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Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, E.C.


Price Five Shillings and Sixpence


This little volume has been enlarged from the size of an article written, in 1858, for The companion to the Almanac.. It was the last of a series contributed by Mr. De Morgan, and was rejected by Mr. C. Night, the editor, who thought that the question discussed in it would not be held generally interesting.

A reference to this article, the grounds for its rejection, and a letter, treating of the relative duties of editors and contributors, will be found on p. 264 of the memoir of Augustus De Morgan (Longman and Co., 1882).

The original MS. was revised, and received some additions, in the years 1864 — 6. And, later still, on the accession of new evidence, it was enlarged to the form in which it now appears; containing fresh information on the question of Catherine Barton, and on the laws relating to marriage.

It is needless to say that the justification of Newton in the matter of his niece's marriage was not, in the writer's estimation, merely a subject for literary or <vi> historical gossip. His intense reverence for Newton would have given way before the clear conviction of a grave defect in moral character. He had been compelled to admit the culpable weakness, to call it by the mildest name, of Newton's conduct to Flamsteed; but a continued countenancing of immortality, by which he was supposed to be himself the gainer, would have been, in my husband's view, enough to darken even Newton's intellectual brightness. He believed, however, that the suspicion of this had been cleared away; and the arguments which led to this belief are placed before the reader. The question is not an unimportant one to those who hold moral excellence to be of more value than intellectual power, and who are sometimes apt to believe the possesion of the one implies that of the other. If these readers find the evidence now brought forward strong enough to set the question of Newton's acquiescence in wrong-doing at rest, they will be better satisfied to leave the philosopher in his niche of undisputed greatness.

Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan.



The subject of the following treatise, hitherto confined to the pages of the Notes and Queries or to Sir David Brewster's 'Life of Newton' and its reviewers, is worth wider circulation than it can obtain in a vehicle of learned discussion and antiquarian research, or in a large work and the criticism on it. A mere casualty afterwards threw an important piece of evidence in my way; and other such casualties might possibly occur, if the circumstances were more generally known. A very curious letter, containing an allusion which must instantly have struck anyone who had the requisite knowledge as deciding the question, remained useless until 1856; other letters, or documents of other kinds, equally to the point, may be in existence, and equally unknown.

I have lengthened this paper by many digressions on collateral points, and have punctuated my title accordingly: the colons denote that the paper contains matters relative to the parties separately, as well as to their connexion. These offshoots may attract attention and <2> may lead to evidence. Should anyone object to this accumulation of details, I remind him that he may skim or skip. Little matters, which give or revive knowledge of the times, are very useful additions; the smallest of them may be a clue.

For nearly a century and a half there has existed a smothered rumour, derived from contemporary assertions which it has been customary to keep out of history, that the niece of the great Isaac Newton, the beautiful and accomplished Catherine Barton, the 'famous witty Miss Barton,' was the mistress of Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax, Newton's old and close friend, and at last his political patron. There are neither frequent nor decided allusions to this rumour in biographies of Newton: some very difficult recorded circumstances give it a strong air of truth, and might have led to a suspicion that Newton had connived, it being known that his connection with Halifax suffered no interruption. That Newton actually did connive, and was rewarded by the gift of a public post, was asserted in one of the most notorious scandal-books of the day — a well-known and widely read production, and not proceeding from an anonymous writer, but from a lady who, though she had not character, had position and acquaintance with public men. The fact of the statement having been made during the life of Halifax I take to have been unknown to the biographer; if known, it was suppressed. And the most authentic account of Halifax which exists contains the statement that Catherine Barton was the superintendent of his <3> domestic affairs, and calls her a widow, which it is certain she was not.

Though the character of Newton in the social relations was above impeachment, and his life of the utmost strictness, the suppressors (if wilful suppression there were) probably felt that, as to the reign of Queen Anne, and a generation who had been boys and girls under Charles II., it was not quite conclusive to argue from what a man was to denial of his having been compelled by the state of society to countenance some of its irregularities. The utmost biographers ventured on, previously to recent discussion of the subject, was the statement that Montague was deeply attached to Catherine Barton, and that the circumstances which prevented their union are not known.

It was not only in England that the scandal gained circulation. Voltaire spread it through Europe in the most offensive form. He was no opponent nor maligner of Newton, but a fervent admirer and the writer who first drew the attention of France to the, theory of gravitation. In 1765, in the 'Lettres Philosophiques' (Letter 21),[1] he says: 'I thought in my youth that Newton made his fortune by his merit. No such thing. Isaac Newton had a very charming niece, Madame <4> Conduit, who made a conquest of the minister Halifax. Fluxions and gravitation would have been of no use without a pretty niece.' The last biographer of Newton (Sir D. Brewster) declares that Voltaire 'makes no insinuation against the character of Miss Barton.' This I refer to those who know Voltaire's writings, and have learnt his manner. The insinuator, it will be observed, represents the niece as a married woman; and when a Frenchman of his day, without any explanation, describes a man as getting a place through the friendship of a minister for his married niece, he means more than the simple words imply.

Voltaire was in England during Mrs. Conduit's life; he was here three years at least, and left in 1728. The answer to his stinging innuendo, so far as concerns Newton's place at the Mint, lies in a couple of dates, which show that Newton got his post while his niece was a child; and in the further information, that her uncle never had a tenement of his own, except the old Manor House at Woolsthorpe and a set of rooms in college, until his office at the Mint brought him to London. But this answer was not given. The reason undoubtedly was that biographers felt it worse than useless to answer only a part. They saw there was something inexplicable about the matter, which it would perhaps be as well to let alone. A lurking belief that Voltaire had insinuated what was substantially true was not at all uncommon, though hardly ever expressed in print. People saw — that is, all who read about the matter — that the biographers culled their conclusions; <5> they admitted the attachment of Montague to Catherine Barton, and rejected the connection between them, though every evidence of the first fact was accompanied by exactly the same evidence of the second.

But the belief in some sort of connivance, infrequent and undefined, never made any head against the total unbelief inspired by Newton's moral life and moral reputation. Amidst all the controversies about his scientific treatment of scientific opponents, his life has stood without impeachment, and his reputation without stain. Biographers have probably been fully persuaded that, happen what might in the way of discovery, Newton would be found faultless. Therefore, they seem to have inferred, 'Let well alone.' They ought to have shown their faith by a most searching examination. A lawyer, of more than fifty years' experience in cases civil and criminal, before whom I put an abstract of the case, pronounced that there must have been a marriage if there were one decent person among the three — Newton, friend, and niece. We might almost draw the same conclusion from the certainty that both the slanderer and the eulogist of Catherine Barton, in print and at the time, make the uncontradicted statements that she lived in the house of Lord Halifax, and from our knowing that the friendship of Newton and Halifax suffered no diminution.

The reserve of biographers about the illustrious dead is a very unwise proceeding. There is another instance of it by which, had additional presumptions in favour of Newton been wanted, they might have remained want <6> ing. Newton had a half-nephew (his nephews and nieces were all of the half-blood, his mother's grandchildren), Benjamin Smith (born about 1700, rector of Linton-in-Craven, 1743-1776), one of the most marked specimens of a profligate clergyman at a time when such specimens were more frequent than now by at least twenty to one, to speak charitably of past time; and so notorious in early youth, that his ordination produced — even at that time — what Warburton (afterwards bishop) called a 'furious scandal.' And it is a queer illustration of the time that Dr. Stukeley, who thus underwent Warburton's rebuke for giving B. Smith a title, answered that he had refused him a testimonial, and had only given him a title, which had reference to his support, and not to his morals. And Warburton was pacified by this version of the matter, even to the extent of congratulating Dr. Stukeley on the goodness of his justification! (Notes and Queries, 2nd Ser., iii. 41.)

To this nephew, when a very young man, Newton wrote in such plain terms as his conduct justified, describing his haunts and his practices in language which decent people reserve for such occasions as imperatively require it. The clergyman into whose hands these letters fell after Smith's death, destroyed them, for the sake of Newton's reputation. In his disgust at the coarseness of their language, he forgot to consider the necessity of the case. What followed? It oozed out that Newton had written to his nephew letters so objectionable, that a worthy clergyman destroyed them, <7> lest they should damage the writer's character as a respectable man: the clergyman himself furnished the information that he burned them for 'vulgar phraseology.' But it did not transpire that the unpresentable language was necessary to point out to a young profligate an uncle's knowledge of his courses, until, a few years ago, when I availed myself of my acquaintance with relatives of the clergyman who destroyed the letters. They distinctly remembered the account he had given of what he destroyed. I did not suggest the reason. It came out without my informant's knowing what I wanted to discover; I had a strong suspicion which I carefully concealed. If it had become necessary, as might have been the case, to collect every possible presumption against Voltaire's insinuation, the loss of these letters, or, at least, if their real character, would have been felt. For there would have been lost the argument that an uncle, who reproved his nephew's vices in strong and irritating terms, could hardly have been an uncle upon whom it might have been retorted that he was, or had been, a consenting party to the dishonour of his own niece. And certainly, but for the good tradition still existing, there would have been heard and seen in print the sarcasm that though Newton — as made prominent by the last biographer — was so austere in public, that he broke with a colleague for one coarse story, he was free enough in his private letters to a nephew. To which, possibly, might have been added, that a hypocrite in one thing is likely to be a hypocrite in all; so that, in spite of his apparent purity of life, he might have <8> countenanced an advantageous connection between his patron and his relative. But by the simple truth he is safe from all reproach and from all inference, except that he used appropriate terms when more limited language might have conveyed only equally limited disapprobation to the nephew whom he wished to reform.

I now proceed to the string of facts from which I infer that Mrs. Catherine Barton, as by usage she would have been styled, or Mrs. Barton, as for special reasons she was often called, was privately married to Lord Halifax about April, 1706. From what I have published at different times it will appear that I have held this conclusion in two different ways: before the discovery of Newton's letter, as the supposition on which the circumstances take an air of probability which no other will give; after the discovery of that letter, as an inference which cannot be avoided. (See Notes and Queries, 1st Ser., viii. 258, 429, 543, 590; ix. 18; 2nd Ser., ii. 161, 265, 390; iii. 41, 250, 297. See also Brewster's 'Life of Newton,' and the review which I wrote of it in the North British Review, for August, 1855, No. 46.)

Charles Montague (born 1661, died May 19, 1715), fourth son of a younger son of the first Earl of Manchester, entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1679. Newton, nineteen years older (born December 25, 1642), was then Lucasian Professor. Johnson says that he was placed under the care of Dr. Montague, his relative, Master of the College. This is most likely: for <9> every student was then, as now, placed under the care of one of the fellows, who was his tutor (in loco parentis, not necessarily teacher). In our day, the number of fellows who are tutors is limited; and they are teachers. In the old time, many, probably the great majority, of the fellows were tutors; Newton himself was one. Dr. Montague was not Master until 1683, and so might have been a tutor in 1679. Charles Montague gained a fellowship, which he vacated in 1688. The records of a college are a strange mixture of memories and oblivions. Mr. Edleston is able to state that the rooms in which he wrote his annals of Newton's life were those in which Montague lived, and which he gave up at Midsummer, 1688. But the College does not know, nor will its records tell, what sort of thing — some dispensation, perhaps, to be got for money — was the supersedeas which appears in Newton's accounts among his otiose et frustra expensa. It has been suggested that it was a quaint name for some kind of chair — a supposition by no means to be rejected. As little would it have been known what were the reaskes which he ate with sherbet, if we had not happened still to have the word rusks.

