7 JULY 1855, Page 15


BREWSTER'S MEMOIRS 07 SIR ISAAC NEWTON.* THESE volumes are an extension of the biography of Newton pub- haled by Sir David Brewster in 1831 in Murray's " Family Li- brary " ; the extension relating to the scientific career rather than to the life itself. The discoveries of Newton, and still more the controversies in which they involved him, are pursued into consi- derable length, as well as the differences with Flamsteed the Astro- nomer Royal, to which new features have been given by Mr. Rally's publication in 1835. The more literary or learned studies of Sir Isaac in theology and chronology are also treated at some length ; and the question as to Newton's aberration of mind, first distinctly raised by Riot. Historical episodes give com- pleteness to the scientific views by showing what previous in- quirers had done, and what has been accomplished since the time of Newton ; notices of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo, belonging to the first class; the sketch of the manufac- ture of the telescope down to Lord Rosse's gigantic specimen to the second. Points respecting Sir Isaac's character that have been raised by modern inquirers, as De Morgan, receive attention ; by the liberality of the Portsmouth family, Sir David Brewster has been allowed access to the papers of Sir Isaac in their possession, which throw a faller rather than a newer light upon the great philosopher's peculiarities. These additions, however, mostly refer to the intellectual rather than to the personal character of the man.

It follows that these volumes have a greater interest for the scientific inquirer than the general reader; • for although there is no obvious defect in the plan, yet the life of Newton is somehow lost sight of in the narrative of his discoveries, as these in their turn are rather overlaid by the controversial manner in which Sir David Brewster recounts the controversies those discoveries produced. His leaning in favour of Newton does not affect the fairness of his statements or his judgments, probably not often the soundness of his conclusions; but it throws a colouring over his arguments, which gives them the air of advocacy, and raises a sus- picion which the conclusions when examined do not justify. The book is exceedingly well written ; the style a little rotund, but ecival to the theme. The great reputation of Newton during his life, the almost au- tocratic sway he exercised in the scientific world, and the natural love of mankind for the marvellous, caused the early collection of every characteristic trait about him that took the form of anecdote. His early turn for mechanics, and the result in various boyish in- ventions—his distaste for the practical business of his mother's farm, and road-side study of mathematics—his continuous thought at Cambridge University, when he was sent thither in despair of his ever succeeding as a Lincolnshire yeoman—the absence of mind his incessant attention to abstruse studies produced, with the consequent oddities—have been told and retold again and again. One of the most striking, the fall of the apple, which gave rise to the discovery of gravitation—some say by hitting the philosopher's head—appears apocryphal ; at least in the two amounts which Newton himself gave of the discovery, he did not mention it. The story of the favourite little dog that upset the candle and burned his papers, illustrative of the philosopher's patience, seems still more doubtful. Newton disliked dogs and eats, and had no such "pets." Various other stories Sir David Brewster omits or alludes to in general terms, and some in connexion with the philosophical dis- coveries. This is proper where.there is any well-founded doubt of their authenticity ; but, what with the absence of anecdotes or the general manner in which they are alluded to, and a sort of abstract air in narrating the progress of the discoveries, the reader gets but a lifeless idea of the man Newton, his progress at the University, or the rapid manner in which he establishedtablished his reputation. Some letters written after his death paint his manners and mode of life very characteristically. The following by Dr. Humphrey Newton, was addressed to Newton's nephew-in-law, Mr. Condnitt ; whose large collections of papers respecting Sir Isaac have come by dement to the Portsmouth family. Conduitt, after furnishing Fontenelle with materials for his eloge on Newton, contemplated a life of his own, and the following letter was written to assist him.

"Sir—Receiving yours, I return as perfect and faithful an account of my deceased friend's transactions as possibly does at this time occur to my me- mory. Had I had the least thought of gratifying after this manner Sir Isaac's friends, I should have taken a much stricter view of his life and actions.

