Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's life/Life of Newton

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

To the right honorable

George Earl of Macclesfield,

FRS. &c.


presuming upon that early acquaintance that has been between us; but more, on that candor so eminent in your Lordships character; I make bold to address the following paper to you. I drew it up for the entertainment of the members of the Royal Society; to which your Lordship is so conspicuous an ornament. to the Royal Society, every, even the least, account of Sr. Isaac Newton cannot fail of being acceptable.

to recount the history of such as have deserv'd well of mankind is always lookd upon as a commendable thing. Xtis generally a species of writing, favorable enough to the author: tis an entertainment in reading, without the attention of study.

I shal recite: – I. What I knew of him in the earlier part of my own life.

II. What I learned of his family & the earlier part of his life.

III. What I knew of the lattr part of his life. the reader's mind is too much ingag'd, to discern the imperfections of the writer. & whilst we are paying a just debt to their memory, we throw in an incitement to others, to merit in their turn. but the illustrious personage here in some sort again presented to the publick view, of all others commands a particular regard & veneration.

tho' my abilitys are much too inconsiderable to make any elogium on so great a name, yet I have this ample excuse in my favor, that it can need none. I only pretend to tell chiefly some private storys of his life, as they fell under my own cognizance; or what I learn'd from report of credit. but even these have dignity enough to merit a remembrance. & I cannot but account it a very particular felicity in my own life, that it was connected with some part of his: & in having the opportunity of conversing with him on many familiar occasions.

but what I chiefly aim at in this paper, is to recount somewhat of the juvenile part of his life. for which I had a fitting opportunity offerd me by my going to live at Grantham, just before he dy'd; & just before some of the oldest people in that neighborhood dy'd, who were his cotemporarys; some his schoolfellows: from whom I obtain'd such relations as their memorys supply'd me with. I shall likewise add, what occurs to me of my own knowledg. Xthe nre of what I propose to doe, is such as forbids me being over sollicitous about an exact method. this is not a perfect life of Sir Isaac Newton. it is impossible that I shd do it, not having the materials, nor any opportunity of obtaining them: nothing more than that little knowledg I cd obtain, either of my self, or the informations I took, near his native place. I lived in country obssurity, for above 20 years after his death; which was the fit season to gather all the notices of the most flourishing part of his time. after I have all this while in vain expected justice to be done to his memory, I thought what I cd say on the great subject would not be wholly unacceptable. some are celebrated after death, for their learning, some for their vertue, & piety, & charity, some for acquirements in arts and sciences; but he claims it, upon all these accounts.

In April 1705 Sir Isaac came to Cambridg, to offer himself a candidate to represent the University, in parliament. on the 16th of that month Queen Ann was pleasd to visit the University, from Newmarket: whither a deputation of the heads of the Colleges had been, to invite her. I was then student in Corpus Christi College, in what we call there junior Sophs year, being the 3d after admission. the whole University lined both sides of the way from Emanuel college, where the Queen enter'd the town, to the public schools. her Majesty dined at Trinity college; where she knighted Sir Isaac. & afterward, went to evening service at king's college chapel; which I always lookd upon, as the most magnificent building in the world. the provost made a speech to her Majesty, & presented her with a bible richly ornamented. Then she returned, amid the repeated acclamations of the scholars & townsmen. It was talked among us, that one purpose of the Queens, was to recommend Sir Isaac Newton to the choice of the University: Xby her powerful presence, & chiefly projected by the Earl of Hallifax, minded, that great man should receive from, & give honor to the world, in a more public life.

We had then in our college, under the instruction of Dr Robert Dannye, (who dy'd in the month of March 1730, rector of Spofforth in Yorkshire) gone thro' an excellent course of lectures in mathematics, & philosophy, particularly the Newtonian. & I own, upon this Royal Visit, my curiosity was mostly excited, & delighted, in the beholding Sir Isaac; who remain'd some time with us. & no joy could equal that which I took, in seeing the great man, of whom we had imbibed so high an idea, from being conversant in his works. We always took care on Sundays to place our selves before him, as he sat with heads of the colleges; we gaz'd on him, never enough satisfy'd, as on somewhat divine. the University was well sensible of the proposed honor, & readily chose him thir representative; who was thir greatest boast & ornament.

