Page:Newton's Principia (1846).djvu/35

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27
life of sir isaac newton.

of the practical operations in that science at the Apothecary's at Grantham. De Natura Acidorum is a short chemical paper, on various topics, and published in Dr. Horsley's Edition of his works. Tabula Quantitatum et Graduum Coloris was inserted in the Philosophical Transactions; it contains a comparative scale of temperature from that of melting ice to that of a small kitchen coal-fire. He regarded fire as a body heated so hot as to emit light copiously; and flame as a vapour, fume, or exhalation heated so hot as to shine. To elective attraction, by the operation of which the small particles of bodies, as he conceived, act upon one another, at distances so minute as to escape observation, he ascribed all the various chemical phenomena of precipitation, combination, solution, and crystallization, and the mechanical phenomena of cohesion and capillary attraction. Newton's chemical views were illustrated and confirmed, in part, at least, in his own life-time. As to the structure of bodies, he was of opinion "that the smallest particles of matter may cohere by the strongest attractions, and compose bigger particles of weaker virtue; and many of these may cohere and compose bigger particles whose virtue is still weaker; and so on for divers successions, until the progression end in the biggest particles, on which the operations in chemistry and the colours of natural bodies depend, and which by adhering, compose bodies of sensible magnitude."

There is good reason to suppose that our author was a diligent student of the writings of Jacob Behmen; and that in conjunction with a relative, Dr. Newton, he was busily engaged, for several months in the earlier part of life, in quest of the philosopher's tincture. "Great Alchymist," however, very imperfectly describes the character of Behmen, whose researches into things material and things spiritual, things human and things divine, afford the strongest evidence of a great and original mind.

More appropriately here, perhaps, than elsewhere, may be given Newton's account of some curious experiments, made in his own person, on the action of light upon the retina. Locke, who was an intimate friend of our author, wrote to him for his opinion on a certain fact stated in Boyle's Book of Colours. Newton, in