'Review of Sir David Brewster's Life of Newton'
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Art I. — Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton. By Sir DAVID BREWSTER, K.H. &c., &c., &c. Two volumes 8vo. Constable and Co. Edinburgh, 1855.
Nothing is more difficult than to settle who is the most illustrious, the most to be admired, in any walk of human greatness. Those who would brain us — if they could but imagine us to have any brains — for hinting that it may be a question whether Shakspere be the first of poets, would perhaps have been Homerites a century ago. In these disputes there is more than matter of opinion, or of taste, or of period: there is also matter of quantity, question of how much, without any possibility of bringing the thing to trial by scale. This element of difficulty is well illustrated by an exception. Among inquirers into what our ignorance calls the laws of nature, an undisputed pre-eminence is given to Isaac Newton, as well by the popular voice, as by the deliberate suffrage of his peers. The right to this supremacy is almost demonstrable. It would be difficult to award the palm to the swiftest, except by set trial, with one starting-place and one goal: nor could we easily determine the strongest among the strong, if the weights they lifted were of miscellaneous material and bulk. But if we saw one of the swiftest among the runners keep ahead of nearly all his comrades, with one of the heaviest of the weights upon his shoulders, we should certainly place him above all his rivals, whether in activity alone, or in strength alone. Though Achilles were the swifter, and Hercules the stronger, a good second to both would be placed above either. This is a statement of Newton's case. We cannot say whether or no he be the first of mathematicians, though we should listen with a feeling of possibility of conviction to those who maintain the affirmative. We cannot pronounce him superior to all men in the sagacity which guides the observer of — we mean rather deducer from — natural phenomena, though we should be curious to see what name any six competent jurors would unanimously return before his. But we know that, in the union of the two powers, the world has never seen a man comparable to him, unless it be one in whose case remoteness of circumstances creates great difficulty of comparison.
Far be it from us to say that if Newton had been Cænopolis, a Sicilian Greek, he would have surpassed Archimedes; or that if Archimedes had been Professor Firstrede, of Trinity College, Cambridge, he would have been below Newton. The Syracusan is, among the ancients, the counterpart of the Englishman among the moderns. Archimedes is perhaps the first among the geometers: and he stands alone in ancient physics. He gave a new geometry — the name was afterwards applied to the infinitesimal calculus — out of which he or a successor would soon have evolved an infinitesimal calculus, if algebra had been known in the West. He founded the sciences of statics and hydrostatics, and we cannot learn that any hint of application of geometry to physics had previously been given. No Cavalieri, no Fermat, no Wallis, went before him in geometry: there was not even a chance of a contemporary Leibnitz. We cannot decide between Archimedes and Newton: the two form a class by themselves into which no third name can be admitted; and the characteristic of that class is the union, in most unusual quantity, of two kinds of power not only distinct, but so distinct that either has often been supposed to be injurious to the favourable development of the other.
The scientific fame of Newton, the power which he established over his contemporaries, and his own general high character, gave birth to the desirable myth that his goodness was paralleled only by his intellect. That unvarying dignity of mind is the necessary concomitant of great power of thought, is a pleasant creed, but hardly attainable except by those whose love for their faith is insured by their capacity for believing what they like. The hero is all hero, even to those who would be loath to pay the compliment of perfect imitation. Pericles, no doubt, thought very little of Hector dragged in the dust behind the chariot: and Atticus we can easily suppose to have found some three-quarter excuse for Romulus when he buried his sword in his brother's body by way of enforcing a retort. The dubious actions of Newton, certainly less striking than those of the heroes of antiquity, have found the various gradations of suppressors,extenuators, defenders, and admirers. But we live, not merely in sceptical days, which doubt of Troy and will none of Romulus, but in discriminating days, which insist on the distinction between intellect and morals. Our generation, with no lack of idols of its own, has rudely invaded the temples in which science worships its founders: and we have before us a biographer who feels that he must abandon the demigod, and admit the impugners of the man to argument without one cry of blasphemy. To do him justice, he is more under the influence of his time, than under its fear: but very great is the difference between the writer of the present volumes and that of the shorter life in the Family Library in 1831; though, if there be any truth in metaphysics, they are the same person.
The two deans of optical science, in Britain and in France, Sir David Brewster and M. Biot, are both biographers of Newton, and take rather different sides on disputed points. Sir D. Brewster was the first writer on optics in whose works we took an interest: but we do not mean printed works. We, plural as we are, remember well the afternoon, we should say the half-holiday, when the kaleidoscope which our ludi-magister — most aptly named for that turn — had just received from London was confided to our care. We remember the committee of conservation, and the regulation that each boy should, at the first round, have the uninterrupted enjoyment of the treasure for three minutes: and we remember, further, that we never could have believed it took so very short a time to boil an egg. A fig for Jupiter and his satellites, and their inhabitants too, if any! What should we have thought of Galileo, when placed by the side of the inventor of this wonder of wonders, who had not only made his own telescope, but his own starry firmament? The inventor of the kaleidoscope must have passed the term allotted to man, before he put his hand to the actual concoction of these long-meditated volumes, in which we find the only life of Newton written on a scale commensurate with Newton's fame. But though he has passed the term, he has not incurred the penalty: his strength is labour without sorrow. We trust therefore that the still later age, the full fourscore, will find him in the enjoyment of the additional fame which he has so well earned. And since his own scientific sensibilities are keen, as evidenced by many a protest against what he conceives to be general neglect on the part of ruling powers, we hope they will make him fully feel that he has linked his own name to that of his first object of human reverence for as long as our century shall retain a place in literary history. This will be conceded by all, how much soever they may differ from the author in opinions or conclusions: and though we shall proceed to attack several of Sir D.Brewster's positions, and though we have no hesitation in affirming that he is still too much of a biographer, and too little of an historian, we admire his earnest enthusiasm, and feel as strongly as anyone of his assentients the service he has rendered to our literature. When a century or two shall have passed, we predict it will be said of our day that the time was not come when both sides of the social character of Newton could be trusted to his follower in experimental science. Though biography be no longer an act of worship, it is not yet a solemn and impartial judgment: we are in the intermediate stage, in which advocacy is the aim, and in which the biographer, when a thought more candid than usual, avows that he is to do his best for his client. We accept the book as we find it: we expect an ex parte statement, and we have it. The minor offence is sometimes admitted, with what we should call the art of an able counsel, if we did not know that the system of the advocate in court is but the imitation of all that is really telling in the natural practices of the partisan defender. But Sir D. Brewster stands clear of the imputation of art by the mixture of all which art would avoid. A judicious barrister, when he has to admit some human nature in his client, puts an additional trump upon the trick by making some allowance for the other side; and nothing puts the other side in so perilous a predicament. It is not so with Sir D. Brewster. When sins against Newton are to be punished, we hear Juvenal; when Newton is to be reprimanded, we hear a nice and delicate Horace, who can
In reverend bishops note some small defects;
And own the Spaniard did a waggish thing,
Who cropt our ears, and sent them to the king.