Then was the glory of Brittain at its acme, & the glory of a Brittish parliament, & the glory of a wise, & able ministry; which inabled the great Duke of Marlborough, to carry the glory of the Brittish arms & councils, to the highest pitch. then were the two nations united into one great Brittain. At the same time, learning was equally incourag'd, & flourishd: and Religion then kept pace with it. witness the Act of Parliament for founding and endowing 50 new churches in the city of London: & the seasonable gift of this pious queen, for the augmentation of the small Livings of the parochial clergy.

Such was then the felicity of Brittain. But as afterwards, Religion, by being divided into many streams, has weaken'd its power & influence upon the morals of the people: we feel that deluge of impiety which now oreflows us, altogether unknown to former ages; which threatens a solution of the bands of Society, & government. that the state of our public affairs has ever since been upon the decline, is but the natural consequence.

this was the most flourishing age of Brittain, when we had this extraordinary man among us, in the most flourishing part of his life. Sir Isaac was at this time, about 63 years of age current; & had now for above 20 years been known, & celebrated for the greatest genius of human nature. by the Earl of Halifax his means, he had been drawn forth into light before, as to his person, from his belov'd privacy in the walls of a college. where at 40 years of age he published his Principia, that prodigious and immortal work. & this year, as it was the grand climacteric of his life: so it was that crisis to him, & to the world reciprocal; that he might receive the publick honors & lucrative reward, due to his consummate merit, for the remainder of his days. & now all the great men in Europe had the opportunity, by making a voyage to England, of satisfying thir eager curiosity in seeing him preside in, & adorn, the Royal Society; whose glory too was then at the highest.

On the 20 March 1717-8 whilst I practised physick in London, I was admitted a fellow by Sir Isaac, at the recommendation of Dr. Mead, the preceding november

being Sir Isaac's countryman of Lincolnshire X& pretty constant in attendance at the weekly meetings of the Royal Society, from that time, I was well receiv'd by him, & enjoyd a good deal of his familiarity, & friendship: θI often visited him, sometime with Dr. Mead, Dr. Halley, or Dr. Brook Taylor, Mr W. Jones or Mr Folkes & others. sometime alone; and we discoursd upon divers curious matters, as well as on country news: I being acquainted with many of his friends & relations there: & my brother being at that time apprentice to his old intimate friend & school fellow, Mr Chrichloe of Grantham. being generally of the Council of the Royal Society. & upon the casual absence of a secretary, I was sometime order'd by him, to take his seat, for that sitting. Several times, I was proposd by him, & elected an auditor of the yearly accounts of the Society, at the same time we din'd with him at, his house by Leicester fields.

in the year 1720 Sir Isaac's picture was painted by Sir Godfry Kneller to be sent to Abbè Bignon in France; who sent his picture to Sir Isaac. Both Sir Isaac & Sir Godfry desired me to be present at all the sittings. it was no little entertainment , to hear the discourse that passd between these two first men Жin their way. tho' it was Sir Isaac's temper to say little, yet it was one of Sir Godfrys arts to keep up a perpetual discourse, to preserve the lines, & spirit of a face. I was delighted to observe, Sir Godfry, who was not famous for sentiments of religion, sifting Sir Isaac, to find out his notions on that head; who answerd him, with his usual modesty, & caution.

in August that year, Sir Isaac went to Oxford, in company of Dr John Kiel; he having not been there before.

the same year 1720 the South Sea year, I was in the Council of the Royal Society: which by subscribing, lost £600. Sir Isaac very readily offerd to add to his large donations before made, in the most genteel manner, Xin order to repair the loss but the Society would not permit it.

Sir Isaac was of a generous disposition, & particularly fond of his native country of Lincolnshire. & loved to frequent their annual feasts; & contribute to any of their charitable schemes θusual at such meetings.

