Since one of the most celebrated Historians of Antiquity doubted wether it was worth while to write an account of the Roman Empire, even when it was at the highest pitch of its glory; it may perhaps be thought a dry and unaffecting employment to compile the life of a private man, spent in speculation, & in the exercise of those silent virtues which, however delightfull to the possessor, afford but little entertainment in the description, & are not so apt to strike a vulgar reader as the tumultuary scenes of pomp & action. <2>


But Why should not the mind of man be as well pleased in tracing the progress of Reason in one of our own species &, in contemplating the heigth of knowledge, that particle of Divinity[2] it is capable of attaining, as in following a Conqueror through a field of blood & confusion. A life which was one continued series of labour[3] , patience humility temperance & piety without any tincture of vice, exhibits an example which is more universally beneficial & imitable than the atchievements of a Cesar or the triumphs of an Alexander. What can be more becoming an intelligent being, than to enquire into the increase of Natural discoveries to consider the various revolutions in the Commonwealth of Knowledge <4> the Period of one Hypothesis System & the rise of another;[4] a new system ; to travell with those speculative Conquerors who have extended the limits of humane science & opened new worlds to our understanding; & to pay a due homage & reverence to the great Deliverers who freed mankind from the bondage[5] of Error & Ignorance. Though wee should look around the present age & even go far back into the past, difficult would it be to find an instance of one who penetrated farther into the works of the Divine Author of Nature and laid so solid a foundation for a lasting & universal Empire in Philosophy as Sir Isaac Newton.

He was born upon Christmas day in the year 1642, near three months after the death of his Father <5> so that he is another instance of the |  an accidental observation which has been often made, tho it can have no foundation in reason or the nature of things that posthumous children[6] frequently prove most extraordinary persons, [nor will the remark be of less weight, if with the names of Cesar & Nassau that of Newton be hereafter cited upon this occasion][7]

He was born at the Mannor house of his family at Wolstrope in the parish of Costerworth in the County of Lincoln <6> The Mannour is of a considerable extent & by the copies of the Rolls appears to have been for many generations in the family of the Newtons, who stiled themselves Lords of the Mannour of Mortimer in the parishes or precincts of Wolstrope & Costerworth in the Soak of Grantham in the County of Lincoln. Sir Isaac was descended from the elder branch of the family of Sir Michael Newton Baronet & Knight of the Bath. The common Ancestor to them both was Iohn Newton of Westby in the parish of Basingthorp in <7> the County of Lincoln whose forefathers came thither from Lancashire. He had four sons Iohn Thomas Richard & William; Iohn the eldest who died in 1553[9] was Sir Isaac's Great Grandfather's father, he bought an estate at Wolstrope of Michael Newton of Kirk Stoke in the same County & removed his children from Westby thither, where his posterity have continued ever since. William the youngest was Sir Michael Newton's Great Grandfather's father & went from Westby to Gunnerby in the same County where he laid the <8> foundation of these great possessions that are now so worthily enjoyed by that family, & to a great part of which Sir Isaac Newton would haue been heir at law if Sir Michael Newton's Grandfather had died without children.      I haue not dwelt so long on this article out of a vain & false notion that the advantage of birth could add any glory to Sir Isaac Newton, but to do justice to the honourable family who are of the same blood with him, & to whose name he has given a dignity & lustre above the proudest titles, & a duration which does not depend upon a frail & precarious succession.

His mother was Hannah the daughter of Iames Aiscough <9> of Market Overton in the County of Rutland; a family formerly of great consideration in those parts [] Her mother was of the antient family of the Bliths of Stranson in the County of Lincoln , so that she was on both sides of a fair & honourable extraction but what was of much more consequence to her son, she was a woman of so extraordinary an understanding & virtue that those who beleive the Tradux animæ & can think that a soul like Sir Isaac Newton's could be formed by any thing less than <10> the immediate operation of a divine Creator, might be apt Symbol (sloping cross) in text < insertion from the left margin > Symbol (sloping cross) in textto ascribe to her many of those extraordinary qualities with which it was endowed – < text from p 10 resumes > She continued a widow several years & employed her tme in educating her son & dispensing around her little province the widow's mite of those Christian offices of humanity & benevolence which in country retirements make a whole neighbourhood happy * < insertion from the left margin > * and & send up to heaven an odour of sweet smell at the same time that they warm & cherish all within the reach of their influence — < text from p 10 resumes > Her amiable character induced Mr Barnabas Smith, who was rector of North Witham near Wolstrope & had lived unmarried till he was turned <11>


She had one son & two daughters by Mr Smith and lived with him at North Witham till the year when he died & then she returned to Wolstrope. In the year 1689 her son by Mr Smith was taken ill at Stamford of a malignant feauer & she went thither to attend him, he recovered, but she out of her great tenderness changing beds with him caught his distemper & died.


The children by Mr Smith did not lessen the love of Sir Isaac's mother for him, for though she was an indulgent parent to them all, & gave so fatal a proof of it in one instance, Sir Isaac was always deservedly distinguished <14> & when she died had much the greatest share of her real & personal estate, which together with his paternal inheritance enabled him not only to follow his studies & indulge his insatiable passion of searching thoroughly into the works of Nature by making experiments upon all the varieties of matter, but to exercise early that disposition of charity & liberality which he gratified so abundantly in his latter days.         Since Plutarch[13] seems to complain of those who omitted to tell Posterity the names of the Mothers of Nicias & Demosthenes & observes that Plato & Antisthenes did not think it below them to record the names of the preceptor & nurse of Alcibiades, I flatter my self I shall be excused <15> for taking this notice of her who gave birth & education to one, about whom in aftertimes some perhaps may be as curious & inquisitive as that author[14] was about his countrymen; & hope that the precept & practice of that standing pattern of this kind of writing will countenance my descending upon other occasions into particulars which might seem minute & trivial if they were not justified by such an authority & such a subject.

Sir I. N. told me he had heard from his mother that when he was born he was very much below the usual size of children & so unlikely to live that two women who were sent to a neighbour for something <16> for him sate down on a stile by the way, saying they need not make haste, for the child would be dead before they could get back.

This weak & unpromising habit of body in his first infancy he had in common with Des-Cartes Father Paul Mr Pope & many other of those superiour mortales Inventors * < insertion from the left margin > who are strong instances of the ill policy as well as inhumanity of that barbarous law of Lycurgus which seems calculated rather for the brute creation than a society of reasonable beings & would have deprived the world of many extraordinary lights which have proved of the greatest service & ornament honour to their countries < text from p 16 resumes > Sir Isaac went to two little day schools at Killingworth & Stoke till he was 12 years old & then was sent to Grantham where he boarded with Mr <17> Clarke an Apothecary – The school had then about 80 scholars & was under the care of Mr Stokes who was excellently well qualified for such a province not only by his learning but by a benevolent heart & a large share of natural affection which made him look upon his scholars as his own family, [& take a pleasure in all the wearisome offices of that laborious function][15] Sir Isaac was placed in the lowermost form & continued very negligent till (as he often told me) the following incident reclaimed him. When he was the last in the lowermost class but one, the boy next above him as they were going to school, gave him a kick on his belly which put him to great pain, as soon as the school was over <18> he challenged the boy to fight, & they went out together into the Church yard, [16] Not content with this bodily victory he could not rest till he had got above him in the school, & though before he never minded <19> his book (as you may beleive said he, by my being the last in the form) he from that time began to follow it with great application, he had several contests with his adversary, got his place & lost it again & then retrieved it , till at length he not only kept his ground over him but continued rising till he was the first in the school. which is a very particular instance of the truth of that that there is some foundation for the maxim Vexatio dat intellectum; <20> He soon made himself Master of his Pen, & not only wrote variety of hands some samples of which are still in being but made a good proficiency in ✝ drawing < insertion from the left margin > ✝ in an old pockett book in which he has writt his name & the date of the year 1659 there are several rules for drawing & making colours ——, < text from p 20 resumes > which he learned as he did every thing else, by dint of his own inclination & by observing nature. The wall of the chamber where he lay at Grantham was a few years ago still full of figures of birds beasts men & ships well designed, & several persons remember many of his drawings both from pictures & the life, particularly the heads of King Charles the 1st Dr Donne & his worthy schoolmaster Mr Stokes. His natural <21> curiosity & inquisitive temper put him upon observing the composition of the medicines & the whole business of the shop where he lived, which gave his mind the first turn to Chymistry & an early inclination to that mistress [18] . If ever he entred into the usual sports of his companions it was with a farther view than the meer mechanical part & he exercised his mind at the same time with his body, He used to say one of the first experiments he made was on the day of the great storm when Oliuer Cromwell died (at which time Sir Isaac was entred into his sixteenth year) he jumped first with the wind & then against it & <22> measuring his leap both ways & afterwards comparing it with his leap in a calm he, computed the vis of the storm; * < insertion from the left margin > * & when his companions seemed surprized at his saying that wind was a foot stronger than any he had known before, he would carry them to this place & shew them the measure & marks of his several leaps < text from p 22 resumes > but this cast of mind appeared much more eminently in his strong propensity to mechanicks which was his first [19] & favourite amusement. Mrs Vincent said he spent most of his time when out of the school in making knick knacks & models in wood of several kinds, for which purpose he had got little saws hatchets hammers & a whole shop full compleat sett of tools which he handled with great dexterity; he would often make <23> little tables & cupboards lanthorns of crumpled paper & Kites, he was very exact in setting the proportions of the latter & finding out the proper places where the strings were to be fastened. * < insertion from the left margin > He already began to search out & observe what body or curve would find the least resistance in a fluid < text from p 23 resumes > < text from p 23 resumes >


He was very diligent in observing the shadows of the sun in the yard of the house where he boarded, & used to drive pegs against the wall to mark the hours & half hours, which by degrees he made so exact that the family generally consulted Isaac's Dial as it was commonly called; [20] For within doors he made a water clock out of an old box, it was four feet high & of a proportionable breadth, it had a dial plate at the top with figures of the hours, the index was <25> turned by a piece of wood which either fell or rose by the dropping of the water, this stood always in the room where he lay & he took care every morning to supply it with it's proper quantity of water, it was left in the house long after Sir Isaac went to the University & I find in a little paper book which he used when at school a rule for making such a Clepsydra. Gassendus in the short History of Astronomy before his life of Tycho Brahe takes notice, that the first steps & advances made towards it by the Chaldæans & Egyptians were the measuring the motions of the heavenly bodies by the droppings of water <26> & by the shadow of the Sun, so that Sir Isaac by a natural  |  impulse fell in his childhood upon the same rude methods which were taken by the first inventors of Astronomy in the infancy of that Science; he began where the art it self did, but made a much swifter progress, A new windmill happening to be sett up near Grantham Sir Isaac's imitating spirit was soon excited & by frequently prying into the fabric of it whilst the workmen were about it he made a model of it which was as curious <27> a piece of workmanship as the original, he would sometimes sett it upon the top of the house where he lodged, & cloath it with sail cloth so that the wind would readily take it & he had contrived the inside in such a manner that he could make a mouse turn it; sometimes by tying a string to the tail of the Mouse & pulling it, the mouse would go forward by way of resistance in a sort of turnspit wheel & so make the Mill go, & at other times he would put a little corn above the Wheel & the mouse would turn the wheel by endeavouring to get at the corn, he called the Mouse his Miller & would joke upon [[21]      Thus early did this Father of experimental <28> Philosophy make even his sports & amusements subservient to that great design, betimes accustom & habituate his nerves & muscles to correspond & keep pace with his imagination, & form a pliableness & activity in his corporeal organs at the same time that he unfolded & enlarged the faculties of his soul. < insertion from the left margin > He very soon put in practice the lesson which Plato gave his scholars to handle material things & grow familiar with visible objects before they entred on the retired speculations of more abstracted sciences, trained up & prepared his mind – < text from p 28 resumes > <29> for intellectual discoveries by making mechanicks & sensible substances the subject of his first studies & observations, & from marking the shadow of the sun on a wall & poizing a paper Kite in the air & contriving a clock & a mill, raised at length his thoughts to measure the heavens to weigh the Planets in scales & the Sun, in a balance,[22] & to unlock & disclose all the secret springs & wonderful mechanism of the vast Fabrick of Nature. When Sir Isaac had been about 4 years at Grantham school his mother took him home to try if he would follow country affairs & <30> manage his own estate & for that purpose put him under the care & instruction of a trusty & intelligent servant. there is a biass in Nature which determines men to follow that which they are most capable of, * < insertion from the left margin > That happy abundance of animal spirits < text from p 30 resumes > which qualifies the soul to arrive at any excellency, bends & directs all it's faculties to the pursuit of that perfection for which they are peculiarly adapted, & it is no wonder a mind so vigorous & aspiring as Sir Isaac's was not to be kept under or diverted from it's proper objects by so low an employment. When any business called him to Grantham he would leaue the <31> servant to manage what was to be done & slip away to his old lodging & entertain himself there with a book till it was time to return home & instead of giving directions[23] about any work that was going forward in the farm he would sit under a tree with a book, or go to a running stream & make wheels in imitation of over & undershot mills & many other Hydrostatical experiments, His Governour made frequent complaints of his pupil, but his old Master <32> Mr Stokes who knew his worth pressed his mother not to bury such hopefull talents but to fitt him for the University in which he was seconded by Mr Aiscough who easily prevailed to haue him sent again to Grantham school. He now began to mount upwards apace & to shine out with more strength, & as he told me himself excelled particularly in making verses * < insertion from the left margin > * which is generally the first blossom of a fine Genius < text from p 32 resumes > I took the more notice of his mentioning this particular because in his later days he often expressed a contempt a dislike of for Poetry, ⊛ < insertion from the left margin of p 33 > ⊛ not unlike Plato who though he had addicted himself to Poetry in his younger days would not in his serious years allow even Homer a place in his Commonwealth – 5. Vol. of Cicero's Epistles p. 625 – < text from p 32 resumes > – nor can it be wondered that one who for so many years had accustomed his mind <33> to reject all Hypotheses & admitt nothing but truth & demonstration should contract a distaste for [ the productions of Fancy & Fiction].[24] In everything he undertook he discovered an application equal to the pregnancy of his parts & exceeded the most sanguine expectations his master had conceived of him; there is a tradition at Grantham that when this favourite disciple was to leave him the good old man with the pride of a father put him in the most conspicuous place in the school & with tears in his eyes made a speech in his praise to excite the other boys to follow his example; applying to him that passage <34> in Virgil I decus I nostrum. Mr Aiscough had been himself of Trinity College in Cambridge which determined Sir Isaac's mother to send him to that University & College where he was admitted the 5th of Iune 1660 being then in the 18th year of his age. Having now brought him out of the shade & obscurity into an open Horizon & a more spacious field; Let me before he takes his rise & soars to those heigths where so few can follow him, stop a while to consider how far others had gone before him, what glimmering rays[25] lamps were held out to he had to <35> light him [through those myriads of worlds which he travelled over] What ground was given him to stand upon [whilst he turned the spheres & unravelled | laid open all the motions of the Universe] & where he had no guide, found no place to rest the soal of his foot upon, but was rapt carried upwards by a divine Energy, into through the boundless expanse of Nature, the frame of which it had not from the beginning entered into the heart of man to conceive – –

