Electronic edition published by Cultural Heritage Langauge Technologies (with permission from Charles Scribners and Sons) and funded by the National Science Foundation International Digital Libraries Program. This text has been proofread to a low degree of accuracy. It was converted to electronic form using data entry.
NEWTON, ISAAC (b. Woolsthorpe, England,
25 December 1642; d. London, England, 20 March
1727), mathematics, dynamics, celestial mechanics,
astronomy, optics, natural philosophy.
to the laws of motion as “the first Principles or
Axiomes” and said that they “are deduced from
Phaenomena & made general by Induction”; this
“is the highest evidence that a Proposition can have
in this philosophy.” Declaring that “the mutual &
mutually equal attraction of bodies is a branch of the
third Law of motion,” Newton pointed out to Cotes
“how this branch is deduced from Phaenomena,”
referring him to the “end of the Corollaries of the
Laws of Motion.” Shortly thereafter, in a manuscript
bearing upon the Leibniz controversy, he wrote,
“To make an exception upon a mere Hypothesis is to
feign an exception. It is to reject the argument from
Induction, & turn Philosophy into a heap of
Hypotheses, which are no other than a chimerical
Romance.”190 That is a statement with which few
1. See R. S. Westfall, “Short-writing and the State of
Newton's Conscience, 1662,” in Notes and Records.
Royal Society of London, 18 (1963), 10-16. L. T. More,
in Isaac Newton (New York, 1934), p. 16, drew attention
to the necessary “mental suffering” of a boy of Newton's
physical weakness, living in a lonely “farmhouse situated
in a countryside only slowly recovering from the terrors of
a protracted and bitter civil war,” with “no protection
from the frights of his imagination except that of his
grandmother and such unreliable labourers as could be
F. E. Manuel, in A Portrait of Isaac Newton (Cambridge,
Mass., 1968), has subjected Newton's life to a kind of
psychoanalytic scrutiny. He draws the conclusion (pp.
54-59) that the “scrupulosity, punitiveness, austerity,
discipline, industriousness, and fear associated with a
repressive morality” were apparent in Newton's character
at an early age, and finds that notebooks bear witness
to “the fear, anxiety, distrust, sadness, withdrawal,
and generally depressive state of the young
For an examination of Manuel's portrait of Newton,
see J. E. McGuire, “Newton and the Demonic Furies: Some
Current Problems and Approaches in the History of
Science,” in History of Science, 11 (1973), 36-46; see
the review in Times Literary Supplement (1 June 1973),
615-616, with letters by Manuel (8 June 1973), 644-645;
D. T. Whiteside (15 June 1973), 692, and (6 July 1973), 779;
and G. S. Rousseau (29 June 1973), 749.
2. See E. N. da C. Andrade, “Newton's Early Notebook,”
in Nature, 135 (1935), 360; and G. L. Huxley, “Two
Newtonian Studies: I. Newton's Boyhood Interests,”
in Harvard Library Bulletin, 13 (1959), 348-354, in which
Andrade has first called attention to the importance of
Bate's collection, an argument amplified by Huxley.
3. Newton apparently came to realize that he had been
hasty in discarding Euclid, since Pemberton later heard him
“even censure himself for not following them [that is,
‘the ancients’ in their ‘taste, and form of
yet more closely than he did; and speak with regret of his
mistake at the beginning of his mathematical studies, in
applying himself to the works of Des Cartes and other
algebraic writers, before he had considered the elements
of Euclide with that attention, which so excellent a writer
deserves” (View of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy [London,
4. Newton's college tutor was not (and indeed by statute
could not have been) the Lucasian professor, Barrow,
but was Benjamin Pulleyn.
5. University Library, Cambridge, MS Add. 3996, discussed
by A. R. Hall in “Sir Isaac Newton's Notebook, 1661-1665,”
in Cambridge Historical Journal, 9 (1948), 239-250.
6. Ibid.; also partially analyzed by R. S. Westfall, in “The
Foundations of Newton's Philosophy of Nature,” in
British Journal for the History of Science, 1 (1962), 171-182.
Westfall has attempted a reconstruction of Newton's
philosophy of nature, and his growing allegiance to the
“mechanical philosophy,” in ch. 7 of his Force in
Newton's Physics (London, 1971).
7. On Newton's entrance into the domains of mathematics
higher than arithmetic, see the account by A. De Moivre
(in the Newton MSS presented by the late J. H. Schaffner
to the University of Chicago) and the recollections of
Newton assembled by John Conduitt, now mainly in the
Keynes Collection, King's College, Cambridge.
8. See D. T. Whiteside, “Newton's Marvellous Year. 1666
and All That,” in Notes and Records. Royal Society of
London, 21 (1966), 37-38.
9. See A. H. White, ed., William Stukeley, Memoirs of Sir
Isaac Newton's Life (London, 1936). Written in 1752, this
records a conversation with Newton about his discovery
of universal gravitation (the apple story), pp. 19-20.
10. In November 1669 John Collins wrote to James Gregory
that “Mr Barrow hath resigned his Lecturers place to
one Mr Newton of Cambridge” (in the Royal Society
ed. of Newton's Correspondence, I, 15). Newton himself
may have been referring to Barrow in an autobiographical
note (ca. 1716) that stated, “Upon account of my progress
in these matters he procured for me a fellowship . . . in
the year 1667 & the Mathematick Professorship two years
later”—see University Library, Cambridge, MS Add.
3968, §41, fol. 117, and I. B. Cohen, Introduction to
Newton's Principia, supp. III, p. 303, n. 14.
11. Among the biographical memoirs assembled by Conduitt
(Keynes Collection, King's College, Cambridge).
Humphrey Newton's memoir is in L. T. More, Isaac
Newton, pp. 246, 381, and 389.
12. According to J. Edleston (p. xlv in his ed. of Correspondence
of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Cotes . . .; see also
pp. xlix-1), in 1675 (or March 1674, OS), “Newton
obtained a Royal Patent allowing the Professor to remain
Fellow of a College without being obliged to go into
orders.” See also L. T. More, Isaac Newton, p. 169.
13. This work might have been an early version of the Lectiones
opticae, his professorial lectures of 1670-1672; or perhaps
an annotated version of his letters and communications to
Oldenburg, which were read at the Royal Society and
published in major part in its Philosophical Transactions
from 1672 onward.
14. Quoted in L. T. More, Isaac Newton, p. 217.
15. It has been erroneously thought that Newton's “breakdown”
may in part have been caused by the death of his
mother. But her death occurred in 1679, and she was
buried on 4 June. “Her will was proved 11 June 1679
by Isaac Newton, the executor, who was the residuary
legatee”; see Correspondence, II, 303. n. 2. David Brewster,
in Memoirs . . ., II, 123, suggested that Newton's “ailment
may have arisen from the disappointment he experienced
in the application of his friends for a permanent situation
for him.” On these events and on contemporaneous
discussion and gossip about Newton's state of mind,
see L. T. More, Isaac Newton, pp. 387-388, and F. E.
Manuel, A Portrait of Isaac Newton, pp. 220-223. Newton
himself, in a letter to Locke of 5 October 1693, blamed his
“distemper” and insomnia on “sleeping too often by my