20 feb. 1720-1 a Lincolnshire feast was held at the Ship tavern, Temple bar. when I went into the dining room above stairs, where the better sort of company was; it was talkd, that there was an old gentleman belowstairs whom they fancied to be Sr. Isaac Newton. I instantly went down, & finding it to be so, sat down with him. they above sent to desire us to walk up into the chief room. I answerd, the chief room was where Sir Isaac Newton sat. upon which the upper room was immediately left to the ordinary company, and the better sort came to us.

Sr. Isaac enjoy'd himself extremely in this society of his countrymen; & talkd much, & pleasantly. particularly I remember one part of the conversation turn'd upon musick, of which Sir Isaac was fond; & of the opera's then beginning to be in vogue among us. it was no wonder, his soul should be delighted with harmony. Sr. Isaac said they were very fine entertainments; but that "there was too much of a good thing; it was like a surfiet at dinner. I went to the last opera," says he "The first act gave me the greatest pleasure. The second quite tired me: at the third I ran away." He left 5 guineas, & desired the stewards to call upon him for every subscription relating to his countrymen.

about this time θupon the request of my frd. Mr Maurice Johnson, he readily enterd himself a member of the literary society at Spalding, which still subsists. he made them a present of books: desirous of incouraging every laudable attempt to promote learning, in any branch.

he carryed me with him in his chariot to see the coinage at the Mint, in the Tower: their method of weighing to an extreeme nicety, & the rest of thir operations.

23 feb. 1721, I breakfasted with him in company of Dr. Halley. Sr. Isaac among other discourse, mentiond the poverty of the materials he had, for making his theory of the moon's motion. he said Mr Flamsted would not communicate his observations to him. so that what he did, was from 3 or 4 observations only of Mr Flamsteds, for which he owed him no thanks; as not design'd for him. but he said, now he could finish that theory, if he would set about it; but he rather chose to leave it for others.

Sr. Isaac at that time, show'd us the famous Hugenian glass of 170 foot radius; which he had lately bought, from Italy. afterward he presented it to the Royal Society. he complain'd of the custom house officers who made him pay £20 for the duty, too honestly declaring the value θor price he paid for it. Others wd. have paid only the simple value of the glass. he bought soon after the great maypole in the Strand, & had it carryed, & set up at Wansted; for Dr Pound, to make astronomical observations.

about this time I was publishing my Itinerarium Curiosum. I had been a course of travels, from 13 august 1721 with Mr Roger Gale, thro' Berkshire Wiltshire, Glocestershire, Worcestershire. Herefordshire. Staffordshire., Derbyshire., Nottinghamshire., returning home on 13 october I visited Wulsthorp, which parishes to Colsterworth, 6 mile on this side Grantham, in the great road leading from London into the north. I had the curiosity to visit the place where Sir Isaac was born. Wulsthorp is a Mannor which was Sir Isaac's, & his ancestors. it stands in a pleasant little hollow, or convallis on the west side of the valley of the river Witham, which rises near there: one spring thereof in this hamlet of Wulsthorp. it has a good prospect eastward, & sees the Roman road, the Hermen Street going over the fields, to the east of Colsterworth. there cannot be a finer country than this. the house is a pretty good one, built of white stone, which abounds all over this country. they carryed me up stairs, & show'd me Sir Isaac's study, in which he used to sit, when he came home from Cambridg, to see his mother. the shelves were of his own making, being pieces of deal boxes. There were some years ago 2 or 300 books in it chiefly of divinity, & old editions of the fathers the library of his father in law, Mr Smith, rector of North Witham. these books Sir Isaac gave to his relation Dr. Newton of Grantham. *Dr. Newton gave some of them to me, when I went to live there.

I took a drawing of the place, & of Colsterworth church: & on my return to London, etchd that of Colsterworth church my self. I carryd a print of it to Sir Isaac, with which he was highly pleasd, and at the same time gave me a book of the new edition of his admirable treatise on opticks: & read over to me, that passage additional which he had inserted.

in november 1721 I was induced by Sir Hans Sloan, Lord Pembroke, Mr Roger Gale, Lord Paisley, Percivale, and very many more of the principal members of the Royal Society, to offer my self for Secretary in the room of Dr. Halley, who resigned. Some persons influenced Sir Isaac against his inclination, to take to the opposite party, and I lost it by a very small majority. Sr. Isaac show'd a coolness toward me for 2 or 3 years, but as I did not alter in my carriage and respect toward him, after that, he began to be friendly to me again.