Newton had been Lucasian Professor ten years when Montague entered college as a fellow-commoner — a grade which, as the name imports, brought him into daily communication with the fellows. It will appear from this how completely, at the beginning of their acquaintance, Newton was the great man and Montague the little one. A warm friendship grew up between them. <10> Though of noble family, Montague was the younger son of a younger son, not strong in purse, and intended for the Church. Shortly before the Revolution, he married his connexion, the Countess Dowager of Manchester; she died in 1698. This lady was a daughter of Sir Christopher Yelverton, Baronet, and had borne nine children to her first husband, Robert, Earl of Manchester, who died in 1682. The marriage must have taken place in 1688, when he vacated his fellowship: he was then aged twenty-seven, and his bride must have been at least ten, probably twenty, years older. It is important to remember this, in reference to some of what follows. Montague, a man of the world, a wit and a satirist, feeling ridicule as fashionable men of that day usually felt it, made his escape from the Church, and found his way into Parliament, upon the jointure of a lady many years older than himself, whom he would certainly have been held to have married for that jointure, as probably he did. The scoffers of that dreaded corporation, 'the Town,' when his rapid rise in politics made him a mark, held him up to ridicule as the parvenu of public life, making his entry, to use the phrase of one of the squibs, 'under the tutelage of a venerable matron.' He had then the position of a burnt child with respect to what his world would call an unsuitable marriage; and had therefore more reason than most others to conceal any second marriage, at which that world would have laughed, or at which he would fear it might laugh. The peer, whose infamous deception I shall have to allude to <11> in the sequel, was one who had probably suffered under similar ridicule: not for his own conduct, but for that of his father, who married the daughter of a small Dutch farmer. And perhaps Montague may have felt that his own appearance would give zest to any ridicule {he} might incur. The Duchess of Marlborough says of him: 'He was a frightful figure, and yet pretended to be a lover; and followed several beauties who laughed at him for it.' I assume the ladies' satire to have something in it. Newton and Montague found themselves colleagues in the Convention, which arranged the Revolution of 1688-89. For this course of action Montague soon passed Newton; and, by 1695, was a minister of the Crown. Newton, it clearly appears, formed during the earlier part of his parliamentary career, if not before, a wish to be employed in public affairs: this we may not call a sign of weakness; for it subsequently turned out that part of his strength, both intellectual and moral, lay in administration. His election to the Convention was a proof of high confidence in his power, out of science, on the part of the members of the University: it may well be doubted whether such a constituency, at such a crisis, would have invested half their share of the settlement in a compliment to the author of the 'Principia,' which, it may be added, was then little more than a twelvemonth old. That desire of place was in Newton's mind, and strongly fixed, there are two remarkable indications, and Locke was the especial depository of his thoughts and wishes on this subject. In a letter of 1692 is the <12> proof of the only coolness which Newton ever felt, so far as known record goes, towards Montague: he is inclined to believe that his friend is a false friend in respect to his getting a place. In the well-known letter to Locke of 1693, in which he begs pardon for certain injurious suspicions, he represents himself as having thought that Locke was trying to 'embroil him with women,' that is, as he proceeds to explain, 'to sell him a place, and to embroil him.' Montague acted in the matter like a man who knew that his own power was based entirely on opinion, and could be confirmed only by success: he waited until he could put Newton in his proper place; by which delay he incurred suspicions of his friendship. The renovation of the coinage, resolved upon in 1695, was the opportunity: Montague brought Newton to the London Mint, Halley to the Chester Mint, and Locke to the Board of Trade. Perhaps this was hardly patronage to an old friend: it may be that Newton would in any case have been selected on the same grounds which determined the selection of Locke or Halley: unless we prefer the hypothesis that Newton brought in his friends. But there are indications that he was not strong enough for this. A few days before his actual appointment, in a letter of wounded feeling, he begs it may be contradicted that he is to be comptroller; he does not want any office at all; it is clear that the inferior office had been offered, and indignantly rejected. And here, again, we should perhaps be wrong if we attributed the refusal to feelings connected with the dignity or salary of the <13> post offered to him. He knew the kind of undertaking which he was brought in to superintend; and he may have formed his own opinion as to the position he must occupy in order to be able to carry out his own views. It was notorious that the place on which Newton probably insisted, the wardenship, had become a sinecure, and had been held by fine gentlemen who rarely showed their faces at the Mint. Newton may have guessed — he did guess harder things — that he as warden, with an efficient comptroller under him, could do new and heavy work better than as comptroller, with a fine gentleman warden over him; if so, the success of his operations is a presumption of the correctness of his views.

Newton was appointed Warden of the Mint in March, 1695-96, with £600 a year; and succeeded to the Mastership in 1699, with £1,500 a year. This second step was not patronage; Newton had been mainly instrumental in giving to Montague much reputation and a peerage, and the promotion was his due, and especially from a minister who had publicly declared that he could not have got through the coinage matter without him. When I first took up this subject, I made some investigation about the renovation of the coinage, and formed a much stronger opinion of the difficulties and hazards of the crisis than I could find expressed by anyone who had then written on the history of the time. Since I made that little inquiry Macaulay's account has appeared, which, to me at least, has none of that exaggeration for the sake of effect, with which some charge the readable historian. I suspect that, by <14> assumption of converse, the describers of the past are often gauged by a test of this kind. If the volume, when taken from the shelf, give no dust, it is, 'Brilliant fellow! shallow dog!' If the air be somewhat obscured, then, 'Judicious writer! trustworthy guide!' But if there be no breathing without a cough for ten seconds, 'Profound inquirer! sound philosopher!'

If there be one or two clouds upon part of Newton's memory, in matters of temper and behaviour towards other men of science, there is not a speck upon his fame as a public officer, whether as to talent, judgment, or even our highest standard of integrity. It is to my purpose to remind the reader of this. We may feel pretty sure that the direction of the Mint is now permanently established as a scientific office. From the death of Conduit, Newton's successor, down to the appointment of Sir John Herschel, in 1850, the Mint was usually held by one or another of those gifted politicians, whose qualifications for coining money, carving letters, etc., etc., were so nicely balanced that their positions were of necessity settled by circumstances, independent of the duties they had to perform. There is a little coincidence which is just worth noting, as pro tantulo assimilating the career of Newton and his remote scientific successor. Newton added one coin to the national list, the gold quarter-guinea, which continued in circulation until towards the end of the last century. Sir John Herschel had a die constructed for the gold quarter-sovereign; a few coins were struck off, but none were issued. Newton created the coin for <15> circulation; Sir John Herschel produced his specimens to show that the coin would be so small that it must often be lost; for which, and other good reasons, he was against the proposal. (See my notes on the 'History of the Coinage,' in the 'Companion to the Almanac' for 1856. And if you happen to have the index to the Edinburgh Review, please make the following correction: for 'De M. (A.), his services in the renovation of the coinage,' read 'De M. (A.), his account of Newton's services,' etc.)

Catherine Barton (born, 1680; died, 1739) was the daughter of Newton's half-sister, Hannah Smith, who was the daughter of Newton's mother and her second husband, Barnabas Smith, a clergyman (married, January, 1645; died about 1656). Mr. Barton was also a clergyman. His status in society is a part of the presumable reason why Montague should wish to conceal a marriage with Miss Barton, if such a thing took place. It is desirable my reader should know at once that I have nothing to do with this reason. I think I prove the marriage, and in a manner wholly unconnected with the motives for concealment.

A memorandum of Conduit, Miss Barton's (second) husband, is preserved, stating that the Bartons of Brigstock possessed estates in Northamptonshire for several hundred years, and were nearly related to the Earl of Rockingham, Lord Griffin, Sir Jeffrey Palmer, and other honourable families in that neighbourhood. To which Mrs. Conduit herself adds they were descended from the Swinfords; and to this the biographer further adds, <16> for the greater glory of Miss Barton, 'from Catherine Swinford, the wife of Sir Hugh Swinford, who became the mistress of John of Gaunt.' If the family had been flourishing, we should have been told the name of the reigning chief; in all probability it was decayed, and may have been no greater than that of Newton of Woolsthorpe, of which manor Sir Isaac was lord from the moment of his birth to that of his death. The question is whether there was anything in all of this which would have made the wits and versifiers see more in the wife of the gay minister than the daughter of a country parson without a penny.

A correspondent of Notes and Queries, who seemed to be a connection of the Barton family, and has furnished details of their history, does not give so decided an account of their position. He says (1st Ser., viii. 543): 'The Montagues had a residence in the village of Brigstock, in Northamptonshire, where the Bartons lived. The Bartons were a family a good descent, and had long been lessees of the Crown, with the Montagues, for lands near Braystock' (sic). If these Montagues be, as I supposed, the family of Lord Halifax, the discovery of the descendant of the co-lessees of his ancestors in the niece of his old friend would be of a tendency to promote the growth of acquaintance.

A person must have some notion of the real tone of the time before he can judge what the coffee-house wits would have said. Addison's Spectator, etc., gives only the same sort of notion which Scott's Ivanhoe gives of the brutality of a Norman baron. Modern sensibilities <17> — in England at least — require that the bugle should sound before the poor Jew is actually broiling on the coals; and Addison could not have painted real life in all its colours without much risk of his nose being slit. That is, in the character of a reproving moralist; he might have cracked it up, as the Americans say, with every encouragement.

The gay world made little account of the rural aristocracy, except when the wealth or the rank was great. Respect for descent from worthy ancestors of local importance was not the feeling of the classes for whom the lower novelists wrote. Many will remember the school of what were called fashionable novels, which flourished forty years ago. They described coteries of trumpery men and women, who by virtue of having nothing to do, and being quite unable to do it if they had, constituted themselves a class apart, paid the Crown a slight respect, with a deep sense of the honour they conferred, and ostracised the Duke of Wellington as of vilain ton — a reproach which Byron borrowed. I remember one of these productions; in which a fashionable minister — a Halifax of our day — had condescended to marry the daughter of a considerable country baronet, a very pompous goose, no doubt; but the exigencies of these novels made all rural gentlemen geese who did not spend the season in London, that they might set the fools feeding and dancing. The remarks which were made, and the ridicule which was cast upon this unworthy derogator, were just such as subsequent reading about the time of Anne showed me as likely to have <18> been made, with all the coarseness of the earlier period, upon such a marriage as I believe to have privately taken place. This marriage, notwithstanding the uncle's fame and position, would have been looked upon as laughable in the gay minister of State, and would have been measured by the father's position, and the money prospects of the uncle; in 1706. The Frenchman's comment upon such a match would have been a mild expression of public opinion. 'Elle est bien quant à la physique; mais quant à la morale! trois mille francs; pas davantage!'

Miss Barton was educated by Newton, and she alone, so far as positively known, of all his nephews and nieces; she was probably an orphan, and certainly without means. She had one brother, who was in the, army, and was killed in 1711; his death was better than his life, and nothing known of him at all relates to his sister. In 1700 the niece, then aged twenty, had become a resident in her uncle's house, and was in the country for recovery from small-pox. It has been affirmed by the biographer, who introduces positive assertions pro re nata, that she had not come to London in 1700. Of this the reader shall judge for himself from the letter which Newton wrote to her, fortunately preserved by his having made some Mint calculations on the back of it after her return. I premise that, independently of Conduitt's information, Catherine Barton was educated by Newton. A connection of the family (who signs H.) writes in the Gentleman's Magazine: 'He had a half sister who had a daughter to whom he gave the best of <19> educations — the famous witty Miss Barton, who married Mr. Conduitt of the Mint.'

'To Mrs. Catherine Barton, at Mr. Ayres, at Pudlicot, near Woodstock, in Oxford shire.

'London, August 5, 1700.

'Dear Niece,

'I have your two letters, and am glad the air agrees with you; and though the fever is loath 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 lay to accept. My Lady Norris thinks you forget your promise to write her, and wants a letter from you. Pray let me know by your 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,

'Is. Newton.'

Now, if anyone cannot see that this is a letter written to an inmate of the writer's house, away for change of air, no one can make him: every line breaths implied appeal to the receiver's knowledge of London. Miss Barton, aged twenty, could hardly have known Lady Norris up tot the point of correspondence if she had never lived in town. And the girl who had not lived with her uncle is to know Mr. Toll's house, that is, the house of which Mr. Toll was landlord; of this we are to suppose her uncle had informed her in previous correspondence, just to keep her ready for what might happen, before Sir Joseph Tolley had made up his mind to seek another residence. I wonder if he had gone all the way up the street, to be in omnia paratus? It should be <20> added that Newton, who was then in Jermyn Street, did not change his residence until 1709, when he resided in Chelsea for a year, and then in the house in Martin Street, at the corner of Leicester Fields, which is so well known as his abode.

Miss Barton, then, was with her uncle before 1700: the presumption is that she began to keep his house in 1697, as soon as he had a house to keep; she should then have been just about leaving school. Where and what she was from 1706 to 1715, is the main object of the present inquiry. In August, 1717, she married John Conduitt, M.P., who was in the Mint during Newton's life, and succeeded him at his death. Mr. And Mrs. Conduitt lived with Newton, when in town, from their marriage until his death. Mrs. Conduitt's only child, a daughter, Catherine, married, in 1740, John Wallop, afterwards Lord Lymington, his father being created Earl of Portsmouth in 1743. This explains how Newton's papers, which came into Mrs. Conduitt's hands, became the property of the Earls of Portsmouth, who are the descendants of Newton's mother, and, by failure of the male line, as near as any to Newton in blood. A grandson of Catherine Wallop took the name of Fellowes, on succeeding a maternal uncle.

In the life of Sydeny Smith, by his daughter, Lady (Sir Henry)[2] Holland (1855). There was a startling <21> announcement that the famous witty divine was the grandson of 'the famous witty' Catherine Barton, who was alleged to have married M. Olier, a French refugee. In the second edition reference is made to a correction by Sir D. Brewster, and further inquiry is hinted at. In the fourth edition the lady is Maria Barton, alleged to be of the same stock. This may easily be true, for Colonel Barton, Catherine's brother, left children, and thus Sydney Smith probably is a descendant of Newton's mother. It is even possible that the wit of Sydney Smith, and of his great great aunt may have a family likeness: but not a word of the lady is preserved to judge by.

Mr. Conduitt left certain family memoranda, one of which states that his wife lived with her uncle, before and after her marriage with himself, nearly twenty years. Newton lived in London just short of thirty-one years, from his appointment in March, 1696, to his death in March, 1727. Conduitt's rough mode of speaking will be amply verified, if allowing her to have joined her uncle before 1698, when she was eighteen, she were away from him during the interval 1706 — 1715. And this is the period which I believe to have been that of her marriage with Halifax, as he was then called. The circumstances attending the beginning, duration, and end of this period, followed by the letter which Newton wrote immediately after the death of Halifax, form the proof of the marriage. There are corroborations, and <22> there are difficulties: these the reader may deal with as he pleases: there is no upsetting the facts from which my inference is drawn.

April 12th, 1706, Halifax added a codicil to a will made two days before, in which codicil he left Miss Barton all his jewels and £3,000. He left these legacies — and the words must be carefully noted with reference to an additional word used at a later period — 'as a small token of the great love and affection I have long had for her.' In this same year (October 26th) an annuity of £200 a year for the use of Catherine Barton, and on her life, was bought by somebody in Newton's name, and held in trust by Halifax. That the purchaser was either Newton or Halifax may be assumed. If Newton, it would have been as easy to have said it as to have used language which rather implies the contrary, and it would have been far more respectable; for annuities presented to young and beautiful women by other than near relatives have an awkward look even now, and would have looked worse in 1706. It must be remembered that £200 a year was then an affluent provision for a single woman, fully equivalent in purchasing power to £500 a year at the present time.

