NEWTON, Sir Isaac, a distinguished mathematician and natural philosopher, was born at Woolsthorpe, a picturesque hamlet about half a mile to the west of Colsterworth, in Lincolnshire, and some six miles to the south of Grantham. His birth, which was premature, took place on the 25th of December, O.S. 1642. His father, Mr Isaac Newton, was the proprietor of Woolsthorpe to the extent of about L.30 per annum, and farmed it with his own hands. His mother was Harriet Ayscough, the daughter of Mr James Ayscough, of Market-Overton, in Rutlandshire. They had been married only a few months when Mr Newton died, leaving his wife in a state of pregnancy. The posthumous child was so small that 'they might have put him into a quart mug,' and no expectation was entertained of his continuing to live. 'Providence, however,' as his biographer observes, 'had otherwise decreed; and that frail tenement, which seemed scarcely able to imprison its immortal mind, was destined to enjoy a vigorous maturity, and to survive even the average term of human existence.' Mrs Newton possessed a small property in Leicestershire, about three miles from Woolsthorpe, which raised her annual income to about L.80.

In consequence of the marriage of Mrs Newton to the Rev. Mr Smith of North Witham, she left her son Isaac under the charge of her mother. He received his early education at two day schools at Skedington and Stoke; and in his twelfth year he went to the public school at Grantham, taught by Mr Stokes, and was boarded at the house of Mr Clark, an apothecary. Here his attention was less occupied with his studies than with the mechanical amusements in which he spent all his leisure hours. Mo <176> dels of wind-mills, water-clocks, and self-moving carriages, were executed by him in succession; and he contrived to amuse his schoolfellows with paper kites and paper lanthorns, which he raised to great heights in the air.

Having despaired of improving the refracting telescope, Newton directed his attention to the reflecting one. At this time Gregory's Optica Promota, published in 1663, fell into his hands; and, in considering the construction of the Gregorian telescopes there described, 'he found the disadvantages of them so great,' 'that he altered the design of them, and placed the eye-glass at the side of the tube rather than at the middle.' On this altered principle he executed a reflecting telescope with his own hands in the year 1668. In 1671 he executed a better one, which was shown to the king, and presented to the Royal Society, in whose custody it still remains.

Although Newton delivered a course of lectures on optics at Cambridge in 1669, and 1671, containing an account of his discoveries respecting the different refrangibility of the rays of light, yet the Royal Society was not acquainted with them till 1672. On the 23d of December 1671, he was proposed as a member of that body by Dr Seth Ward, bishop of Sarum, and he was elected on the 11th of January 1672. On the 6th of February he communicated to Mr Oldenburg his discoveries respecting light, which he regarded as 'the oddest, if not the most considerable, detection which had hitherto been made in the operations of nature.'

From the play-things of his childhood, Newton made a rapid transition to higher amusements. The daily movements of the sun were traced upon the walls and roofs of the buildings at Woolsthorpe, and by means of pins and lines he indicated the hours and half hours of his rude dials; and though he was now employed in tending the cattle, and going to the market at Grantham, yet he was often found studying mathematics under a hedge, or gleaning fragments of science from old books in Mr Clark's garret at Grantham. This inattention of the duties of the farm increased with his years, and his mother came to the resolution of giving him an academical education. After the preparation of a few months at Grantham School, he was sent to Cambridge, where he was admitted to Trinity College on the 5th of June 1660, in the eighteenth year of his age. He was admitted a subsizer in 1661, a bachelor of arts in 1665, a junior fellow in 1667, and master of arts in 1668. Young Newton's attention was first turned to the study of mathematics by a passion for judicial astrology. He considered the propositions of Euclid as self-evident truths; and in the geometry of Descartes, the Miscellanies of Schooten, the Clavis of Oughtred, and the Arithmetic of Infinites of Wallis, he acquired his first knowledge of the mathematics. Kepler's Optics and Saunderson's Logic were amongst the books which he carefully studied, and upon which he wrote comments; and so rapid was his progress in knowledge, that he was considered as being more deeply versed in several branches than his own tutor. In the year 1664 he purchased a prism for the purpose of studying Descartes' Theory of Colours; but he does not seem to have made any special use of it. In 1666 he purchased another prism; and early in 1668 three additional prisms, which were no doubt those which he used in his experiments. He had in 1666 applied himself to the grinding of 'optic glasses of other figures than spherical;' and finding that there were other causes than the imperfect converging of rays to a focus which rendered refracting telescopes imperfect, he was led to inquire into the causes of the colours produced by lenses and prisms, and to make those splendid discoveries respecting the different refrangibility of the rays of light, the history and nature of which has been given in the article on Optics.