in novr. 1725 I was again auditor of the accounts of the Royal Society. we dined with Sr. Isaac. & after dinner we desired him to recommend the Council to be elected on Saint Andrews day approaching; which he did. I have now, the paper of his own hand writing, & that without spectacles, the names of the Council for the ensuing year: among which he put down mine. he wrote in a fair small hand.

in christmas 1725. upon a visit I made him, we had some discourse about Solomons temple; a matter which I had studyed with attention, & made very many drawings about it, which I had communicated to my Lord Thomas, earl of pembroke, to Mr. Martin Folkes, & some more of my friends. I found, Sr. Isaac had made some drawings of it, & had consider'd the thing: indeed he had studyed every thing. We did not enter into any very particular detail about it. but we both agreed in this, that the architecture was not like any designs, or descriptions yet publick. no authors have an adequate notion of antient, & original architecture. Sir Isaac rightly judged, that it was older than any other of the great temples mentioned in history; & was indeed the original model which they followed. he added, that Sesostris in Rehoboams time, took the workmen, from Jerusalem, who built his Egyptian temples, in imitation of it; one in every Nomos. & that from thence the greeks borrow'd thir architecture; as they had a good deal of thir religious rites, thir sculpture, & other arts.

Sir Isaac thought, the Greeks, according to thir usual ingenuity, improv'd architecture into a higher delicacy; as they did sculpture and other arts. I confirmed his sentiments by adding, that I could demonstrate (as I apprehended) that the architecture of Solomons temple was what we now call Doric. then, says he, the greeks advanced it into the Ionic, & the Corinthian, as the Latins into the composite.

this winter I had a severe fitt of the gout, as I generally had every year, by hereditary right. I found, they grew upon me worse & worse every year. & this among other considerations, determined me to leave the Town.

on 15 April 1726 I paid a visit to Sr. Isaac, at his lodgings in Orbels buildings, Kensington: din'd with him, & spent the whole day with him, alone. I acquainted him with my intentions of retiring into the country; & had pitchd on Grantham. I had a brother there in business, who had a family. he had been apprentice to Mr Chrichloe apothecary there, a great acquaintance, & schoolfellow of Sir Isaacs.

Sr. Isaac expressed an approbation of my purpose: & especially for Grantham, which is near the place of his nativity: & where he went to the grammar school. he said, he had frequently thought of spending the last of his days, in that very place: and charg'd me, if that house to the east of the church, cd. now be purchasd at any reasonable price, that I should do it immediately in his name, & he wd. answer the demand. that house had belong'd to the family of the Skipwith's. he said his old acquaintance Mrs Vincent lived there & a few more, whom he knew.

after dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden, & drank thea under the shade of some appletrees, only he, & myself. amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. "why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground," thought he to him self: occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a comtemplative mood: "why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earths centre? assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter. & the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earths center, not in any side of the earth. therefore dos this apple fall perpendicularly, or toward the center. if matter thus draws matter; it must be in proportion of its quantity. therefore the apple draws the earth, as well as the earth draws the apple."

that there is a power like that we here call gravity wh extends its self thro' the universe& thus by degrees, he began to apply this property of gravitation to the motion of the earth, & of the heavenly bodys: to consider thir distances, their magnitudes, thir periodical revolutions: to find out, that this property, conjointly with a progressive motion impressed on them in the beginning, perfectly solv'd thir circular courses; kept the planets from falling upon one another, or dropping all together into one center. & thus he unfolded the Universe. this was the birth of those amazing discoverys, whereby he built philosophy on a solid foundation, to the astonishment of all Europe.

at another time, when I visited him, we had some discourse about the first plantation of these western parts of the world, especially our island, from Phœnicia. I had the satisfaction to find, that I had fallen into the same sentiments, with him, and indeed I cd. not but observe with surprize that he was master of every part of curious learning: & in each branch, equal to those that had studyd it alone. whence one would be apt to draw this conclusion; that a man must be well skilld in most parts of learning, who wd. excell even in one.