We have more reasons than one for desiring that it should have been so, and not otherwise. Sir D. Brewster is the first biographer who has had unrestricted access to the Portsmouth papers: he has been allowed to have this collection in his own possession. Had the first life written upon knowledge of these papers taken that view of Newton's social conduct which stern justice to others requires, a condonation of all the previous offences of biographers would have followed. There was not full information: the fault lay with those who suppressed the truth; and so forth. And every great man who has left no hoard of papers would have had a seal of approval placed upon all his biographies; for, you see, Newton was exposed by the publication of the Portsmouth papers, that is easily understood; but A B left no papers, therefore no such exposure can take place, &c, &c. We, who hold that there is and long hasbeen, ample means of proving the injustice with which Newton and his contemporaries once and again treated all who did not bow to the idol, should have been loath to see the garrison which our opponents have placed in the contested forts march out with the honours of war, under a convention made on distant ground, and on a newly-discovered basis of treaty. Again, there is a convenient continuity in the first disclosure of these documents coming from an advocate: the discussion which they excite will be better understood when the defender of Newton is the first to have recourse to Newton's own papers,
Of Newton's birth, of his father's death and the subsequent marriage of his mother, we need say nothing. He was not born with a title, though he was the son of a lord of a very little manor, a yeoman's plot of land with a baronial name. But the knighthood clings strongly to his memory. Sir David (and on looking back, we see that the Doctor did just the same) seldom neglects it. When the schoolboy received a kick from a school-fellow, it was 'Sir Isaac' who fought him in the churchyard, and it was 'Sir Isaac' who rubbed his antagonist's nose against the wall in sign of victory. Should we survive Sir David, we shall Brewster him: we hold that those who are gone, when of a certain note, are entitled to the compliment of the simplest nomenclature. The childhood and boyhood of Newton were distinguished only by great skill in mechanical contrivance. No tradition, no remaining record, imputes any very early progress either in mathematics or general learning, beyond what is seen in thousands of clever boys in any one year of the world. That he was taken from farming occupations, and sent back to school, because he loved study, is told us in general terms; but what study we are not told. We have always been of opinion that the diversion of Newton's flow of reason into its proper channel was the work of the University and its discipline. He was placed at Trinity College as a subsizar in his nineteenth year. We have no proof, but rather the contrary, that he had then opened Euclid. That he was caught solving a problem under a hedge is recorded: perhaps a knotty question of wheelwork. He bought a Euclidat Cambridge, and threw it aside as a trifling book, because the conclusions were so evident: he betook himself to Descartes, and afterwards lamented that he had not given proper attention to Euclid. All this is written, and Sir David is bound to give it; but what Newton has written belies it. We put faith in the Principia, which is the work of an inordinate Euclidian, constantly attempting to clothe in the forms of ancient geometry methods of proceeding which would more easily have been presented by help of algebra. Shall we ever be told that Bacon complained of the baldness of his ownstyle, and wished he had obtained command over metaphor? Shall we learn that Cobbett lamented his constant flow of Gallicism and west-end slang, and regretted that his English had not been more Saxon? If we do, we shall have three very good stories instead of one. We may presume as not unlikely, that Newton, untrained in any science, threw away his Euclid at first, as very evident: no one need be Newton to feel the obvious premise, or to draw the unwise conclusion. But it would belong to his tutor to make him know better: and Newton was made, as we shall see, to know better accordingly. Our reader must not imagine that deep philosophy and high discovery were discernible in the young subsizar, He was, as to what had come out, a clever and somewhat self-willed lad, rather late at school, with his heart in the keeping of a young lady who lived in the house where he had boarded, and vice versa, more than commonly ingenious in the construction of models, with a good notion of a comet as a thing which might be imitated, to the terror of a rustic neighbourhood, by a lantern in a kite's tail, and with a tidy and more than boyish notion of an experiment, as proved by his making an anemometer of himself by trial of jumping with and against the wind. In that tremendous storm in which many believed that Oliver Cromwell's reputed patron came to carry him away, and in which he certainly died, the immortal author of the theory of gravitation was measuring he little knew what, by jumping to and fro. We do not desire to see boys take investiture of greatness from their earliest playtime: we like to watch the veneration of a biographer growing with its cause, and the attraction varying with some inverse power of the distance. And further, we are rather pleased to find that Newton was what mammas call a great boy before he was a great man.
Of all the books which Newton read before he went to Cambridge, only one is mentioned — Sanderson's Logic: this he studied so thoroughly that when he came to college lectures he was found to know it better than his tutor. The work is, for its size, unusually rich in the scholastic distinctions and the parva logicalia; very good food for thought to those who can sound the depths. Newton's Cambridge successors are apt to defend their neglect of logic by citing his supposed example, and that of other great men: but it now appears that Newton was not only conversant with Barbara, Celarent, &c., but even with Fecana, Cajeti, Dafenes, Hebare, Gadaco, &c. We have often remarked that Newton, as in the terminal scholium of the Principia, had more acquaintance with the mode of thought of the schoolmen than any ordinary account of his early reading would suffice to explain. We strongly suspect that he madefurther incursions into the old philosophy, and brought away the idea of fluxions, which had been written on, though not in mathematical form, nor under that name. Suisset's tract on intension and remission is fluxional, though not mathematical: in the very first paragraph he says that the word intension is used uno modo pro alteratione mediante qua qualitas acquiritur: et sic loquendo intensio est motus. For qualitas read quantitas, and we are as near to Newton's idea as we can well be.
In less than four years from the time concerning which we have presumed to ridicule the joint attempt of Conduitt and the biographers to create a dawn for which there is no evidence, the sun rose indeed. Shortly after Newton took his B.A. degree, in 1665, he was engaged on his discovery of fluxions: but there is neither record nor tradition of his having taken his degree with any unusual distinction. Conduitt's information on this period must be absurdly wrong in its dates. We are to believe that the young investigator who conceived fluxions in May 1665, was, at some time in 1664, found wanting in geometry by Barrow, and thereby led not only to study Euclid more attentively, but to "form a more favourable estimate of the ancient geometer when he came to the interesting propositions on the equality of parallelograms….." And this when he was deep in Descartes's geometry of co-ordinates. We entertain no doubt that the unwise contempt for demonstration of evident things, so often cited as a proof of great genius, and its correction by Barrow, all took place in the first few months of his residence at Cambridge. His copy of Descartes, yet existing, is marked in various places, Error, error, non est Geom. No such phrase as non est Geometria would have been used, except by one who had not only read Euclid, but had contracted some of that bias in favour of Greek geometry which is afterwards so manifest in the Principia. Pemberton, who speaks from communication with Newton, and is a better authority than Conduitt, tells us that Newton regretted he had not paid more attention to Euclid. And Doctor Sangrado, when the patient died, regretted that he had not prescribed more bleeding and warm water. The Principia bears already abundant marks of inordinate attachment to the ancient geometry; in one sense, it has died in consequence. If Newton had followed his own path of invention, and written it in fluxions, the young student of modern analysis could have read it to this day, and would have read it with interest: as it is, he reads but a section or two, and this only in England. Before 1669, the year of his appointment to the Lucasian chair, all Newton's discoveries had germed in his mind. The details are notorious, and Sir D. Brewster is able to add a remarkable early paper on fluxions to those already before the world.<314>
We here come upon the well-known letter to Mr Aston, a young man about to travel, which, as Sir David says, "throws a strong light on the character and opinions of its author." It does indeed, and we greatly regret that the mode in which that character has been represented as the perfection of highmindedness compels us to examine this early exhibition of it, in connexion with one of a later date. Newton is advising his young friend how to act if he should be insulted. Does he recommend him, as a Christian man, to entertain no thought of revenge, and to fear his own conscience more than the contempt of others? Or, as a rational man, does he dissuade him from the folly of submitting the decision of his difference to the logic of sword or pistol? Or, supposing him satisfied by well-known sophisms that the duel is noble and necessary, does he advise his friend to remember that dishonour is dishonour everywhere? He writes as follows: —
"If you be affronted, it is better, in a forraine country, to pass it by in silence, and with a jest, though with some dishonour, than to endeavour revenge; for, in the first case, your credit's ne'er the worse when you return into England, or come into other company that have not heard of the quarrell. But, in the second case, you may beare the marks of the quarrell while you live, if you outlive it at all."
This letter has often been printed, in proof of Newton's sagacity and wisdom. If Pepys or Boswell had written the preceding advice, they would not have been let off very easily. Again, when, many years after, Newton wrote, as member for the University in the Parliament which dethroned King James, to Dr. Covel the Vice-Chancellor, he requests a reasonable decorum in proclaiming William and Mary, "because," says he, "I hold it to be their interest to set the best face upon things, after the example of the London divines." And again, "Those at Cambridge ought not to judge and censure their superiors, but to obey and honour them, according to the law and the doctrine of passive obedience." What had Newton and passive obedience just been doing with King James? These instances, apart from science, show us the character of Newton out of science: he had not within himself the source from whence to inculcate high and true motives of action upon others; the fear of man was before his eyes. But his mind had been represented as little short of godlike: and we are forced upon proof of the contrary. Had it been otherwise, had his defects been duly admitted, it would have been pleasant to turn to his uncompromising philosophic writings, and to the manner in which, when occupied with the distinction between scientific truth and falsehood, no meaner distinction ever arose in his mind. This would have been, but for his worshippers, our chief concern with him. The time will come when his social weaknesses are only quoted in proof of the completeness with which a high feeling may rule the principal occupation of life, which has a much slighter power over the subordinate ones. Strange as it may seem, there have been lawyers who have been honest in their practice, and otherwise out of it: there have been physicians who have shown humanity and kindness, such as no fee could ever buy, at the bedside of the patient and nowhere else.
Sir David Brewster gives Newton's career in optics at great length; it is his own subject, and he makes us feel how completely he is at home. He gives a cursory glance at the science even down to our own time; and he does the same with astronomy. The biographer would rather have had more of the time of Newton, and particularly, more extracts from the Portsmouth papers. But we must think of our neighbours as well as of ourselves: and the general reader will be glad, to know that so much of the work is especially intended for him. We have not space to write an abstract: but the book is very readable. In the turmoil of discussion which arose out of his optical announcements, Newton made the resolution, which he never willingly broke, of continuing his researches only for his own private satisfaction. I see, said he, that a man must either resolve to put out nothing new, or to become a slave to defend it. It seems that he expected all his discoveries to be received without opposition.
