HITHERTO we have viewed Newton chiefly as a philosopher, leading a life of seclusion within the walls of a college, and either engaged in the duties of the Lucasian Chair, or constantly occupied in mathematical and scientific inquiries. He had now reached the fifty-third year of his age, and though his friends had exerted themselves to procure him some permanent appointment, they had failed in the attempt. An event, however, now occurred <188> which relieved him from his labours at Cambridge, and placed him in a situation of affluence and honour.

Among his friends at Cambridge, Newton had the good fortune to number Charles Montague, fourth son of George Montague, Esq. of Harton in Northamptonshire, whose father was Henry, first Earl of Manchester. He was born on the 16th April 1661, and exhibited early indications of genius and talent. From Westminster school, where he was elected King's Scholar, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a Fellow Commoner on the 19th November 1679, and received the degree of M. A. by royal mandate on the 6th October 1681. Here he became acquainted with Newton, and though devoted to literary pursuits, an ardent friendship arose between them which various causes contributed to strengthen and maintain. In the year 1685, when Montague was only twenty-three years of age, we find him co-operating with Newton and others in establishing a Philosophical Society at Cambridge; but though both of them had made personal application to different individuals to become members, yet the plan failed from the want of persons willing to try experiments, and from the refusal of one individual on whom they relied for that species of assistance.

While yet at college, Mr. Montague was brought into notice by a poem which he wrote on the death of Charles II. in 1685. The Earl of Dorset, who happened to admire it, invited him to London, where an incident occurred which "led him on to fortune." Having, in conjunction with Matthew Prior, published a poem entitled "The Hind and the Panther, transversed to the Story of the Country Mouse, and the City Mouse," his patron the Earl of Dorset introduced him to King William in the following manner: "May it please your Majesty, I have brought <189> a mouse to have the honour of kissing your hand," and having learned the reason why Mr. Montague was so called, he smiled and replied, "you will do well to put me in the way of making a man of him," and he immediately gave orders that a pension of five hundred pounds per annum should be paid to him out of the privy purse till an opportunity should occur of giving him an appointment. When Prior learned the good fortune of the more favoured mouse, he wittily exclaimed —

"My friend Charles Montague's preferred,

Nor could I have it long observed

That one mouse eats, while t'other's starved."

In 1687, when Newton was occupied with the completion of his Principia, he was in correspondence with Montague, whom he characterizes as his "intimate friend,"[1] and notwithstanding the contrariety of their pursuits, and the great difference of their age, the young statesman cherished for the philosopher all the veneration of a disciple, and his affection for him gathered new strength as he rose to the highest offices and honours of the state.

Mr. Montague sat along with Newton in the Convention Parliament, and such were his habits of business, and the powers which he displayed as a public speaker, that he was appointed a Commissioner of the Treasury, and soon afterwards a Privy Councillor. In 1694 he was elevated to the Chancellorship of the Exchequer; and as the current coin of the realm had been adulterated and debased, one of his earliest designs was to re-coin it and restore it to its original value. In 1698 he was appointed First Commissioner of the Treasury, and one of the Lords Jus <190> tices of England during the absence of the king in Holland; and in 1700 he was raised to the peerage with the title of Baron of Halifax, in the county of York.

The scheme of the re-coinage, like all measures of reform, encountered great opposition. It was characterized as a wild project, unsuitable to a period of war — as highly injurious to the interests of commerce, and as likely to sap the foundation of the government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, was not influenced by the cries of faction. He had studied the subject with the deepest attention, and had entrenched himself behind opinions too impartial and too well founded, to be driven from a measure which the best interests of his country seemed to require. Having consulted Newton, Locke, and Halley, he immediately took measures to carry his plan into effect. The advantage of having proper officers for superintending the re-coinage must have presented itself to the minds of his advisers, and we have no doubt that Locke and Halley warmly seconded his own desire to place Newton in one of the principal offices in the Mint. We have already seen that the Comptrollership had been, some years before, mentioned as a suitable office for Newton, and so early as November 1695, Dr. Wallis, in a letter to Halley,[2] mentions a rumour at Oxford that he had been actually appointed to the Mastership of the Mint. This, however, was a mistake, as there was no vacancy in the Mint till the beginning of 16956. Mr. Overton, the Warden, was then made a Commissioner of Customs, and Mr. Montague embraced the opportunity thus offered to him of serving his friend and his country by recommending Newton to that important situation. This appointment was notified <191> to him by the following letter addressed to him at Cambridge: —

"19th March, 1695.[3]

"SIR, — I am very glad 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 officer in the Mint. 'Tis worth five or six hundred pounds per annum, and has not too much business to require more attendance than you may spare. I desire you will come up as soon as you can, and I will take care of your warrant in the meantime. Pray give my humble services to John Lawton.[4] I am sorry I have not been able to assist him hitherto, but I hope he will be provided for ere long, and tell him that the session is near ending, and I expect to have his company when I am able to enjoy it. Let me see you as soon as you come to town, that I may carry you to kiss the king's hand. I believe you may have a lodging near me.[5] — I am. Sir, your most obedient servant,           " Chas. Montague."

This letter must have been the occasion of much surprise to Newton and his friends; for only five days previous to its date, namely, on the 14th of March, he had intimated to Halley that "if the rumour of preferment for me in the Mint should hereafter, upon the death of Mr. Hoare, or any other occasion, be revived, I pray that <192> you would endeavour to obviate it by acquainting your friends that I neither put in for any place in the Mint, nor would meddle with Mr. Hoare's place[6] were it offered me." About three months before Newton's appointment, Mr. Montague had been placed at the head of the Royal Society,[7] and it must have been very gratifying to the Fellows, that their most distinguished member had been promoted by their new president. When it was stated "that Mr. Montague gave Newton employment before he wanted it or asked it," either Montague or some one else replied, "that he would not suffer the lamp which gave so much light to want oil."[8]

Thus refreshed, the lamp continued to burn, and with no flickering light. Its asbestos torch, though kept at a high temperature for a quarter of a century, was unconsumed, and required only the gaseous material to make it continue its brilliant though chastened light; and, as if to give a prophetic reply to the allegation that his mind had been injuriously overwrought by study and enervated by office, he solved, about a year after his appointment, the celebrated problems with which John Bernoulli challenged "the acutest mathematicians in the world." When the great geometer of Basle saw the anonymous solution, he recognised the intellectual lion by the grandeur of his claw; and in their future contests on the fluxionary controversy, both he and Leibnitz had reason to feel that the sovereign of the forest, though assailed by invisible marksmen, had neither lost a tooth nor broken a claw.