No sooner was it communicated to the world that white light consists of seven different colours, having different degrees of refrangibility, than a crowd of obscure individuals assailed, not only his conclusions, but the accuracy of the experiments from which they had been derived. Dr Hooke and Huygens attacked them on different grounds; but Newton, in a letter to Oldenburg, dated the 11th of June 1672, silenced the arguments of his opponents, and established his general doctrine upon an impregnable basis.

The colours of thin plates, first observed by Boyle, and studied by Hooke, had occupied the special attention of Newton. The results of his inquiries were laid before the Royal Society on the 7th of December 1675, and about twelve years afterwards the theory of fits was completed, and applied to the explanation of the permanent colours of natural bodies. These researches, however, including his experiments on the inflexion of light, which he gives only as an imperfect fragment, were not published till 1704, when his treatise on Optics appeared. For a full account of these discoveries the reader is referred to the article Optics.

The first idea of gravity as the cause of the celestial motions occurred to Newton in the year 1666, when sitting along in the garden of Woolsthorpe. Conjecturing that it might extend as far as the moon, he was led to confirm the conjecture by calculation, and thus to establish the doctrine of universal gravitation, 'that every particle of matter is attracted by, or gravitates to, every other particle of matter, with a force inversely proportional to the squares of the distance.' This great discovery, and its application to the movements of the planetary system, as well as to that of the comets, was published in 1686, in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, a work which, to use the words of Newton's biographer, 'is memorable, not only in the annals of one science or one country, but will form an epoch in the history of the world, and will ever be regarded as the brightest page in the records of human reason.' This remarkable production was speedily circulated over Europe; and although the discoveries which it contained were for a while opposed by national as well as personal jealousies, yet the Newtonian philosophy made rapid progress, and finally supplanted the rival systems of Aristotle and Descartes.

As early as the year 1666, Newton had discovered the binomial theorem and the method of fluxions; and although he had not communicated this discovery to any of his friends, yet he had clearly described the principle, and exhibited the application of his method, in his Analysis per Equationes numero Terminorum infinitas, a work which he had communicated to Dr Barrow in June 1669, and which was not published till 1701, nearly half a century after it was written. Our readers are well aware that the discovery of fluxions was claimed by Leibnitz, and that the controversy which sprung out of this claim is scarcely yet at an end.

From the year 1669, when Newton was appointed to succeed Dr Barrow as Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, till 1688, he led a secluded life within the walls of his college; but events now occurred which drew him from retirement, and placed him conspicuously on the stage of public life. James II., desirous of re-establishing the Catholic faith as the national religion, had begun to assail the privileges of his Protestant subjects. He ordered Father Francis, an ignorant Benedictine monk, to be received at Cambridge as a master of arts, and the oaths of allegiance and supremacy to be dispensed with. The university resisted this illegal mandate, and chose <177> nine delegates to defend their independence. Having joined in resisting the wishes of the court, Newton was chosen as one of the delegates; and such was their firmness, and the argumentative weight of their representations, that the king was led to abandon his design. Newton's popularity was extended by the success of the delegates, and he was elected member for the university in 1688, along with Sir Robert Sawyer, having beaten Mr Finch by only five votes. Newton sat in the convention parliament from January 1689 till its dissolution in February 1690.