About 1670, or later, Newton drew up a scheme for management of the Royal Society, which Sir D. Brewster found among the papers. Certain members, some in each department, should be paid, and should have fixed duties in the examination of books, papers, experiments, &c. In this paper our biographer, whose views on this subject are very large and of old standing, sees the recommendation of an Institute, which indeed, on a small scale, the plan seems to advocate. Sir David would have all the societies congregated at Kensington Gore, under liberal patronage, and images to himself that "each member of the now insulated Societies would listen to the memoirs and discussions of the assembled Academy, and science andliterature would thus receive a new impulse from the number and variety of their worshippers!" If all Fellows were savans, and if all savans studied all sciences, this might be practicable. There is one body in London which cultivates a large range of subjects, the Royal Society itself: and all the world knows that the meetings of this society, abounding in Fellows of such universality of knowledge as in our time is practicable, are less interesting and worse attended than those of any of the societies for special objects. And reason good: the astronomer or the geologist goes down to his own place for he knows what; but the astronomer is shy of a society of which it is as likely that any one evening may give him a treat of physiology as of astronomy, and the geologist, who wants a stone when he asks for bread, turns very sleepy under a dose of hyperdeterminants or definite integrals.
Newton's reputation rests on a tripod, the feet of which are fluxions, optics, gravitation. Each one of these words must be used in a very large sense: thus by fluxions we mean all mathematics as bearing upon a system of which the fluxional calculus is at the completion. Of the three supports of this tripod one only has received any damage, though left quite strong enough, in conjunction with the rest, to support the fabric through all time. In optics only, the subject on which Newton showed his first impatience of opposition, his opinion, even his system, has been set aside in our own day. The hypothesis of an undulating ether, as the immediate agent in the production of light, has superseded that of particles emanating from the luminous body: and though the undulationists, now a large majority, have long maintained their theory with a higher order of certainty than they were entitled to, yet it seems that time is drifting their conclusions to a stable anchorage. There is something like coincidence in the almost simultaneous appearance of the first elaborate biography of Newton, who well-nigh strangled the undulatory theory in its cradle, and of that of Young, who first played a part of power in its resuscitation. As yet, Young is fully known but to a few: his early education was not, like that of Newton, conducted under a system which corrects the false impressions of green age. Had he been trained in a University, he would have been, as they say of the globe, rectified for the latitude of the place: but speculation on what he might have become may be deferred until what he did become is of more popular notoriety. Dean Peacock's Life is one of the best of scientific biographies, and the three volumes of Young's collected writings are treasures to all who know what intellectual wealth is.
We come to the Principia, and we confess that we heartily wish it were but just and right to persuade ourselves that the author of this work could do no wrong. One of the greatest wonders about it is the manner in which it was thrown off in eighteen months. Certainly the matter had fermented in Newton's mind many years before: but it was not the irresistible call of his own genius which drew him to the work in December 1684; it was Halley, and the influence of the Royal Society brought to bear by Halley. Sir D. Brewster very properly contends that to Halley, not to the Society, the Principia is due. Who found out, casually, that Newton had had some great success in the question which had occupied many of the first minds, the connexion of the planetary motions with mechanical second causes? Who went to Cambridge to learn the truth of the report, obtained specimens from Newton with a promise to go on, got himself appointed by the Royal Society to "keep Mr. Newton in mind of his promise," did keep Mr. Newton in mind, and doubtless let him have no peace unless he continually reported progress? Who, when Newton, disgusted with the unfair claim of Hooke, proposed to leave out the third book (that is, all the application of the previous books to the actual solar system), soothed him with skilful kindness, and made what Sir D. Brewster calls his "excellent temper" recover its serenity? Who paid the expense of printing, when the Royal Society found it could not afford to fulfil its engagement? To all those questions the answer is — Halley, who shines round the work, as Newton shines in it. When Newton proposed to leave out the third book, he felt that Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica was no longer the true title, but rather De Motu Corporum Libri Duo: but, feeling this, he intended to preserve the wrong title, because, as he says to Halley, "'Twill help the sale of the book, which I ought not to diminish now 'tis yours." The greatest of all works of discovery, with a catch-penny title! We can hardly excuse this, even though the penny were angled for by a feeling of gratitude. We never liked the "Eme, lege, fruere," which figures in the titlepage of Copernicus: this was the work of an injudicious friend; but Newton was only saved from worse by his incomparable adviser.
We are come to the time when the morbid dislike of opposition which would, but for Halley, first have prevented the Principia from being written, and next have deprived it of its essential conclusions, is no longer regarded as the modesty of true greatness, and served up for us to admire, as we shall answer the contrary at our peril. It is passed without comment; we are now in slack water, and the turn of tide will be here in due season. The sooner the better; for the indulgence due to the mother failings of a great public benefactor cannot be cheerfully and cordially given so long as our gratitude is required to show itself in misnomers and make-believes. Candid acknowledgment would convert censure into regret: sufficient acknowledgment would turn the reader into an extenuator: the Principia would neutralize greater faults than Newton's; but it will not convert them into merits. The quarrel is not with Newton for his weaknesses, but with the biographer for his misconception of his own office. How indeed would it be possible to think for a moment with harshness of a great man of all time, and a good man of an evil time, on account of errors which we never could have known but for the benefits to ourselves in the achievement of which they were committed?
If faults had exhibited themselves in matters affecting society at large, by offences, as it were, against the Crown, the fountain of justice would also have been that of mercy, and the evidence to character and services would have secured a nominal sentence. But the suits we have to deal with are in civil process. The memory of more than one illustrious contemporary brings an action for damages, and palliation of the defendant is injustice to the plaintiff.
Though not much relying on Conduitt's memoranda of mathematical conversations, we trust that which follows, and it will much please young mathematicians to read of Newton in one of their own scrapes. When Halley visited him in 1684, —
. . . "he at once indicated the object of his visit by asking Newton what would be the curve described by the planets on the supposition that gravity diminished as the square of the distance. Newton immediately answered, an Ellipse. Struck with joy and amazement, Halley asked him how he knew it? Why, replied he, I have calculated it; and being asked for the calculation, he could not find it, but promised to send it to him. After Halley left Cambridge, Newton endeavoured to reproduce the calculation, but did not succeed in obtaining the same result. Upon examining carefully his diagram and calculation, he found that in describing an ellipse coarsely with his own hand, he had drawn the two axes of the curve instead of two conjugate diameters, somewhat inclined to one another. When this mistake was corrected, he obtained the result which he had announced to Halley."
This anecdote carries truth on the face of it, for Conduitt was neither mathematician enough to have conceived it, nor to have misconceived it into anything so natural and probable as what he has given. Little things illustrate great ones. Newton, whose sagacity in pure mathematics has an air of divination, who has left statements of result without demonstration, so far advancedthat to this day we cannot imagine how they were obtained, except by attributing to him developments of the doctrine of fluxions far, far beyond what he published, or any one of his time — this Newton was liable, both in his own closet and in his printed page, to those little incuriæ which the man of pen and ink must sometimes commit, and which the man who can push through a mental process may indeed commit, but is almost sure to detect when he empties his head upon paper. Now join what precedes to Newton's own assertion that he had no peculiar sagacity, but that all he had done was due to patience and perseverance; an assertion at any common interpretation of which we may well smile, but which, all things put together, may justify us in such an irreverent simile as the supposition that he hunted rather by scent than by sight.
We now come to the second volume, and to those points on which we more especially differ from Sir D. Brewster. Our plan must be to take one or two prominent cases, and to discuss them with the biographer. We do not express disapprobation at the facility with which he credits the opponents of Newton with bad motives: we are glad of it, and thank him for it. There is a pledge of earnest sincerity in the wildness with which the barbed arrow is fired at Leibnitz or at Flamsteed; and if the partisan be too much led away by his feelings to be a judicious counsel, it is not we, to whom trouble is saved, who ought to blame him for it. We take the following as an instance, chiefly because we can be brief upon it.