Looking at Miss Barton's age, it is hardly to be thought that this annuity could have been bought for £2,000, at which, as a minimum, I may place it: De Moivre, reckoning as high as six per cent, would have made it £2,400; and De Moivre, Newton's intimate friend, and the first actuary of the day, would almost certainly have been consulted. Newton, when at Cambridge, could <23> not have saved money. In 1676, he was excused the payment of a shilling a week to the Royal Society: and though I suspect, with Mr. Edleston, that his application to be excused was made under the impression that he would speedily have to vacate his fellowship; yet we never hear of his being able to renew his contributions during his Cambridge career. He had enjoyed £600 a year for four years, and £1,500 a year for six years, receiving thus £11,400 in ten years, from which a deduction must be made for expenses of settlement in London and of taking possession of office. Newton's patrimony, though he was lord with court leet and court baron, and pit and gallows too for aught I know, was only £30 a year; his matrimony, as we should have called it, if the word had not been strangely divorced, was an estate of £50 a year belonging to his mother, and a 'parcel of land,' value not stated, which his mother made it a condition of her second marriage should be settled by her intended husband on the son of her former marriage. Some take the estate of £50 and the parcel of land to be all one. His fellowship at Trinity, as a resource in London (at Cambridge there was also board and lodging), was a pittance, the amount of which may be guessed at by the description of that simple-minded genius, Dr. Barrow. Speaking of a gentleman who resigned his fellowship, rather than take orders, he says: 'Indeed a fellowship with us is now so poor that I cannot think it worth holding by an ingenuous person upon terms of so much scruple.' This is vague, as Barrow does not give any notion of the rate <24> per annum at which an ingenuous person can keep down scruples; but all things put together we may be pretty sure that a Trinity fellowship did not yield £60 a year to a non-resident. Newton held his fellowship until 1701. The Lucasian Professorship was reckoned, when I was an undergraduate, worth £100 a year; in Newton's time it was probably less: he held the profits until 1699. (Since I wrote this; I have come upon Mr. Edleston's publication of the college accounts during Newton's time, by which it appears that £28 rather overdoes the average money value of the fellowship; this includes the allowance pro pane et potu — breakfast-money we may call it, and is so subject to some deduction for non-residence. This, with rooms and dinner, includes everything. Mr. Edleston puts the Lucasian professorship at £100 a year: but here he has no guide, and probably speaks by the present time. To Mr. Airy it was worth £99 a year.) There is not much likelihood that, by 1706, he should have saved £2,000. It is incredible that he should have saved a great deal more. Now Newton had peculiar notions about the claims of next of kin; he seems to have thought that they had a right to the way in which the law distributes the personality of intestates. He made no will, but he gave the children of a deceased nephew (Catherine's brother) their share during his lifetime. The unworthy nephew I have spoken of, shared with the rest, as did Mr. Conduitt, the annuity.[3] All these things put together <25> make it incredible that the annuity, so large as it was, could or would have been bought by Newton; a moderate provision would have had less improbability, and we cannot suppose that, if he had given Miss Barton her share during her life — and the annuity would have been a lion's share, looking at his age and hers, and valued by actuary's lore, which Newton understood as well as any man — he would have allowed her to take with the rest, after Halifax had made her richer than himself, as we shall see, and she had married a member of Parliament of ample means. Her daughter passed for having £60,000 in possession or reversion, when she married Mr. Wallop: so said the Gentleman's Magazine, which used in those days to give the reputed fortunes of new-made brides. It would have better deserved its name if it had given the fortunes of those who were left.

Finally, and conclusively, Conduitt left a list of the <26> benefactions which Newton bestowed on his relations during his lifetime, in which there is not a word about any annuity bought for Miss Barton. And this, though the annuity itself had been published to all the world in Halifax's will, in terms of severe ambiguity. It was not then Newton who bought the annuity; it must have been Halifax, who accordingly in 1706, besides leaving Miss Barton all his jewels and £3,000, presented her with an annuity of £200 a year, with the consent of her uncle, in whose name it was bought.

Next, I am to ask what account can be got of Miss Barton during the time (1706 — 1715) between the gift of the annuity and the death of the giver. On this point there are three evidences from very different quarters. It is quite certain that she and Halifax were very frequently together, either in her uncle's house or elsewhere; and if it were in her uncle's house, no one who frequently mentioned both their names could have any reason, either to avoid all allusion to their knowledge of each other, or to avoid all mention of Newton.

Dean Swift (not yet Dean) was during the period an intimate acquaintance of Miss Barton, for whom he had a genuine respect and affection. She was, as the Gentleman's Magazine afterwards called her, the 'famous witty Miss Barton.' Swift, as is well known, had an intellectual craving for intelligent female society. It cannot be traced that Swift had the smallest acquaintance with Newton, either in private or in public, and there is hardly such a thing as an allusion to Newton in his writings. There is one burlesque compliment in <27> the preface to his Polite Conversation, which, as most readers will not have seen it — I prefer this phrase to the usual statement that every higher-form schoolboy knows it — I quote:

'And yet so incurable is the love of detraction, perhaps beyond what the charitable reader will easily believe that I have been assured by more than one credible person, how some of my enemies have industriously whispered about that one Isaac Newton, an instrument-maker, living near [Swift should have said in, which will presently be worth some note] Leicester Fields, and afterwards [he should have said then, which also note; it would seem that Swift fancied Newton had an official residence in the Mint, when master] a workman at the Mint in the Tower, might possibly pretend to vie with me for fame in future time. The man, it seems, was knighted for making sun-dials better than others of his trade, and was thought to be a conjuror, because he knew how to draw lines and circles upon a slate, which nobody could understand. But adieu to all noble attempts for endless renown, if the ghost of an obscure mechanic shall be raised up to enter into competition with me, only for his skill in making pothooks and hangers with a pencil, which many thousand accomplished gentlemen and ladies can perform as well with a pen and ink upon a piece of paper, and in a manner as little intelligible as those of Sir Isaac.'

Swift was an old acquaintance, and in his Whig days a political friend of Halifax. As late as October, 1709, Halifax was endeavouring to procure him promotion. In that month he writes: 'I am quite ashamed for myself and my friends to see you left in a place so incapable of testing you. . . . Mr. Addison and I are entered into a new confederacy. . . . till your worth is placed in that light it ought to shine. Dr. South holds out still, but he cannot be immortal. . . . And upon all occasions that shall offer, I will be your constant <28> solicitor, your sincere admirer, and your unalterable friend.' Four years afterwards, the unalterable friend called Swift a villain in the House of Lords, or assented to the name when given by another. But then Swift had joined the Tories, and had written very naughty antiwhiggery. This point must be noted: Torifaction began in 1710, and was a gradual process.

In 1710 — 1711, as appears by his journal to Stella, he often visited Miss Barton at her lodgings. This word did not then mean hired apartments, but any residence whatever, even the rooms of a guest in the house of his host, or of a prisoner in the Tower. Strafford's plan was to enable the Crown to keep up the army without any aid 'from the king's lodgings!' Nor did it imply part of a house, as distinguished from the whole, it is the synonyme of residence, as now used. Sir D. Brewster, who professes to quote all the passages of the Journal in which either is mentioned, gives the passage in which Swift dines with Miss Barton at her lodgings, and explains that, because Newton was then changing his house, she was probably in lodgings in our modern sense. But he omits the passage in which, near the same time, Swift dines with Halifax at his lodgings: no reason suggested itself why the rich minister of the Crown should happen to be living in apartments at so much a week. To no one mention of Miss Barton does Swift attach the name of the husband, uncle, or other relative with whom she lived; he does not even describe her as Newton's niece. If the lodging had been in Newton's house, it is very difficult to see how Swift, <29> who was giving Stella every possible gossip, great and small, could have avoided all allusion to his frequent visits at the house of the world-famous author of the 'Principia,' Master of the Mint, and President of the Royal Society. We have seen that Swift must have afterwards believed that Newton lived at the Mint, as Master, after living in Leicester Fields: not a likely slip for a man who had often visited at the house of the Master of the Mint in Leicester Fields. But why should he write to Stella about his friends' friends, in whom she could take no interest? I know not why, but I know that he did so in hundreds of cases; and, especially, he notes the death of Colonel Barton, Catherine's good-for-nothing brother, for whom she could mourn only as 'matter of form.' The number of subjects connected with literature, and sometimes with science, according to his notion of it, which he ventures to bring forward, as non secus ac nota, show that Stella had a tolerable stock of reading, notwithstanding what we know of her small share of regular education. When, towards the end, he makes his first — I think his only — mention of a new friend who was to be an old one — 'Mr. Pope has published a fine poem called Windsor Forest: read it' — he seems to imply that all the new literature was at once within Stella's reach. It is incredible that he should have come in contact with Newton, time after time, without ever naming him; he gives the visits of every day. Observe that the question lies between Miss Barton living in Halifax's or in Newton's house. I have met with some who, to recon <30> cile matters, suppose she left her old uncle — who, by their account, was the person who had just bought her £200 a year — while she lived alone in her own lodgings, seeing fashionable company; with these I need not argue.

If Swift met Miss Barton at the house of Lord Halifax, the peculiar circumstances would more easily explain why the host is never mentioned in conjunction with the lady. It can be gathered from Swift's account that she was in respectable society, and that her private conversation with her bachelor friend had the full freedom of a married woman of that time, being a trifle more than the freedom of our own. This appears from anecdotes which he gives Stella, as told by Miss Barton. These anecdotes Sir D. Brewster has omitted from the list of passages which he professes to give entire. If these conversations took place in Halifax's house, we can imagine why Swift was silent on the relation of his two friends. Stella was afterwards his own privately married wife; but whether she were so in 1710-11 is not known; and it is probable that his own position would render an allusion to similar circumstances, in another case, difficult and embarrassing. For myself, I am inclined to believe that Swift was married to Stella before he left Ireland, though a later date is usually assigned.

Again, suppose Miss Barton living in Newton's house, and Halifax her frequent visitor, attracted by the charm of her wit and intelligence, and an older friend's admiration of her beauty. Swift, too, is another friend of the <31> same kind. The two are among Swift's dearest: he 'loves' Halifax better than any Whig, and Miss Barton better than anybody. The two are certainly intimates. Swift dines with both, talks with both, inveighs against the Whiggery of both. But he never mentions them in the same sentence; never refers to either in any way which contains allusion to the other. There is not even so much as a rap at the lady's Whiggery as the retail of Ha1ifax's wholesale. This is unlike all the rest of the journal, which is one of the most gossiping records of who and who were together that ever was jotted down. It is marvellous, if there were no special reason for silence. He dines with Halifax by invitation on the 28th, and with Miss Barton alone on the 30th. This he writes in sentences separated by a few lines. And not even then, when the names of the two dear friends of himself and of each other come almost out of the same dip of ink, does he make any allusion to their knowledge of each other. If indeed all the circumstances should prove that they were living together in private marriage, we can understand the studied silence, and we can find no difficulty in the adjacent visits. We may fancy we hear the lady say, in the party of the 28th, 'We can have no talk with all these people round us; come and dine with me the day after to-morrow, when the earl will be out, and we can chat at our ease.'

Something may be drawn from the way in which Swift speaks of his friend; she is always Mrs. Barton. By the (declining) usage of the day, as a single girl <32> who is what is now called out, she would have been Mrs. Catherine Barton; as a girl in the nursery, she would have been Miss. I should not have insisted on this taken alone; for Swift, who had lived in the country or in Ireland nearly all his life, might easily have been ignorant or negligent on such a point. But there is more: Swift, whether by being in advance of his age, or because the Irish habit differed from the English, was an inveterate Miss-er of single women. The fast young lady of the Polite Conversation is always Miss Notable; the publication was in 1738, but the dialogues were written many years before. We go back to the journal, and find a correction which shows that he paid attention to such points. Miss Forester, as Swift calls her when he first names her, a maid of honour, was twenty-three years old in 1711. Ten years before she had been married to a boy of fifteen, Sir George Downing; and, as usual in such cases, of which several are recorded, the bridegroom was at once removed. In this case Sir George Downing continued on his travels for more than ten years. The pair at last found out that neither had any liking for the other, and a suit of nullity by reason of age was in progress in 1715. A pamphlet then calls the lady Mrs. Forester; and this title she seems to have borne in right of her ring. When Swift mentions her again, two months afterwards, he seems to have learnt her history, for she is then styled Mistress. We may from such slight points take Swift as good evidence that his friend was styled Mrs. Barton, which agrees with the biographer of Halifax, as presently mentioned. <33> As a single girl in the house of her uncle, she could not have been so styled; the Christian name must have been inserted.

She thus passed for a wife or a widow. Baily, stating that she was not the widow of Colonel Barton, adds — and is followed by Sir D. Brewster — that Mrs. was in that day the title of unmarried ladies. So it was; but not without the Christian name. In law-papers, wills; etc., even down to our own day, the Christian name is added; and notice would be served on Mary Smith, widow, as 'Mrs. Mary Smith.' This explains how Mrs. Barton, as she certainly was called in 1710, is Mrs. Catherine Barton in her register of marriage with Conduitt. But, out of law form, Miss Mary of the nursery became Mrs. Mary of the drawing-room, and so continued until marriage. The transition remained a usage until within forty years of this day; but it shifted its period. Miss Mary passed all her youth under that name, and became Mrs. Mary — or took brevet rank, as the ladies used to say, in ignorance of the old usage — at such time as she chose to call herself an old maid. This has now disappeared; and the Americans are making a new step, and beginning to call wives by the title of Miss.