In the new and responsible situation to which Newton was elevated, his chemical knowledge was of great use to <193> the country; and, in effecting the re-coinage, which was completed towards the close of 1699, his services were so highly appreciated, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared that he could not have carried it on without his assistance. In the year 1699, when the situation of master and worker of the Mint became vacant, Mr. Montague was First Lord of the Treasury, and through his influence Newton was promoted to that high office, which was worth from twelve to fifteen hundred pounds per annum, and which he held during the remainder of his life.[9] In this situation he drew up an official report on the coinage in 1717, and Mr. Conduitt says, "that he behaved himself with an universal character of integrity and disinterestedness, and had frequent opportunities of employing his skill in numbers, particularly in his Table of Assays of Foreign Coins, which is printed in the Book of Coins lately published by Dr. Arbuthnot."[10]

A very remarkable proof of Newton's integrity is given in the following interesting extract of a letter from the Rev. Dr. Derham to Mr. Conduitt:[11] — "The last thing, <194> Sir, that I shall trouble you with, shall be a passage relating to the coinage of the copper money some years ago, which pleased me much in setting forth the integrity of my friend Sir Isaac. The occasion of our discourse was, the great inconveniences which many underwent by the delay of the coinage of this sort of money. The occasion of which delay, Sir Isaac told me, was from the numerous petitions that were presented to them, in most of which some person or other of quality was concerned. Amongst others, he told me that an agent of one had made him an offer of above £6000, which Sir Isaac refusing on account of its being a bribe, the agent said he saw no dishonesty in the acceptance of the offer, and that Sir Isaac understood not his own interest. To which Sir Isaac replied, that he knew well enough what was his duty, and that no bribes should corrupt him. The agent then told him, that he came from a great Dutchesse, and pleaded her quality and interest. To which Sir Isaac roughly answered, 'I desire you to tell the lady, that if she was here herself, and had made me this offer, I would have desired her to go out of my house; and so I desire you, or you shall be turned out.' Afterwards he learned who the Dutchesse was."

The elevation of Newton to the Mint led to the promotion of his friend, Dr. Halley, to an office in the same establishment. He was made Deputy-Comptroller of the Mint at Chester, in 1696, the office of Comptroller being at that time held by Mr. Thomas Molyneux. Soon after his appointment, disturbances of a very serious kind arose among the officers. Mr. Halley, and Mr. Woodall the Warden, feeling it their duty to see the King's business well and faithfully performed, had insisted upon correcting certain irregularities in the proceedings of Bowles and <195> Lewis, two clerks in the establishment. The Master of the Mint, a Mr. Clark, espoused the cause of the clerks, and, "pretending to take offence at something that nobody else had observed in the company, went and borrowed Bowles his sword, to waylay the Warden as he went home." He did not, however, fulfil his threat, but some time after he sent a challenge to the Warden, which was accepted. "He appeared, however, on the ground," says Halley, "before the hour, with his man and horses, and staid not after it, by which means they fought not, and I demonstrated the folly of such decisions that went no farther."[12] In the same spirit, Lewis, the clerk of the Warden, threw a standish at Mr. Woodall, and he and the Master brought forward all sorts of charges against Halley and Woodall. Halley was accused of showing a preference to individuals in the purchase of silver, and of committing professional blunders in adding an alloy to what is called schissell, and thus diminishing the purity of the coin; while the Warden was charged with having used expressions of a treasonable nature, dangerous to the Government. Halley was at first greatly annoyed by these dissensions, and, in requesting Newton to interfere for his protection, he expressed the hope "that his potent friend, Mr. Montague, would not forget him, if there should be occasion."[13] When Parliament had voted the continuance of the five country mints, Halley requests "that Lewis may appear face to face with him before the Lords, there to answer to his throwing the standish at Mr. Woodall, the giving the undue preference to Palford, and some other accusations of that nature, I am prepared to lay before their Lordships. I came to town purposely to charge that proud, insolent fellow, <196> whom I humbly beg you to believe the principal author of all the disturbance we have had at our mint, whom if you please to see removed all will be easy; and on that condition I am content to submit to all you shall prescribe to me. Nevertheless, as I have often wrote yon, I would urge you to nothing but what your great prudence shall think proper, since it is to your particular favour I owe this post, which it is my chiefest ambition to maintain worthily, and next to that to approve myself in all things."[14] In the same letter he speaks of his resignation, but as he is unwilling "that Lewis and Clark should interpret it to be any other than a voluntary cession," he thinks it necessary to prosecute the charges against them.[15]

Before these dissensions had come to this crisis, Newton had offered, in February 1697, to procure for Halley an "engineer's place," through a Mr. Samuel Newton. Halley[16] expressed his willingness to accept of this kind offer, provided Sir Martin Beckman was of opinion that the post was likely to be durable; but two days before the date of Halley's letter, Newton[17] had offered him a situation worth ten shillings a week, to teach the mathematical grounds of engineering two hours a day to the engineers and officers of the army; but he seems to have declined both these situations. When the five country mints were discontinued in 1698, Halley, at his own desire, was appointed by the King to the command of the Paramour Pink, which sailed in November 1698, in order that he might study the variation of the needle in different parts of the globe.[18]


While Newton was thus disturbed by the quarrels of the Chester Mint, in which he had personally no share, his tranquillity was more seriously compromised by disputes which arose under his own eye, and in which his character was concerned.