Newton and others, acting for Prince George, entered into an agreement with Flamsteed: articles of agreement were signed, out of the execution of which quarrels arose. We must know, as Sir David justly observes, what these articles were before we can judge. No signed copy appears: Mr. Baily found none among Flamsteed's papers, Sir David found none among Newton's. But draught articles occur in both repositories: and, wonderful to relate, the unsigned draughts actually differ; Flamsteed's draughts bind him less, Newton's draughts bind Flamsteed more. The case is a very common one: the manner in which Sir David treats it is not quite so common. Speaking of Flamsteed, he informs us that "of these he has left no copy, because he had wilfully violated them:" speaking of the draughts in Newton's possession, he says, "I regret to say that they are essentially different from those published by Mr. Baily;" by which he means that Newton's unsigned papers are of course copies of the signed agreement, and Flamsteed's of course no such thing; the false draughts being purposely retained by Flamsteed, in preference to the final articles purposely destroyed. We need not tell our readers that a man is not to be pronounced dishonest because his draught proposals do not agree with his signed covenants, still less because they do not agree with the other parties' draught proposals. Newton and Flamsteed were both honest men, with very marked faults of different kinds: we may be sure neither of them privately destroyed a document for the suppression of evidence. When Sir D. Brewster not merely opines, but narrates, that Flamsteed left no copy because he had wilfully violated them, he is our very good friend, and lightens our task very much.
When Newton allowed himself to perpetrate, not the suppression of a document, for a third edition does not suppress the first and second, but a revocation so made as to do all that could be done towards suppression, Sir David Brewster is his defender, and in this instance, we really believe, one of the last of his defenders. He thinks the step was "perhaps unwise," but proceeds to say that Newton was "not only entitled but constrained" to cancel the passage.
When Leibnitz applied to Newton for information on the nature of the discoveries with rumours of which the English world was ringing, Newton communicated some of his algebraic discoveries, but studiously concealed a descriptive mention of fluxions under the celebrated anagrams, or sentences with their letters transposed into alphabetical order. Leibnitz (1677) replied, almost immediately, with a full and fair disclosure of his own differential calculus, and in so doing became the first publisher of that method, and under the symbols which are now in universal use. He adds that he thinks Newton's concealed method must resemble his own; thus holding out an invitation to Newton to say yes or no. Not one word of answer from Newton. Accordingly, when Leibnitz printed his discovery in the Leipsic Acts for 1684, he did not affirm that Newton was in possession of a method similar to his own. What ought he to have done, we ask of our readers, under these circumstances? Ought he to have given Newton's assertions about his method, as assertions, leaving it to a suspicious temper to surmise that the reader was desired not to believe without proof? Ought he, as a matter of compliment, to have promulgated what Newton was doing everything in the power to conceal? Seven years had passed, and Newton had made no sign: was Leibnitz bound, either in fairness or in courtesy, to take on himself to affirm that he had a method similar to his own? Not in fairness; for if a man studiously conceal and continue to conceal his discovery, those to whom he may have stated that he had a discovery are not bound to be his trumpeters until such time as he shall please to reveal himself. Not in courtesy; a man who sends only anagrams, and when he receives from his correspondent a fulland open account of that correspondent's discoveries, and an invitation to state whether his own resemble them, returns no answer, cannot complain of want of courtesy if his correspondent keep silence about him thenceforward. What Leibnitz did, was merely to state that no one would successfully treat such problems as he had treated, except by his own calculus, or one similar to it. Sir D. Brewster calls his silence with respect to Newton the first fault in the controversy: we see no fault at all; and if we did, we should call it the second. The paper had no historical allusions; Cavalieri, Fermat, and Hudde, each of whom had shown the world something approaching to calculus, are not named in it: and either of these had more claim to mention than Newton at that time. But, two years afterwards, in 1686, Leibnitz published a paper in the same Leipsic Acts, a paper which Newton did not cite when, long after, he was writing against Leibnitz, a paper which the Newtonians are very shy of citing, and of which, apparently, Sir David knows nothing. In this paper he explains the foundation of the integral calculus, the matter of which was much more likely to recall Newton to mind than his former paper on the differential calculus: for his application to Newton, in the first instance, was to know what he had done on series, and especially with reference to their use in quadratures, which we now call integration. Here he gives an historical summary; and speaking of those who had performed quadratures by series, he proceeds thus; — "A geometer of the most profound genius, Isaac Newton, has not only arrived at this point independently of others, but has solved the question by a certain universal method: and if he would publish, which I understand he is now preparing to do, beyond doubt he would open new paths, to the great increase, as well as condensation, of science." A passing word on Leibnitz. We shall not stop to investigate the various new forms in which Sir D. Brewster tries to make him out tricking and paltry. We have gone through all the stages which a reader of English works can go through. We were taught, even in boyhood, that the Royal Society had made it clear that Leibnitz stole his method from Newton. By our own unassisted research into original documents we have arrived at the conclusion that he was honest, candid, unsuspecting, and benevolent. His life was passed in law, diplomacy, and public business; his leisure was occupied mostly by psychology, and in a less degree by mathematics. Into this last science he made some incursions, produced one of the greatest of its inventions, almost simultaneously with one of its greatest names, and made himself what Sir D. Brewster calls the "great rival" of Newton, in Newton's most remarkable mathematical achievement. <322>
Newton, in the first edition of the Principia, gave a fair and candid account of the matter. But, many years after, when this important passage was quoted against those (and we now know that Newton was always one of them) who endeavoured to prove Leibnitz a plagiarist, he tried to explain away the force of his own admissions. This he did twice; once in a private paper which Sir D. Brewster has published — and, strange to say, in vindication of the suppression of the passage which took place in the third edition — and once in those observations on Leibnitz's last letter which he circulated among friends until Leibnitz died and then sent at once to press. We give the Scholium from the Principia, and the two explanations.
Scholium from the "Principia" (first edition.) "In letters which passed between me and that most skilful geometer G. G. Leibnitz ten years ago, when I signified that I had a method of determining maxima and minima, of drawing tangents to curves, and the like, which would apply equally to irrational as to rational quantities, and concealed it under transposed letters which would form the following sentence — Data æquatione quotcunque fluentes quantitates involvente, fluxiones invenire, et vice versa — that eminent man wrote back that he also had fallen upon a method of the same kind, and communicated his method, which hardly differed from mine in anything except language and symbols. The foundation of both is contained in the preceding Lemma."
|Newton's explanation, left in manuscript.||Newton's explanation circulated in writing, and printed in Raphson's Fluxions (1716, date of title 1715) after Leibnitz's death.|
|"After seven years, viz. in October 1684, he published the elements of this method as his own, without referring to the correspondence which he formerly had with the English about these matters. He mentioned indeed, a methodus similis, but whose that method was, and what he knew of it, he did not say, as he should have done. And thus his silence put me upon a necessity of writing the Scholium upon the second Lemma of the second Book of Principles, lest it should be thought that I borrowed that Lemma from Mr. Leibnitz."||P. 115. He pretends that in my book of Principles, pp. 253, 254, I allowed him the invention of the Calculus Differentialis independently of my own; and that to attribute this invention to myself, is contrary to my knowledge. But in the paragraph there referred unto, I do not find one word to this purpose. On the contrary, I there represent that I sent notice of my method to Mr Leibnitz before he sent notice of his method to me: and left him to make it appear that he had found his method before the date of my letter; that is, eight months at least before the date of his own. And by referring to the letters which passed between Mr Leibnitz and me ten years before, I left the reader to consult these letters, and interpret the paragraph thereby."|
The first explanation is from a manuscript supplement to thatprinted answer to Leibnitz of which the second explanation is part. We think better of Newton in 1687 than to believe either, though we do not doubt that Newton in 1716 saw his former self through the clouds of 1712. Though the morbid suspicion of others, which was his worst fault of temperament, the fault alluded to by Locke, did act to some extent throughout his whole life, yet we do not believe that it was in 1687 what it afterwards became when he had sat on the throne of science for many years, the object of every form of admiration, and every form of flattery. Could we believe his first explanation, could we think that in 1687 his hidden anagrams, answered by Leibnitz's candid revelations, produced no effect except a diseased feeling that perhaps Leibnitz would rob him, instead of a generous confidence that Leibnitz would not suspect him, we should turn from him with pity. We must now change our position, and defend him from his biographer. Sir D. Brewster does not quote the second explanation: he only cites the page, and quotes a few words occurring further on, which are much less to the purpose, and which he says "fortunately" give us Newton's opinion. Now we say that the second explanation, as quoted by us, fortunately saves Newton from his own imputation upon himself. The two explanations cannot stand together: according to the first, Newton was guarding himself from a charge of plagiarism; according to the second, he was putting upon Leibnitz the onus of averting a similar charge from himself. Both motives might have been simultaneous; but both could not be so much the chief motives as to be separately worthy of standing alone. But the most precious inference in Newton's favour is that the second explanation is demonstrably not the true one, and the disorder of mind which perverted the best-known facts may as easily, and more easily, have perverted the memory of impressions. Those letters which Newton referred to that the reader might consult them, for interpretation of his printed paragraph, had never been published, had never been announced, were not then likely to be published, and in fact never were published till 1699, thirteen years afterwards. Moreover, the letters were not written by Leibnitz and Newton to one another, but by both to Oldenburg: how could the readers of the Principia have known what to go to; or how could they have gone to the letters, if they had known? The truth we suspect to be as follows; — In 1712, when those letters were first republished, the second edition of the Principia was in preparation, and the battle of fluxions was raging; we believe that in 1716, all that Newton said of himself in reference to the first edition of the Principia must be referred to the Newton of the second edition, On any other supposition, except morbid confusion of ideas, Newton must be charged with worse than we ever believed of him. What well-read and practised investigator, with his mind in its normal state, and all his books before him, ever mistakes the date of first publication of any of his own works by thirteen years, in a deliberate answer to an acute opponent? Again, Newton is quite wrong as to the eight months which he gives Leibnitz to execute his alleged fraud in. His own Commercium Epistolicum would have taught him better. Though his second letter to Oldenburg (the one in question) was dated October 24, 1676, and Leibnitz's answer June 21, 1677, yet Collins informs Newton that the copy intended for Leibnitz was in his hands on March 5, 1677, but that in a week it would be despatched to Hanover by a private hand.
