Philosophy 167: Class 12 - Part 2 - Isaac Newton: a Biography, 1676-1727.

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: A brief biography of Isaac Newton from 1676 to 1727.

    Opening line: "So just continuing, he has an exchange with Lagnus over the calculus in the mid 1670s."

    Duration: 19:24 minutes.

    Segment: Class 12, Part 2.
This object is in collection Subject Genre Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
view transcript only

So just continuing, he has an exchange with Lagnus over the calculus in the mid 1670s. Most of what we know here you notice are letters that we have from him, or letters to him or from him, we don't know a lot of detail. His mother died in June of 1679 and he spent a good deal of time in Woolsthorpe at that juncture.
I actually thought Rupert was wrong about the last visit but I trust Rupert an awful lot more on these details than I trust myself. Newton said he was going to go back to Woolsthorpe in a letter during early 1685. I guess that's not what he did, but we'll talk about that next semester.
November 24, 1679, Hook sends him a letter that you'll be reading next week that leds to a sequence of letters with Newton suddenly stopping answering Hook, so Hook sends him two more letters trying to get a response from him. Everything stops. We know comparatively little about Newton over the next few years, except in conjunction with the comet of 1688 he won.
When in August 1684 Edmund Halle, who at the time was 28 years old and had already been appointed the secretary of the Royal Society, he is a boy wonder. He had been commissioned by the government to do a large expedition just off the St. Helene Island, just off the Coast of Africa to do observations of the Southern Hemisphere, and locate stars on the Southern Hemisphere.
This is when he was about, let's see, I have to think for a moment. That's 78, he was 22 when he was head of that expedition. He was a very accomplished person already in his early 20s. So when he visited, he asked that, I'll tell the story very quickly.
He asked the question, told Newton there was a big controversy in London between Halley, Hook, and Christopher Wren over what trajectory an object describes under an inverse square force directed toward a center and Newton said immediately why in Ellipse. How do you know I proved it? Can you show me the proof?
Newton goes in another room, comes back after awhile. Says I can't find it, I'll send it to you. There's a nine hand written page manuscript, it wasn't the one sent. It was copied by his at the time. So the one that actually went to the royal society. But that's the principle reading for next week and that's the topic of your third paper.
It's called, it's called The Motion of Bodies in Orbits. And what it does just to keep you anticipated, the six laws that we've been looking at, inertia, projection, free fall, The three Kepler laws, they're all brought together in roughly 10 propositions in a unified theory, unified mathematical theory of motion under forces directed to a center, all of those propositions occur in the Principia.
It is the embryo out of which the Principia grows. That’s, that sent to Halley in November of 1684, as you'll see when you get the final, the third writing assignment. Halley jumps on the stagecoach and goes back up to Cambridge, and that doesn't, you don't have the right picture of that from my wording because it's a two day trip.
You take the stagecoach so far, stay in an inn overnight and go the rest of the way. It's now a one hour train ride from Liverpool Station up, but it wasn't a one hour in those days. So, Halley found it important enough to go up and discuss with Newton, discover Newton was continuing the research that got reported in this nine handwritten page manuscript.
Haley then gets permission to register the nine handwritten page manuscript, and takes on the responsibility of publishing Newton's further work. So it's published at his expense. And you can see the dates, you'll talk about these next term. Book one is completed in early 1685, in, excuse me, early 1686, it's sent in April to Halley where it's printed, and the galleys are sent to Newton.
That leads Ho -- Hook to claim that Newton is plagiarizing the concept of inverse square gravity from him. That gets Newton so mad that he says I'm not gonna continue this book. Halley manages to conjol and nurse him, etc, into finishing the Principia which he writes in a substantially different way, making it more mathematical with the intent to prevent Hooke from understanding it quite openly, that's what he's doing.
And those things arrive in the spring of 1987. The book is published in the summer of 1687. Thereafter, his life is totally different. In England, even though there were only like 300 copies, the book hit with an enormous splash. Halley carried a copy to the King personally, to King James, and lots of things happened.
After then, we'll be spending all next term. You'll notice 1689 he was elected as a member of the Convention Parliament. The Convention Parliament is the Parliament that threw James out because he was a Catholic and requested and succeeded in bringing William and Mary from Holland. Remember William was as a young man the charge of Huygens' father.
So we get a Dutch king and queen coming to England at that point and Newton becomes a member of Parliament. He goes in and out of Parliament for a while after that. He certainly knew both William and Mary and their daughter among many other people. This is a period from roughly 1690 after he gets to London.
There are two things that happened, mentioned here of was, and I don't trust my pronunciation, was a Swiss mathematician physicist who had a somewhat higher opinion of himself than probably was entirely warranted. We don't really understand Newton's personal relations at all. But if, and please hear that, if Newton was attracted toward males, rather than females which is at least a possibility Fatio was the one person he was really attracted to.
Fatio was good but not that good but Newton seems to have fixated on him or else Fatio pressed himself on Newton, it's ambiguous. Four of the periods starting in the fall of 1689 when he met him for the first time and continuing until, you can see all the little pieces in there, visiting Locke at Lady Mashams' house.
For those of you who don't know, Lady Masham was Ralph Cudworths' daughter. Ralph Cudworth was the leading philosopher at Cambridge in those days. She was quite possibly the best philosopher in the world at the time. Though of course being a female, she didn't publish it's just correspondence with alignments with Locke.
She waited forever for Locke to ask her to marry him, he never did. So she finally married a very wealthy guy, who stayed in London all the time. Locke, when he came back from Britain moved into her house and Newton would visit for a month or two on in while her husband was in England.