In the year 1697, a person of the name of William Chaloner, who is stated to have made experiments connected with the Mint "for the Parliament," pretended that he had discovered certain abuses in that establishment, and was sent for by a committee of the House of Commons to give information on the subject. Dreading, however, the personal consequences to which he might be exposed, he obtained a promise of protection from the committee, and he then disclosed several abuses alleged to have been committed in that department, and pointed out the methods by which false money was coined, and the mode of effectually preventing it. Some of the functionaries of the Mint having heard of these disclosures, and of Chaloner' s having promised to "write a book on the present state of the Mint," are said to have threatened to take away his life before the next sitting of Parliament. Hearing of this threat, a Member of the House was, by its direction, appointed to represent his case to the King, who promised "that he should suffer no damage for the discoveries he had made, and that he would provide for him for the service he had <198> rendered." Notwithstanding these proceedings, the officers of the Mint, as Chaloner states, committed him to Newgate, and, after keeping him in irons for seven weeks, they preferred against him a Bill of Indictment; but having no evidence to produce, they laid a plot to induce him "to coin false money," and thus to destroy his testimony against themselves. With this view Richard Morris, a messenger of the Mint, having apprehended for high treason John Peers, a clockmaker in the city, together with his wife, kept them prisoners in his own house, and told them that they were in great danger of being hanged, "unless they would undertake to do service to the Government." This service, according to the affidavit of Peers, was to engage Chaloner "to be concerned in coining with them." Peers undertook the task, and arranged with Captain Harris, the Mint engraver, that a place in the establishment would be the reward of his success. Peers and his wife were with this view "bailed before Mr. Justice Negus." But though they used every means in their power, they could not succeed in alluring Mr. Chaloner. Peers then renewed the attempt with Holloway, a turner, and one Prince. For this purpose they went to the country provided with tools, and coined several plated shillings; but before they had applied to Chaloner, they availed themselves of their position, and circulated some of these shillings as legal coin.

In this state of matters, Sir Isaac, as Warden of the Mint, granted a warrant for the apprehension of Peers, but having sent for him, and learned that he was at work with Holloway and Prince, "to get Mr. Chaloner to be concerned in coining with them," Sir Isaac is said to have highly approved of the plan as one well-contrived, and to have given Peers five shillings and liberty to coin money, <199> in order to promote the object they had in view. Upon being questioned by Sir Isaac concerning Chaloner, "whom he had assisted in experiments for Parliament," Peers told him that he knew nothing against Chaloner, excepting that one Moore had prevailed upon himself to make for him a tool to edge or mill money, when he was working with Chaloner; that Chaloner told him he would be hanged if he did such a thing, and was indignant at the idea of its being done with his tools. Chaloner, however, afterwards told Peers, that if Moore should force him to make the tool by threats, "he should make it of iron, that it might not answer the end to mill money with it." When Sir Isaac heard the amount of this charge against Chaloner, he is said to have told Peers "that these advices were not material against him;" and to have given through Morris, four pounds, to carry on the design of entrapping Chaloner. Holloway, however, having heard that Peers had been with the Warden, suspected that he himself would be taken up, and gave Peers and Prince in charge to a constable, who committed them to Newgate for high treason. Sir Isaac hearing of this, went to Newgate, and, having been assured by Peers that he had done nothing in coining excepting what he had been told to do by himself and Captain Harris and Morris, "in order to draw in Mr. Chaloner," he agreed to admit him to bail the next day.

Holloway also made an affidavit, and swore "that he heard Isaac Newton, Esq., Warden of the Mint, and his clerk and Morris, all say, that the said Chaloner should not be tried until the last day of the Sessions, for then he was sure to be tried by the Recorder, they being sensible that the Recorder was Chaloner's enemy;" or, as Peers expressed it in his affidavit, "that as the Recorder had a prejudice against Chaloner, he would certainly do <200> his business." By the evidence of Morris, and the story of the tool made for Moore, a bill for high treason was found by the grand jury against Chaloner.

Under these circumstances, Chaloner presented a petition to Parliament on the 18th July 1697-8, "praying that his sufferings and ruined condition might be considered and redressed." The petition was referred to a large committee, one of whom was Charles Montague, with instructions to send for any information against Chaloner, and report to the House. New members were added to the committee on the 2d of March: The committee got leave to sit on the 8th, and other members were added on the 28th, but it does not appear from the journals of the House that any report was given in, or any farther proceedings taken in the matter.[19]

As this singular story involves charges deeply affecting the character of Sir Isaac, and as these are contained in printed papers, and probably in unpublished records of the House of Commons, which might some day come to light when there was no opportunity of defending him, and perhaps no means of defence, I felt it a sacred duty to inquire into their origin and history. Had they rested on any foundation, and been the subject of public or private discussion, Charles Montague, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, against whom the spirit of party ran high, would doubtless have been questioned in the House of Commons; and Flamsteed, in his private correspondence with Abraham Sharpe, would not have failed to record the failings of his friend. It was therefore probable, both from the character of Newton and the silence of his <201> contemporaries, that some palliation of his conduct, or some exposure of the calumny, might yet be discovered.

Through the kindness of Lord Brougham, to whom I submitted the case, inquiries were made in the House of Commons, the Mint, and the British Museum; but it is only from the latter that any useful information has been obtained. Mr. Panizzi found three printed papers by Chaloner, one of which was a proposal, dated February 11, 1694, and addressed to the House of Commons, that they should pass an Act to prevent the clipping and counterfeiting of money; another containing reasons against the resolutions of the committee appointed to revise these proposals; and a third, pointing out the defects in the constitution of the Mint. Mr. Panizzi likewise found a tract, containing an account of the life and execution of Chaloner, which completely exculpates Newton from the charges brought forward in the petition to the House of Commons.[20] Chaloner seems to have been a man of extraordinary talent, who, in order to conceal his own criminality, brought false accusations against the officers of the Mint. "He scorned," says his biographer, "to fly at low matters. He pretended his commitment to be malicious, and accused that worthy gentleman, Isaac Newton, Esq., Warden of His Majesty's Mint, with several other officers thereof, as connivers (at least) at many abuses and cheats there committed. This accusation he impudently put into Parliament, and a committee was appointed to examine the same, who upon a full hearing of the matter, dismissed the same gentleman with <202> the honour due to his merit, and Chaloner with the character he deserved."[21]

While Newton was thus distracted by the quarrel among the functionaries of the Mint at Chester, and by the charges against himself, his tranquillity was disturbed by another misunderstanding with Flamsteed. He had now resumed his inquiry into the lunar irregularities; and "on Sunday the 4th December 1698, in the time of evening service," he went to Greenwich to obtain twelve computed places of the moon, which Flamsteed had corrected for him, in consequence of the places formerly given him not having been correct. On the 29th December, Flamsteed sent him a correction of the time in one of the observations; and having afterwards discovered that the results required to be still farther improved, he waited upon Newton on the 30th or 31st December, to acquaint him with the fact. According to Flamsteed, Newton was "reserved to him contrary to his promise;" that is, he was reserved, as Mr. Baily interprets it, in not imparting to him the particulars of his lunar theory; or, as Mr. Edleston thinks, reserved in his manner from being at that time displeased with Flamsteed.

When Dr. Wallis was preparing the third volume of his works, he requested from the Astronomer-Royal his observations on the parallax of the earth's annual orbit. Flamsteed complied with his request; but without supposing that it would be offensive to Newton, he made the following reference to his lunar theory: — "I had become intimate with Mr. Newton, then the most learned man of <203> the day, and Professor of Mathematics in the University of Cambridge, to whom I had given 150 places of the moon deduced from my observations, and at the same time her places as computed from my tables, and I promised him similar ones in future as I obtained them, along with the elements of my calculations for the improvement of the Horroxian theory of the moon, in which matter I hope he will have all the success which he expects."[22] Dr. Gregory having heard from Wallis of this allusion to the lunar theory, mentioned it to Newton, who took it very much amiss, and begged that Gregory would request Wallis to suppress the clause. When Flamsteed heard of this request from Wallis, he wrote to Newton a long letter, dated January 2, 1699, transmitting to him the offensive paragraph, — reminding him that it contained nothing but what Newton himself had acknowledged to many of his friends, and proposing to leave out the word Horroxianœ, which was put in because Newton "allowed that theory as far as it goes."[23] As Newton did not reply to this letter, Flamsteed wrote to him again on the 5th, and drew from him the following expostulation: —

"JERMYN STREET, January 6, 1698-9."

SIR, — Upon hearing occasionally that you had sent a letter to Dr. Wallis about the parallax of the fixed stars to be printed, and what you had mentioned therein with respect to the theory of the moon, I was concerned to be publicly brought upon the stage about what, perhaps, will never be fitted for the public, and thereby the world <204> put into an expectation of what, perhaps, they are never like to have. I do not love to be printed on every occasion, much less to be dunned and teased by foreigners about mathematical things, or to be thought by our own people to be trifling away my time about them, when I should be about the King's business. And, therefore, I desired Dr. Gregory to write to Dr. Wallis, against printing that clause which related to that theory, and mentioned me about it. You may let the world know, if you please, how well you are stored with observations of all sorts, and what calculations you have made towards rectifying the theories of the heavenly motions. But there may be cases wherein your friends should not be published without their leave. And, therefore, I hope you will so order the matter, that I may not on this occasion be brought upon the stage. — I am, your humble servant,            IS. NEWTON."

This letter has been characterized by Mr. Baily as a "most extraordinary" production; and another writer represents it as unworthy of Newton's transcendent genius, and Newton as "indignant," and taking fire at the paragraph sent to Wallis, which he says "was obviously written without the slightest intention to give offence." If Newton had written this letter as a simple expression of his feelings, upon hearing that his lunar theory had been mentioned by Flamsteed, as these writers, without any authority assume, we should have regarded it as unseemly, and as a display of unnecessary feeling. But this was not the case. Newton did nothing more than request Dr. Wallis to leave out the paragraph; and Mr. Baily knew, and the other writer ought to have known,[24] <205> that the letter was extracted from Newton by the two letters of Flamsteed, which we have already mentioned, and which, for anything they knew, might have been written in such a tone, as to make Newton's letter appear an amiable, in place of an extraordinary, production. Mr. Flamsteed' s first letter of January 2d, was a provoking letter, and yet Newton did not reply to it; and it is very probable that Flamsteed's second letter, which extorted an answer, was still more annoying; for it is quite clear, from his own note, that he was greatly offended at Newton for delaying to answer it.[25]

But independently of these circumstances, Newton was entitled to express his feelings at being "brought upon the stage," and thus exposed to being dunned and teased by foreigners; and what is still more in his favour, he had peculiar reasons at that very time to prevent the belief that he was occupied with anything else than "the King's business." The great recoinage of silver was now going on. Some of the provincial mints were in a state of anarchy; and the Mint itself was charged before Parliament with the toleration of grave abuses, which might have been attributed to Newton as its Master. In thus justifying Newton, we do not mean to attach much blame to Flamsteed. He should have asked Newton's permission to print the obnoxious paragraph, and, when it was printed, Newton should have requested its suppression from Flamsteed himself, and ought to have returned an answer to the letter of explanation which had been sent him.

Notwithstanding these differences, Flamsteed continued to visit Newton when he went to London, to promise him his observations when he required them, and <206> to converse upon the tender subject of the printing of the Greenwich observations. On the 3d of May 1700, Flamsteed paid one of these visits, and has given such a graphic account of it in a letter to Lowthorp[26] a week after, that it gives us some insight into the peculiarities of both these great men. Flamsteed went before Newton was up, and "waited his rising." He found a bible in his room, which he seems to have read, "and meeting," he says, "with a sheet of paper, I wrote upon it this distich, which I remembered from a late satire, —

A bantering spirit has our men possessed,

And Wisdom is become a standing jest.

Read Jeremiah, chap. ix. to the 10th verse.

I do not know whether he has read it, but I think he cannot take it amiss if he has; and if he reflects a little on it, he will find I have given him a reasonable caution against his credulity, and shewed him the way of the world much better than his politics or a play could do." When the subject of printing his observations was started, and Flamsteed had explained the order in which they were to be given, he added, "that the book of tables would follow." At this Newton started, and asked him, "what tables?" and "if I would publish any for the moon?" "My answer was, that she was in his hands, and if he would finish her, I would lend him my assistance; if not, I would fall upon her myself when I had leisure." During "the discourse," Newton complained of his friend's reserve, which Flamsteed denied, and said, that if he would come down some morning with Sir Christopher Wren and take his dinner with him, "he should then see in what forwardness his work was, and we would consider how to forward it to the press."


The reputation of Newton had been gradually extending itself on the continent, as his philosophy became better known. James Cassini, the celebrated French astronomer, came to England, after the peace of Ryswick,[27] to pay Newton a visit, and is said to have offered him a large pension from the French king, which he refused;[28] and it was probably on the suggestion of Cassini that he was appointed one of the eight foreign associates of the Academy of Sciences, who were created on the remodelling of the Academy in 1699.[29]

A short time after this election, namely, on the 7th of March, M. Geoffrey, one of the members of the Academy, transmitted to Dr. Sloane, the Secretary of the Royal Society, a list of the eight foreign associates, containing the name of Newton; and gave him the following account of the new organization of the Academy: — "I shall here <208> give you an account of the great splendour that the Académie des Sciences has received by the regulation, increase, encouragement, and order, M. l'Abbé Bignon has obtained to it from the king. That Academy is now composed of ten honorary academicians, which are chosen learned and eminent gentlemen, of eight strangers associates, each of which is distinguished by his learning — twenty pensioners fellows; twenty élèves; twelve French associates. Between the honorary academicians, two are elected every year, one for president, the other for vice-president. Twenty pensioners have every year 1500 French livres; and after the death of one pensioner, the Acadèmie will propose to the king three persons, associates or élèves, or sometimes others, and his majesty will call one of the three for pensioner."[30]

While Newton held the inferior office of Warden of the Mint, he retained the Lucasian Chair; but upon his promotion to the Mastership in 1699, he appointed Mr. Whiston his deputy at Cambridge, with "the full profits of the place." Whiston began his astronomical lectures on the 27th January 1701; and when Newton resigned the chair on the 10th December 1701, he succeeded in getting Whiston appointed his successor. When he resigned his fellowship, which he did soon after, he stood tenth on the list; and had he remained a fellow till August 1702, he would have been elected a senior.

We have not been able to discover why Newton did not represent the University in the Parliament which <209> met in 1690. When a vacancy took place in November 1692, by the death of Sir Robert Sawyer, Newton's health would probably not permit him to aspire to the office. But at the next election for King William's sixth Parliament, he was chosen one of the members for the University. The other successful candidate was Mr. Henry Boyle, afterwards Lord Carleton;[31] "so that on this occasion Trinity College had the honour of supplying the University with both its representatives, and Dr. Bentley had the satisfaction of assisting in the return of his illustrious friend."[32]

Newton's honours were now gathering thick around him. On the 30th November 1703, he was elected, on the retirement of Lord Somers, President of the Royal Society; and he was annually re-elected during the remaining twenty-five years of his life, having held the office for a longer time than any of his predecessors, and longer too than any of his successors, excepting Sir Joseph Banks.

In this new position, Newton was brought into personal communication with Prince George of Denmark, (the consort of Queen Anne,) who had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society. The Prince was anxious to promote the interests of science, and, on Newton's recommendation, had offered to be at the expense of printing Flamsteed's observations, and particularly his catalogue of the stars. Newton's high merits then became known to the Queen, who resolved to take the first opportunity of shewing her <210> respect for his genius. In the month of April 1705, which her Majesty was spending at her royal residence of Newmarket, she went on the 16th, accompanied by Prince George of Denmark and her whole court, to visit the University of Cambridge, where she was to be the guest of Dr. Bentley, at Trinity Lodge. "Alighting at the Regent Walk," says Dr. Monk, "before the schools, she was received by the Duke of Somerset, the Chancellor, the head of the University, and addressed in a speech by Dr. Ayloffe, the public orator. From thence her Majesty went in procession to the Regent House, where, agreeably to ancient custom, was held the congregation of the senate, termed Regia Comitia, at which the University conferred degrees upon all persons nominated by the Royal command; the presence of the sovereign dispensing with statutable qualifications and exercises. Afterwards, the Queen held a court at Trinity Lodge, where she rendered this day memorable, by conferring knighthood upon the most illustrious of her subjects, Sir Isaac Newton.[33] A sumptuous dinner was then given to the royal visitor and her suite in the Hall of Trinity College, which had been newly fitted up and decorated. Whoever is acquainted with the large sums which Alma Mater has since expended on public objects, will be surprised to learn, that she was then so poor as to be compelled to borrow £500 for the purpose of this entertainment. The royal party, after attending evening service, at the magnificent chapel at King's College, took <211> leave of the University, and returned the same night to Newmarket."

It must have been at this period of Newton's life, that he wrote a love-letter, of which a copy was found among the Portsmouth papers; but we have no means of ascertaining whether it was for himself or a friend that he composed this remarkable epistle. It is in the handwriting of Mr. Conduitt, who, doubtless, intended to publish it, and is entitled, in the same hand, "Copy of a letter to Lady Norris, by — ," while on the back is written in another hand, "A Letter from Sir I. N. to — ." It has no date, but, as we shall presently see, it must have been written in 1703 or 1704: —

"MADAM, — Your ladyship's great grief at the loss of Sir William, shews that if he had returned safe home, your ladyship could have been glad to have lived still with a husband, and therefore your aversion at present from marrying again can proceed from nothing else than the memory of him whom you have lost. To be always thinking on the dead, is to live a melancholy life among sepulchres, and how much grief is an enemy to your health is very manifest by the sickness it brought when you received the first news of your widowhood: And can your ladyship resolve to spend the rest of your days in grief and sickness? Can you resolve to wear a widow's habit perpetually, — a habit which is less acceptable to company, a habit which will be always putting you in mind of your lost husband, and thereby promote your grief and indisposition till you leave it off. The proper remedy for all these mischiefs is a new husband, and whether your ladyship should admit of a proper remedy for such maladies, is a question which I hope will not need much <212> time to consider of. Whether your ladyship should go constantly in the melancholy dress of a widow, or flourish once more among the ladies; whether you should spend the rest of your days cheerfully or in sadness, in health or in sickness, are questions which need not much consideration to decide them. Besides that your ladyship will be better able to live according to your quality by the assistance of a husband than upon your own estate alone; and therefore since your ladyship likes the person proposed, I doubt not but in a little time to have notice of your ladyship's inclinations to marry, at least that you will give him leave to discourse with you about it.

I am, Madam, your ladyship's most humble,

and most obedient servant."

The words at the close of this letter might lead us to suppose that the writer and the lover were different persons; but as no name is mentioned, nor any reference made to the qualifications of a third party, it is probable that the title, "person proposed," is a quaint and not uncommon form of expression to avoid the use of the first person. It is not probable that any gentleman aspiring to Lady Norris's hand would entrust his cause to a friend, and still less probable is it that that friend would be Sir Isaac Newton. It could only have been for a very particular friend that Newton's modesty would have permitted him to undertake such a task, and not one of his acquaintances can be named who was unmarried, and who was likely to call in the aid of a philosopher in an affair of matrimony. Newton had been acquainted with Lady Norris for some years, and from the following letter to his niece, Miss Catherine Barton, which we found among his <213> papers, there is some ground for supposing that he was then intimately acquainted with her:[34]

"To Mrs. Catherine Barton,

at Mr. Gyre's at Pudlicot,

near Woodstock, in Oxfordshire.

LONDON, Aug. 5, 1700.

"DEAR NIECE, — I had your two letters, and am glad the air agrees with you; and though the fever is loth to leave you, yet I hope it abates, and that the remains of the small-pox are dropping off apace. Sir Joseph Tilley is leaving Mr. Toll's house, and it's probable I may succeed him. I intend to send you some wine by the next carrier, which I beg the favour of Mr. Gyre and his lady to accept. My Lady Norris thinks you forget your promise to write her, and wants a letter from you. Pray let me know by the next how your face is, and if the fever be going. Perhaps warm milk from the cow may help to abate it. — I am your very loving uncle,


Lady Norris was the widow of Sir William Norris, Bart. of Speke, near Liverpool. Sir William took his degree of B.A. in 1679. He became one of the Lay-Fellows of Trinity College, and was succeeded in his Fellowship by Charles Montague. He sat for Liverpool in the third, fourth, and fifth parliaments of William III., in the proceedings of which he took an active part. He was created a baronet on the 3d December 1698, was minister at the Porte, and subsequently went out to Delhi as ambassador to the Great Mogul. Sir William arrived at the Mogul's camp, near Purnella, in April 1701, and seems to have <214> conducted himself in "an imprudent and expensive" manner. The object of his mission seems to have been to solicit the favour of the Mogul to the English Company, in opposition to the London Company; and it so far succeeded that the Mogul seized the property and servants of the last of these establishments. Sir William embarked on board the Scipio from Surat on the 29th of April 1702, and his brother, who was Secretary to the Embassy, went on board the China Merchant, one of the Company's ships, the cargo of which amounted to 60,000 rupees on the Company's account, and 987,200 rupees on Sir William Norris's. The two vessels sailed for England on the 5th of May; Sir William was seized with dysentery, and died on the 10th of October 1702, between the Mauritius and St. Helena, which the Scipio reached on the 31st October. Sir William left no family, and therefore his widow must have succeeded to his fortune.[35]

Lady Norris, whose name was Elizabeth Read, was daughter and heiress of Robert Read of Bristol, and had been twice married before her union with Sir William, first to Isaac Meynell of Lombard Street, goldsmith, and, secondly, to Nicholas Pollexfen, a merchant in London.

As Mr. Norris resided at Trinity College while Newton held the Lucasian Chair, he must have been personally acquainted with him at that time, and their acquaintance must have been renewed when both of them had their residence in London. If our interpretation of the letter to Lady Norris be correct, the desire of Sir Isaac to marry at the age of sixty, has a remarkable coincidence with that of Leibnitz, who made proposals to a lady when he was fifty. "The lady," says Fontenelle, "asked for time to take the <215> matter into consideration, and as Leibnitz thus obtained leisure to consider the matter again, he was never married."[36]

The Parliament had just been dissolved when Newton was knighted, and he seems to have been urged by his friends to stand for the University. He had visited Cambridge about a fortnight before, as Mr. Edleston supposes, on business connected with the election; but it would appear from the following letter[37] that he had no desire to contest the University again: —

"SIR, — I wrote lately to Mr. Vice-chancellor, that by reason of my present occasions here, I could very ill come down to your University to visit my friends in order to be chosen your burgess. I would have it understood that I do not refuse to serve you, (I would not be so ungrateful to my Alma Mater, to whom I owe my education, nor so disobliging to my friends,) but by reason of my business here I desist from soliciting, and without that, I see no reason to expect being chosen. And now I have served you in this Parliament, other gentlemen may expect their turn in the next. To solicit and miss for want of doing it sufficiently, would be a reflection upon me, and it's better to sit still. And tho' I reckon that all one as to desist absolutely, yet I leave you and the rest of the gentlemen to do with all manner of prudence what you think best for yourselves, and what pleases you shall please — Your most humble and most obedt. servant."