We are of opinion that the moral intellect of Newton — not his moral intention, but his power of judging — underwent a gradual deterioration from the time when he settled in London. We see the faint traces of it in his manner of repudiation of the infinitesimal view of fluxions, in 1704. A man of sound judgment as to what is right does not abandon a view which he has held in common with a great rival, and this just at a time when the world is beginning to ask which came first in their common discovery, without a clear admission of the abandonment: he does not imply that some have held that view, and declare against the opinion of those some, without a distinct statement that he himself had been one of them: still less does he quietly and secretly alter what he had previously published, or allowed to be published, so as to turn the old view into the new one, and to leave the reader to understand that he had never changed his opinion. The Newton of the mythologists would have felt to his fingers' ends that such a proceeding had a tendency to give false impressions as to the case, and to throw suspicion on his own motives. This is a small matter, but it is a commencement of worse. We come to the Commercium Epistolicum, the name given to the collection of letters, accompanied by notes and a decision of the question, on the part of a Committee of the Royal Society. To this well-known part of the history Sir D. Brewster has a very important addition to make; and he makes it fairly, though we confess we wish he had given us what they call chapter and verse. "It is due to historical truth to state that Newton supplied all the materials for the Commercium Epistolicum, and that though Keill was its editor, and the Committee of the Royal Society the authors of the Report, Newton was virtually responsible for its contents."
Before we proceed further, we must address a respectful word to Lord Portsmouth, the descendant of Newton's niece, the representative of his blood, and the possessor of these valuable papers, to whose liberality and judgment the permission to publish their contents is due, after long concealment from fear of hurting Newton's reputation, and long abeyance from family circumstances. We submit to him that either too much is done, or not enough. Great harm arose out of the rumours which circulated during the period in which the papers were concealed: both the opponents and the defenders of Newton's conduct were, without any fault of their own, put in a wrong position as to interpretation of facts and appreciation of probabilities. Much more harm will be done if the regretful admissions of so warm a partisan as Sir D. Brewster be allowed to stand instead of these rumours. The papers cannot possibly contain anything from which any such injury would arise as unquestionably will arise from the above substitution, which, to all the indefiniteness of mere rumour, adds all the authority of a judicial decision. For when Sir D. Brewster declares against Newton, it is as if a counsel threw up his brief: we mean nothing disrespectful, for we remember when we ourselves would have held it, on such retainers as the Principia, the fluxions, and the optics. Why should not these papers be published? It must come to this at last. We have little doubt that the Government would defray the expense, which would be considerable: and the Admiralty publication of the Flamsteed papers would be a precedent of a peculiarly appropriate character. Those who were scandalised at the idea of the nation paying for the printing of an attack upon Newton would take it as reparation: while those who entirely approved of the proceeding would as heartily approve of the new measure. It is impossible that the matter should rest here. Sir D. Brewster himself will probably desire, for his own sake, for that of Newton, and for that of truth, that thesedocuments should undergo public scrutiny. And we have no delicacy in saying that they ought to come under the eyes of persons familiar with the higher parts of mathematics, which Sir D. Brewster neither is, nor pretends to be.
The Committee of the Royal Society was always considered in England as judicial, not as expressly defensive of Newton. A few years ago, Professor De Morgan, a decided opposer of Newton and the Committee in the fluxional dispute — and one whose views Sir D. Brewster states himself to have confirmed on several points — rescued the objects of his censure from the inferences which this notion would lead to, and showed that the Royal Society intended its Committee for purposes of advocacy, and that the members of the Committee had no other idea of their own function. Sir D. Brewster says that Newton himself asserted this also: he does not say where, and this is only one of several obiter dicta which ought to have been supported by reference; we remember no such statement. It is now of course perfectly settled that the Committee was not judicial; and we find Newton to have been the real source of the materials of the Commercium Epistolicum, and answerable for all the running notes which accompany the published correspondence. We might easily proceed to justify our assertion that his moral intellect was undergoing deterioration: but for want of space we shall pass on to 1716, and shall make one extract from his letter to Conti, in which, in his own name, he makes the assertion that Leibnitz had stolen from him. He says that he had explained his "method" to Leibnitz, "partly in plain words and partly in cyphers," and that Leibnitz "disguised it by a new notation pretending that it was his own." His statement contains two untruths, which we impute to the forgetfulness of irritation. He did not describe part of his method in plain words: all that he described in plain words was the species of problems which he could solve. When Glendower said, "I can call spirits from the vasty deep," no one ever supposed that he "partly described" the "method" of doing it. Secondly, he did not describe the rest in cypher: he put the letters of his sentences into alphabetical order, and gave what was called an anagram. There are many good decypherers in the country, and the task is one for a mathematician: Wallis in past times, and Mr. Babbage now, may be cited as instances. But no one will undertake to say what the sentence is which we have decomposed into the following string of letters: 6a 2c 5d 19e 2f 3h 5ij 3kl 6n 5o 8r 9s 9t 3u 2vw 3y; ninety-three letters in all, six of which are a's, two are c's, &c.
Yet a few years more, and the deterioration is more decided. In 1722, Newton himself wrote a preface and an Ad Lectoremto the reprint of the Commercium Epistolicum, and caused to be prefixed a Latin version of the account of that work which he had inserted anonymously in the Philosophical Transactions for 1715. His authorship of this paper, constantly denied, and for very cogent reasons, by his partisans, but proved from evidence internal and external, is now admitted by Sir D. Brewster. Much is to be got from those documents, but we shall only add that a few years ago Mr. De Morgan, discovered that some alterations, one in particular of great importance, had been made in this reprint, without notice. Of this Sir D. Brewster says not one word. He calls the reprint a new edition, which it was not: so completely does it profess to be only a reprint, that the old titlepage, and the old date, are reprinted after the new title, and the avowedly new matter at the beginning. We now believe that Newton was privy to the alterations, and especially to the most important of all: we believe it independently of what may possibly arise from further scrutiny; and we suppose from Sir D. Brewster's silence that he has no means of contradicting this natural inference. The famous letter of Newton to Collins, on which the Committee (very absurdly) made the whole point turn, was asserted to have been sent to Leibnitz, but no date of transmission was given with the letter, though the report of the Committee affirmed a rough date of which nothing was said in their evidence. A date of transmission was smuggled into the reprint. Where does this date first appear? Who first gave it? Newton himself in the Philosophical Transactions, anonymously, and without stating any authority.
Lastly, in the third edition of the Principia, Newton struck out the scholium in which he had recognised the rights of Leibnitz. It has been supposed that Pemberton, who assisted him, was the real agent in this "perhaps unwise" step: but it appears distinctly that Newton alone is responsible. He struck out this scholium; did he state openly why, and let his reader know what had been done? He supplied it by another scholium, beginning and ending in words similar to the old one, but describing, not the correspondence with Leibnitz, but the celebrated letter to Collins. If the old scholium had been misunderstood, as Newton affirms it was, nothing would have been more easy than to annex an explanation: if the suppression were done in the way of punishment, it should have been done openly. Newton, in the second edition of the Principia, had revenged himself on Flamsteed by omitting Flamsteed's name in every place in which he could possibly do without it: the omission of his candid and proper acknowledgment of what had passed between himself and Leibnitz was but a repetition of the same conduct under more aggravated circumstances. Of this letterto Collins, asserted to have been sent to Leibnitz, and falsely, as proved in our own day both from what was sent to Leibnitz, now in the Library at Hanover, and from the draught which has turned up in the archives of the Royal Society, we shall only say that it proved that Newton was more indebted to Hudde than Leibnitz would have been to him if he had seen the letter. But the relations of Hudde to the two inventors of the differential calculus would be matter for a paper apart.
