Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/300

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[Ch. IX.
A Short History of Astronomy

to grasp Newton's general ideas, even though the details of his mathematics were out of their range. It was moreover soon discovered that his scientific ideas could be used with advantage as theological arguments.

192. One unfortunate result of the great success of the Principia was that Newton was changed from a quiet Cambridge professor, with abundant leisure and a slender income, into a public character, with a continually increasing portion of his time devoted to public business of one sort or another.

Just before the publication of the Principia he had been appointed one of the representatives of his University to defend its rights against the encroachments of James II., and two years later he sat as member for the University in the Convention Parliament, though he retired after its dissolution.

Notwithstanding these and many other distractions, he continued to work at the theory of gravitation, paying particular attention to the lunar theory, a difficult subject with his treatment of which he was never quite satisfied.[1] He was fortunately able to obtain from time to time first-rate observations of the moon (as well as of other bodies) from the Astronomer Royal Flamsteed (chapter x., §§ 197–8), though Newton's continual requests and Flamsteed's occasional refusals led to strained relations at intervals. It is possible that about this time Newton contemplated writing a new treatise, with more detailed treatment of various points discussed in the Principia; and in 1691 there was already some talk of a new edition of the Principia, possibly to be edited by some younger mathematician. In any case nothing serious in this direction was done for some years, perhaps owing to a serious illness, apparently some nervous disorder, which attacked Newton in 1692 and lasted about two years. During this illness, as he himself said, "he had not his usual consistency of mind," and it is by no means certain that he ever recovered his full mental activity and power.

Soon after recovering from this illness he made some

  1. He once told Halley in despair that the lunar theory "made his head ache and kept him awake so often that he would think of it no more."