In the discharge of his parliamentary duties, he no doubt experienced the unsuitableness of his income to his new position. The limited means of his relations, and his own generous disposition, had exhausted his scanty resources, and he and his friends naturally looked to some patronage on the part of the government which might enable him to pursue his scientific researches, unembarrassed by those physical wants which have ever been the scourge of genius, and especially of that variety of it which is called forth by patient and continuous inquiry. There is ample evidence that unsuccessful applications had been made for this purpose, and the vexation and disappointment which this ingratitude produced, combined with other causes, seems to have thrown Newton into a state of nervous irritability, which threatened to paralyze even his mighty intellect. It is difficult to trace with distinctness the succession of causes which at this time contributed to disturb his serenity; but it appears that, about the end of 1692, or early in 1693, his chemical laboratory had been burned, and a number of manuscripts destroyed; and on another occasion, several valuable manuscripts were consumed by a candle which he had left burning whilst he went to chapel. These losses seem to have affected him very deeply, and 'he was so troubled thereat, that every one thought he would have run mad, and he was not himself for months after.' Another account of these events, communicated by one Colin or Collins to Huygens, represents Newton as having actually become insane, and unable to understand his own writings; and, relying upon the accuracy of this statement, M. Biot and other French philosophers considered his insanity as the reason why Newton had ceased to make scientific discoveries. They even went so far as to ascribe his study of theology to this enfeebled state of mind, and thus to deprive our faith of that support which it derived from having been illustrated and defended by so great an expositor and champion.

That the mind of Newton was sound and active during the period when it is said to have been seriously disturbed, may be proved by many undoubted facts. In this interval he composed his four celebrated letters to Dr Bentley on the existence of a Deity; letters which evince a power of thought, and a serenity of mind, incompatible even with the slightest obscuration of his faculties. The first of these letters was written on the 10th of December 1692, the second on the 17th of January 1692-3, the third on the 25th of February, and the fourth on the 11th of February 1693-4. In 1692 we find him also engaged in mathematical researches on the quadrature of curves, and in observations on halos; and in November and December 1693 he was occupied in discussing mathematical questions with his correspondents. On the 1st of September 1694 Newton visited Flamsteed at Greenwich, and he was at that time occupied with the difficult and profound subject of the lunar theory. That Newton's health was affected from the middle of 1692 to the middle of 1693, is quite certain; and that his nervous system was shaken by loss of sleep and appetite, is mentioned by himself. Exaggerated rumours had reached his friends in London, and Mr Pepys was led to inquire of his friends at Cambridge if these rumours of a discomposure of his mind had any foundation. Mr J. Millington, who, we believe, was tutor of Magdalene College, returned the following answer: -- 'I was, I must confess, very much surprised at the inquiry you were pleased to make by your nephew about the message that Mr Newton made the ground of his letter to you, for I was very sure I never either received from you or delivered to him any such; and therefore I went immediately to wait upon him, with a design to discourse with him about the matter; but he was out of town, and since I have not seen him, till, upon the 28th, I met him at Huntingdon, where, upon his own accord, and before I had time to ask him any questions, he told me that he had writt to you a very odd letter, at which he was much concerned; added, that it was in a distemper that much seized his head, and that kept him awake for about five nights together, which upon occasion he desired I would represent to you, and beg your pardon, he being very much ashamed he should be so rude to a person for whom he hath so great an honour. He is now very well, and though I fear he is under some small degree of melancholy, yet I think there is no reason to suspect it hath at all touched his understanding, and I hope never will; and so I am sure all ought to wish that love learning, or the honour of our nation, which it is a sign how much it is looked after, when such a person as Mr Newton lyes neglected by those in power.'

In the beginning of the year 1692, Charles Montague, Lord Monmouth, and Mr Locke, were exerting themselves to obtain some appointment for Newton. In his letters to Locke, Newton himself refers, with a considerable degree of feeling, to these exertions. He conceived that Charles Montague, under the influence of some old grudge, had been false to him, and that there had been a design to sell <178> him an office; and it is to the failure of these attempts that Mr Millington alludes with such just severity in the letter which we have quoted.

Newton was now in the fifty-third year of his age; and whilst those of his own standing at the university had been appointed to high stations in the church, or to lucrative offices in the state, he still remained without any mark of national gratitude. His fellow-labourers in science in every part of Europe were enjoying the favour and protection of their respective sovereigns, who had even invited foreign philosophers to their capitals to enjoy the liberality which they had extended to their own. Foreigners viewed with astonishment the treatment of Newton by his own sovereign, and the French king had the nobleness of mind to offer him, through Cassini, a liberal pension.