To discuss every subject would require volumes; and we shall therefore now pass on to Sir D. Brewster's treatment of the curious question of the relation which existed between Newton's half niece, Catherine Barton, and his friend and patron, Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax. Sir D. Brewster declares that for a century and a half no stain has been cast on the memory of Mrs. C. Barton, and then proceeds to quote Voltaire's insinuation as scarcely deserving notice; so that by "no stain" we are to understand no stain which he thinks worthy of notice. Now the fact is that, though respect for Newton has kept the matter quiet, there has always been a general impression that it was a doubtful question, a thing to be discussed, whether or no Mrs. C. Barton was the mistress of Lord Halifax. Mr. De Morgan took up this subject in the Notes and Queries (No. 210) and, perfectly satisfied that she was either a wife or a mistress, came to a balanced conclusion that, as he says, "the supposition of a private marriage, generally understood among the friends of the parties, seems to me to make all the circumstances take an air of likelihood which no other hypothesis will give them: and this is all my conclusion." Sir D. Brewster, whose mind admits no such balance, makes this the "inference" of a private marriage. The grounds of the alternative are that she was publicly declared, by the writer of the Life of Halifax, to have lived, when very young, and she herself distinguished by beauty and wit, in the house of Lord Halifax as "superintendent of his domestic affairs:" and this not in attack, but defensively, with a declaration that she was a virtuous woman, though "those that were given to censure passed a judgment upon her which she no ways merited." Further, Lord Halifax held in trust an annuity for her of £200 a year, bought in Newton's name: besides which he left her £5000, with Bushy Park and a manor for life: while neither she nor anyone of her friends contradicted the admission made in the Life of Halifax, which came out at the time, when the legacies and the annuity would have turned public attention upon Miss Barton. This is a subject unconnected with mathematics; and we dwell upon it more than its intrinsic importance deserves, because it will enable us to show to every reader the kind of reasoning which can be pressed into the service of biography, when biography herself has been tempted into the service of partisanship. We may judge from the arguments which Sir David is driven to employ, that he would have followed the example of other biographers in slurring this subject, if Mr. De Morgan's closing words had not reminded him that the day for such a suppression was past: — "such points, relating to such men as Newton, will not remain in abeyance for ever, let biographers be as timid as they will." And we may also judge from these arguments why it is that the subject has been allowed to remain in abeyance.
And first, as to the annuity. Halifax holds in trust an annuity for Miss Barton, and directs his executor to give her all aid in the transfer: this annuity was bought in Newton's name. Sir D. Brewster declares that "an annuity purchased in Sir Isaac Newton's name can mean nothing else than an annuity purchased by Sir Isaac Newton." This is an assertion of desperation — it could have meant, not thereby saying that it did mean, a settlement by Halifax on Miss Barton, done in Newton's name, with or without Newton's knowledge; and done in Newton's name purposely that people might think it was made by Newton, or at least, not by Halifax. This may appear impossible to Sir D. Brewster in 1855, and yet it may have been done in 1706. We may fairly infer that Halifax did not draw his will with the intention of giving colour to those reports against which his biographer protests, or with the intention of exciting such reports: if the annuity were bought by Newton, what more easy than to have said so? In spite of Sir D. Brewster, who is neither lawyer nor actuary, we affirm positively that the description of an annuity upon the life of A.B., as bought in the name of C.D., does not imply that C.D. paid for it, and that so far as it implies anything on the point, which is little enough, it is the very contrary. Again, Conduitt does not mention this annuity in his list of the benefactions which Newton, who was very generous to his family, bestowed on his poorer relations. For this Sir D. Brewster has to find a reason; Conduitt was the husband of Catherine Barton, knew of the assertions in Halifax's biography, had read Halifax's will, and must have been cognisant of the fact that the existence of a scandal had been asserted in print. And he finds a curious reason.
"But the annuity was not a benefaction like those contained in Conduitt's list. It was virtually a debt due to his favourite niece whom he had educated, and who had for twenty years kept his house; and if she had not received it from Sir Isaac, his conduct would have been very unjust, as, owing to his not having made a will, she got only the eighth part of his personal estate along with his four nephews and [three other] nieces."<330>
Let us first take Sir D. Brewster's statement, as here given, erroneous as it is. When a single man educates a favourite niece, thereby distinguishing her from his other nieces, and gives her shelter and maintenance until she marries (for we must here take Sir D. Brewster's assertion that she did not leave him to live with Lord Halifax), all the world knows that the least that favourite niece can do is to keep house for him, and that the idea of her services in looking after the dinner, which he pays for and gives her share of, running him into debt, actual or virtual (O the virtue of this word!), is an absurdity. No doubt a man ought to provide for such a niece after his death: but if he should leave her, as Newton did to Miss Barton, the eighth part of £32,000, producing an income of more than £200 a year, he treats her very handsomely: especially if a friend of his should have left her a large fortune, and his introduction should have married her to a member of Parliament. Now to Sir D. Brewster's statement. Just before our quotation begins, he informs us that by the act of transference it appears that this trust was created in 1706, so that he seems to say that Miss Barton, aged six years, began to keep Newton's rooms in Trinity College, when he was writing the Principia: for he says she "had" kept his house for twenty years. He does not mean this: but here and elsewhere he heaps circumstances together without sufficient attention to consistency. We very much doubt if Newton could have afforded the price of that annuity in 1706. He came to London with very little in 1696: by 1706 he had enjoyed £600 a year for four years, and £1500 a year for six years. An annuity of £200 on a life of twenty-six, money making five per cent., now costs above £3000: if we say, which is straining the point to the utmost, that Miss Barton's annuity cost £2000, we confess we think it not very likely that Newton could have bought it, or that he would have held it just to his other relatives to have bought so large an annuity. But we are quite sure that Conduitt, under all the circumstances, would never have held this annuity as payment of a debt due to his wife; he would not have made the twenty years end with 1706, to speak of nothing else.
Next, we come to the way in which Sir D. Brewster treats the assertions of Halifax's biographer. Those assertions are not in attack, but in defence; the witness is a friendly one, and the publication was made at the very time when Halifax's will had just drawn public attention to the legacies.
"I am likewise to account for another Omission in the Course of this History, which is that of the Death of the Lord Halifax's Lady; upon whose Decease his Lordship took a Resolution of living single thence forward, and cast his Eye upon the Widow of one Colonel Barton, and Niece to the famous Sir Isaac Newton, to be Superintendent of his domestic Affairs. But as this Lady was young, beautiful and gay, so those that were given to censure, pass'd a Judgment upon her which she no Ways merited, since she was a Woman of strict Honour and Virtue; and tho' she might be agreeable to his Lordship in every Particular, that noble Peer's Complaisance to her, proceeded wholly from the great Esteem he had for her Wit and most exquisite Understanding, as will appear from what relates to her in his Will at the Close of these Memoirs."
Now Sir D. Brewster is so far biassed by the necessities of his case, as to affirm that it is not here stated that Miss Barton (that she had been married is a mistake) lived under Halifax's roof. "His biographer makes no such statement. . . . How could any person contradict the cast of an eye — the only act ascribed to Halifax by his biographer ?" The writer of "Newton" in the Biographia Britannica — as strong a partisan as Sir David — could not get so far as this ingenious solution: for he makes Halifax's continuance in his widowed state "the less to be regretted" on account of this "cast of an eye." We are to infer, according to Sir David, that this friendly biographer, wishing to defend Miss Barton from censure she no ways deserved, and alluding to rumours which had no source except a "plan or a wish" of Lord Halifax, omitted to state that the plan was all Montague's eye; and forgot to assert the very material circumstance that she did not accede to the plan, that she did not live in the house of her earnest admirer. We make no doubt, on the other hand, that the apologist means to say that she did live there, and made her a widow to give some colour of respectability to it. Her noble admirer left his large legacy "as a token," he writes, "of the sincere love, affection, and esteem, I have long had for her person, and as a small recompence for the pleasure and happiness I have had in her conversation." Sir D. Brewster appends a note to prove thatlove and affection "had not, in Halifax's day, the same meaning which they have now." Does he really think that they mean nothing now except conjugal love and its imitations? Does not a man still love his friends, and might not Pope write to H. Cromwell now, as then, of his affection and esteem? If we come to old meanings, we might remember that conversation did not always mean colloquy. If Miss Barton did live with Halifax under one roof, and if Halifax did buy the annuity, these words are to be interpreted accordingly. And they must be looked at jointly with the other things. There is a fallacy which has no name in books of logic, but is of most frequent occurrence. It is that because neither A, nor B, nor C, will separately give moral conviction of D, that therefore they do not give it when taken together.