In 1710, and again in 1711, a Mrs. de la Rivière Manley published what she called 'Memoirs' . . . written by Eginardus. This work was reprinted several times, and had a great run. It contained a great quantity of current scandal; had it been better known in our day, Macaulay would not have been unable to <34> trace the meaning of Pope's allusion to the handsome sum of which the Duchess of Cleveland gave to young Churchill:

'The gallant, too, to whom she paid it down,

Lived to refuse his mistress half-a-crown.'

Mrs. Manley says that Churchill, when holding the bank at play in a private party, refused to lend twenty pieces to the duchess, who had lost all her money.

In it Catherine Barton, under the name of Bartica, is distinctly represented as the mistress of Lord Halifax; and Halifax is represented as saying that he had got her 'worthy ancient parent a good post for connivance.' The word parent is used in the French sense. Mrs. Manley (de la Rivière by birth) was born and bred in Guernsey; she talks of a person rendering himself to a place, etc. That this story was never noticed nor answered at the times proves nothing; but when we come to the wording of Lord Halifax's last will, we shall see how much the knowledge which he must have had of Mrs. Manley's story, and its circulation, augments the presumption to be derived from his own description of the relation between himself and Miss Barton.

It is very remarkable that Swift, who, bold as the word may be, was as much the foe of immorality as he was the friend of indecorum, was partial to Mrs. Manley. I have seen it said that they were joined in the editorship of the Examiner; but this seems to be a perversion of an equally erroneous statement of Steel's. He speaks half in satire of her first edition as the 'noble memoirs of Europe.' When Harley was stabbed by Guiscard at the Privy Council, Swift, whose intimacy with Harley <35> and his friends gave him the best information, sent 'hints' to Mrs. Manley for a sixpenny narrative. He interceded with Lord Peterborough for a pension, grounded on the Atlantis — a former work of 1709 — which was a satire on the Whigs; and he dined with her at the desire, and even, it would seem, in the company, of Mrs. Van Homrigh.[4]

One thing seems to me insuperably probable. Halifax was, of all the Whigs, the one whom Swift continued to regard as a friend. 'I told him he was the only Whig in England I loved or had any good opinion of.' Of Miss Barton he says, 'I love her better than anyone here, and see her seldomer.' Swift was a strong friend and partisan; if the story told in the Eginardus about his two favourites had been a malicious turn given to the familiar friendship of the two in Newton's house and under Newton's sanction, showing Mrs. Manley capable of deliberately originating the attempt to blast the character of a woman — and that woman Catherine Barton — in order to vex and lower a Whig leader — and Halifax the man — I do not believe that Swift would have furnished her with materials, or endeavoured to get her a pension, or dined with her. But — and even this much is strange, though one of the two suppositions must be the truth — it may more easily be credited that he was tolerant of a satire which only embodied a current belief, arising out of her living in the house of Lord Halifax; for which, as we shall presently be told, 'those <36> who were given to censure passed a judgment upon her which she no ways merited' — and no wonder.

The journal must be read by those who would know how strong were the feelings of this arch satirist, and how likely an unfounded aspersion on valued friends would be to rouse him. Just after Harley was stabbed, he writes to Stella in such agitation that his words seem to misrepresent the place in which the crime was committed. 'Pray pardon my distraction; I now think of all his kindness to me. The poor creature now lies stabbed in his bed by a desperate French popish villain. Good-night, and God preserve you both and pity me — I want it.' This story has many digressions as yet to the matter; the following is wholly foreign. No story has been oftener repeated about Swift than that he allowed Harley to call him Jonathan; and this is always told to prove that he was a parasite who bore with disrespectful familiarity from his political patrons. An odd imputation this on the man who, when Harley sent him money as payment for writing a pamphlet in aid of the cause, blew his patron up in strong language, and refused to go near him again until he had humbly apologized. Nothing is more notorious than the familiar arrogance with which Swift treated the ministers, who bore with it for the sake of his support. He dispatched one minister into the House of Commons to tell another that he would not dine with him if the hour were later than six. These facts are adverse to the impression derived from Swift's toleration of familiarity; I do not say they ought to create an opposite opinion about <37> Swift. Johnson's remark may have truth as well as pungency — 'No man can pay a more servile tribute to the great, than by suffering his liberty in their presence to aggrandize him in his own esteem.' It is strange that the whole story about Jonathan should rarely, if ever, be made complete; often, if not always, the liberty was such as would be that of calling a man a horse, by way of saying that he was not an ass. Swift had a sore point in his dislike of his cousin Thomas Swift, who, among other things, was willing to be called the principal author of the 'Tale of a Tub.' Harley found this out, and used to call him, and introduce as, Dr. Thomas Swift, to his great disgust. It may be suspected that often, perhaps from the beginning and always, Jonathan was a joke which was to be read not Thomas this time.

To return to the subject. All the slight indications which can be gathered from Swift's journal seem to confirm the belief that Miss Barton was not living with her uncle. One, yet unmentioned, has two sides. Swift, when in or near Leicester Fields (now Square), calls Mrs. Barton his 'near neighbour.' Now Newton lived in a house touching Leicester Fields. Take this alone, and we suppose the niece was living with her uncle. But, independently of the silence about the uncle, how are we to explain that Swift, who records his frequent visits to many people he cared little about, at long distances from his own lodging, complains that the one he loved best he saw least of. Was it so difficult to look in for a gossip upon a neighbour who was close at <38> hand? We know that Miss Barton returned his regard; and we may suspect that the 'famous witty' young lady would have let the cook spoil Uncle Isaac's favourite pudding rather than miss a dish of talk with the author of the 'Tale of a Tub.' Her character for wit and intellect charmed all who have come down; as speaking of her, 'J'ai conservé,' writes Remond de Montmort in 1716, 'l'idée du monde la plus magnifique de son esprit et de sa beauté.'

Suppose that the lady was in the house of Lord Halifax, and we see all about it; it was of increasing difficulty for Swift, who had gone over, and was more and more Torified every day, to keep up his connection with Whigs, even when dear friends. We see his intimacy with Halifax gradually drooping as the journal goes on; and we may presume that he was obliged at last to watch his opportunities, and to visit Miss Barton when Halifax, and still more his friends, were out of the way. His friendship with her continued to the end; among his correspondence is preserved a letter from her as Mrs. Conduitt. It is of Nov. 29, 1733, and is labelled by the Dean, 'My old friend Mrs. Barton, now Mrs. Conduitt.' So completely is she isolated in the journal, that it would be open to anyone, but for the label of this letter, to contend that Mrs. Barton of the journal was a different person from Newton's niece. It must be added that there is record elsewhere of Swift being employed by the Tory Government to carry to Miss Barton a proposition for Newton's consideration, that he should retire in favour of one of their friends upon a <39> pension of £2,000 a year. Newton, whom a job repelled at a higher rate than the inverse square of the distance — though he was, in all honesty, both a place-hunter and a money-hoarder — sent back that they might have the place, but he would not have a pension. I wish he had accepted the offer; he would have made it a good job for science.

There may have been a temporary alienation. The last time Swift mentions her, it is as vexing him with her politics: 'I have been so teased with Whiggish discourse by Mrs. Barton and Lady Betty Germaine; never saw the like.' As to Halifax, his friendship seems to have ended, a year or two after, with an explosion in the House of Lords, on the debate about Swift's 'Public Spirit of the Whigs.' Some accounts give Wharton, some Halifax, as demanding the discovery of 'the villain who wrote that false and scandalous libel;' but the sentiment was in the mind of both; and both knew, what everyone else knew, that Swift was the author.

The rupture was complete, and Swift had bitter recollections. At least, as long after as 1739, Swift, in the note he made to the 'Characters,' by Macky, as he called himself, writes of Halifax: 'His encouragements (of literature) were only good words and good dinners; I never heard him say one good thing, or seem to taste what was said by another.' Mrs. Conduitt's letter, above mentioned, hints at a cessation of intimacy, and refers to twenty years back from 1733, that is to the time of the rupture with Halifax. She says:


'I should have guessed your holiness would rather have laid than called up the ghost of any departed friendship, which, since you are brave enough to face, you will find divested of every terror but the remorse that you were abandoned to be an alien to your friends, your country, and yourself. Not to renew an acquaintance with one who can, twenty years after, remember a bare intention to serve him, would be to throw away a prize I am not now able to repurchase.'

Swift had just as much as seen her in the long interval. In April, 1730, he writes to Lady Worsley: 'How is our old friend Mrs. Barton (I forget her new name)? I saw her three years ago at Court, almost dwindled to an echo, and hardly knew her. . .'

Sir D. Brewster quotes the passage in which Swift says he sees no old friends except Lord Halifax, 'and him very seldom.' These words he puts in italics, of which the meaning is, that if he see Halifax but seldom, and Miss Barton were living with Halifax, he would not often see Miss Barton, which is against evidence. But a few lines further on, Sir D. Brewster has to quote Swift as saying that he loves Miss Barton better than anyone, 'and sees her seldomer.' These words he does not put in italics: so I must.

At the end of his list of quotations, Sir D. Brewster says, that 'after reading the preceding passages, it would be difficult to understand how Mrs. Barton, whom Swift esteemed and loved, could ever have resided under the roof of Lord Halifax as his mistress.' So say I: the impression on my mind is that Swift alone clears her of this; and so thought Lord Macaulay, as we shall see. But Sir D. Brewster gets into singular confusions; he thinks, throughout his argument, that <41> he upsets one whenever he makes out a strong probability that Miss Barton is simply a friend. The question between him and me is whether she was a Platonic friend or a wife: it is amusing to see how hard he fights against the marriage. Anyone who dips into some parts of his book would suppose that the sole question was, wife or mistress: I for the wife, and he for the mistress.

We may ask how Swift came to be acquainted with Miss Barton at all. Sir D. Brewster says it was probably through Lady Betty Germaine, whom he had known from her childhood: the three are known to have been once in company together, and this is all that is in print of the acquaintance between Lord Berkeley's daughter and Miss Barton. It is much more likely that it was through Halifax, even on the supposition that Miss Barton lived with her uncle, and Halifax was but her intimate friend. Swift was much backwards and forwards in London, from the time he went to Ireland, and he spent all 1708, and part of 1709, in London. Hence, when in 1710, being again in London, he began his journal to Stella, he might easily have been acquainted with Miss Barton for several years; it may be that the acquaintance commenced in 1706, when, according to my verdict, Halifax married Miss Barton. In 1709, Swift hints that he gets political news from her; meaning, no doubt, that Halifax was her informant. Writing to Mr. Hunter, prisoner in France, he says: 'Mrs. Barton is still in my good graces. I design to make her tell me when <42> you are to be redeemed, and will send you word. There's it now, you think I am in jest; but I assure you the best intelligence I get of public affairs is from ladies, for the ministers never tell me anything. . .' When Halifax died, in 1715, a very eulogistic life was immediately issued from the press of the notorious Curll, written, it is said, by a certain William Pittis, whose name is found in Watt, but this work is not mentioned. A book of this publisher, it has been argued, is of no authority: knowledge of the time disputes this conclusion. The reader must remember that in 1715 the bookseller performed functions now almost entirely restricted to the editor of the political or literary journal. As seller of, and solely responsible for, hosts of anonymous pamphlets which were very effective, he kept open a kind of news-bazaar, of which the articles were sold separately. His shop was an emporium of gossip and intelligence — as gossip and intelligence then went; slander and loyalty in one place, slander and treason in another. His counter was spread with flying sheets, which would in our day have been articles, if our journals could have tolerated such articles as they would have made. While the very best of the publishers, as Tonson and Lintot, were not accustomed to consider the pillory as quite out of practical possibility, the very worst, who may have been Curll and Tom Osborne, who had stood in the pillory, were bonâ fide publishers of good literature, and risked large sums on works of lasting value: take Curll's county histories as an example. The very name of <43> Osborne is an illustration. He bore a bad character, both as a publisher and as a man; but Sam Johnson was afterwards in his employ, and the Harleian Catalogue was from his press. And though it was rather Osbornian to make a fifth volume of that catalogue out of his own stock, and sell the contents as parts of Lord Oxford's library, yet those contents do no discredit to the collection described in the preceding volumes. Curll was no worse than Osborne; and Pittis may have been as good in moral character as Johnson. When the great lexicographer knocked Osborne down in his own shop, the deed was done with a copy of the Septuagint. In our time, possibly Osborne would have lived in Holywell Street; but the Septuagint would, perhaps, not have been at hand, nor a good man to use it, for reproof or correction. I say perhaps, for even in our own day there is a mixture of the sound and the tainted in the trade of some booksellers.

We may rely upon it that Curll's press, in serious and eulogistic biography, did not circulate, far less invent, groundless stories against the individuals whom it was praising and defending; nor willingly admit and produce anything but what was too well known to be denied or concealed. The writer says that, after the death of his wife, Halifax determined on single life, and —

'Cast his eye upon the widow of one Colonel Barton, and niece of 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 passed a judgment upon her which she no ways merited, since she was a woman of strict honour and virtue.'


