This gentlewoman . . . was then a celebrated toast, being young, beautiful, and gay, so that she did not escape censure, which was however passed upon her very undeservedly, since we are well assured she was a woman of strict honour and virtue. 'Tis certain she was very agreeable to his Lordship in every particular." . . . No wonder she did not escape censure, especially when the legacy left by Lord Halifax is left, to use his own words, "as a token of the sincere love, affection, and esteem I have long had for her person, and as a small recompence for the pleasure and happiness I have had in her conversation." And <97> all this from an apologist: what, then, was the truth? On reviewing this note, we think it right to add, that the statement that there were feelings of love between the parties (which, if true, puts their relation to one another beyond any reasonable doubt) is not from the author here cited, but from Sir D. Brewster, who does not give his authority.

[8]

Sir D. Brewster represents Newton as having a very scanty income before he gained his office in the Mint. But in fact he had from his college board and lodging (both of the best) and the stipend of his fellowship: from the university the salary of his professorship: and from his patrimony about 100l. a-year. He could not have had less than 250l. a-year over and above board and lodging: which, in those days, was a very good provision for an unmarried man, and would not be a bad one now.

[9]

Nor is it possible for man to be nearer to God: the last line of Halley's verses on the Principia.

[10]

These names are bandied about in vituperative discussions, until they are so misused that the chances are many readers will need explanation of them. An Arian believes in the finite pre-existence of Jesus Christ, before his appearance on earth: a Socinian believes him to be a man, who did not exist before his appearance on earth, but who is still a proper object of prayer: a Humanitarian, with all others who come under the general name of Unitarian (the personal unity of the Deity being a common tenet of all), believes him to be a man, and not an object of prayer.

[11]

This is strange; and if such had been Whiston's own opinion, we should not have hesitated to conclude that he had misinterpreted some civil decliner of controversy. But Whiston expressly states himself to have no such opinion. That he would intentionally utter a falsehood we believe to be out of the question.

[12]

The testimony of Whiston is in his memoirs: that of Haynes is less direct. The Unitarian minister, Richard Baron, who was a friend of Haynes, states the preceding as having passed in conversation between him and Haynes. The statement is made in the preface of the first volume of his collection of tracts, called 'A Cordial for Low Spirits' (three volumes, London, 1763, third edition 12mo.), published under the name of Thomas Gordon. This is not primary evidence like that of Whiston; and it loses force by the circumstance that in the posthumous work which Mr. Haynes left on the disputed points (and which was twice printed) there is no allusion to it. But those who weigh testimony will of course take into consideration its amount of corroborative force. And a great many writers on the Antitrinitarian side deserve blame for not stating distinctly that it is only a testimony to a testimony: Baron was a man against whose character for truth we never heard anything, <111> but the chances of misapprehension increase very rapidly with the number of steps, in the communication of oral tradition.

[13]

Though aware that we should have many results of bias to encounter, we had hoped that we should have got through our task without having to expose absolute and fraudulent falsification. Since writing what is in the text, we have obtained the loan of the edition of 1753, which is scarce compared with that of 1749. The Biogr. Brit. informs us (p. 3241) that in pages 178, 249, 250 of Whiston's Memoirs, edition of 1753, 8vo., we shall find the justification of these words: "Mr. Whiston, who represented Sir Isaac as an Arian, which he so much resented that he would not suffer him to be a member of the Royal Society while he was President." We look, and in p. 178 we find that Whiston states Newton to be an Arian, and in pages 249 and 250 we find that Newton excluded Whiston from the Royal Society, for which the reason Whiston gives is that Newton could not bear contradiction, in the words we have quoted in another part of this article. The biographer distinctly implies that he is giving, not his own reason, but Whiston's reason. And, having diligently compared the editions of 1749 and 1753 (the latter of which had some additions, by which the false biographer hoped to gain credit from those who looked at the former), we find that the paragraphs cited only differ as follows: In the first, 1749 has Revelation, 1753 has Revelation. The former has "and friendly address to the Baptists" (pages 14, 15), which the latter has not. In the second, 1749 has "desire", and 1753 has "desires" (a little instance, by the way, of the disappearance of the old English subjunctive), and the former has "through confutation," when the latter has "thorough confutation." Sir D. Brewster (p. 284) has copied the false biographer without verifying the reference — a common, but a dangerous practice. It was a mere accident that we went to the Biogr. Brit., for we distrust it from old acquaintance on all matters connected with Newton. We do not know at this moment that the false biographer, as we call him, is the original falsifier: but he must bear the blame <112> for the present. We might have had to leave the explanation to Sir D. Brewster: for he who copies a reference without verification, and without stating that he copies, must take the responsibility of that reference. But as it stands, we need not say that Sir D. Brewster is as clear in this instance from the imputation of intentionally misleading his reader, as those could wish who respect his character and admire his labours: among the number of whom we desire to place ourselves. And his candour will lead him to acknowledge that he has had a happy escape from an imminent danger of misconstruction, with no blame to those who made it.

[14]

Protestant writers, we mean; the reading contended for by Newton in the second instance has been that of Catholics from the time of Jerome.

[15]

Dr. Chalmers, for example, states Newton to have "abetted" the leading doctrine of the Unitarians: whether upon the evidence of this writing only, or the general evidence, does not precisely appear: probably upon the former alone. The author of the life in the Biographia Britannica does not mention these letters. But it appears by the testimony of Le Clerc and Wetstein, that Locke sent them to Le Clerc, who did not know their author. The possessors of Newton's papers never published them until an incomplete edition had appeared abroad.

[16]

Sir D. Brewster, to whom the admirers of Newton have much obligation, and from whom they expect more, in the larger life on which he is known to be engaged, argues from these words, which he quotes formally, that Newton received the Trinity. But, having the work before him, he should also have destroyed the effect of the following words of Newton: — "He [Cyprian] does not say the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, as it is now in the 7th verse, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as it is in Baptism, the place from which they tried at first to derive the Trinity." We never were quite satisfied till we saw this passage. We found the Trinitarian writers evidently shy of the question: and the Anti-trinitarians as evidently laying such an undue stress on Mr. Haynes's testimony, or rather Mr. Baron's testimony to Mr. Haynes's testimony, as made us suspect that our authorities on both sides were not fully satisfied in their own minds. But we hold it to be out of the question that a Trinitarian could have written the words in our italics. That many would not admit the baptismal form in itself to be a proof of the doctrine, is known; but what Trinitarian ever talked of a "they" who tried a text to prove the doctrine, "at first," implying that they failed, and then went to others: <114> the clear implication being that he thought they had the doctrine before they tried any texts. Again, there is the following. Speaking of the manuscript on which Erasmus at last introduced I John v. 7 into his text, he says that the English, "when they had got the Trinity into his edition, threw by their manuscript (if they had one) as an almanac out of date." Now most of our readers are Trinitarians, and know whether this is the way in which those who hold that doctrine speak of it. The citations above are from Horsley's Newton.

When M. Biot said that there was absolutely nothing in Newton's writings which was other than ortodox, he must have meant in the writings which he had seen. This of course may have been the case. Moreover, what is more absurd than to argue from his silence that a man does not hold an opinion for which he might be ruined and imprisoned, or, up to 1699, even hanged?

[17]

We cannot trace, in Newton's character, an acquired failing; nothing but the manifestations of the original disposition due to different circumstances.

© 2022 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL - newtonproject@history.ox.ac.uk

Privacy Statement

  • University of Oxford
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC