Newton, Sir Isaac
Newton, Sir Isaac
the great English philosopher, noted for his unrivaled attainments in mathematics and natural science, and his many discoveries of the laws of nature, figures conspicuously also in the department of metaphysics, and even in theology. Indeed he was as great a writer in the last-named field as his generation produced, and though not always in strict accordance with the most conservative Christian orthodoxy, he shone especially as a worthy example of Christian life, and, notwithstanding a most unfaltering inquiry into nature's law, stood fast always in his faith in the Holy Scriptures, which he made as much the subject of study as any field of science to the development of which he devoted himself. Newton was born at Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, Dec. 25, 1642. That year was remarkable in English history for the breaking out of the civil war between Charles I and the Parliament, and is notable in the history of science, too, by the birth of this afterwards so wonderful and many-sided man. It is remarkable also as the year in which Galileo died. Newton's father, who was proprietor and farmer of Woolsthorpe Manor, had died a few months before Isaac's birth; and it is said also that Isaac came into the world prematurely, and was so small at his birth that "they might have put him into a quart mug," but he gradually attained size and strength, destined to enjoy a vigorous manhood, and to survive even the average term of life. Three years after his birth his mother married again, and in consequence of this marriage Newton was left under the care of his grandmother, and was sent at the usual age to the day school at Skillington and Stoke. At the age of twelve he went to the public school of Grantham, where he was boarded with Mr. Clark, the apothecary. Here he was at first very inattentive to his studies, and was low in the school till a quarrel with a boy above him in the class, who had used him ill, led him to diligence in his lessons, and he rose above his rival, and reached the head of the class. During his leisure hours he occupied himself with all sorts of mechanical contrivances, windmills, water-clocks, carriages, and paper kites; and among his early tastes may be mentioned his love for drawing and writing verses, in neither of which he was destined to excel. On the death of his stepfather in 1656, his mother came to reside at Woolsthorpe with her three children and Isaac, who was now in his fifteenth year. He was recalled from school to assist in the management of the farm. Accordingly on market-days he was sent to Grantham, accompanied by an -aged domestic, either to dispose of farm produce, or to purchase such things as were needed by the family. But on these occasions it more frequently happened that Isaac stopped by the way-side, watching the motions of a water-wheel, or some other piece of machinery; or, if he reached the town of Grantham, it was only to resort to the apothecary's garret in which he had resided while he attended the grammar school, and where a few old books afforded him ample entertainment until his trusty companion summoned him to return home. On one occasion, having been sent to market with corn and other products of the farm, young Newton left the sale of his goods to a servant, while he himself retired to a hav-loft at an inn in Grantham, to ruminate over the problems of Euclid and the laws of Kepler, in which situation his uncle happened to find him, probably meditating discoveries of his own which should eclipse the glory of his predecessors. These and other instances having shown the inutility of thwarting his studious disposition, he was shortly after sent back to Grantham school. How long he remained at school this second time does not appear, but when he had attained his seventeenth year it was determined to send him to Trinity College, Cambridge, at the recommendation of his uncle, the Rev. W. Ayscough, who had been himself educated there. Isaac's matriculation took place on June 5, 1660, the year in which Dr. Barrow was appointed to the Greek professorship.