An additional sentence, assuring the reader that Halifax's will clears her of all imputation, will be quoted in connection with the will. We find then, and without contradiction from Newton, the assertion that Catherine Barton lived in Halifax's house as his housekeeper; and that an unfavourable judgment was passed upon her by persons given to censure. The story is one which the friendly biographer cannot but admit; and his publication was a very different thing from Mrs. Manley's. There is reason to think that the biographer was in communication with the family of Halifax. His article was the mortuary account of the distinguished statesman, which, in our day, would have been written for the leading newspapers. It was one of the chief authorities for the article on Halifax in the 'Biographia Britannica,' in which it is quoted more than thirty times, the passage above being given at length, and fully relied on. And this biographer, whose account was printed in 1760, stands to the time of his narration as we, in 1866, stand to1821. Men of sixty-five were adults when Halifax died. The signature to the article is 'P'; but I am not aware that these signatures can now be identified. The signature to 'Newton' is also 'P'; but from that article it does not even appear that Newton had a niece. No trace of any contradiction exists: none by Newton on behalf of his niece; none by the husband whom she afterwards married, not even in the memoranda which he left, though those memoranda, as we have seen, mention twenty years where thirty want explanation; none by <45> the niece herself when she furnished notes for her uncle's life to Fontenelle, though she must have been aware of the charges made against that uncle on her account; none by her daughter or her daughter's husband, when Voltaire gave the worst version of the story to Europe in an innuendo, which has all the force of an assertion that the thing was well known. I may add that the story has been generally credited, to the extent of the biographer's fact, namely, that Miss Barton did live in Halifax's house. The suppression of Newton's biographers has given consent. Sir D. Brewster, in his first life of Newton, allows this passage, for he uses some of its words, to prove that Halifax was strongly attached to Miss Barton, but suppresses the main point, as follows (p. 250).

'This accomplished nobleman was created Earl of Halifax in 1700, and after the death of his first [why first? — what was lurking in the author's mind in 1831?] wife he conceived a strong attachment for Mrs. Catherine Barton, the widow of Colonel Barton [this mistake has been rectified in our own day], and the niece of Newton. This lady was young, gay, and beautiful, and though she did not escape the censures of her contemporaries, she was regarded by those who knew her as a woman of strict honour and virtue. We are not acquainted with the causes which prevented her union with the Earl of Halifax. . .'

The biographer of Halifax opens his paragraph in a curious way, near the end of his work.

'I am now,' he says, 'to account for another omission in the course of this history, which is that of the death of Lord Halifax's lady, upon whose decease his lordship took a resolution of living a single life thenceforward, and cast his eye upon the widow. . . (as before).'


The truth slips out: the biographer {is} not to supply an omission, but to 'account for' it. It may be matter of wonder that the story was {mentioned} at all; there was no occasion for it. Reason for {th} insertion seems to have arisen while the work was in preparation: perhaps the curiosity which the {legacies} had excited, and the stories set afloat about their {cause}, accompanied, of course, by much revival of the {slanderous} stories in the Eginardus. It may be suspected {that} it was at first intended to leave it to be supposed {that} Halifax had had a wife who lasted his life, that it was found this would not do, and that the omission {was} rectified and further information given. I suppose {the} writer got into confusion; and that, being in {communication} with Halifax's nephew and successor, and perhaps some more of the relatives, the widow included, too many cooks spoiled the broth. It is important to remember that the biographer and his advisers, aware of the slanderous statement which had been made, had a case which was actually before the public to meet. His statement seems to admit a good deal, even when looked on by those who know nothing of Mrs. Manley. But as the answer — such it must be held to be — to the positive assertions which had been allowed to circulate for five years, it is either full admission or a way of insinuating a private marriage. That is, the housekeeper story is full admission, unless the description of the lady's untarnished character in the mind of those who knew her be held declaration of a private marriage.

From Miss Barton being mentioned, as widow of <47> Colonel Barton, it may be supposed that she had passed under the character of a widow. That she had lived in Halifax's house is clear; and no one will suppose that she left her old uncle, who wanted a housekeeper as much as Halifax, to be nothing but housekeeper to the peer. Nor will anyone imagine that the niece of an affluent member of Parliament, with £200 a year of her own for life, bought for her by the old uncle with whom until then she had lived, being also young, beautiful, and gay, would hire herself to a fashionable bachelor as the superintendent of his establishment. The bare fact has only one construction, if no marriage be supposed; namely, that of John Nichols, in his edition of Swift: 'In her widowhood she was entertained by Lord Halifax, who was very liberal to her at his death?' The word entertained is a genteel word; in French — entretenue.

That Halifax was her admirer in 1703, appears from his verses contributed to the inscriptions on the toasting-glasses of the Kit-cat Club. This club not only gave its name to the pictures still so called, but, by report, first gave the name of toast to any beauty whose health was often drunk. It seems to have been quite forgotten that the fair toasts were originally attached to the clubs by a kind of official tie. 'I shall likewise mark out every toast, the club in which she was elected, and the number of votes that were on her side.' — (Guardian, 1713, No; 107.)

These verses are omitted in some editions of the British poets, but they agree in character and metre <48> with those which are always inserted, as by Halifax, in honour of other ladies.

'Stampt with her reigning charmes, this brittle glass

Will safely through the realms of Bacchus pass;

Full fraught with beauty, will new flames impart,

And mount her shining image in the heart.'

These are very poor; but the following, which appear with them in the 'Toasters,' from which the 'Biographia Britannica' quotes, are so exceedingly bad that it may be charitably hoped that they were forgeries, made in ridicule, at the time when the pair were the talk of the town.

'Beauty and wit strove each in vain

To vanquish Bacchus and his train;

But Barton, with successful charms,

From both their quivers drew her arms:

The roving god his sway resigns,

And cheerfully submits his vines.'

Halifax, it is well known, was Pope's Bufo: he is here Bavius as well. I hope that Macaulay, who describes the verses made by Halifax for the glasses as 'neatly turned,' spoke of the series from which the last-quoted couplets were omitted. Not to omit any excuse, let us remember that Pope had not then taught versification and driven out the smaller epigram.

I now come to the death of Halifax, and to the point which settles the matter, to me, most conclusively. I had brought the evidence, in my own mind, to the conviction that the private marriage was the most probable alternative; and had so stated it. There is no use in presenting a result as only the more probable; the <49> biographer of Newton, and most of his reviewers, took me to have maintained the marriage as proved. I did not do so then; I do so now, meaning by proved what is meant by that word in the jury-box, not in the mathematical lecture-room. All mathematicians make this distinction; but many physical philosophers, and all that part of general society which imitates their methods, are wholly unable to keep it in mind.

In 1856, my friend Mr. Libri showed me, merely as an autograph, a letter written by Newton which he had bought at a sale. At the first glance I saw the words which I have placed in italics. About the handwriting there can be no question: Halifax died on the 19th of the month.

'Leicester Fields, May 23, 1715.

'Sir John,

'I am concerned that I must send an excuse for not waiting upon you before your journey into Lincolnshire. The concern I am in for the loss of my Lord Halifax, and the circumstances in which I stand related to his family, will not suffer me to go abroad till his funeral is over. And therefore I can only send this letter to wish you and your lady and family a good journey into Lincolnshire, and all health and happiness during your stay there. And upon your first return to London I will wait upon you, and endeavour by frequenter visits to make amends for the defect of them at present.

'I am, Sir,

'Your most humble and most obedient servant,

'Isaac Newton.'

This letter was sold by Christie and Manson in 1856, being lot 938 of H. Belward Ray's sale. It was described as part of a quantity of papers connected with Newton, purchased by the late Thomas Rodd, a very <50> good critic in such matters, as all know who remember him. Some of these papers are in the hands of the Rev. H. T. Ellacombe (Notes and Queries, 2nd series, iii. 173). Lord Monson says (3rd series, i. 191), 'When the late Mr. Rodd, the bookseller, died, he left a vast quantity of Newton papers, which were dispersed by auction. I have myself many volumes of these letters, and other documents.' But this does not account for all. I hope both Mr. Ellacombe and Lord Monson will carefully examine these papers.

The address of the above letter is wanting; but Sir John, of Lincolnshire, must have been Sir John Newton, whom in other letters Isaac Newton calls his kinsman. As we know not what other letters there may be in existence, or where — for Rodd's collection did not come from Newton's immediate family — it may be worth while to describe the receiver of the letter. John Newton, of Barr's Court in Gloucestershire, was created a baronet in 1660, with remainder, after direct heirs, to John Newton, of Gunwarley (or Gunnerly) in Lincolnshire. This second John Newton succeeded in 1661, and married a daughter of Sir Jervase Eyre, of Rampton, Nottinghamshire. He died in 1699, and was succeeded by his son John, the receiver of the letter. This third baronet married, first, Miss Heveringham; secondly, a daughter of Sir Michael Wharton, of Beverley, by whom he had a son, Michael, who succeeded his father in 1734. This Michael Newton, already Sir Michael as a knight of the Bath, was chief mourner at Isaac Newton's funeral; which means that <51> the Lincolnshire baronet considered himself, and was acknowledged, by the executors, to be Newton's chief, as the Scotch call it.

When, in 1867, the Pascal Letters were brought forward at the French Institute, Sir D. Brewster asserted in the Athenæum, that the full name Isaac, occurring in Newton's signature, was a strong presumption of forgery; that he could only recollect one instance in which there was anything but 'Is. Newton.' The letters are obvious forgeries; but Sir D. Brewster should not have trusted his memory. Whenever Newton is emphatically on form, as he is in the above letter, he is 'Isaac.' To his especial friends, Keill, Halley, and Flamsteed, he is generally 'Sir. . . Is. Newton.' But when he is on high form, he lengthens both ends. It is 'Dr. Keill . . . Isaac Newton,' When he writes a very important letter on the fluxional dispute, it is 'Dr. Halley. . . Isaac Newton.' When he asks the Astronomer Royal, almost officially, for calculations, and this to his old and dear friend, after fifty years of acquaintance, it is 'Mr. Flamsteed . . . Isaac Newton,' on two occasions, when summoning Flamsteed to a meeting of the referees on the catalogue. Not that the letter ceases to be private personal communication; in both cases Flamsteed is asked to stay and dine. In one case Cotes gets 'Isaac' at the end of a short letter — in several cases length alone seems to produce it — but then the letter ends with a very emphatic request, quite a demand that he may not see any more of Cotes's preface; he does not want any responsi <52> bility for what may be said about the dispute on fluxions. Flamsteed gets 'Isaac' in another letter; but this one ends with expressions of strong obligation. Great people get 'Isaac,' as the Duc d'Aumont and the Lords of the Treasury.

The full name is either formality or emphasis; and the letter to Sir John Newton is both formal and emphatic. But it is rare; it does not come, I should think, so often as one time in ten; and when it does come, I think there is always an explanation.

It now appears that there were circumstances in which Newton stood related to the family of Halifax, known to Sir John Newton, which were worthy of being given as reasons for keeping the house after the funeral, side by side with the grief of Newton at the loss of his old friend. The intimacy of Newton and Halifax had been long and close; for thirty-five years they had been, not only friends, but associated in occupation and in locality. From the time when they made a joint attempt to found a Philosophical Society at Cambridge, through parliamentary and official life both had been in different parts of one career. And the vigour of their friendship resisted the dangerous change of position by which the undergraduate and junior fellow, who looked up to the unrivalled mathematician in the seat of learning, became the Minister of State who looked down upon the official subordinate in the public service. Permanence of warm personal regard under such a trial is rare; and to abate wonder it must be remembered that the change was not sudden; there was an interval of social equality in the <53> Convention Parliament. All the records in existence would not enable us to approximate to the time at which Montague passed Newton. The great reason known to the world in all its completeness, the singular friendship of thirty-five years' duration, was quite enough; there was no occasion to judge a second reason to prove to a Lincolnshire baronet that he ought not to be offended at the omission of a visit of ceremony. And Newton was not the man to do it; in the expression of matters connected with feeling he was plain and brief, easy to see through, and wholly destitute of finesse. (N.B. I never for a moment believed in the letter[5] to Lady Norris.) The second reason, then, must have been one of weight resembling the first, and joining it with what goes before, and with what is to come, it must mean that Sir John Newton knew that Isaac Newton's niece was Halifax's widow.

But might not Newton have had some very intimate relations with Halifax's next-of-kin? On this point I must be very distinct. No one, until he comes to try at the establishment of a new point, can be fully aware of the wildness with which even practised reasoners conduct argument on any subject which has not had its own groove cut in the thinking machinery. Newton and the new Lord Halifax had to adjust the transfer of Miss Barton's annuity, which Halifax held in trust. Here was a circumstance relating Newton to the family of Halifax; and I have had it gravely put that it was <54> the circumstance which kept him in the house, or helped to keep him there, until after the funeral; or at least that it might have been. The proposer, certainly, was very much bent on my being wrong; but, as many of my readers may be in the same plight, I state all I have been able to collect about the possibilities of Newton having been acquainted with the family of Halifax.

As follows: — Halifax had nephews and nieces; we must take it as of the highest probability that Newton used to speak to and shake hands with them; and I should: not venture to find fault with anyone who declared that they sometimes — nay, often — dined at his house. But there is no direct evidence that Newton ever spoke a word to, or set eyes on, anyone of them. Newton had a friend named Laughton or Lawton; Halifax mentions nieces of this name in his will. Some trifling circumstances make it not very improbable that Newton's friend was the relative of Halifax's nieces. The Hon. Dr. Montague, Halifax's uncle, was actually Master of Trinity College during part of Newton's residence. And this is all I can find.

I suppose it will be conceded that if the words of Newton's letter refer to the connection between Halifax and his niece, under the name of his 'family,' these words establish a marriage. If it were anything else, whether Newton were a conniving party or not, we may be certain he would not refer to it. The times were bad, but not bad enough for this.