"In the last year of King Charles II., Sir Isaac was pleased, through the mediation of Mr. Walker, (then schoolmaster at Grantham,) to send for me up to Cambridge; of whom I had the opportunity, as well as honour, to wait of for about five years. In such time he wrote his Principle Mathematica; which stupendous work, by his order, I copied out before it went to the press. After the printing, Sir Isaac was pleased to send me with several of them in presents to some of the Heads of Colleges and others of his acquaint- ance; some of which (particularly Dr. Babington of Trinity) said that they might study seven years before they understood anything of it. His car- riage then was very meek, sedate, and humble, never seemingly angry, of profound thought, big countenance mild, pleasant, and comely. I cannot say I ever saw him laugh but once, which was at that passage which Dr. Stukely mentioned in his letter to your honour, which put me in mind of the Ephesian philosopher, who laughed only once in his lifetime, to see an ass eating thistles when plenty of grass was by. He always kept close to his studies, very rarely went a visiting, and had as few visitors, excepting two or three persons, Mr. Ellis, Mr. Laughton of Trinity, and Mr. Yigam, a chemist, in whose company he took much delight and pleasure at an evening when he came to wait upon him. I never knew him to take any recreation • Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir lease Newton. By Sir David Drewster. KM., A.M., &c. &e. &e. In two volumes. Published by Con- stable and Co., Edinburgh. or pastime either in riding out to take the air, walking, bowling, or any ether exercise whatever; thinking all hours lost that was not spent in his studies, to which he kept so close that he seldom left his chamber except at term time, when he read in the schools as being Lucasianus Professor, where so few went to hear him, and fewer that understood him, that oft- times be did in a manner, for want of hearers, read to the walls. Fo- reigners he received with a great deal of freedom, candour, and respect. When invited to a treat, which was very seldom, he used to return it very handsomely, and with much satisfaction to himself. So intent, so serious upon his studies, that he ate very sparingly, nay, °Mimes he has forgot to eat at all, so that, going into his chamber, I have found.his mesa untouched ; of which, when I have reminded him, he would reply, Have I!' and then making to the table, would eat a bit or two standing, for I cannot say I ever saw him sit at table by himself. At some seldom entertainments, the Mas- ten of Colleges were chiefly his guests. He very rarely went to bed till two or three of the clock, sometimes not till floe or six, lying about four or five hours, especially at spring and fall of the leaf; at which times he used to employ 'about six weeks in his °laboratory, the fire scarcely going out either night or day, he sitting up one night and I another, till be had finished his chemical experiments, in the performances of which he was the most accu- rate, strict, exact. What his min might be I was not able to penetrate into, but his pains, his diligence at these set times, made me think he aimed at something beyond the reach of human art and industry. I cannot say I ever saw him drink either wine, ale, or beer, excepting at meals, and then but very sparingly. He very rarely went to dine in the ball, except on some public days, and then, if he has not been minded, would go very care- lessly, with shoes down at heels, stockings untied, surplice on, and kw head scarcely combed.

"As for his Optics being burned, I knew nothing of it but as I had heard from others, that accident happening before he writ his Principle. He was very carious in his garden, which was never out of order, in which he would at some seldome time take a short walk or two, not enduring to see a weed in it. On the left end of the garden was his elaboratory, near the east end of the chapel, where he at these set times employed himself in with a great deal of satisfaction and delight. Nothing extraordinary, as I can remember, happened in making his experiments ; which if there did, he was of so sedate and even temper that I could not in the least discover it. He very seldom went to the chapel, that being the time be chiefly took his repose; and as for the afternoon, his earnest and indefatigable studies retained him, so that he scarcely knew the house of prayer. Very frequently, on Sundays, he went to St. Mary's Church, especially in the forenoon. I knew nothing of the writings which your honour sent, only that it is his own hand, I am very certain of; believing be might write them at some leisure hours, before he set upon his more serious and weighty matters. Sir Isaac at that time

had no pupils nor any chamber-fellow ; for that, I would presume to i think, would not have been agreeable to h studies. He was only once disordered with rains at the stomach, which confined hint for some days to his bed ; which he bore with a great deal of patience and magnanimity, seemingly in- different either to live or die. He seeing me much concerned at his illness, bid use not trouble myself ; 'for if,' said he, 'I die, I shall leave you an estate,' which he then mentioned."

The chemical experiments mentioned in this letter were devoted to alchemical efforts ; for Newton was a believer in the art. He was deep in books on alchemy; carrying into that pursuit the same continuous labour which he gave to more profitable studies.

"We have seen in Sir Isaac's handwriting, The Metamorphoses of the Planets, John De Monte Snyders, in 62 pages 4to., and a key to the same work, and numerous pages of alchemist poetry from Norton's Ordinal, and Bea. Valentine's Mystery of the Microcosm. There is also a copy of Secrets .Revealed, or an open Entrance to the Shut Palace of the King, which is covered with notes in Sir Isaac's hand, in which great changes are made upon the language and meaning of the thirty-five chapters of which it con- sists. I have found also among Sir Isaac's papers, a beautifully, written but incomplete copy of William Yworth's Processes Mysterii mayni Philo- sophicus, and also a small manuscript in his handwriting, entitled The- saurus l'hesaurorum, sive Medicine Aurea. "In addition to these works, Sir Isaac has left behind him, in his note- books and separate MSS., copious extracts from the writings of the alche- mists of all ages, and a very large Index Chemical and Supplementunt IndicesChemist, with minute references to the different subjects to which they relate."

The belief in alchemy was an early idea of Newton; and was accompanied, as might be expected, with a good deal of credulity, remarkable in so great a man, and above all one whose greatness rested on demonstration by means of experiment and mathematics. In a letter of advice to a friend about to travel through the re- gions of -modern diablerie—Hungary, Sclavonia, and Bohemia— Newton particularly charges him to make inquiries respecting mining, metals, and what the alchemists called "secrets." He bad also picked up a strange tale of an "adept," most probably some impostor.

"There is in Holland one — Berry, who some years since was impri- toned by the Pope, to have extorted from him secrets (as I ara told) of great worth, both as to medicine and profit ; but he escaped into Holland, where they have granted him a guard. I think he usually goes cloathed in green. Pray inquire what you can of him, and whether his ingenuity be any profit to the Dutch. You may inform yourself whether the Dutch have any tricks to keep their ships from being all worm-eaten in their voyages to the In- dies."

His notions of medicine exhibit perhaps a greater credulity. The wonders discovered by modern scientifio chemistry seem, as Sir David Brewster intimates, to indicate that conversions or " transmutations " may vet be possible. As very wonderful phenomena must have often taken place before the eyes of the alchemist, apparently as strange as those he was seeking for, the belief in alchemy is not surprising. How Newton could deem that the following mess could be useful in disease, is more startling than his belief in the power of a chemist to imitate in his la- boratory the operations of nature; for the transmutation of metals are no more than that. The text is from a letter written by the son of an old college companion of Newton, and sent to Professor Smith soon after Newton a death, in answer to biographical in- quiries.

"He was turning grey, I think, at thirty ; and when my father observed that to him as the effect of his deep attention of mind, he would jest with the experiments he made so often with quicksilver, as if from hence he took so soon that colour.

"He sometimes suspected himself to be inclining to a consumption; and

the Medicine he made use of was the Leueatelhis Balsam, which, when he • had composed himself, he would now and then melt in quantity about a quarter of h pint, and so drink it."

To which Sir David Brewster adds a long note.,

"The following method pf making the Leucatello's Balsam I have found . inf3ir Isaac's own hand. 'Put Venus turpentine one pound into a pint of the beet damask rose-water ; beat these together till it look white ; then take four ounces of bees-wax, red sanders half an ounce, oil of olives of the best a pint, one ounce of oil of St. John's wort, and half a pint of sack. Set it (the sack) on the fire in a new pipkin, add to it the oil and wax, let it stand on a soft fire where it must not boil, but melt, till it be scalding hot. Then take it off. When it is cold, take out the cake:, and scrape off the dirt from the bottom. Take out the sack, wipe the pipkm, put in the cake again, set it on the fire, let them melt together, and then put in also the turpentine and sanders; let them not boil, but be well melted and mixed together ; take it off and stir it now and then till it is cold. If you would have it to take inwardly, add to it when it is off from the fire, half an ounce of powder of seuchineal (cochineal) and a little natural balsam.