This learned man became young Newton's most trusted friend and adviser, and no doubt stimulated the earnest student to the closest application to his books. Newton especially devoted himself to the study of mathematics, and attained a great proficiency. In 1664 he took the degree of bachelor of arts; but the following year he was obliged to remove from Cambridge on account of the plague. This temporary interruption of his studies is most singularly connected with one of his most important discoveries; for in his retirement, sitting alone one day in his garden, the accidental observation of some apples falling from a tree excited in his mind a train of reflection on the cause of so simple a phenomenon, which he pursued until he finally elaborated his grand theory of tie laws of gravitation. Returning to the university in 1667, he obtained a fellowship; in 1669, the mathematical professorship; and in 1671 he became a member of the Royal Society. It was during his abode at Cambridge that he made his other two great discoveries of fluxions, the nature of light and colors; and as the result of his scientific studies finally brought out, in 1687, his Philosophice Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which unfolded to the world Newton's theory of the universe. In that year also Newton was chosen one of the delegates to defend the privileges of the university against James II; and in 1688 and 1701 he was elected one of the members of the university. He was appointed warden of the mint in 1696; was made master of it in 1699; was chosen president of the loyal Society in 1703; and was knighted in 1705. When George I ascended the throne in 1714, Newton, although then a very aged man, was a great favorite at court. His character, his reputation, and his piety had especially gained him the favor of the princess of Wales, afterwards queen-consort to George II. The princess was the admirer and friend of students generally, and at home and abroad enjoyed the society of the learned. Among others Leibnitz corresponded with her, and when the two philosophers got at loggerheads, because each claimed the priority of discovery of the differential calculus, or the method of fluxions, though in truth each invented independently of the other, Leibnitz ungraciously used his influence with the princess to injure the character of Newton, by representing the Newtonian philosophy as false and hostile to religion. Locke was involved in the same charge, and the king being made acquainted with the accusation requested an answer to be prepared by Sir Isaac and Dr. Clarke which proved satisfactory to the king, or at least overcame all royal scruples for tolerating heresy in the British realm. Newton continued to enjoy also the favor of the princess, and as a mark of respect for her Sir Isaac entrusted her with a MS. which he called a
Chronological Index. By Some means a copy was secured by abbe Conti, and he published it in Paris without the knowledge or leave of Sir Isaac, and the latter in consequence became much involved in controversy. He was finally induced to prepare for the press his posthumous work, entitled The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms, which appeared in 1728. Dr. Hutton says with reference to it, "It is astonishing, what care and industry Newton employed about the papers relating to chronology, Church history, etc.; as, on examining them, it appears that many are copies over and over again, often with little or no variation." Says Hagenbach of these labors of Newton: "His predilection for the Apocalypse, and the precarious calculations that he made in this department, have been lamented as a sort of wandering of his great mind. Possibly he did err here, as every mortal does, but this preference for the Revelation of John was intimately connected with his reverence for the divine revelation of Christianity in general. The proofs by which he supported Christianity were possibly not always valid, because mathematical demonstration is not always sufficient in this department, and leads us astray rather than advances us. But his most eloquent apology is finished us in the simple phenomenon itself, that the man who measured and weighed the highest laws of nature with gigantic intellect humbly submitted in that department where the secular wisdom which derives all its knowledge of nature from lexicons and penny magazines lifts its head in extreme pride" (Ch. Hist. 18th and 19th Cent. 1:326). Sir Isaac died March 20, 1727. According to Biot, he was out of his mind more or less in the years 1692 and 1693 while a resident at Cambridge; yet this statement seems unreasonable, however much credit it may have received in this or in the last century, for it was during the time that Biot claims Newton to have been subject to mental aberration that he wrote his four celebrated letters On the Existence of the Deity, at the express request of Dr. Bentley, and various scientific essays which Brewster has printed in an appendix to his Life. The great philosopher's remains received a resting-place in Westminster Abbey, where a magnificent monument was erected in a conspicuous place to his memory in 1731, with a Latin inscription concluding thus: "Let mortals congratulate themselves that so great an ornament of human nature has existed." A magnificent full-length statue of the philosopher, executed by Roubilliac, was erected in 1755 in the antechapel of Trinity College, Cambridge. This work was assisted by a cast of the face taken after death, which is preserved in the university library at Cambridge.
In person Newton was short but well-set, and inclined to corpulence. His hair was abundant, and white as silver, without baldness. His eye was bright and penetrating till within the last twenty years of his life; but his countenance, though thoughtful, seldom excited much expectation in those to whom he was unknown. In his conversation there appears to have been little either very remarkable or agreeable; but we have the testimony of Dr. Pemberton that "neither his age nor his universal reputation had rendered him stiff in opinion, or in any degree elated." Ascribing whatever he had accomplished to the effect of patient and continuous thought rather than to any peculiar genius with which nature had endowed him, he looked upon himself and his labors in a very different light from that in which both he and they were regarded by mankind. "I know not." he remarked, a short time before his death, "what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me" (Turner, Collections relative to the Town of Grantham). But while he thus contrasted the littleness of human knowledge with the extent of human ignorance, he was fully conscious of the importance of his own labors, when compared with those of his predecessors and contemporaries, and evinced a natural readiness to assert and vindicate his rights whenever occasion might require. It were to be wished that, by an earlier publication of his discoveries, he had adopted the most eligible mode of establishing the undoubted priority of his claim. Such a course, by changing the current of events, would have left him less open to the charge of having disregarded the claims of others, or of having suffered their reputation to be prejudiced by his silent acquiescence in the acts of his colleagues. To judge of Newton from the life of him recently published by Sir David Brewster, we should almost infer that his moral character had suffered from no instance of human infirmity, and that every action had been dictated by feelings of benevolence and the love of truth. These were indeed the general motives by which he was actuated.
Sir Isaac's principal theological works are, Observations on the Prophecies of Holy Writ, viz. Daniel and the Apocalypse, and his Historical Account of two notable Corruptions of Scripture, mainly composed prior to 1690, but finished in that year, and first published in 1754 under the erroneous title of Two Letters to Mr. Clarke, late Divinity Professor of the Remonstrants in Holland (1734). It appears to have been first published entire in Horsley's edition of Newton's works, under the title, Historical Account of two notable Corruptions of Scripture, in a Letter to a Friend. That friend was probably Locke, the philosopher. In this work Sir Isaac considers the two noted texts, 1Jo 5:7, and 1Ti 3:16. The former he attempts to prove spurious, and the latter he considers a false reading. A portion of the work was commented on by the Rev. E. Henderson, D.D., in The great Mystery of Godliness Incontrovertible, or Sir I. Newton and the Socinians foiled in the Attempt to prove a Corruption in the Text 1Ti 3:16 (1830, 8vo). Sir David Brewster, in his first edition of his Life of Newton, denied that Newton was unorthodox in any respect, but further research has revealed the fact that he speculated much regarding the ὁμοούσιος, and must have entertained Arian views. Yet Brewster insists that Newton "was a sincere and humble believer in the leading doctrines of our religion, and lived conformably to its precepts ... Cherishing its doctrines and leaning on its promises, he felt it his duty, as it was his delight, to apply to it (i.e. Christian truth) that intellectual strength which had successfully surmounted the difficulties of the material universe ... He added to the cloud of witnesses the brightest name of ancient or modern times." Sir Isaac's chief contribution to metaphysics was in the form of a scholium to the second edition of the Principia (1713) respecting space and duration, which was subsequently expanded into an a priori argument by Dr. S. Clarke and the philosophers of his school. It is singular, yet true, that the subsequent deviation from Locke's principles and method, or, more properly, the recognition of an appropriate sphere for i priori truth, for which Locke's analysis has failed to provide, should have been largely n)wing to the influence of these two eminent physicists. The fact cannot be questioned that speculative philosophy asserted a wider range of inquiry for itself under the impulse given to it by Dr. Samuel Clarke and the theologians and philosophers of his school (see Stewart, Prel. Diss. pt. ii, sec. 3). The principal works of Newton were collected and published by Dr. Horsley, under the title of Newtoni Opera quae extant onmnia (Lond. 1779-5, 5 vols. 4to). In the foregoing list, where a work had been reprinted in Horsley's edition, reference is made to the volume. The following were, with few exceptions, first printed in Horsley's edition: tome 1, "Excerpta quadam ex Epistolis Newtoni ad Series Fluxionesque pertinentia; "Artis Analytice Specimina. vel Geometria Analytica." Tome 3, "Theoria Lunse." Tome 4:" Letters on various Subjects in Natural Philosophy, published from the Originals in the Archives of the Royal Society;" "Letter to Mr. Boyle on the Cause of Gravitation;" "Tabule duae, Colorum altera, altera Refractionum;" "De Problematibus Bernouillianis;" "Propositions for determining the Motion of a body urged by two Central Forces;" "Four Letters to Dr. Bentley;" "Commercium Epistolicum D. Johannis Collins, et aliorum, de Analysi Promota" (first published by the Royal Society in 1713: a new edition appeared in 1722); "Additamenta Commercii Epistolici." Tome 5, "A short Chronicle from a Manuscript, the property of the Rev. D. Ekins, dean of Carlisle." The minor works of Newton have been collected and published under the title of Opuscula in Mathematica, Philosophica, et Philologica; collegit partitmque Latine verlit ac recensuit Joh. Castillioneus (Laus. et Genev. 3 vols. 4to). After the death of Newton, Dr. Pellet was appointed by the executors to examine his manuscripts and papers, and to select such as he deemed adapted for publication. They are eighty-two in number, and consist of a great number of sheets. But many of those on theological subjects are mere copies over and over again, and with very slight variations. Of these manuscripts the only ones which Dr. Pellet deemed fit to be printed were the "Chronology" and "An Abstract of the Chronology," the former in ninety-two, the latter in twelve half-sheets folio. At the same time he recommended for further consideration those entitled "De Motu Corporum, ""Paradoxical Questions concerning Athanasius," "History of the Prophecies," and a bundle of loose mathematical papers. A catalogue of these manuscripts was appended to a bond given by Mr. Conduit to the administrators of Newton, wherein he binds himself to account for any profit he may make by their publication. A list of them will be found in Hutton's Dictionary. Those on theological subjects are, with many other Newton papers, in the possession of the earl of Portsmouth. The valuable collection of letters between Newton and Cotes, relative to the publication of the second edition of the Principia, preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, was published in 1851 under the editorial care of Mr. J. Edleston; the correspondence of Newton with Mr. Pepys and Mr. Millington is in the possession of lord Braybrooke; and other manuscripts are in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. See Brewster, Life of Newton (Lond. 1831, 12mo); entirely rewritten under the title of Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (1855, 2 vols. 8vo); Biot, Life, in the Biog. Univers. s.v.; Turner, Collections for the Hist. of Grantham, containing the papers forwarded to Fontenelle by Conduit, the husband of Newton's niece, and Dr. Stukeley's Account of the Infancy of Newton, written in 1727; Fontenelle, "thoge de Newton," (Euvres diverses (La Haye, 1729, 4to), t. iii; Biographia
Bnritannaica, s.v.; Birch, Hist. of the Royal Society (Lond. 1756-57, 4to), vols. iii and iv; IIeads of illustrious Persons of Great Britain, engraved by Houbraken and Vertue, with their Lives, by Birch (Lond. 1743, fol.), 1:147. The reader may further consult Montucla, Hist. des Mathem. t. 2:iii, iv; Pemberton, A ccount of Newton's Philosophy; Maclaurin, Account of Newton's Discoveries; Priestley, Hist. of Optics; Laplace, Exposition du Systeme du Monde, ch. v; lord King, Life and Correspondence of Locke; Life of Newton, in the Library of Useful Knowledge, etc.; the very brief but excellent memoir of Newton by Prof. De Morgan in Knight's Cabinet Historical Gallery, 11:78-118; and that by Allibone in his Diet. of Brit. and Anmer. Authors, 2:1414-1421, with its valuable addenda of Bibliography. See also Edinb. Rev. Oct. 1832; Lond. Qu. Rev. Oct. 1861; North Brit. Rev. Aug, 1855; For. Qu. Rev. July, 1833; Littell's Living Age, Nov. 3, 1855, art. v; Jan. 14, 1856, art. i.