To my sins of digression I will add the following. It will be seen how coldly Newton addresses his <55> kinsman — 'Sir John … I am, sir, your most humble and obedient servant.' Having always looked curiously at the forms of old correspondence, I have come to a clearness that the most ceremonious civility was never an offence, but rather the contrary; and that all departure was real feeling, ungoverned by rule. Dear Sir was not a form. Thus Newton, when his thoughts were turned upon his friend and niece, does not give his relative the smallest remission of ceremoney; but in another letter to Sir John Newton, written under different circumstances, we find 'Your affectionate kinsman and most humble servant.'[6] In aid of my theory I observe that, in the great majority of cases in which the mode of address varies, the relaxation is at the beginning, and it has subsided into ceremony by the end. Sam Johnson sometimes begins to his step-daughter with 'Dearest Dear,' and ends with 'Madam, your most humble servant.' Mixtures of address are exceedingly common; thus Robert Boyle is Lady Ranelagh's 'Affectionate brother and most humble servant.'

Brook Taylor ends to one sister with 'Pray give my affectionate respects to my sisters, and accept the same most cordially from your obedient servant.' In a letter previously quoted, Swift is 'Sir' to his constant solicitor, sincere admirer, and unalterable friend, who is also his 'most obedient and most humble servant.' But one of the most amusing instances which I ever met with is the way in which the author of 'Woman's <56> Revenge' (1718) subsides into ceremony after a flash of most familiar quizzing in a letter to his brother-actor, James Spiller. It commences with 'Dear Jemmy;' and the writer, after congratulating his friend upon the success with which he had acted a Newgate bird in the piece, ends as follows:

'And you must not think that I flatter you when I tell you you have a natural impudence, proper to the character, and became your fetters as well as any who ever wore them. And I am sorry I could not, without giving offence to the critics, and deviating too far from the rules of comedy, bring you to Tyburn for the better diversion of the audience; but I hope you are satisfied with my good wishes, and will give me leave to subscribe myself, your obliged and humble servant,

'Cristopher Bullock'

When the last will of Lord Halifax was opened, it was found that Catherine Barton had a very handsome jointure — as I call it — left her. There was a second codicil, dated February 1, 1712-13, intended to revoke the original bequest, and leaving her £5,000 absolutely, the rangership, lodge (a curious house, Flamsteed calls it), and household furniture of Bushey Park for life, and the manor of Apscourt for life. Common rumour valued the legacy at £20,000; meaning — to put it at the lowest — that it considered her to have as good as the interest of that sum for her life. We should probably be below the mark if we put this income, exclusive of her annuity of £200, at £1,200 a year. The preceding generation valued income at 10 per cent. of the capital; when Chillingworth told his hearers that heaven was worth more than a hundred thousand pounds, he added, <57> this you all know is ten thousand pounds a year. Miss Barton, then — so to call her — was left with £1,400 a year; more than the income on which a country gentleman of that time often thought of trying to represent his county. Macaulay, speaking of Congreve having £1,200 a year, says that as an income for a single man this was not merely easy, but splendid; and he puts the average income of a member of the House of Commons in the time of Charles II. at £800 a year. The estimate above is given by Flamsteed, two months after Halifax's death, as the common notion of the whole. He puts £20,000 as exclusive of the bequest in money (£5,000); but as he clearly does not understand that the £3,000 of the first codicil is revoked, I take it he would have put the whole, had he understood the matter well, at not less than £20,000.

The detail of the legacy is very significant. If, as the biographer of Newton would have it, she had always lived, and was to live on, with her uncle, why should a man who was very rich in money as well as land have burdened her with Bushey Lodge and another manor, with all the cares of a rangership, of finding a tenant for the lodge, and of managing landed estate?

All this would best have devolved upon the heir, and a round sum of £20,000, or a life interest in it, would very visibly have been the better way of providing for Miss Barton. The legacy seems intended to give her the status which she might have expected, had she been an acknowledged widow.

The legacy was left in terms which, supposing <58> Catherine Barton not his wife, would make any man think that Halifax had attempted to represent her as his mistress. 'It was given,' he says, 'as a token of the sincere love, affection, and esteem I have long had for her person, and as a small recompense for the pleasure and happiness I have had in her conversation.' This was said of a woman whom the scandalous part of the world called his mistress, as he knew; and, as if to make the worst part of the scandal more prominent, he describes her as Newton's niece, and leaves Newton £100 'as a mark of the great honour and esteem I have for so great a man.' And he is careful to specify that the annuity — the most suspicious of the gifts — was bought in Newton's name.

In 1706, Halifax left a legacy for 'love and affection;' in 1712 he added 'the pleasure and happiness I have had in her conversation.' When I began this inquiry, I very much under-estimated the force of this one word. I thought that discourse or colloquy was one of its meanings; but I cannot find a single instance in which it refers to this and no more. It now naturally slips in, and becomes a substitute whenever colloquy occurs, or a synonym. I have had quoted against me more than once, 'Let your conversation be Yea, yea,' etc., and have been obliged to refer my opponents to the version itself, in which they found, 'Let your communication be,' etc., etc. In our day we converse with persons, and are conversant with things; and there is a plural, conversations: in older English there is no distinction between conversing with and being conversant with; both apply <59> to persons as well as to things; and conversation has no more a plural than conduct. The old phrase of 'conversing with books' is the invention of a time when to 'converse with' was what we now call to 'be conversant with.' It would otherwise have been a very absurd idiom; we may make Aristotle talk to us, but how are we to talk to Aristotle? The grand old Greek is now, as Madame de Stael said of Coleridge to Crabb Robinson, tremendous at monologue, but incapable of dialogue.

Before giving a list of instances from many quarters, I will produce one from that prince of English vernacular who is, of all, most destitute of the power of setting foot outside his own domain; I mean John Bunyan. From many uses of the word, all of one kind, I select those which occur in the description of Talkative, the pilgrim who is all good profession and bad practice, and in whom Bunyan gives the exquisitely funny illustration that he is an unclean beast, because, though he may chew the cud, i.e., may seek knowledge, he does not divide the hoof, i.e., does not part with the way of sinners. It will be seen that talk and conversation are used as we use profession and practice. As in, 'Religion hath no place in his heart, or house, or conversation; all he hath lieth in his tongue.' The 'heart, house, and conversation' are several times repeated in the same sense, as in 'I have heard many cry out against sin in the pulpit, who yet can abide it well enough in the heart, house, and conversation. Again, 'To say I am thus and thus, when my conversation and all my neigh <60> bours tell me I lie, is great wickedness. Again, 'I have heard of you that you are a man whose religion lies in talk, and that your conversation gives your profession the lie.' Not only does Bunyan mean conduct, but he has no other word for conduct and behaviour except conversation. But it does not follow that this exclusive sense lasted through a generation; many of the following instances will speak to that point.

In no one of the twenty instances, or thereabouts, in which the word occurs in the authorized version of the Bible (1611) does conversation mean only colloquy; it always refers to the mode of conducting life. The origin of the Latin conversatio obviously gives for the first meaning 'a turning again and again;' and this is also the idea in ἀναστροφη, which is translated conversation in the authorized version thirteen times. These words come to mean the habit of conducting life, but have no especial reference to colloquy. There is the same idea in πολιτευμα and τροπος, both of which are sometimes translated conversation. But no word is so rendered which has more to do with a man's talking than with his eating, or walking, or trade.

As between two persons, it was meeting, eating together, having common places and objects, all, of course, with communication. As between man and woman, it generally implied the conjugal relation, the living together, with or without legal sanction, as the case might be. Edward Phillips, Milton's nephew, in his 'World of Words' (1657), makes conversation to be 'a keeping company with, or being familiar with, any; and <61> he gives no other meaning. Littleton, in his English-Latin Dictionary (4th edition, 1715), renders conversation by 'conversatio, commercium, consuetudo, usus.' This word began in later Latin, in which the meaning was, as may be gathered from St. Jerome, when he mentions those who have presumed 'indigna nomine Christiano de mea conversatione jactitare;' or from St. Valerian, where he says, 'In hoc solum constat conversationis nostræ ratio, ut boni simus.' And the original meaning is strongly illustrated by the old technical meaning in theology, the monastic life.

Newton, writing to Collins in 1673, speaking of some rudeness he had met with at the Royal Society, says he will 'decline that conversation which hath occasioned what is past.'

John Hawkins, in the English Dictionary to which he forged the name of Cocker (1704, 1715), has the following, which shows that the illiterate man has no more notion of restriction to colloquy than the well-read Phillips. 'Conversation [Latin], one who is conversant, or keeps company.'[7]

Very frequently, of course, the word used generically will still make sense in a specific meaning. Thus when Strype says that the conversation of two of his worthies was so wise and useful that they were called the golden couple of fathers, he speaks intelligibly to those who make him mean only their discourse or colloquy, though he does not mean their whole course of conduct. Lord <62> Clarendon says of Waller that he is himself a wit, and 'of an intimate conversation' with other wits; here the word is used in the whole meaning. But when the same Clarendon speaks of the same Waller, to extol him for 'the excellence and power of his wit and pleasantness of his conversation,' he might be taken as speaking of his discourse only; though since wit is an important part of communication, it is rather loose phraseology. The reader will find, if he looks through all my instances, and gets some more of his own, that no two words are more alike than conversation at the time I write of (1600,1730 . . .), and companionship now. In the 'Secret History of the Calves' Head Club,' 1713, all the objects of blame are the eating of the calves' heads and singing blasphemous anthems; which behaviour is called 'scandalous and contemptible conversation.' Bacon is often quoted as saying that reading, writing, and conversation severally make the full, exact, and ready man; but his word is conference. Selden's famous book is 'Table-talk, being Discourses. . .' Swift's 'Polite Conversation,' already quoted, is 'a complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation, according to the most polite method now used at Court, and in the best companies of England.' It is all talk, because talk is the only part of conversation that, without pictures, can be reproduced in type. But his own words for the body of his work are discourses and dialogues, never conversations — a plural which he does not know. And he is to improve and polish all 'parts of conversation,' that is, as he describes it, of behaviour <63> at meetings in the streets, dinner, tea, etc. And we have seen that, even in the slipshod English of his journal, he does not complain of whiggish conversation, but of discourse. We have lost both discourse and dialogue, except as very high and serious terms. In French, the Academy gives no meaning to conversation, except entretien familier; and entretien, though colloquy, in a derived sense, is the treatment or carrying-on. Shakespeare, whose use of the word will be found to support what I have said, makes Othello complain that, being a black, he is deficient in some 'parts of conversation.' This does not mean that he fails in participles though he succeeds in verbs; or the like: and it comes of his blackness, which puts no difficulty in the way of colloquial correctness. Molière's précieuse does, indeed, call to a servant for a chair, by the title of 'la commodité de la conversation;' but she twists all her phrases, and may very easily be made to mean companionship, and not colloquy.

This is enough to show that Halifax meant more than talk; what more is a fair question, but still more: he meant some kind of companionship. If he only meant that he had constantly associated with Miss Barton in the house of her uncle, he used a disrespectful ambiguity of phrase which he had no right to use, any more than a single man who had frequently talked to — and even flirted with — a young lady in her mother's house, would now have a right to say that his connexion with that young lady had been a great source of happiness. Had he wanted to describe Miss Barton as <64> having been to him a wife or a mistress, he could not have found a more expressive way of doing it, or one more sure to be so taken by common usage; and he applied this word to a lady whom the gay world had called his mistress, whilst leaving her a large fortune.

Flamsteed underlined this word in a letter which Baily has published with the rest, and to which I have already referred.

He had sore recollections connected with Newton, and the support which Halifax had given Newton; his inuendo would prove nothing but this, that all which was wanted to show his meaning was merely to underline that word. The passage is as follows: (July 9, 1715)

'I doubt not but you have heard that the Lord Halifax is dead of a violent fever. If common fame be true, he died worth £150,000; out of which he gave Mrs. Barton, Sir I. Newton's niece, for her excellent conversation, a curious house, £5,000, with lands, jewels, plate, money, and household furniture, to the value of £20,000, or more. Sir I. Newton loses his support in him, and having been in with Lord Oxford, Bolingbroke, and Dr. Arbuthnott, is not now looked upon as he was formerly."

It has always been to me rather a matter of surprise that we find nothing more on this subject in Flamsteed's letters. He and Newton were on very bitter terms; hard words had passed between them; and Flamsteed is not sparing of acrimonious assertions. It may possibly be that he came to hear that a marriage had taken place. When the biography of Halifax appeared, the following words would certainly provoke inquiry ". . . though she might be agreeable to his lordship in every <65> particular, that noble peer's complaisance to her proceeded wholly from the great esteem he had for her wit and most excellent understanding, as will appear from what relates to her in his will at the close of these memoirs.' No man with a grain of sense, looking at the codicil, could see any declaration that the legacies were only given for the reasons just alleged: the publication of such a remark as that just quoted can only be explained by reference to the writer's knowledge, that many would understand the bequests in their true sense, and would circulate the true state of the case.[8]

The Barton family seem to have cherished the connection, whatever it was. The Rev. Geofrey Barton, Catherine's first cousin, called a daughter Catherine (born in 1709) and a son Montague (born 1717); another son was Charles. The Montague family remembered it; for Charles Barton received a living from them.

These are the grounds on which I am satisfied that there was a private marriage between Newton's old friend and his favourite niece contracted in 1706, known and acknowledged in their private circle, but not published to the world. In the following discussion of difficulties and objections, I am not considering them with reference to their bearing on the proof of marriage, but only as those accompaniments to disputed questions which, it is well to examine when a point is established, <66> as leaning-ground for the settlement of cases yet doubtful. That Halifax gave a life annuity and a legacy at the beginning of a certain term; that during that term, which ended with his life, common rumour asserted Miss Barton to be his mistress; that one of the dearest friends of both never mentions them together, even in his private letters, though often apart; that a friendly biographer, at the moment when general attention would be directed to Halifax by his recent death, declares that Miss Barton managed his house, and was a woman of honour; that a large fortune was left her, in terms which, as used by a person who knew the rumours, contradict nothing and imply much; that the uncle asserts, without the least necessity, that he stood in relation to the family of his friend; that the term between the annuity and the death of Halifax, the period of currency of the scandalous rumours, is, precisely enough, the length of time during which the second husband's evidence shows she did not live with her uncle; — all these things make a case which will not be permanently resisted.