" 'For the measell, plague, or smallpox, a half an ounce in *little broth,' take it warm, and sweat after it. And against poison and the biting of a mad dog ; for the last you must dip lint and lay it upon the wound, besides taking it inwardly. There are other virtues of it : for wind, cholie, anoint the stomach, and so for bruises."

Who can wonder that quacks flourish in all ages ! Yet the man who could use and recommend the above mixture, must about the same time have written in the following strain of thoughtful and worldly prudence to a friend about to travel.

"When you come into any fresh company,. 1. Observe their humours. 2. Suit your own carriage thereto, by which insinuation you will make their converse more free and open. 3. Let your discours be more in querys and doubtings than peremptory assertions or disputings, it being the designe of travellers to learne' not to teach. Besides, it will persuade your acquaint- ance that you have the greater esteem of them, and see make them more ready to communicate what they know to you; whereas nothing sooner oc- casions disrespect and:quarrels than peremptormease. You will find little or no advantage in seeming wiser, or much more ignorant than your company. 4. Seldom discommend anything though never so bad, or doe it but mode- rately, lest you bee unexpectedly forced to an unhansom retraction. It is safer to commend anything more than it deserves, than to discommend a thing see much as it deserves ; for commendations meet not ace often with oppositions, or, at least, are not usually soe ill resented by men that think otherwise, as diseommendations; and you will insinuate into men's favour, by nothing sooner than seeming to approve and commend what they. like ; but beware of doing it by a comparison. 5. If you bee affronted, it Is bet- ter, in a forraine country, to pass it by in silence, and with a jest, though with some dishonour, than to endeavour revenge; for, in the first case, your credit's ne'er the worse when you return into England, or come into other company that have not heard of the quarrel'. But, in the second case, you may beare the marks of the quarrell while you five, if you outlive it at all.. " But, if you find yourself unavoidably engriged, 'fis best, I think, if you can command your passion and language, to keep them pretty eavenly at some certain moderate pitch, not much hightning them to exasperate your ad- versary or provoke his friends, nor letting them grow over much dejected ter •-• make him insult. In a word, if you can keep reason-above passion, that and watchfullnesse will be your beat defendants."

The life of Newton may be divided into three leading sores.' The first, from his birth in 1642 till he went to Cambridge in 1661, embraces his precocious childhood, his youthful neglect of country business for mathematics, and his return t6 school-studies as a - preparation for the University. Of this period stories enough have been preserved to mark his own wonderful aptittide for mathematics and mechanics, his readiness and dexterity as an i

experimenter, and his power of invention; which faculty s really as necessary to the philosopher' as to the poet, and consists of the same' qualities, seeing and combining. His University life may be- carried on to the publication of the Prineipia, in 1687; or to his first appointment to the Mint, in 1696, when heleft the University to attend to his official duties. Of this period a good deal is known from his publications, his papers, contemporary notices, the records of the Royal Society, and similar sources, in addition to anecdotes or traditions. Yet, full us Sir David Brewster's book is, we do not get a very vivid idea of Newton's University life, or even his scientific progress. This failing we can only ascribe to overdoing. - The discoveries are pursued into over-detail ; and the episodes, however excellent in themselves, divert attention from the man to many other things. The letters of Dr. Humphrey Newton present a lifelike picture of the individual; the account-books which Sir David quotes from indicate his method and his habits. The ac- curacy seems greater than might have been looked for from his absence of mind, and the jollity more than might have been expected. It was, however, early days-1665.

"Drills, gravers, a hone, a hammer, and a mandril £0 5 0 A magnet 0 16 0 Compasses. 0 3 6 Glass bubbles 0 4 0 My Bachelor's account. 0 17 6 At the tavern several other times 1 0 0 Spent on my cousin Ayscough 0 12 6 On other acquaintance 0 10 0 Cloth, two yards, and buckles for a vest. 2 0 0 Philosophical intelligences 0 9 6 The History of the Royal Society 0 7 0 Gunter's Book and Sector to Dr. Fox 0 5 0 Lost at cards twice 0 15 0 At the tavern twice 0 3 6."