We have seen that Sir D. Brewster can omit, as in the case of the secret alterations in the reprint above mentioned: we shall now see that he can omit when he distinctly declares he has not omitted. We are far from charging him with any unfair intention: we know the effect of bias, and nothing disgusts us more than the readiness with which suppressions and misrepresentations are set down to deliberate intention of foul play. Sir D. Brewster informs us that he has given in an appendix "all the passages" in which Swift mentions Miss Barton or Halifax. He has not given all. When he wrote this (vol. ii, p. 278), he intended to give all; but when he came to the appendix, he altered his mind, omitted two, and forgot his previous announcement. It was not oversight, because Mr. De Morgan had particularly mentioned these curious passages, in which Swift quotes to Stella some of Miss Barton's conversation, which has the freedom of a married woman (we mean of that day; our matrons are more particular). Either the Professor, who declines to repeat the stories, is over fastidious, or is unskilful in rendering the license of the seventeenth century into the decorums of the nineteenth: we think we can convey an idea of the good joke over which Catherine Barton, aged 31, and Jonathan Swift, aged 43, enjoyed a hearty laugh. A man had died, leaving small legacies to those who should bear him to the grave, who were to be an equal number of males and females: provided always that each bearer, male or female, should take a declaration that he or she had always been a strict votary of Diana. The joke was, that there lay the poor man, unburied, and likely to remain so: and this was the joke which Miss Barton introduced, in a tête-à-tête with Swift; at least so says Swift himself. Mr. De Morgan thinks that "Swift's tone with respect to the stories, combined with his obvious respect for Mrs. Barton, may make any one lean to the supposition that he believed himself to be talking to a married woman." Certainly it can hardly be credited that the maiden niece of Newton (then living in Newton's house, according to Sir D. Brewster) would bring up such a joke for the entertainment of a bachelor friend: and Swift's great and obvious respect for Catherine Barton will justify us in thinking that he never would have invented such a story as coming from her.
We do not intend to decide the question whether the lady was the platonic friend, the mistress, or the secretly married wife, of Lord Halifax: in consequence of the reserve of biographers, it has never been fully put forward until our own day. Further research may settle it: what we have to do with is our biographer's mode of dealing with his case. Sir D. Brewster certainly handles the phenomena of mind and conduct as if they were phenomena of matter: he requires that any conclusion shall be a theory, which is to explain how all the circumstances arose. No such thing is possible in grappling with circumstantial evidence as to the dealings of human beings with one another. Never a day passes without the prisoner's counsel triumphantly bringing to notice a circumstance which is perfectly inexplicable on the supposition of his client's guilt. So says the judge too, and so feel the jury: and both parties are in a difficulty. If it were a question about an explanatory theory, as of light, an obstinate dark band or coloured fringe might put the undulations out of the question, till further showing. But the court asks the jury, not for their theory, but for their verdict: that verdict is guilty, and the prisoner generally confirms it, at least in capital cases, and explains the difficulty. The matter we have been discussing has two counts: the first opens the question whether, under the circumstances, the conclusion that Miss Barton lived with Halifax can be avoided; the second, on the supposition that it cannot be avoided, opens the question whether she lived with him as a mistress or as a secretly married wife. Sir D. Brewster works hard against the supposition of the marriage, and, by an ignoratio elenchi, believes himself to be forwarding his own alternative; but we strongly suspect that his reasons against the marriage, be their force what it may, will not avail against the other alternatives of our second count.
We will now take the vexed question of Newton's religious opinions, a vexed question no more, for the papers so long, and, in the first instance, so unworthily suppressed, are now before the world. Sir D. Brewster, in his former Life, followed his predecessors in stoutly maintaining orthodoxy, by which, in this article, we mean a belief of at least as much as the churches of England and Scotland hold in common. But many circumstances seemed to point the other way. There was a strong anduniversal impression that Horsley had recommended the concealment of some of the Portsmouth Papers, as heterodox: and here and there was to be found, in every generation, a person who had been allowed to see them, and who called them dubious, at least. Newton was the friend of the heretics Locke and Clarke, and sent abroad, for publication, writings on the critical correction of texts on which Trinitarians relied, without a word against the conclusion which might be drawn respecting himself. Nay, he spoke of the Trinity in a manner which Sir D. Brewster admits would make anyone suspect his orthodoxy. Whiston, always indiscreet, but always honest, declared from his own conversation with Newton, that Newton was an Arian; Haynes, Newton's subordinate at the Mint, declared to Baron, a Unitarian minister, that Newton was what we now call a Unitarian. He himself, in the Principia, allowed himself a definition of the word God which would have permitted him to maintain the Deity of the second and third persons of the Trinity. He said that every spiritual being having dominion is God: Dominatio entis spiritualis Deum constituit. And he enforces his definition by so many exemplifications that it is beyond question he means that, if the Almighty were to grant some power, for only five minutes, to a disembodied spirit, that spirit would be, for that time, a God.
In the papers now produced for the first time, we have certain paradoxical questions (the word paradox then meant an unusual opinion) concerning Athanasius and his followers, in which many historical opinions of a suspicious character are maintained; but no matters of doctrine are touched upon. In A short Scheme of the True Religion, the purpose is rather to describe religion as opposed to irreligion, and all who are conversant with opinion know that a Trinitarian and a Unitarian use the same phrases against atheism and idolatry. Hence, some language which in controversy would be heterodox, may be counted orthodox. But in another manuscript, On our Religion to God, to Christ, and the Church, there is an articulate account of Newton's creed, in formal and dogmatical terms. This we shall give entire: and it is to be remembered that Newton destroyed many papers before his death, which adds to those he left behind him additional meaning and force.
"Art. I. There is one God the Father, ever living, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
"Art. 2. The Father is the invisible God whom no eye hath seen, nor can see. All other beings are sometimes visible.
"Art. 3. The Father hath life in himself, and hath given the Son to have life in himself.<335>
"Art. 4. The Father is omniscient, and hath all knowledge originally in his own breast, and communicates knowledge of future things to Jesus Christ; and none in heaven or earth, or under the earth, is worthy to receive knowledge of future things immediately from the Father, but the Lamb. And, therefore, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, and Jesus is the Word or Prophet of God.
"Art. 5. The Father is immovable, no place being capable of becoming emptier or fuller of him than it is by the eternal necessity of nature. All other beings are movable from place to place.
"Art. 6. All the worship (whether of prayer, praise, or thanksgiving), which was due to the Father before the coming of Christ, is still due to him. Christ came not to diminish the worship of his Father.
"Art. 7. Prayers are most prevalent when directed to the Father in the name of the Son.
"Art. 8. We are to return thanks to the Father alone for creating us, and giving us food and raiment and other blessings of this life, and whatsoever we are to thank him for, or desire that he would do for us, we ask of him immediately in the name of Christ.
"Art. 9. We need not pray to Christ to intercede for us. If we pray the Father aright he will intercede.
"Art. 10. It is not necessary to salvation to direct our prayers to any other than the Father in the name of the Son. ,
"Art. 11. To give the name of God to angels or kings, is not against the First Commandment. To give the worship of the God of the Jews to angels or kings, is against it. The meaning of the commandment is, Thou shalt worship no other God but me.
"Art. 12. To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. That is, we are to worship the Father alone as God Almighty, and Jesus alone as the Lord, the Messiah, the Great King, the Lamb of God who was slain, and hath redeemed us with his blood, and made us kings and priests."
In a paper called Irenicum, or Ecclesiastical Polity tending to Peace, are many remarks on church-government, but on doctrine only as follows. After insisting, in one place, that those who introduce any article or communion not imposed from the beginning are teaching another gospel, he gives, in another place, the fundamentals, by which he means, the terms of communion imposed from the beginning.
"The fundamentals or first principles of religion are the articles of communion taught from the beginning of the Gospel in catechising men in order to baptism and admission into communion; namely, that the catechumen is to repent and forsake covetousness, ambition, and all inordinate desires of the things of this world, the flesh, and false gods called the devil, and to be baptized in the name of one God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of oneLord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and of the Holy Ghost. — See Heb. v. 12, 13, 14, and vi. 1, 2, 3."