13 May 1726 Sr. Isaac appointed according to custom,X& direction of the Government, a Committee of the Royal Society to visit Dr. Halley, astronomer Royal, at the observatory Greenwich: Mr Martin Folkes, Dr. Brook Taylor, my self, Mr. Machen, Mr Graham. we were to examin into the astronomical instruments, for which the board of Ordnance had issued £500. before dinner, Dr Halley entertain'd us with a transit over the meridian, of the largest of all the fixt stars, Sirius. I observ'd, it ran along the horizontal thread of the telescope with an undulatory or jogging motion which I attributed to the nisus betw. the axis of the earth, & obliquity of the ecliptic; in which the earths motion is perform'd: which must in some degree oppose one another, bec. the axis of the earth is not parallel to the plain, in which it moves. & this seemed to me, to be the cause, that the heavenly bodys view'd in telescopes, do not proceed in a swimming, even motion; but by jirks.

the 6 june following, I left the Town, being at that time, one of the Censors of the College of Physicians; one of the Council of the Royal Society; & secretary to the antiquarian society . but I found, I was moved by a secret impulse of Providence, which saw further than my views extended. & what my frds. very much wonder'd at. some of the fruits of my recess was the opportunity I had of drawing up these Memoirs. another was, that I fortunately found out the method of subduing that hitherto unconquerable malady, the gout; so as to Xextend, as well as render my future life comfortable: which was one reason that induc'd me to enter into holy Orders: & therein I was much incourag'd by my great friend, Archbishop Wake, who ordaind me. I had purchasd a very agreable house at Grantham, where I then fixed my self; hoping, by riding & exercise, to alleviate the fitts of the gout. but the house that Sr. Isaac desired to buy at that time in possession of Mr Seckar, who lived in it, was not then to be had. on which head I wrote to him. & this prov'd to be the last act of my correspondence with him. he dy'd the beginning of the next year. Sr. Michael Newton, a relation of Sr. Isaacs lived now at Hather, near Grantham. he stood candidate at a election for members of parliament. Mr Conduit who marryed Sr. Isaac's niece, wrote to me to give my interest to Sr. MichaelI gladly accepted of the injunction, wh I had before projected in my mind.. & a correspondence now commencing between us, he desired me to give him all the informations I cd. collect, relating to Sir Isaac. for he was preparing to draw up an account of his lifeXI gladly accepted of the injunction, wh I had before projected in my mind.. had he lived to have done it, it would assuredly have superseded this publication. but as we have no hope of that, I was willing to contribute my endeavors toward that end, by the present work.

it was a misfortune that Mr Chrichloe apothecary there, with whom my brother had been apprentice, dy'd but a little before I fix'd my abode at the place. he was 84 years of age, somewhat older than Sir Isaac, when they were alive together. he was Sr. Isaac's schoolfellow, & great friend during thir whole lives: & could have given me informations relating to him, to full satisfaction. Sr. Isaac had a particular esteem for him, always inquired after his health, when he knew, I had been at Grantham: & desired his service to him, when he knew, I went that way; saying, he was the chief acquaintance left in the place, except Mrs. Vincent.

I found two or three very old people, at & about Colsterworth, where he was born. & but 3 or 4 years before, several more dyed, who were about Sr. Isaac's age. however, by this means our Memoirs will be very much shortned: yet I omitted no opportunity remaining, to gather all I cd. any wise to our purpose.

Perhaps it will be necessary to be a little circumstantial & bordering somewhat on puerility. This is excusable from the nature of the inquiry. it will be better understood, what sort of evidence I build upon. how mean soever these papers may be, I should hold my self inexcusable, not to have done it; & even unjust to the world, as well as to the memory of so great a man; the glory of our country our age, & of the human race.

accordingly june 2 1727 I began to commit to

Notes[edit]

^X  (p2) Insertion from reverse of page 1
^X  (p3) Insertion from reverse of page 2
^X  (p4) Insertion from reverse of page 3
^†  (p4) Insertion from reverse of page 3
^†  (p6) Insertion from reverse of page 5
^X  (p6) Insertion from reverse of page 5
  (p6) Insertion from reverse of page 5