Newton-related Papers of John Maynard Keynes

Anyone interested in the fate of Newton’s manuscripts in the wake of the Sotheby Sale of his non-scientific papers will be captivated by the extraordinary material published here for the first time. In addition to numerous papers relating to John Maynard Keynes’s purchase of Newton documents, there is a mass of information in this archive relating both to Keynes’s own research on Newton, and also to the genesis of his famous paper ‘Newton the Man’. Great respect is due to Keynes for his foresight in collecting the papers now at King’s College, Cambridge. Equally worthy of notice is the fact that after 1939 he was able to pay such close attention to Newtoniana while simultaneously performing vital war work.

The archive is divided into three parts. JMK-67-PP-58 contains all the papers and correspondence connected to his business with leading dealers of the day, including C.A. Stonehill, Henry Sotheran, Pickering & Chatto, Bertram Rota, James Tregaskis, Maggs, Gabriel Wells, Sotheby’s, Bernard Quaritch, Heffers, Emmanuel Fabius and perhaps most significantly, Abraham Yahuda. As stated in the general introduction to the JMK collection, we will shortly be putting online Yahuda’s private Newton-related papers. JMK-67-PP-61 starts with correspondence from 1939 with the Master of Trinity College Cambridge, (the ageing J.J. Thomson) surrounding Keynes’s gift to Trinity College of Newton’s famous calculation of a new way of determining the dividend to be paid to various ranks of Trinity fellow. Keynes also found time to make his own transcription of the piece, which he also sent. There is also fascinating correspondence from early 1943 with his relative A.V. Hill, a secretary of the Royal Society, over what gifts to give the USSR in recognition of the Soviets’ efforts to hold a conference in celebration of Newton’s tercentenary (the Great Man being born a year later under the Gregorian calendar). Not long after Keynes solved a tricky problem for the Society by locating a first edition of the Principia in Cambridge to send to the Soviet Union (for £100!!), the archive shows him being busily involved in helping Trinity College (now under the mastership of G.M. Trevelyan) obtain Newton’s library by dint of support from the Pilgrim Trust.

In many ways the richest material is in JMK-67-PP-60. Here is Keynes’s correspondence on various topics with people such as A.V. Hill and J. Griffith Davies from the Royal Society, W.W. Rouse Ball (this an early letter from 1921), Viscount Lymington (over Lymington’s desire to purchase back some lots sold at the 1936 sale), P. de Villamil (who had just written a book, ‘Newton the man’, which boasted a foreword by Einstein), N. E. Ashworth Underwood (from the history section of the Royal Society of Medicine), D.M. Matheson (from the National Trust) and G. Findlay Shirras (Dean of Economics at the University College of the South West, Exeter). There are a couple of pages of fascinating notes relating to JC Adams’ decoding (in 1876) of Newton’s Whitsuntide 1662 confessions, deciphered from Sheltonian shorthand as Adams discharged his duty as compiler of the Portsmouth Papers between 1872 and 1888. The confessions materials are currently held in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and a transcription of them is available on the Newton Project web site. After this there are many pages of typescript notes from Voltaire and more substantially, from the uniquely informative Conduit papers that Keynes had purchased after the Sotheby Sale. There then follows a number of marked up catalogues and articles, to be crowned with the original typescript version of ‘Newton the Man’ (the same title, incidentally, as de Villamil’s book) -- Keynes’s great essay on the role of alchemy in Newton’s thought. Read and enjoy.

The Newton Project would like to thank King’s College Cambridge, and especially Peter Jones and Ros Moad for their support in making this online publication possible. Special thanks go to Lizzie Pridmore for taking these images over the summer of 2003.

Start browsing the John Maynard Keynes papers JMK-67-PP-58, JMK-67-PP-60 and JMK-67-PP-61.

© 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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