Catalogue Entry: OTHE00094

'Review of Sir David Brewster's Life of Newton'

Author: Augustus De Morgan

Source: ‘'Review of Sir David Brewster's Life of Newton'’, North British Review, No. 23 (1855), pp. 307-38.

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


The members of the French Institute receive a part of their emoluments at the Board, and the quotum of each day on which any one is absent is forfeited. This insures good attendance, and we have, on pay-day, seen men of profound science, during the memoirs and discussions of the assembled Academy, practising the first rule of arithmetic, called numeration, upon rouleaux of five-franc pieces. To this it must be added that the Institute has much patronage, and constant attendance is necessary to keep up influence and connexion.


In reference to both explanations, the following is remarkable. Just after Leibnitz made his publication of 1684, a young Scotchman, Craig, then of Cambridge, took it up, and published a short tract upon the quadrature of curves, in which he uses, with high praise, the differential calculus of Leibnitz. He had been in communication with Newton, had asked for help in this very subject of quadrature, and had received the Binomial theorem, then unprinted. But not one word did Newton drop to the effect that he also had a method like that of Leibnitz, and that he and Leibnitz had communicated seven or eight years before. Craig says, long after, in 1718, that Newton examined the manuscript: it is clear, however, that his memory is at fault here, and that it was the second edition (1693) which Newton examined. Are we to believe that Newton was brooding over the matter of the two explanations, at a time when he allowed his young friend to proclaim Leibnitz as the author of the new calculus, with that negation of himself which was implied in acknowledgment of assistance on another point? We rather suspect that, at the time, when the geometrical form which is so prominent in the Principia, then on the anvil, was in his mind, he greatly undervalued his own fluxions. And we think they never would have been heard of if the mighty force which the calculus had developed by 1693 had not shown him how much there was to contend for.


Conduitt tells us that his wife lived with her uncle nearly twenty years, before and after her marriage: it is believed that the Conduitts resided with Newton from the very marriage. Newton lived in London thirty years; therefore, ten or more of those years his niece did not live with him. The annuity was bought in 1706 and Halifax died in 1715. Miss Barton, being sixteen years old when Newton came to London, must have finished her school education shortly afterwards. Either Newton did not invite his favourite niece, whom he had educated, to live with him for ten years afterwards, or there is a gap which tallies most remarkably with the hypothesis of her residence under the roof of Halifax. But, as a presumption against the first supposition, there is extant a short letter from Newton to his niece, written in 1700, which by the contents seems written to an inmate of his house, absent for change of air.

Newton has been charged with avarice; of which there is really no proof, unless his dying worth more than £30,000 be one. But Conduitt was in easy circumstances, and his wife also: their daughter was said to have had £60,000. Supposing, as is probable, that they bore their fair share of the joint expenses, Newton might have saved nearly all his income for the last ten years of his life.


The original letter, written shortly after 1702, is copied in the handwriting of Conduitt, who did not become a member of Newton's family till 1717. Say that Lady Norris sent it to Mrs. Conduitt, to amuse her, and that Conduitt copied it.

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Professor Rob Iliffe
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