31. of August 1726 –

Sr I. N. told me that he had been told that when he was born he was so little they could put him into a quart pot & so weakly that he was forced to have a bolster all round his neck to keep it on his {sic} shoulders & so little likely to live that when two women were sent to Lady Packenham at North Witham for something for him they sate down on a stile by the way & said there was no occasion for making haste for they were sure the child would be dead before they could get back — He was born at Woolstrope a mannour of his own in Lincolnshire in the parish of Costerworth & says he saw his name registered in that church & that he was born in 1642 – |he went to two smal schools at Kilingworth & Stoke before he was 12 year old|

He was sent to Grantham school \wch had between 60 & 80 scholars/ when he was 12 year old & was put the {sic} lowermost form of all & was very idle till an odd accident put him on studying, when he was the last in the lowermost class but one the boy next above him as they were going to school gave him a kick in the belly which gave him a great deal of pain & as soon as school was over he challenged the boy to fight, & they went out into {sic} that part of the Church-yard next the end of the Church where the steeple is not, whilst they <1v> were fighting the schoolmaster's son came to them & claped his Antagonist on the back & winked at him to encourage them both he beat the {sic} other to such a degree that he said he would fight no more upon wch the schoolmaster's son said he should use him like a coward & rub his nose against the wall & accordingly he took pulled him along by the ears & did so – not content with this victory he was uneasie till he got his place & thou before that he was very idle & never minded his boook, (as you may believe (said he) by my being the last in the form) from that time he began to study & apply himself so earnestly that he soon got the place, & continued rising – after he had been about 412 years at school his father \mother/ took him \home/ from school for 3 quarters of a year to see if he would take to country affairs \& the managing his own estate/, but he had tasted too deep of other pleasures |  studies to relish them or give any attention to them upon wch his father \mother/ sent him to school again for 3 quarters of a year more he grew to be the best scholar in the school & was famous for making verses then thou in his later years he had so ill an opinion of poetry that you could not do any man a worse turn with him <2r> than to say he was a poet he always imagining that poetry was a study so very contrary to Mathematicks that all poets must have an aversion & antipathy to him – When he was 18 he was sent a pensioner to Trinity College in Cambridge, before he went his uncle Aiscough gave him Sanderson's logick & told him that was the book his tutour would read to him first he read it over by himself & when he came to hear his tutour's lectures upon it found he knew more of it than his tutour, His tutor finding him so forward told him he was going to read Kepler's opticks to some gentlemen com̄oners & that he should come to those lectures, he immediately bought that book & read them thro' by himself & when his tutor sent for him to those lectures told him he had read the book throu already – About this time he had light on some books relating to judicial astrology & being desirous \to know/ wether there was any thing in that found he could make no agreement till he could make a figure i.e. bring \see how all the planets bear at a certain time/ he bought 2an English Euclid 1at Sturbridge fair with an index \of all the problems/ at the end, he despised that as a trifling book & only turned to two or three problems wch he wanted to cast \make use of for/ his figure & as soon as he <2v> had done that found there was nothing in judicial astrology – He borrowed \bought/ Descartes's Geometry & read it by himself when he was got ouer 2 or 3 pages he could {sic} understand no farther than {sic} he began again & got 3 or 4 pages farther till he came to another difficult place, then he began again & advanced farther & continued so doing till he made himself Master of the whole without having the least light or instruction from any body – When he stood to be scholar of the house his tutour sent him to Dr Barrow then Mathematical professor to be examined the Dr examined him in Euclid wch Sr I. had \had neglected &/ knew little or nothing of, & finding him never asked him about Descartes's Geometry wch he was master of Sr I. was too modest to mention it himself & Dr Barrow could not imagine that any one could haue read that book without being first master of Euclid, so that Dr Barrow conceived then but an indifferent opinion of him but however he was made scholar of the house – In \August/ 1666\3\5// Sr I. who was then not 24 bought at Sturbridge fair a prism to try some experiments upon Descartes's book <3v> of colours & when he came home & made a hole in his shutter & darkened the room \& put his prism between that & the wall/ found instead of a circle the the light made Symbol (sketch of shape of spectrum) in text with strait sides & circular ends &c – wch convinced him immediately that Descartes was wrong & he then made \found out/ his own Hypothesis of colours thou he could not demonstrate it for want of another prism for wch he staid till next Sturbridge fair & then proved what he had before found out – Now he began to have the first hint of his method of fluxions, & by solving of difficult problems &c – soon gave Dr Barrow another quite opinion of him – In consequence of his book \discovery/ of colours he made 2 speculums, the original of the reflecting telescope & sent one to the Royal Society in 1672 {sic} – I asked him where he had it made, he laughed & <4r> |he| said he made |it| himself, & when I asked him where he got his tools said he made them himself & laughing added if I had staid for other people to make my tools & things for me \Cæsar had not been such a {general} if he {had}/ I had never made any thing of it, the only help I had said he in those operations was my next chamber fellow who was stronger than I & used to help {sic} |me| on with my kettle sometimes for he had several furnaces in his own chambers for chymical experiments –

|Father Francis| {sic}

In 1687 he was deputed along with Dr Stanhope & 5 or 6 more to satisfy the High Comn court why they did not give a master of arts degree to Father Francis, & before they went thither the Chancellor of Ely who was one of them had drawn up a paper \wch they should sign/ in wch they should in a manner admitt him & establish it should \not/ be drawn into precedent or repeated, something <4v> to this effect but he could not exactly remember the substance of it, to wch they all seemed to agree but he disliking it arose from the table & took 2 or 3 turns & said to the Beadle who was sent by the University to attend them & was standing by the fire this is giving up the question, so it is said the beadle \why do not you/ go & speak to it upon wch he returned to the table & told them his mind & desired the paper might be shewn to Council & accordingly it was shewn to Mr Finch Sollie {ld} afterwards Ld Guernsey & he was of Sr I.'s opinion wch the Chancellor of Ely & all the rest then came into —

|Burning of Paper|

When he was in the midst of his discoveries he left a candle on his table amongst his papers & went down to the Bowling green & meeting <3r> somebody that diverted him from returning as he intended the candle sett fire to his papers & he could never recover them I asked {her} I asked him wether they related to his opticks or to the method of fluxions & he said he believed there were some relating to both — \(Light)/ He sate up so \often/ long in the year 1664 to observe a comet that appeared then that he found himself much disordered & learned from thence to go to bed betimes –

He was shortsighted in the latter part of his life but beleived he was not so when he was young because he could remember that when he was but nine year old & went {sic} to school to Killingworth over Woolstrope Comn he could see Grantham Spire like a stick wch was six miles off & he could not haue done if he had then been shortsighted – His eyes had that faculty that they never tired with reading & to the last he could read the smallest letter by the light of a coal fire without the use of spectacles

© 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 - newtonproject@history.ox.ac.uk

Privacy Statement

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