Catalogue Entry: OTHE00096

Newton: His Friend: and His Niece

Author: Augustus De Morgan

Source: Newton: His Friend: and His Niece (London: 1885).

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]

[1] 'J'avais cru, dans ma jeunesse, que Newton avait fait sa fortune par son extrême mérite. Je m'étais imaginé que la cour et la ville de Londres l'avaient nommé par acclamation grand maître des monnaies du royaume. Point du tout. Isaac Newton avait une nièce assez aimable, nommée Madame Conduit; elle plut beaucoup au grand trésorier, Halifax. Le calcul infinitésimal et la gravitation ne lui auraient servi de rien sans une jolie nièce.'

[2] We want some way of distinguishing ladies which shall be shorter than a full and additional description of their husbands. I have met persons who had a vague idea that Lady (Lord) Holland wrote the 'Life' in question. It is not to be wondered at. Sydney Smith was a visitor at Holland House, the lady of which was well known for her talents; in a couple of generations it may be the common story.


This Smith was certainly a loose talker. He gave accounts of his uncle which contain only what he might have found in print, and some of it palpably false. He represented himself as having been left £500 a year in land, though all the world knew that Newton died intestate, and that a Newton was heir-at-law. He had his share of the money, as one of the next-of-kin. He represented himself to his clerical friend as author of the song beginning:

'Young Orpheus tickled his harp so well,

With a twinkum, twankum, twang,' etc.

This is possible, but not probable, for Smith was born about 1700, and the song was so well established in 1729 that the tune to which it ,vent was referred to as the air of 'Old Orpheus tickled,' etc. One of the airs in 'Folly,' Gay's second part of the 'Beggar's' Opera (1729), which was refused licence on political grounds, is described as to this tune. In 1705-18 there were two masques and a ballet, as we now call it, on the subject of 'Orpheus;' and this is probably the period of the song.

[4] For some information on this subject, see Notes and Queries, vol. iii. 2nd ser., pp. 351, 392.

[5] A letter given by Sir David Brewster, in which Sir I. Newton proposed marriage to Lady Norris, a rich widow. – Ed.

[6] This was a letter of 1707, written to recommend an undertaker for the funeral of a distant relation of both parties.

[7] Cole ('English Dictionary,' 1724) has 'Conversation: a being conversant, keeping company.'

[8] In the Biographia Britannica (Art. 'Montague'), all Pittis's words and the whole of the codicil are given in large type in the text. This is very significant; for those who know the work would think it five hundred to one that the codicil would have been put in a note, like the first codicil.

[9] Take notice also, that the strong impression which so good a testimony would have made on my mind was no source of assurance to me, for I never knew of Dean Peacock's opinions until my own had been published.

[10] It should be noted that the four misspellings in 'Anne Ascough' are found in Fontenelle's 'Eloge' of Newton — the biography which a Frenchman would naturally consult.

© 2024 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 -

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