In some queries on the word όμοούσιος, Newton asks, among many questions of a similar tendency, whether unius substantiæ ought not to be consubstantialis — whether hypostasis did not signify substance — whether Athanasius, &c., did not acknowledge three substances — whether the worsh'p of the Holy Ghost was not "set on foot" after the Council of Sardica — whether Athanasius, &c., were not Papists. We prefer giving the reader Newton's opinions in full to arguing on them ourselves. It would be difficult, we think, to bring him so near to orthodoxy as Arianism. Though his exposition of his own opinions goes far beyond the simple terms of communion, there is not a direct word on the divinity of Christ, on his pre-existence, on the miraculous conception, on the resurrection, on the personality of the Holy Ghost, or on the authority of Scripture. Those who think that some of these points (as we think of the fourth and sixth) must be implied, will perhaps bring in the rest: but those who look at the emphatic first article of the twelve, unmodified and unqualified by the rest, though enforced by the eighth and ninth, will, we think give up the point, and will class Newton, as Haynes did, with the Humanitarians, and not, as Whiston did, with the Arians. Sir D. Brewster leaves it to be implied that he does not any longer dispute the heterodoxy of Newton's creed; that is, its departure from the creed most commonly believed by Christians. Of this we have no doubt, that in his theological opinions, Newton was as uncompromising and as honest as in his philosophical ones. And he was no dabbler in the subject, having in truth much reading, both as a scholar and a theologian.
We cannot easily credit the story of Newton in love at sixty years of age. In Conduitt's handwriting is a letter entitled "Copy of a letter to Lady Norris by — — ," docketed, in another hand, "A letter from Sir I. N. to — — ." The letter is amusing. After informing the lady that her grief for her late husband is a proof she has no objection to live with a husband, he advises her, among other things, that a widow's dress is not acceptable in company, and that it will always remind her of her loss: and that "the proper remedy for all these mischiefs is a new husband;" the question being whether she "should go constantly in the melancholy dress of a widow, or flourish once more among the ladies." Sir D. Brewster seems rather staggered by this letter: but there is no authority for it coming from Newton, and surely we may rather suspect that his friend, Lady Norris, sent him, or perhaps Miss Barton, a copy of a letter from somecoxcomb of a suitor. Newton was always a man of feeling, right or wrong, and, though perhaps he would have been awkward at the expression of it, he never would have addressed a woman for whom he experienced a revival of what he once felt for Miss Storey, in such terms as the young bucks in the Spectator address rich widows. The letter reminds us much more of Addison's play, and of the puppy who was drummed away from the widow by the ghost, than of Newton.
To us it has always been matter of regret that Newton accepted office under the Crown. Sir D. Brewster thinks otherwise. "At the age of fifty, the high-priest of science found himself the inmate of a college, and, but for the generous patronage of a friend, he would have died within its walls." And where should a high-priest of science have lived and died? At the Mint? Very few sacrifices were made to science after Newton came to London. One year of his Cambridge life was worth more to his philosophical reputation and utility than all his long official career. If, after having piloted the country safely through the very difficult, and as some thought, impossible, operation on the coinage, he had returned to the University with a handsome pension, and his mind free to make up again to the "litigious lady," he would, to use his own words, have taken "another pull at the moon," and we suspect Clairaut would have had to begin at the point from which Laplace afterwards began. Newton was removed, the high-priest of science was translated to the temple of Mammon, at the time when the differential calculus was, in the hands of Leibnitz and the Bernoullis, beginning to rise into higher stories. Had Newton remained at his post, coining nothing but ideas, the mathematical science might have gained a century of advance.
We now approach the end of our task, and, in spite of our battle with the biographer, we cannot express the pleasure with which we have read his work. It is very much superior, new information apart, to the smaller Life which he published long ago. Homer's heroes are very dry automatons so long as they are only godlike men: but when they get into a quarrel with one another, out come the points on which we like and dislike. Newton always right, and all who would say otherwise excathedrally reproved is a case for ostracism; we are tired of hearing Aristides always called the just. But Newton of whom wrong may be admitted, Newton who must be defended like other men, and who cannot always be defended, is a man in whom to feel interest even when we are obliged to dissent from his eulogist.As we have said before, it is the defence which provokes the attack. Newton, with the weak points exposed and unprotected, is not and cannot be an object of assault: our blow is on the shield which the biographers attempt to hold before him. A great predecessor was guilty of delinquencies before which the worst error of Newton is virtue itself: he sold justice for bribes, so committing wilful perjury — for who may dare to deny that the oath of the false judge rose before his mind when he fingered the price of his conscience — that the perjury itself is forgotten in the enormity of the mode of committing it. But how often is this remembered when we think of Bacon? The bruised reed is not broken, because even biographers admit that it is a bruised reed: let them hold it up for a sturdy oak, and the plain truth shall be spoken whenever the name is mentioned. And so, in its degree, must it be with the author of the Principia.
All Newton's faults were those of a temperament which observers of the human mind know to be incapable of alteration, though strong self-control may suppress its effects. The jealous, the suspicious nature, is a part of the man's essence, when it exists at all: it is no local sore, but a plague in the blood. Think of this morbid feeling as the constant attendant of the whole life, and then say, putting all Newton's known exhibitions of it at their very worst, how much they will amount to, as scattered through twenty years of controversy with his equals, and thirty years of kingly power over those who delighted to call themselves his inferiors. Newton's period of living fame is longer than that of Wellington: it is easy to talk of sixty years, but think of the time between 1795 and 1855, and we form a better image of the duration. In all this life, we know of some cases in which the worst nature conquered the better: in how many cases did victory, that victory which itself conceals the battle, declare for the right side? Scott claims this allowance even for Napoleon; how much more may it be asked for Newton? But it can only be asked by a biographer who has done for the opponents of his hero what he desires that his readers should do for the hero himself. When once the necessary admissions are made, so soon as it can be done on a basis which compromises no truth, and affords no example, we look on the errors of great men as straws preserved in the pure amber of their services to mankind. If we could but know the real history of a flaw in a diamond, we might be made aware that it was a necessary result of the combination of circumstances which determined that the product should be a diamond, and not a bit of rotten wood. Let a flaw be a flaw, because it is a flaw: Newton is not the less Newton; and without the smallest rebellion against Locke's maxim — Whatever is, is, — nobis gratulamur tale tantumque extitisse humani generis decus.
The members of the French Institute receive a part of their emoluments at the Board, and the quotum of each day on which any one is absent is forfeited. This insures good attendance, and we have, on pay-day, seen men of profound science, during the memoirs and discussions of the assembled Academy, practising the first rule of arithmetic, called numeration, upon rouleaux of five-franc pieces. To this it must be added that the Institute has much patronage, and constant attendance is necessary to keep up influence and connexion.
In reference to both explanations, the following is remarkable. Just after Leibnitz made his publication of 1684, a young Scotchman, Craig, then of Cambridge, took it up, and published a short tract upon the quadrature of curves, in which he uses, with high praise, the differential calculus of Leibnitz. He had been in communication with Newton, had asked for help in this very subject of quadrature, and had received the Binomial theorem, then unprinted. But not one word did Newton drop to the effect that he also had a method like that of Leibnitz, and that he and Leibnitz had communicated seven or eight years before. Craig says, long after, in 1718, that Newton examined the manuscript: it is clear, however, that his memory is at fault here, and that it was the second edition (1693) which Newton examined. Are we to believe that Newton was brooding over the matter of the two explanations, at a time when he allowed his young friend to proclaim Leibnitz as the author of the new calculus, with that negation of himself which was implied in acknowledgment of assistance on another point? We rather suspect that, at the time, when the geometrical form which is so prominent in the Principia, then on the anvil, was in his mind, he greatly undervalued his own fluxions. And we think they never would have been heard of if the mighty force which the calculus had developed by 1693 had not shown him how much there was to contend for.
Conduitt tells us that his wife lived with her uncle nearly twenty years, before and after her marriage: it is believed that the Conduitts resided with Newton from the very marriage. Newton lived in London thirty years; therefore, ten or more of those years his niece did not live with him. The annuity was bought in 1706 and Halifax died in 1715. Miss Barton, being sixteen years old when Newton came to London, must have finished her school education shortly afterwards. Either Newton did not invite his favourite niece, whom he had educated, to live with him for ten years afterwards, or there is a gap which tallies most remarkably with the hypothesis of her residence under the roof of Halifax. But, as a presumption against the first supposition, there is extant a short letter from Newton to his niece, written in 1700, which by the contents seems written to an inmate of his house, absent for change of air.
Newton has been charged with avarice; of which there is really no proof, unless his dying worth more than £30,000 be one. But Conduitt was in easy circumstances, and his wife also: their daughter was said to have had £60,000. Supposing, as is probable, that they bore their fair share of the joint expenses, Newton might have saved nearly all his income for the last ten years of his life.
The original letter, written shortly after 1702, is copied in the handwriting of Conduitt, who did not become a member of Newton's family till 1717. Say that Lady Norris sent it to Mrs. Conduitt, to amuse her, and that Conduitt copied it.