But this blot upon the English name was at last removed by Charles Montague, when, in the year 1694, he was appointed chancellor of the exchequer. He had previously consulted Mr Newton upon the subject of the recoinage; and when Mr Overton, the warden of the mint, was made a commissioner of customs, he served both his friend and his country by appointing Newton to that important office. 'I am very glad,' says he, 'that at last I can give you a good proof of my friendship, and the esteem the king has of your merits. Mr Overton, the warden of the mint, is made one of the commissioners of the customs, and the king has promised me to make Mr Newton warden of the mint. The office is the most proper for you. 'Tis the chief office in the mint; 'tis worth five or six hundred pounds per annum, and has not too much business to require more attendance than you can spare.'

The chemical and mathematical knowledge of Newton proved of great use in carrying on the recoinage, which was completed in about two years; and such was the zeal and devotion with which Newton discharged the laborious duties of this office, that he was appointed, in 1697, to the mastership of the mint, which was worth between twelve and fifteen hundred pounds per annum. In this situation he drew up a table of assays of foreign coins, and composed an official report on the coinage. Having retained his professorship at Cambridge whilst he was warden, he now appointed Mr Whiston as his deputy, with all the emoluments of the chair.

In the same year Newton was elected a foreign associate of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris. In 1701 he was elected one of the members of parliament for the University of Cambridge. In 1703 he was raised to the presidency of the Royal Society of London, to which he was annually re-elected during the remaining twenty-five years of his life.

When Queen Anne and the court visited Cambridge on the 16th of April 1705, she conferred the honour of knighthood on Mr Newton.

On the dissolution of parliament in 1705, Sir Isaac was again a candidate for the representation of the university; but he was beaten by a great majority. He was supported by all the resident members; but being a whig in politics, and the cry of the church being in danger having been raised on that occasion, he became the victim of the ignorance and fanaticism of the non-resident constituency.

The first edition of the Principia having been sold off, Dr Bentley and his other friends had, for a considerable time, been urging Sir Isaac to prepare a new edition. The duties of the mint would not permit him to devote much time to such a task; but he willingly complied with the request of his friends, when Mr Roger Cotes, Plumian professor of astronomy at Cambridge, undertook to superintend its publication. Newton promised to send his own revised copy to Mr Cotes in July 1709; but delays took place, and the work was not completed till the spring of 1713. Nearly three hundred letters passed between Sir Isaac and Cotes, in which the various alterations are discussed; and this correspondence, at least the letters of Newton to Cotes, has been carefully preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.

When George I. succeeded to the throne of Great Britain, Sir Isaac became an object of interest at court. The Princess of Wales, afterwards queen-consort to George II. took great pleasure in conversing with him, and in corresponding with Leibnitz. Having one day mentioned to her royal highness a new system of chronology which he had composed whilst resident at Cambridge, she requested Sir Isaac, through the Abbé Conti, to give her a copy of it. He accordingly drew up an abstract of it from the loose papers to which it had been committed, and sent it to the princess for her private use alone. He afterwards allowed a copy of it to be given to the Abbé Conti, on the condition of its not being communicated to any person whatever. The abbé, however, forgetting his obligation, communicated it to M. Fréret, a learned antiquary in Paris, who translated it, and endeavoured to refute it. It was printed early in 1725, under the title of Abrégé de Chronologie de M. Le Chevalier Newton, fait par lui-même, et traduit sur le Manuscrit Anglais. Upon receiving a copy of this work, Sir Isaac Newton printed, in the Philosophical Transactions for 1725, a paper, entitled Remarks on the Observations made on a Chronological Index of Sir Isaac Newton, translated into French by the observator, and published at Paris. In these remarks Sir Isaac charges the abbé with a breach of promise, and gave a triumphant answer to the objections which Fréret; and, in consequence of this controversy, Sir Isaac was induced to prepare his larger work, which was published in 1728, after his death, and entitled the Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms amended; to which is prefixed, a short Chronicle from the First Memory of Kings in Europe to the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great.

There is no part of Sir Isaac Newton's biography more remarkable than that which relates to his theological studies. From a very early period of his life Newton had seriously embarked on the study of theology. Previously to 1692 he was known by the appellation of an excellent divine, and it is well known that he had begun to study the subject of the prophecies before 1690; whereas, in order to show that his theological writings were the productions of his dotage, and subject to his supposed mental alienation, M. Biot has fixed their date between 1712 and 1719, between the seventieth and the seventy-fifth year of his age.