Although we might suppose from this letter that Newton was unwilling to canvass personally for a seat in the new Parliament, yet it appears from the following inter <216> esting communication to him from Lord Halifax, that he had resolved to be a candidate in the middle of March, and before the dissolution: — [38]

"Sir, — I send you the address of the House of Lords, to which the Queen made so favourable an answer, that the enemy are quite enraged. The paragraph in her speech against the Tackers provokes them still more than this. And whatever the ministers may think, they will never forgive them for either. I believe they begin to think so, and will take measures to make other friends. I was in hopes by this post to have sent you an account of several alterations that would have pleased you, but they are not yet made, tho' you may expect to hear of them in a very little time. Among other expectations we have, we do depend upon a good Bishop, Dr. Wake is likely to be the man. We are sure Sir William Dawes will not. I think this will have great influence in the place where you are, and therefore I think you may mention it among your friends as a thing very probable, tho' it be not actually settled. He is to hold St. James's in commendam, and Dr. Younger will be Dean of Exeter. Mr. Godolphin will go down to Cambridge next week, and if the Queen goes to Newmarket, and from thence to Cambridge, she will give you great assistance. The Tories say she makes that tour on purpose to turn Mr. Ansley out. He is so afraid of being thrown out, that Lord Gower has promised to bring him in at Preston, which they should know at Cambridge. If you have any com <217> mands for me, I desire you would send them to me, who shall be very ready to obey them, — I am your most humble, and most obedient servt.,


"17 March," [1705.]

It appears from this letter that Newton had resolved to become a candidate. He seems, however, to have been very undecided, and very unwilling to take active steps in the matter, as appears from the following letter without a date and address.[39]

"I understand that Mr. Patrick is putting in to be your representative in the next Parliament, and believe that Mr. Godolphin, my Lord High Treasurer's son, will also stand. I do not intend to oppose either of them, they being my friends, but being moved by some friends of very good note to write for myself, I beg the favour of you and the rest of my friends in the University to reserve a vote for me till I either write to you again, or make you a visit, which will be in a very short time, and you will thereby very much oblige yours, &c."

Lord Halifax exerted his influence for Newton and Mr. Godolphin, as might have been expected, but, as the following letter shows, anticipated their defeat from the opposition of the Court: —

"SIR, — I have sent to my Lord Manchester to engage Mr. Gale for Mr. Godolphin, but I am afraid his letter will not come time enough. There can be no doubt of Lord Manchester's sentiments in this affair. Mr. Gale may be sure he will oblige him and all his friends by appearing for Mr. Godolphin, and he can do you no good <218> any other ways. I am sorry you mention nothing of the election. It does not look well, but I hope you still keep your resolution of not being disturbed at the event, since there has been no fault of yours in the management, and then there is no great matter in it. I could tell you more stories where the conduct of the Court has been the same, but complaining is to no purpose; and now the die is cast, we shall have a good Parliament. — I am your most humble and most obedient servant,


"5th May 1705."

In order to promote his election, Newton went to Cambridge on the 24th or 25th of April. The Tory election cry on this occasion was "the Church in danger;" and, on the polling day, the 17th of May, "hundreds of young students hollowed, like schoolboys and porters, crying, No Fanatic, no occasional Conformity, against two worthy gentlemen that stood candidates."[40] Newton and Godolphin were defeated, and Annesley and Windsor elected.[41] Mr. Mansfield mentioned to Mr. William Bankes, that his father, Sir James Mansfield, knew an old man at Cambridge who remembered this election, and who said that all the residents voted for Newton, but that they were outnumbered by the non-resident voters.


See Vol. I. APPENDIX, p. 455.


November 26th. See Edleston's Correspondence, &c. lxviii, note 126, and p. 302, Appendix.


The date of this letter should have been 16956.


Mr. Lawton, or Laughton, was a great personal friend of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Montague. He was afterwards Librarian and Chaplain of Trinity. He subsequently became Canon of Worcester and Lichfield, and gave to the Library of Trinity College a valuable collection of books. See p. 92, and Monk's Life of Bentley, pp. 226, 246.

[5] Copied from the original.


Mr. Hoare was Comptroller of the Mint.


He was elected on the 30th of November 1695, and resigned at the same date in 1699.


Conduitt's MSS.


Among Newton's papers, I found the following list of his securities, which, I presume, must be those which were required when he was elevated to the Mastership of the Mint: —

Mr. Newton,£2000 Rt. Honble Charles Montague,1000 And Bondsmen, Thomas Hall, Esq.,1000 — — Flayer, Esq.,1000 Thos. Pilkington, gent.,1000 £6000


Conduitt's MSS. Dr. Arbuthnot's work was published in 4to, in 1727, under the title of Tables of Ancient Coins, Weights, and Measures, Explained and Exemplified in several Dissertations. It was reprinted in 1754, with observations by Dr. Benjamin Langworth.


This letter, dated Upminster, 18th July 1733, was written when Mr. Conduitt requested information regarding Newton from Dr. Derham, who had been intimately acquainted with him for about thirty years.


Letter to Molyneux, August 25, 1697.


August 2, 1697.


Letter to Newton, dated December 30, 1697.


These facts are gleaned from four unpublished letters to Newton, and three to Molyneux.


February 1697.