Here follows a state of Philosophy & an account of the prevailing notions of the Mundane System, Comets, the Moon Tides Colours &c before Sir I N discovered

Boyle – Harvey Wren &c



Having given this retrospect of the Hypotheses which prevailed before Sir I. N. appeared – Let me now proceed to shew how soon he struck out new paths & with what Giant Steps he advanced to those heights where Philosophy now stands ——

[1] The contents of this note are only visible in the diplomatic transcript because they were deleted on the original manuscript

[2] or it

[3] or

[4] The contents of this note are only visible in the diplomatic transcript because they were deleted on the original manuscript

[5] The contents of this note are only visible in the diplomatic transcript because they were deleted on the original manuscript

[6] The contents of this note are only visible in the diplomatic transcript because they were deleted on the original manuscript

[7] or []

[8] The contents of this note are only visible in the diplomatic transcript because they were deleted on the original manuscript

[9] X

[10] where the {illeg} often fall

[11] which are luxury was carried {illeg}

[12] leave this out

[13] {illeg} angry with {illeg} for not {illeg} the name of the mother of {illeg} 5. b. Plut. p. 266

[14] Plutarch tells Cato's plays when a boy 443. 6. b

[15] or
& make all the wearisome offices of that painfull function a labour of Love – stet.

[16] stet

[17] or.
[not only urged the school boy to gain a compleat victory in this humble scene but was the first occasion of his exerting & improving those faculties which afterwards upon a higher Theater carried the Philosopher beyond all that had gone before him & far out of the reach of any competition]

[18] or

[19] amusement.

[20] is this not as well left out

[21] or
upon his taking more than his toll.

[22] Isaiah – c - 40 - v - 12 -

[23] giving directions

[24] or

[25] glimpses

© 2022 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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