The difficulties are: How comes there to be no concurrent rumour of a marriage, assuming that there was no such rumour because we know of none, which I am content to assume against myself? How came it that Halifax did not acknowledge the marriage in his will, or by other paper left to be opened at his death? How came it that Mr. Conduitt did not proclaim the marriage after he had married the widow? How came it that he left no note of it in the family memoranda of which so <67> much use has been made? These were all grounds of suspense until Newton's letter was found.

That letter at once turned many opinions; Lord Macaulay, to whose teeming memory I owe my first information that Swift mentions Miss Barton — a fact unnoticed by all the scientific biographers — was a man of very decided conclusions, not easily shaken: this all know. Lord Lansdowne's (rumoured) gibe, 'I wish I could be as sure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything!' resembles the income of half a million so often attributed to the possessor of fifty thousand. But nothing small can be so successfully exaggerated; five hundred never passes for five thousand. And there is another remark to make. The world abounds in people who are positively certain of everything; and, so long as they have nothing in particular to say for themselves, their certainty passes almost unseen. But when a man of many facts, good memory, and power of argument, backs his certainty with a case, his assurance becomes a word of two meanings. His opponent, galled by his reasons, falls foul of the strength of the conclusion, and says, with Jack Cade: 'He shall die an it were but for pleading so well for his life'.

Lord Macaulay was strongly opposed to my whole view until Newton's letter was found, when he at once changed so far — far for him — as to write, 'I do not entirely reject your hypothesis;' he then raises the difficulty of the continued secrecy. I expected that Dean Peacock, in whose mind was a chart of scientific history and biography, would also be more or less turned round; <68> but I found this could not be done; he was already satisfied; it was his old opinion that there had been a relation between the parties. 'I think your hypothesis,' he writes, 'seems to clear up a difficulty in Newton's life, which has hitherto been inexplicable; no discredit seems to have attached to Miss Barton during her lifetime on account of her connexion with Lord Halifax.' He then raises the same difficulty. Take notice that the undique collata membra of the subject had formed the basis of a decided opinion that a relation existed, in the mind of the best-read man in England in the history of science, strong in general literature, and much relied on for soundness of judgment in the affairs of life.[9] My readers will look with interest at the letter which T. B. Macaluay wrote to me on my forwarding, for his perusal, the manuscript which I had prepared for the Notes and Queries (being substantially all but the last column and a half of what appeared on November 5, 1853). Many persons would be suspected of having gone to the book and got up a memory; but those who remember Macaulay's conversation will not entertain any such notion. The letter was dashed off when my paper was returned, very soon after its receipt; there are some slight inaccuracies which recent acquaintance with the book would have prevented.

'I return your paper. It is very interesting; but there are some important facts which seem to have escaped, your notice. Mrs. <69> Barton was a most intimate friend of Swift. "I love her better than anybody," is the expression he uses about her in one of his letters to Stella. She is mentioned perhaps twenty times in his journal. He never hints the least suspicion of her virtue; and his regard for her must be supposed to have been very strong since it overcame his party feeling. He was then [not so soon — see what precedes] completely estranged from Halifax, and was the great literary champion of the Tories [he was rapidly becoming so]. Yet he suffered Mrs. Barton to talk Whiggism to him, and seems not to have liked her the less [he complains of it]. She evidently lived at that time, not with Halifax, but in a lady-like manner by herself, seeing the best company, and giving handsome dinners. [We know not who dined with her except Swift: she dined at Lady Worsley's and at Lady Betty Germaine's.] I cannot believe [no more can I] that Swift, who, though he had no religion, had a great deal of professional spirit [I have worded this very differently], would have haunted the house, and sate at the table of any man's kept-mistress, above all the kept-mistress of his enemy [enemy to be; as yet, the beloved friend]. But you can look at the letters to Stella, and judge for yourself. Swift mentions the brother, an officer, a sad dog, who was killed in Hill's unlucky expedition to Quebec."

'You must not, I think, say much [I had not said what I call much] about the purity of Halifax's morals. He is accused of libertinism by Davenant; and though Davenant was a malignant fellow, and little to be trusted, I do not know that we have the means of refuting the accusation. I am very unwilling to believe that Mrs. Barton was Halifax's mistress; but I cannot think that, she was his wife. There was no conceivable reason for his not avowing the marriage, if it had really taken place. There would have been no mésalliance. He was a younger son of a younger brother, and had been educated for the Church. [This, and what follows on the same subject, has been already discussed.] Dorset's patronage, and his own abilities, raised him in the world. But in all the lampoons of the time Montague is spoken of as a parvenu [unless he accepted the designation, he would all the more fear an unequal marriage]. The sister of a colonel in the army, the niece of a member for the University of Cambridge, was surely a match for any man. [Here is a mine of good puns, not intended, and which <70> has never been worked.] My own belief is that Mrs. Barton was neither Halifax's mistress nor his wife, and that the liaison between them was of the same sort with that between Congreve and Mrs. Bracegirdle, with that between Swift and Stella, with that between Pope and Martha Blount, with that between Cowper, and Mrs. Unwin. But, whether it were so or not, I have no doubt it was so considered by Newton, who, sagacious as he was in his own sphere, was the last man in the world to have discovered an amour, if the parties took the most ordinary precautions. With all his genius, he was as simple as a child; and the coldness of his own temperament would have made him slow to believe that others had been led astray by their passions. If anything more occurs to me, I will write again.'

The character given of Newton is the mythical portrait: recent knowledge has recoloured it. He was not a simple-minded man in the sense propounded: he was not like the old philosopher who knocked his foot against a stone while he was looking at the stars. Though not learned in human nature, he was very, much the man of the world; he stuck to the main chance, and knew how to make a cast. He took good care of his money, and left a large fortune, though very — even magnificently — liberal on suitable occasions, especially to his family. He was observant of small things, as are all men of suspicious temperament; and he had a strong hatred of immorality, whether in word or deed, which, no doubt, would have turned his acuteness of observation, and his tendency to suspicion, upon anything from which inference could have been drawn. Those who imagine that Newton was always thinking of gravitation might just as well imagine that Wellington was always thinking of strategy. The following de <71> scription applies to both. After this (the Principia or Waterloo, according to the person thought of), he lived about forty years, during which his attention to what had been his main pursuit was intermittent and casual, and rather directive of others than executive. He had a new career before him, in which again he was eminently successful; and in the last years of his life he was of all his contemporaries the most famous and the most respected.

I take this opportunity to record the fairness of Macaulay's mind in a matter in which unfairness is neither sin nor shame. I have taken trouble to make small researches for many busy men; but it is not the rule that those for whom I do this will find time to do as much for me. But Macaulay held equal rights to mean quid pro quo. He began by asking information from me, which I took pains to give; he took equal pains to return an equivalent when I asked of him. I then began to send him scraps, as I found them, unasked; and this he retorted in kind.

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It was in Britain the temper of the age; before Baily's Life of Flamsteed rudely broke in upon the illusion, to take for granted that Newton was human perfection. There is a class in this country which has a percential existence among all that is middle, from nobility down to handicraft; into both of which it throws its shoots. It is a respectable class: it can truly be described as so respectable, you can't think! It is a useful class; it is part of the ballast of our good ship; and though our middle ranks furnish a much larger percentage of that which is ballast and cargo, both, yet no ballast is useless. Who does not know the smug individual of this species, as he sees him picking his way through the world? His highest model is aristocracy; his social life is silver-forkery; his main pursuit is money-grubbery; and his whole religion is Sunday-prayery. This is the complete specimen, fit for the Museum; but the characteristics are variously interfused through an immense mass, often lost in other and better features, except to a close observer. This class is, in every case in which its members knew the name of Newton, the one in which you were safe to be reckoned as in the broad way if you imputed anything wrong to the man who bore that name at the Mint — a position which was mysteriously connected with wonderful discoveries in the heavens.

'And, so you think that Newton told a lie;

Where do you hope to go to when you die ?'


By help of this class, without which the man of science could not have put Newton on the pedestal which had been made for him, it was practicable to allow what had the clearest appearance of a direct and deliberate falsehood on Newton's part to stand unexamined for more than a century. Newton, in his final conflict with Leibnitz, declared that the decision at the Royal Society against Leibnitz had been voted by a 'numerous committee of gentlemen of different nations.' The world was never told of more than six, all British subjects of English mother-tongue; no list of the committee was published with the decision. Here was, to all appearance, if not a falsehood, worse — the evasion of calling the English, Scotch, etc., different nations in reference to a dispute between Britain and the Continent. If the faith in Newton had been anything but a formula, some would have reasoned thus: — 'Newton could not be false: he says the committee had members of different nations; let us look at the minute-books of the Royal Society, and find them out.' But this was not thought necessary. I had long been puzzled with this statement of Newton's: though I knew him to be capable of being betrayed by the necessities of his case into that culpable evasion in which self-love finds excuse, I did not believe that his principles would allow him directly and wilfully to falsify a fact; or that his acuteness would allow him to do it on so small a matter and to so little purpose. It chanced to me, in 1845, to look at a Life of De Moivre of the rarest character, by his friend Dr. Matthew Maty, Sec. R.S. I never saw <132> more than one separate copy; but I long afterwards found it in the Journal Britannique for 1755 — a French journal, published in England by the 'little black dog,' as Sam Johnson called him — Maty himself. Here I found eleven members named, two of them aliens — De Moivre himself and Bonet the Prussian minister. And though they were the only two foreigners, yet De Moivre was a host: the only one among the rest who was fit to stand up against him for one moment on a mathematical question was Halley. On application to the Royal Society, the facts were verified immediately: the six who have passed for the whole were those first appointed; the remaining five were added piecemeal in the five weeks following the first nomination.

I drew up a few words on this discovery, and sent them to the Royal Society. I thought they would be a charta volans for the Proceedings, etc. To my very great surprise, they were printed in all the dignity of the Philosophical Transactions, in which no historical paper has ever appeared, that I know of — certainly none within the century. But the matter concerned the character of Newton. The little bit, of two and three-quarter pages, with the facts about the committee, and some anecdotes — as how, for instance, Newton said that nothing but his age prevented him from having another pull at the moon — looks curious among the elaborate mathematical and physical papers. This is so far a mere anecdote: it takes meaning in connection with what follows.

About a year after the preceding paper was sent, some <133> of those accidents, by which those who are prepared can snap surmises as well as facts, led me to a surmise that perhaps the reprints (1722) of the Commercium Epistolicum (1712) — as the work containing the reasons and decisions of the above-named committee is called — had not been quite fairly made. I say reprint, not second edition; for the very title-page was reprinted with the old date, after the avowedly new matter and a new title over all, which amounted to the most positive declaration that not a comma was intentionally changed. I had no copy of the first edition, so I applied to the Council of the Royal Society for the loan of their copy, stating why I wanted it. The request was instantly granted; and I found, on examination, that some alterations had been made, of which some were decidedly unfair in matter, all being of course unjustifiable under the old date and without notice. The worst among them was, that whereas the old committee did not say precisely, in the evidence, when the letter on which the most depended was forwarded to Leibnitz, a date for this transmission was foisted into the reprint. It ought to be said that the notions of the literary word, in that day, about the sanctity of documents were by no means so rigid as they are now; so that what, done by one of us, would be sheer rascality, may be let off with a much softer name. I drew up an account of the alterations, and sent it to the Royal Society: to have sent it elsewhere would have been to say, in effect, that though I knew the Society would go out of the way to clear the fame of Newton, I could not trust them to clear their own <134> wrong to Leibnitz. That they had some hand in it was clear, from the reprint having cuts from the old wood-blocks which were the property of the Society. The Society proved itself worthy of the reflection which I could not venture to cast; it declined to print the second paper. I gathered that the Council thought it would be necessary to submit my paper and the documents to a special committee of examination. The documents were two printed books, and the question was, whether certain passages in one book were accurate reprints of certain passages in the other; and, if not, how they differed. I have no doubt the real reason was, that in the paper was seen danger of danger to Newton's character. I afterwards saw a published reason, of which I was not cognizant at the time, for thinking that Newton himself was the editor of this reprint, and the writer of the preface which preceded the old title. Sir D. Brewster, from the Portsmouth Papers, found that I was quite right. When I made this last discovery, it crossed my mind for one moment that the fact was known in the Council of the Royal Society, and that the refusal to investigate the question was in part the consequence of disinclination to bring it out. But this notion took no root; I soon felt satisfied that, whatever unconscious bias might do, there was no reason to fear a definite intention to suppress a definite fact. And further, so small and so inexact is the knowledge of the history of science among scientific men, that I could easily imagine not one single person on the Council knew so much as that there had been a reprint, much <135> less that Newton's active share in the reprint had been matter of discussion, of affirmation, and denial.

I applied for permission to withdraw the paper, hoping thus to nullify the proceeding, in form at least. But the laws of the Society prevent the withdrawal of any communication which has undergone adjudication; hence this little matter must have its little place in the history of the Society, and its somewhat larger place in mine. A copy would have been allowed me if I had requested it; but I preferred to write another paper, and to request its insertion in the Philosophical Magazine (June, 1848).