Macclesfield Correspondence, vol. ii. p. 420


Halley was one of the most distinguished and accomplished philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. On the death of Dr. Wallis, in 1703, he was <197> appointed Savilian Professor of Geometry in Oxford. In 1703, he was chosen Secretary to the Royal Society, and, in 1719, in the sixty-third year of his age, he succeeded Flamsteed as Astronomer-Royal. In 1729, he was elected a corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and he died on the 14th January 1712, in the eighty-sixth year of his age. In his Eloge upon Halley, M. Mairan thus speaks of him: — "While we thought the eulogium of an astronomer, a naturalist, a scholar, and a philosopher, comprehended our whole subject, we have been insensibly surprised with the history of an excellent mariner, an illustrious traveller, an able engineer, and almost a statesman." — Mém. Acad. Par. 1742.


The preceding statement is taken from a printed copy of the petition of Chaloner, with which Mr. Edleston has kindly favoured me. The affidavits of Holloway and Peers, annexed to the petition, are dated in November and December 1697.


Entitled, Guzmanus Redivivus. A Short View of the Life of William Chaloner, the Notorious Coyner, who was executed at Tyburn, on Wednesday, the 22d of March 16989, with a brief Account of his Tryal, Behaviour, and Last Speech. London: J. Haynes. 12mo, 1700; pp. 12.


Chaloner had been three times under prosecution before he petitioned the House of Commons. He was finally apprehended for forging Malt Tickets; but when tried for coining, he feigned madness to avoid pleading. He was however found guilty of high treason by "a cloud of witnesses," and executed, — abusing the Judge and the Jury, and declaring to the last that the witnesses, particularly Holloway, had perjured themselves.


In the Latin version of this passage, given hy Baily in p. 668, for similium read similia, for posteriore read posterum, for enarrare read qua in re; for cum [eorum?] read eum; and for censeas harum read consecuturum.


As this letter derives a peculiar interest, from its connexion with the remarkable letter of Newton of January 6th, which has been the subject of so much discussion, we have printed it in the APPENDIX, No. XIV.


See Baily 's Flamsteed, p. 164.


Flamsteed answered Newton's letter on the 10th of January, in a very contrite spirit, and sent him the paragraph as altered by Wallis.


Baily's Flamsteed, pp. 174, 175.


The Treaty of Ryswick was signed in 1697.


I have given this anecdote in the words of Conduitt, which cannot be correct. James Cassini, the younger, paid a visit to London in the early part of 1698, as appears from the following short note, in which he communicates from his father the periodic times of the five satellites of Saturn, slightly different from those published in the 2d Edit, of the Principia, p. 960.

"Clarissimo viro Domino Isak Newton, Jacobus Cassini. S.P.D.

"Cum e Londino reversurus in Galliam huc pervenissem, accepi a patre meo epistolam una cum maximis satellitum Saturni digressionibus quas a me expostulaveras. Has tibi mandare et gratitudinem meam tuorum erga me beneficiorum simul exhibere mihi liceat. Tuam domum adivi ut te inviserein, sed mala usus fortuna cum nunc abfuisses. Vale vir clarissime, et sic habeas me tibi semper esse addictissimum. Dover, Aprilis, 1698. St. N."


The eight foreign Associates created on this occasion were —

1. Leibnitz.} 2. Guglielmini.} 3. Hartsoecker.}February 4. 4. Tschirnhausen.} 5. James Bernoulli.} 6. John Bernoulli.}February 14. 7. Newton.} 8. Roemer.}February 21.

Newton and Roemer, and the two Bernoullis, were nominated by the Academy, and the other four by the King. — Edleston's Correspondence, &c., p. lxix.


Mr. Weld has published this letter from the Letter-Book of the Royal Society, "as marking the different manner in which the great learned societies of England and France were treated by their respective sovereigns. In the latter country, science was thus early fostered and rewarded, while in England the Royal Society was left to struggle with poverty." — History of the Royal Society, vol. i pp. 355, 366. See vol. i. p. 100, &c.


Mr. Hammond was the opponent of Newton on this occasion. The votes stood thus —

Mr. Henry Boyle,180Mr. Newton,161Mr. Hammond,64


Monk's Life of Bentley, p. 122.


The two persons who had the honour of being knighted along with Sir Isaac were Sir John Ellis, Master of Caius College and Vice-chancellor, and Sir James Montague, the University Counsel, afterwards Lord Chief Baron. Sir James, who was of Trinity College, was a younger brother of Lord Halifax, and, along with others, received on this occasion the degree of LL.D. At the same time the celebrated Dr. Arbuthnot, physician to the Queen, received the degree of M.D.


This letter, which had on the back of it calculations about the Mint, is bound up near the beginning of the second volume of the large folio volumes containing papers about the Mint.


See Bruce's' Annals of the Honourable East India Company, vol. iii. pp. 261, 461, 472, &c.


Fontenelle's Eloge of Leibnitz, Mém. Acad. Par. 1718, p. 126.


There is no address on this letter, of which I have found two rough copies


This appears also from a letter of Flamsteed's written on the 5th April 1705, the day of the dissolution, in which he wishes Newton "good success in his affairs, health, and a happy return." — Baily's Flamsteed, p. 238. This letter (marked "not sent as he returned too soon") is given by Baily as probably addressed to Mr. Hodgson; but as Mr. Edleston first suggested, it was to Newton. — Correspondence, &c., p. lxxiii, note 151.


This letter is among the MSS. of Newton, in the possession of the Rev. Jeffrey Ekins, who kindly communicated it to me. It was probably written shortly before his visit to Cambridge in March.


Cobbett's Parliamentary History, vol. vi. p. 496. Flamsteed thought Newton's success doubtful, "by reason he put in too late." — Baily's Flamsteed, p. 239.


The following was the state of the poll: — Hon. Arthur Annesley,(Magd.,)182 Hon. Dixie Windsor,(Trinity,)170 Hon. Fra. Godolphin,(King's,)162 Sir Isaac Newton,(Trinity,)117

Dr. Bentley voted for Sir Isaac. — Edleston's Correspond., &c., p. lxxiv., note 153.

© 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