The third period of Newton's life, from 1696 till his death in 1727, was passed in comparative opulence, amid scientific ho- nour and repute almost regal, which controversial attack rather developed than impeded. Connected with this last period in natural though somewhat earlier in chronological order, is the question whether Newton's mind was not unhinged about 1692, and whe- they he ever thoroughly recovered his mental powers. The fact was unknown to posterity till Biot's Life of Newton in the Bic- graphie Universelle, and the colour given to the assertion by Lord Ring's Life of Locke. It is probable that the reports of it were somewhat exaggerated, and that the particulars might be erro-

neonsly stated; but that • it was believed by his contemporaries likely to be well informed, seems beyond all question. Nay, what is more to the purpose, there are letters under Newton's own hand that indicate temporary aberration at least. This is the statement furnished to Biot by Van Swinden, a Dutchman, who had dug it out of the papers'of Huygens, a yet celebrated natural philosopher, and contemporary of Newton. "'There is among the manuscripts of the Celebrated Huygens,' says Van Swinden, small journal in folio, in which he;used to note down different occurrences. It is note No 8, in the Catalogue of the Library of Leyden, p. 112. The following extract is written by Huygens himself; with whose handwritingI am well acquainted, having had occasion to peruse several of his manuscript and autograph letters.

"'On the 29th Key 1694, M. Colin, a Scotehman, informed me, that eighteen menthe age the illustrious geometer, Isaac Newton, had beoome eitherM.,00nsequence of his too intense application to his studiee, or from exeessive grief at having lost by fire his chemical laboratory and seve- ral manuscripts. When became to the Archbishop of Cambridge he 1naae some ebservations which indicated an alienation of mind. Ile Ives imme- diately taken. care of by his friends' who confined him to his been, and ap- plied remedies, by means of which he had now so far recovered his health that he began to understand the Principia: " Huygens.me.ntioned,this circumstance in a letter to Leibnitz, dated 8th June 1694, in the following terms—" I do not know if you are acquainted with the accident which has happened to the good Mr. Newton namely,- that he has had an attack of phrenitia, which lasted eighteen months, and of which they say that his friends have cured him by means of remedies Asa keeping him fault up." To which Leibnitz replied, in a letter dated the 211 June-" I am 'very glad that I received information of the cure of Mr. New- ton ot the same time that I first beard of his illness, which doubtless must have been very alarMing. 'It is to seen like you and htm, Sir, that I wish a long life and Much health, more than others, whose loss, comparatively speaking, would not be so great.— In addition to this contemporary evidence, very probably exag- gerated by passing through several hands and more than ohe foreign mind, there exists at Cambridge a manuscript journal, which gives an account of Newton's distress at the accidental burning of a manuscript, in these words—" When Mr. Nevetat came from chapel and had seen what was done, every one thought he would have run mad; he was so troubled thereat that he was not himself for a month after." This confirms the report that Collins carried to Huygens, no further than by showing that some- thing had occurred to affect Newton's mind. Some of his own letters, however, seem to us more conclusive of aberration than any reports. In September 1693, he wrote thus to Pepys. Sir—Some time after Mr. Millington had delivered your message he pressed me to see you the next time I went to London. I was averse ; but upon his pressing consented, before I considered what I did, for I am ex- tremely troubled at the embroilment I am in, and have neither ate nor slept well this twelvemonth, nor have my former consistency of mind. I never designed to get anything by your interest, nor by King James's favour, but ant now sensible that I must withdraw from your acquaintance, and see neither you nor the rest of my friends any more, if I may butleave them quietly. I beg your pardon for saying I would see you again, and rest your

most humble and most obedient servant, Is. Nrwrori: Poor Pepys could not understand this, for he had sent no such message ; and he applied to Millington inquiring in general terms after Newton's "health." He got as general an answer; to which he rejoins.