One of the most remarkable of Sir Isaac's theological productions is his Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of the Scripture, in a letter to a friend. This friend was Mr Locke, who received the letter in November 1690. Sir Isaac seems to have been then anxious for its publication; but as the effect of his argument was to deprive the Trinitarians of two passages in favour of the Trinity, he became alarmed at the probable consequences of such a step. He therefore requested Locke, who was then going to Holland, to get it translated into French, and published on the Continent. Being prevented from going to Holland, Locke copied the manuscript, and sent it, without Newton's name, to M. le Clerc, who received it before the 11th of April 1691. On the 20th of January 1692, Le Clerc announced to Locke his intention to publish the pamphlet in Latin; and upon intimating this to Sir Isaac, he entreated him 'to stop the translation and impression as soon as he could, for he designed to suppress them.' This was accordingly done; but le Clerc sent the manuscripts to the library of the Remonstrants, and it was afterwards <179> published at London in 1754, under the title of Two Letters from Sir Isaac Newton to M. le Clerc. This edition is imperfect, and in many places erroneous; and Dr Horsley has published a genuine one, which is in the form of a single letter to a friend, in the possession of the Reverend Dr Ekins, dean of Carlisle.

Sir Isaac Newton left behind him in manuscript a work entitled Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St John, which was published in London in 1733, in one volume 4to; and Four Letters addressed to Dr Bentley, containing some arguments in proof of a Deity, which were published by Mr Cumberland, the nephew of Dr Bentley, in 1756. Sir Isaac composed some other theological manuscripts which have not been published.

Sir Isaac Newton devoted much of his time to the study of chemistry; but the greater number of his experiments still remain in manuscript. His Tabula Quantitatum et Graduum Caloris contains a comparative scale of temperature from that of melting ice to that of a small kitchen coal fire. He wrote also another chemical paper, De Natura Acidorum, which has been published by Dr Horsley. Sir Isaac spent much time in the study of the writings of the alchemists; and the Rev. Mr Law informs us, that he had diligently studied the writings of Jacob Behmen, and that there were found amongst Sir Isaac's manuscripts copious abstracts from them in his own handwriting. He states also, that in the earlier part of his life, he and his relation Dr Newton of Grantham had put up furnaces and had wrought for several months in quest of the philosopher's tincture. These views are rendered more probable by the fact, that in the list of Newton's manuscripts published by Dr Hutton, and in the possession of the Earl of Portsmouth, there are many sheets in Sir Isaac's hand, of Flamsteed's Explication of Hieroglyphic Figures, and in another hand many sheets of William Yworth's Processus Mysterii Magni Philosophicus.

Amongst the inventions of Sir Isaac Newton we must enumerate his reflecting telescope, his reflecting microscope, a sextant similar to Hadley's, and his prismatic reflector, with plane and convex surfaces. We owe also to him some very interesting views on the decussation of the optic nerves, which were first published in Harris's Optics; a hypothesis respecting ether as the cause of light and gravity; and some experiments upon the excitation of electricity on glass.

The sale of the second edition of the Principia having been rapid, a third edition was called for in 1722. Roger Cotes had died in the prime of life, and therefore Newton engaged Dr Pemberton to superintend the new edition, which was published in 1726, with numerous alterations.

During the last twenty years of Sir Isaac's life, his beautiful and accomplished niece, Miss Catherine Barton, had managed his domestic concerns. She was the daughter of Mr Robert Barton of Brigstock, and of Hannah Smith, Newton's half-sister. She had been a great favourite of Charles Montague, earl of Halifax, who, at his death in 1715, bequeathed to her a very large portion of his fortune. This lady, who had been educated at Sir Isaac's expense, married Mr Conduit, and continued to reside with her husband in Sir Isaac's house until the time of his death.