One testimony to the significance of the variantes is that of Sir D. Brewster, who holds it wise to omit all mention of them. After my paper, which I took care he should have, and with full knowledge of the new work being reprinted under the old date, he calls it 'a new edition, with notes, a general review of it, and a preface of some length.' He did not even give the true date (1722), but sticks by that of the second title-page (1725). This is of some consequence; for three years, at Newton's age, then made a difference in the palliation which years and infirmity may be made to give. But it must be remembered that persons unused to bibliography are often not even aware of the distinction between a reprint and a new edition. I freely and unreservedly blame the Council of the Royal Society — collectively, of course — for not printing the account of the variations mentioned above; they missed a golden opportunity. They might have shown that the beautiful edition of the Commercium <136> Epistolicum, published in 1856, by Biot and Lefort, at the expense of the French Government, 'avec l'indication des variantes de l'édition de 1722,' would have recorded that these variantes were first made known by the Royal Society itself: the body which was most concerned in the publication of them, considered as an act of reparation. The opportunity is lost, and the revelations of the Portsmouth Papers and of those of Leibnitz have left little chance of another. The Royal Society, in this matter, reminds me much of those old managers of the impeachment, who, when Warren Hastings, many and many a year after his acquittal, appeared before a House of Commons, the members of which rose and uncovered at his retirement, remained sitting with their hats on, to show their sullen consistency. As a question of curiosity, I asked myself whether Leibnitz ever found as stubborn an adherent in spite of all that could be learnt? I could not remember such a thing in real life; but the optimist of Voltaire's fiction hits the case exactly: 'Eh bien! mon cher Pangloss,' lui dit Candide, 'quand vous avez été pendu, disséqué, roué de coups, et que vous avez ramé aux galères, avez-vous toujours pensé que tout allait le mieux du monde?' 'Je suis toujours de mon premier sentiment,' répondit Pangloss; 'car enfin je suis philosophe; il ne me convient pas de me dédire. Leibnitz ne pouvant pas avoir tort. . .'

I have given the preceding detail to show the reader who can approach the question of Lord Halifax and his wife, but is not able to enter upon scientific discussion, <137> that I have long been deep in these matters, and have been successful in elucidating points of history. It will be clear that I have not been a partizan of Newton, but that I have assailed his conduct, when I saw occasion, with perfect freedom; and this I could make much clearer if I went further into what I have written on the dispute with Leibnitz. I am sure that if I had found what I held sufficient proof that Newton had been a Sir Pandarus of Troy, I should not have shrunk from unreserved exposure. I detest the fictitious association, as a matter of course, of moral with intellectual greatness; and I laugh at it into the bargain, as I should at the attempt to prove that all great minds have long noses. There is but one thing of the kind which is more mischievous, and that is the tendency to throw dirt at the morals, or to import damnation into the destiny of those who differ from the thrower or the importer in religious belief.

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It is very much to be wished that the Portsmouth papers should undergo a full examination by more than one person, and on more than one side of all questions. Sir D. Brewster has very candidly stated several results derived from these papers which oblige him to surrender several of his old views. Of his fairness on clear questions I have no doubt, as well as of his good intent on all. But I do not trust him to see the bearing of incidental remarks on points not immediately belonging to the document before him; and, if I did, I should take it as most likely that many casual phrases would carry different purport to different minds. A full examination will come in time: the only question is how and when. Dr. Horsley had the first opportunity; and it is pretty well known that he advised much suppression; he could not endure the publication of papers which would prove Newton to be Anti-Athanasian in his theology. More than one person was afterwards allowed to inspect the papers; but for a long time the head of the Portsmouth family was incapable of attention to business, and his substitutes, with proper feeling on the matter, declined to take the full power of ownership. When this state of things ceased, Sir D. Brewster was allowed, not merely to examine the papers, but to examine them at deliberate leisure in his own house. This was very liberal allowance; and I, for one, should have shrunk from advising it, and hope it will never be <149> conceded a second time. Risks of fire, of transit, of sudden accident to the sole custodian, etc., are severally formidable and collectively perilous. What I should like to see would be, first, an offer from the Government to print all that should be recommended for printing by a competent committee, that is by 'a numerous committee of gentlemen of different opinions;' secondly, that all the papers should be confided to the care of the Royal Society, which should name the committee, all examination taking place at the apartments of the Society, and the papers being deposited in fireproof boxes when not actually under inspection; thirdly, that all should be copied as a first step, and that all not judged desirable to be printed should be finally bound up with the part used as copy for the printer, and preserved by the Society; fourthly, that, the unprinted part being properly described and paged, the index of the printed book should be a very good index to the whole; fifthly, that a good abstract of the unprinted part should be added to the printed work.

In all the cases in which two great men of past time are shown in controversy with each other, the mass of the world run to the spectacle as to a fight between two little boys in the street, without any interest in the right or wrong of the matter, or in the way in which the truth of the result may help the history of knowledge. To most of the spectators may be addressed the reproof of Eliab: 'I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.' When the Life of Flamsteed <150> appeared, the following was the first impression of a reader in a distant country, whose name must be withheld: 'I am sorry to see that the matter seems to be taken up as "Newton versus Flamsteed:" as if any good were to be done, or any pleasure to be derived, by setting up two eminent characters to be knocked against one another, for the mere sake of trying how much damage they will sustain in the collision! It reminds me of Jack Tar's mode of trying the relative goodness of his own and messmate's watches.' I hope the future examiners of Newton's papers will not let slip what ought to be promulgated, merely because it suggests neither Flamsteed, nor Leibnitz, nor Hooke, nor Whiston, nor anything but Newton's mind and its progress.

The friend who wrote the above opinion on the publication of the quarrel was guided, I think, by his feelings; and by the feelings of the imagination, not those of the moral sense. It is not we who knock the two great men together: it is they who knocked themselves. And the damage which their characters finally sustain, if any, is that which they ought to sustain: give us the truth of the matter and, whatever distortion of opinion may follow close upon the disclosure, reason will at last destroy prejudice, and make the whole occurrence a useful part of the history of the mind. It may be suspected that the unfortunate disposition to look on the weak points of the great with delighted curiosity, which lives in so many minds, is in great measure the reaction against that determination that <151> weaknesses, errors, and even crimes shall be suppressed, unduly extenuated, or defended, which has been so often evinced by biographers. This would be a long subject to write on: let biographers be just judges, and it will perhaps be seen that their readers, the jury, will find reasons for recommendation to mercy, and will acquit upon a tenable doubt.

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The name of Newton, with reference to his discoveries, has been brought before the public in my day in two <155> very remarkable but very different ways: which is the most important I know; which is the most curious I do not know. The first is the great feat of Leverrier and Adams, the solution of the inverse problem of gravitation: Newton's problem was, Given the planet, to find its disturbing effects upon the motion of another planet, applied chiefly to the action of the Sun upon the Moon; the inverse problem is, Given the disturbing effect of a planet, to find the planet itself, applied to the detection of Neptune by its effect upon Uranus. Two names of first-rate eminence were inscribed on the roll of astronomers by this unlooked-for success. In the years preceding, astronomers had rather given over expecting anything very great in the future: they were inclined to think that nothing was left except to give the existing methods and results additional fulness and accuracy, facility and neatness. Schwabe's discovery of the periodic character of the solar spots in 1843, and Hencke's discovery of Astræa in 1845, were the dawn of a day, the bright sunrise of which was seen in the discovery of Neptune in 1846. Since that time astronomy has progressed with a speed unknown before; and no more is heard about the mine having been worked out.

The second matter is the shower of forged letters which was poured on the world in 1867, in perfect good faith, by M. Michel Chasles. Here we have proof — that is, plasmatographic proof, as the Greeks would say — that Pascal discovered gravitation; that Newton and Newton's mother were in communication with Pascal <156> when Newton was a boy; that Louis XIV. and James II. (the exile) were much interested in the matter; that James II. wrote very friendly French letters to Newton, who had shortly before voted for his deposition in Parliament, which Newton answered in the same language; and hundreds of things as good or better.

The play is not yet played out: for a publication of the whole is promised, with additional letters and proofs, But the promulgator still refuses to say whence he got the papers, though he seems to have four thousand letters, or thereabouts. In England it is hardly necessary to say, that the whole collection was scouted from the beginning. Pascal's remark on the cup of coffee, clearly made before coffee was known in France, and speaking as of a common phenomenon, first put us on our guard. But when Hannah Smith, by first marriage Newton, by birth Ayscough, appeared as signing her letters 'Miss Anne Ayscough Newton,' all was up in England; though a few still thought the matter worthy of serious argument. This was perhaps a concession to the French, who cannot learn our phrases of address. But it was not wanted; for the bulk of the educated French, especially the men of science, turned away the moment it was clear that M. Michel Chasles would not give up his authorities. In vain was it represented that they were allying themselves with England against French science: in vain did the official journal of the forgeries exclaim, 'Hélas! toute ardeur scientifique est morte parmi nous; tout feu sacré est éteint!' From the beginning it was believed on this side of the <157> Channel that it would be so; but it is clear that a very small party believed that national feeling would carry the bulk of the French nation all lengths whatsoever; that is a very small French party.

It is much to be wished that the French, for their own protection, would learn the use of the English terms of address. A few minutes' study of a few phrases would serve the purpose. With such a help, their dramatists would not have introduced Queen Caroline on the stage, accompanied by Sir Brougham and Sir Denman, and Miss Anne Ayscough Newton would have taken some possible form. Many Frenchmen will hardly believe that no Englishman would confidently say, at least without deliberate thought — which he holds to be most absurdly unlikely — such a signature as the above from Mrs. Barnabas Smith of North Witham, or such a signature as the following from Laplace, 'M. le Marquis Pierre-Simon Laplace, grand géomètre, qui n'aime pas les prêtres.[10] Thinking of this attempt to upset the history of science by a rocket-battery of fictitious letters, I feel particularly glad that the composer had not knowledge enough of the minor life of Newton and his friends to give some information about Catherine Barton. A letter signed 'Miss Countess Catherine Bart Halifac' to one illustrious uncle, praying him, for his soul's sake, to repair the wrong he had done to Pascal, would have been very effective, <158> especially if it had turned up in company with letters about gravitation from another illustrious uncle, Jean Bart, showing that Catherine was a Frenchwoman, and leading to the inference that Newton was a Frenchman. This seems absurd; but if anyone had amused himself by supposing forgeries, and had concocted the most conspicuous half-hundred of those which have actually appeared, adding the one which I have just supposed, I fancy that the additional one might be taken as just a little more incongruous than a dozen of the fifty, and that is all; but not more improbable. The above story, Jean Bart and all, is not so unlikely as that Pascal should have written in his private letters long passages, word for word, from the writings of persons who were not born until long after his own death, and who wrote different styles in a French which was not of the time of Pascal, and not the least like his writing.

It is time to bring this matter to an end. The diffusion of the main story will, I hope, extricate evidence of various kinds from the holes in which it lies hidden.

[1] 'J'avais cru, dans ma jeunesse, que Newton avait fait sa fortune par son extrême mérite. Je m'étais imaginé que la cour et la ville de Londres l'avaient nommé par acclamation grand maître des monnaies du royaume. Point du tout. Isaac Newton avait une nièce assez aimable, nommée Madame Conduit; elle plut beaucoup au grand trésorier, Halifax. Le calcul infinitésimal et la gravitation ne lui auraient servi de rien sans une jolie nièce.'

[2] We want some way of distinguishing ladies which shall be shorter than a full and additional description of their husbands. I have met persons who had a vague idea that Lady (Lord) Holland wrote the 'Life' in question. It is not to be wondered at. Sydney Smith was a visitor at Holland House, the lady of which was well known for her talents; in a couple of generations it may be the common story.


This Smith was certainly a loose talker. He gave accounts of his uncle which contain only what he might have found in print, and some of it palpably false. He represented himself as having been left £500 a year in land, though all the world knew that Newton died intestate, and that a Newton was heir-at-law. He had his share of the money, as one of the next-of-kin. He represented himself to his clerical friend as author of the song beginning:

'Young Orpheus tickled his harp so well,

With a twinkum, twankum, twang,' etc.

This is possible, but not probable, for Smith was born about 1700, and the song was so well established in 1729 that the tune to which it ,vent was referred to as the air of 'Old Orpheus tickled,' etc. One of the airs in 'Folly,' Gay's second part of the 'Beggar's' Opera (1729), which was refused licence on political grounds, is described as to this tune. In 1705-18 there were two masques and a ballet, as we now call it, on the subject of 'Orpheus;' and this is probably the period of the song.

[4] For some information on this subject, see Notes and Queries, vol. iii. 2nd ser., pp. 351, 392.

[5] A letter given by Sir David Brewster, in which Sir I. Newton proposed marriage to Lady Norris, a rich widow. – Ed.

[6] This was a letter of 1707, written to recommend an undertaker for the funeral of a distant relation of both parties.

[7] Cole ('English Dictionary,' 1724) has 'Conversation: a being conversant, keeping company.'

[8] In the Biographia Britannica (Art. 'Montague'), all Pittis's words and the whole of the codicil are given in large type in the text. This is very significant; for those who know the work would think it five hundred to one that the codicil would have been put in a note, like the first codicil.

[9] Take notice also, that the strong impression which so good a testimony would have made on my mind was no source of assurance to me, for I never knew of Dean Peacock's opinions until my own had been published.

[10] It should be noted that the four misspellings in 'Anne Ascough' are found in Fontenelle's 'Eloge' of Newton — the biography which a Frenchman would naturally consult.

© 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

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