"I must acknowledge myself not at the ease I would be glad to be at in reference to the excellent Mr. Newton ; concerning whom (methinks) your answer labours under the same kind of restraint which (to 'tell you the truth) my asking did. For I was loth at first dash to tell you that I had lately received a latter from him so surprising to me for the inconsistency of every part of it, as to be put into great disorder by it, from the concernment I have for him, lest it should arise from that which of all mankind I should least dread from him and most lament for—I mean a discomposure in head or mind, or both. Let me, therefore, beg you, Sir, having now told you the true ground of the trouble I lately gave you, to let me know the very truth of the matter, as far at least as comes within your knowledge."

Thus adjured, Millington writes, we cannot but think cautiously.

"I was, I must confess, very much surprised at the inquiry you were pleased to make by your nephew about the message that Mr. Newton made the ground of his letter to you, for I was very sure I never either received from you or delivered to him any such ; and therefore I went immediately to wayt upon him, with a design to discourse him about the matter ; but he was out of town, and since I have not seen him, till upon the 28th I met him at Huntingdon; where, upon his own accord and before I had time to ask him any question, he told me that he had wrist to you a very odd letter, at which he was much concerned ; added, that it was in a distemper that much seized his head, and that kept him awake for above five nights toge- ther, which upon occasion he desired I would represent to you, and beg your pardon, he being very much ashamed he should be so rude to a person for whom he hath so great an honour. He is now very well ; and, though I fear he is under souse small degree of melancholy, yet I think there is no reason to suspect it hath at all touched his understanding, and I hope never will."

Within a few days of his addressing Pepys, Newton wrote to Locke, with as little foundation for his epistle.

"Sir—Bring of opinion that you endeavoured to embroil me with women, and by other meane, I was so Much affected with it; as that when one told me you were sickly and would not live, I answered, 'twere better if you were dead. I desire you to forgive me this uncharitableness ; for I am now satis- fied that what you have done is just; and I beg your pardon for my having hard thoughts of you for it and for representing that you struck at the root of morality, in 14prinitiple you laid in your book of ideas, and designed to pursue in another book, and that I took you for a Hobbist. I beg your par- don also for saying or thinking that, there was a design to sell me an office, or to embroil sae.

"I am your most humble and unfortunate servant,


• To this strange communication Locke made a reply in a spirit of frank and touching friendliness. The following answer from New- ton is equally strange with his other communications: the sleep- lessness of Which he complains is a marked symptom of insanity. " Sir—The last winter, by sleeping too often by my fire, I got an ill habit of sleeping, and a distemper, which this summer has been epidemical, put sue farther out of order, so that when I wrote to you I had not slept an hour a night for a fortnight together, and for five days together not a wink. Ire- member I wrote to you, but what I said of your book I remember nett: If you please to send me a transcript of that passage, I will give yen an se- count of it if I can.

" I am your most humble servant, ' Ia. liEwvort."

Sir David Brewster is very wroth with Blot, and indeed with everybody who believes that Newton was insane ; and the arga- ments agamst long-continued insanity or total lose of his genius are cogent enough: It is clear, however, that something was spread about among Newton's contemporaries; equally clear un- der his own hand, that he was giving way to suspicions totally unfounded, and supposing the reality of facts which had no ex- istence. That he recovered from this state of mind everybody ad- mits; in fact, the improvements in the Principia and other publi- cations, as well as the discharge of his official duties at the Mint and the Royal Society, show that his reason was unitnpaired. It is doubtless a mere exaggeration to hold that after this illness" Newton was only fit to write theology ; and it is likely, as Sir David argues, that Newton had always given attention to the sub- ject. It is clear, however, that after his half century of life, New- ton undertook no new work of any moment, or carried on inquiries to perfeot what he had begun. Nor is this surprising. During the last thirty years of his life, his official duties would prevent that uninterrupted attention sunk labours require. Nor is them anything discreditable or even remarkable in the fact that Newton after he had reached fifty should be unequal to the tension of mind which his old studies demanded. He had tried an originally feeble constitution by continual labours, involving loss of nervous energy ;- his neglect of sleep must have been even more injurious ; his ii'- regularity in meals could not but have impaired his digestion, if- not his constitution. Many men after such a life would have died at fifty. Isaac Newton lived till eighty-five, clear and capable of more than common duties till the last.