In the year 1733, when he was eighty years old, he had been seized with an incontinence of urine, which was ascribed to stone. By great attention to diet and regimen he succeeded in keeping down this dreadful malady; but in1724, he passed a small stone, and for some month enjoyed a tolerable degree of health. In January 1725 he was seized with a violent cough and inflammation of the lungs, which induced him to reside at Kensington; and in the February of the same year he had a fit of gout both in his feet and hands, which produced a decided improvement in his general health. His duties at the Mint were discharged by Mr Conduit, and he therefore seldom went to London. Feeling himself well, he went to London on the 28th of February 1728 {sic}, to preside at a meeting of the Royal Society; but the fatigue which attended this duty brought on a violent return of his former complaint, and he returned to Kensington on the 4th of March, when Dr Mead and Dr Chesselden pronounced his disease to be the stone. He endured the sufferings of this complaint with wonderful patience and meekness. He seemed a little better on the 15th of March, and on the 18th he read the newspapers and conversed with Dr Mead; but at six o'clock in the evening he became insensible, and continued in that state till Monday the 20th of March, when he expired between one and two o'clock in the morning, the eighty-fifth year of his age. His body was removed to London, and on Tuesday the 28th of March it lay in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, and was thence conveyed to Westminster Abbey, where it was buried near the entrance into the choir, on the left hand. The pall was supported by the Lord Chancellor, the Dukes of Roxburghe and Montrose, and the Earls of Pembroke, Sussex, and Macclesfield, who were fellows of the Royal Society. The Bishop of Rochester performed the funeral service. The relations who inherited his personal estate devoted L.500 to the erection of a monument to his memory. It was finished in 1731, and was erected in the centre of the abbey. The following is the epitaph inscribed upon it:

Hic situs est

Isaacus Newton, Eques auratus,

Qui animi vi prope divina

Planetarum motus, figuras,

Cometarum semitas, Oceanique Æstus

Sua Mathesi facem præferente

Primus demonstravit;

Radiorum Lucis dissimilitudines

Colorumque inde nascentium proprietates

Quas nemo antea vel suspicatus erat, pervestigavit;

Naturæ, antiquitatis, S. Scripturæ

Sedulus, sagax, fidus interpres;

Dei opt. max. majestatem philosophia asseruit;

Evangelii simplicitatem moribus expressit.

Sibi gratulentur mortales, tale tantumque extitisse,

Humani Generis Decus

Natus xxv. Decemb. mdcxlii.; Obiit xx Mar.


In the beginning of the year 1731 a medal was struck at the Tower in honour of Sir Isaac Newton, bearing the motto, Felix cognoscere causas; and on the 4th of February 1755 a fine full-length state of him by Roubillac, executed in white marble, was erected in the antechapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, at the expense of Dr Robert Smith, the author of the Complete System of Optics. The pedestal bears the inscription

Qui genus humanum ingenio superavit;

an assertion which may be justly doubted, even by those who are the greatest admirers of Newton's genius.


The personal estate of Sir Isaac Newton amounted to about L.32,000. It was divided amongst his four nephews and four nieces of the half blood, the grandchildren of his mother by the Rev. Mr Smith. The family estates of Woolsthorpe and Sustern were bequeathed to John Newton, whose great-grandfather was Sir Isaac's uncle, by whom they were sold in 1732 to Mr Edmund Turnor of Stoke Rocheford. Sir Isaac bequeathed his estate at Kensington to Catherine, the only daughter of Mr Conduit, who afterwards married Mr Wallop, the eldest son of Lord Lymington, and subsequently Earl of Portsmouth. Sir Isaac was succeeded as warden and master of the mint by his nephew, Mr Conduit, who died in 1737.

In his social character Sir Isaac Newton was modest, and candid, and affable, accommodating himself to every class of society in which he moved. His humility was that of a philosopher who had experienced both the strength and the weakness of the human mind, and of a Christian who was deeply impressed with the unsatisfying nature of all earthly greatness. 'I do not know,' said he, a short time before his death, 'what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.' His religious and moral character were equally admirable. He was deeply versed in the knowledge of the Scriptures, and was not equalled in point of theological learning by any of the divines of his age. He was a great friend of religious toleration, and never scrupled to express his abhorrence of even the mildest species of religious persecution.

Sir Isaac was remarkable for his liberality upon all occasions. His charity was boundless, and he was in the habit of remarking, that those who gave away nothing till they died never gave at all. He wrote to the Provost of Edinburgh in 1724, offering L.20 annually to Mr Maclaurin, provided he became assistant to Mr James Gregory, professor of mathematics in the university. In 1719 he gave fifty guineas to the Rev. Mr Pound, who made some astronomical observations for his use; and in 1720 he gave him the like sum. He likewise bestowed large donations on the Ayscoughs, his relations.

In his personal appearance Sir Isaac was not above the middle size. He had 'a comely and gracious aspect, and a very lively and piercing eye.' He was short-sighted, but never wore spectacles, nor lost more than one tooth in his life. Bishop of Atterbury asserts, in opposition to this, that the lively and piercing eye did not belong to Sir Isaac during the last twenty years of his life. 'Indeed,' says he, 'in the whole air of his face and make there was nothing of that penetrating sagacity which appears in his compositions. He had something rather languid in his look and manner, which did not raise any good expectation in those who did not know him.'

The manor-house of Woolsthorpe, as well as every other memorial of Sir Isaac, has been preserved with religious care. Mr Turnor of Stoke Rocheford, the proprietor, put up, in 1798, a white marble tablet in the room where Sir Isaac was born, recording his birth and death, and bearing the celebrated lines of Pope:

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in Night;

God said, "Let Newton be," and all was Light.

The house still contains on its walls the two dials made by Newton himself, but without the styles. His second telescope is preserved in the library of the Royal Society; and his globe, universal ring dial, quadrant, compass, and a reflecting telescope said to have belonged to him, in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.

The manuscripts, correspondence, and other papers of Sir Isaac Newton, have been preserved in different collections. But the most important collection is the family one in the possession of the Earl of Portsmouth. They are deposited at Hursbourne {sic} Park, his lordship's seat in Hampshire, and have been very recently (in 1837) examined by H.A. Fellowes, Esq. the accomplished nephew of Lord Portsmouth, and by Sir David Brewster, who has been permitted to make use of them in composing Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton. In this examination much new and valuable information has been discovered relative to the early life of Sir Isaac, which had been collected by his nephew-in-law Mr Conduit, for the purpose of writing a life of him, which he was prevented from executing by his death in the year 1737. Many letters and papers of Newton are in the possession of the Earl of Macclesfield at Shirburn. These were found amongst the papers of William Jones, the friend of Sir Isaac, and the father of Sir William Jones. These papers have recently been put into the hands of Professor Rigaud of Oxford, who is now preparing them for publication.

About thirty-four of Newton's letters to Flamsteed are deposited in the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; but a large portion of the correspondence between Newton and Halley has recently been found out by Mr Baily in the possession of Mr Giles, a private gentleman in London, and in the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, along with various important documents intimately connected with the scientific history of that period. As the papers found in the observatory had been purchased by the Board of Longitude in 1771, the lords commissioners of the admiralty, on the recommendation of the board of visitors of the Royal Observatory, agreed to print them. They have been accordingly printed in a large quarto volume, under the superintendence of Mr Baily.

Doubts have been entertained by some, and openly expressed by others, relative to the propriety of publishing all the papers contained in this collection. Several of the letters of Flamsteed, and various parts of his autobiographical memoir, contain bitter and malignant attacks upon the character and conduct of Sir Isaac Newton, which, if they had been published during his life, or not long after it, might have been refuted on the authority of documentary and other evidence which cannot now be obtained. Fortunately for the memory of Sir Isaac Newton, his generous and noble character, his meek and gentle disposition, and his Christian forbearance and patience, form a secure shield against the reckless and wanton charges of his irritable and violent assailant. If reflections have been cast on the character of Newton by the animadversions of Flamsteed, the conduct of the latter has been exposed to a scrutiny which it may not be able to sustain; and the friends of Newton are reluctantly compelled to collect the opinions which contemporary writers had expressed of Flamsteed, in order to enable the public to form a just estimate of the testimony which he has borne against his fellow-labourer in science.

Those who wish to know more of the differences between Newton and Flamsteed, may consult the volume above mentioned, which is entitled An Account of the Rev. John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, compiled from his own manuscripts, and other authentic documents never before published; to which is added, his British Catalogue of Stars, corrected and enlarged, printed by order the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Lon <181> don, 1835. Mr Baily, at his own expense, published, in January 1837, a supplement to this work, which, with his usual liberality, he 'distributed amongst those persons and institutions only to whom the original work was presented.'


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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

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