And they must have had fantastic discussions, the three of them, because she was very, very capable, as was, of course, Locke. But you know, it's a period where Newton, among other things, is wanting to get out of Cambridge and live in London. He starts looking for positions, sought a new post in the capital.
Life is relatively full of turmoil leading in the September of 1693 to his having what can only be described as an episode of psychosis of madness. Now exactly what went on there, we don't know. There are several different possibilities, one of which is manic depressive, because during the period leading up to that, he was trying to do an incredible number of projects.
Rewrite the Principia, put out the optics, and write a huge treatise on mathematics starting with elementary, geometry, and developing all of calculus out of it. All of these projects were going at the same time. Meanwhile, he was trying to get a position in London and trying to become Provost Of Cambridge.
And he collapses under this, he falls apart. And most of what we know are letters between him and Locke. The first letter of which accuses Locke of trying to involve him with women. And it's a letter of a mentally disturbed person. And then the subsequent letters apologizing for this etc.
We don't know what happened there okay. I tend to be the advocate that he was all along manic depressive and that he simply came apart. How much it was tied to Fadio, how much it was tied to other things we don't know. There's just an awful lot about Newton we don't in fact know.
A nice thing happens though a little further down here. First of all his friend Charles Montague is, by then, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Which means he's got the third most powerful position in England. The Monarch, the Prime Minister, and the Chancellor. He offered Newton the wardenship of the mint which Newton was wanting a position in London, so he got it for his friend Montague.
Shortly after that, if you notice he takes up residence, but this is the crucial event. Joined in London by his half niece Catherine Barton. Catherine Barton was about 16 at the time, Newton was 56 at the time. I like to say, and I actually believe this, she was as much a genius as he was but she didn't put her efforts into math, etc.
She put her efforts into the social world, where she became a legend inside of London. So I'll just give you two or three things. I spent a month one time trying to trace down knowledge of here. Most you get from letters from Jonathan Swift to Alexander Pope and their friends describing her telling about lunge and Swift kept asking her to marry him, which she apparently just laughed him off.
But what Swift constantly does is tell her dirty jokes and they're not very dirty by our standards but the point is versus other women she was very risque in their mind. They had a thing called the Kit Kat Club and she became a sort of star of the Kit Kat Club.
She ends up, we don't know exactly what happened here, it's disturbing enough, I'll tell the story in just a moment. She ends up somehow or other becoming the hostess for Montague, who's a widower for all of his parties, which being chancellor means he's got a lot of occasions.
Now when he dies, that's further down in here, I can't quite, it's after, it's on the next sheet. When he dies, he leaves a very large fraction of his fortune to her, larger amount than to any of his children. August DeMorgan looking at Newton's biography in the 19th century writes a whole book arguing for the following.
Katherine Barton married Montague secretly because the only alternative is Newton was promoting his career by prostituting his niece. Okay, that was what Victorian mind found just appalling. There's zero evidence Newton would have ever done that, number one. Number two, if anything went on between Montague and Catherine, it was Catherine, let me assure you.
She could more than capable of making up her own mind. At any rate, they either live together starting in 1696, '97, or she lived next door when she got married in 1716. The rest of his life, and as far as I can tell there was never a crossed word between this incredibly vivacious young kid and this older man.
Again, I like to say it's not quite true, but very near true. There are seven volumes of Newton's correspondence. I once read them all. And there's one letter in there that shows real warmth and love, and it's a letter to her when she's recovering from smallpox outside of London.
They clearly had a very, very close relationship, and he changed a lot as a person because in, you know, the easy way to put it. She taught him how to deal with other people. He really didn't know how to engage effectively with other people until she's living with him, and engaging in social activity all the time.
But it made his life very different from age 55 to 85, having her with him all the time.
And as I say she's not a mathematician, she managed after getting Montague's, a large fraction of Montague's fortune bequeathed to him. That went to trial by the way and they made a settlement out of court so she still got a lot of money.
Then in 1716 she married John Conduit who was probably the wealthiest man in London at the time. So she ends up dying years later with children. Surely the wealthiest woman in Britain, and probably one of the wealthiest people in Britain and very accomplished. And through her we have Newton's papers, a very good friend of mine Sarah Dry.
This is almost fresh off the press. I have a complimentary copy because I went sentence by sentence through the book with her. Has given the history of the papers, which Katherine took the trouble to collect, bring some people in and figure out what to do with them and they come down to us through her family.
Her family became Lord Portsmouth, so the Portsmouth collection was sold. Part of it to Cambridge University, part of at Sotheby's at the end of the 19th century. The part Cambridge wanted they got the theological papers ended up in Israel, in Jerusalem. And the various chemical papers wandered around, some of them even were at Dibner, I'll tell more about that subsequently.
At any rate, Newton during, he becomes head of the mint. Because he's a very good chemist he changes the coinage and makes it much harder to simulate, to cheat on. He had some various counterfeiters put to death. He was serious head of the mint and taking care of things.
He ends up publishing the optical papers in the optics itself, 1704 is the English edition. 1706 is the first Latin edition. He is talked by Richard Bentley into doing a second edition of the Principia after the original intent of doing a second edition collapsed. That is published. I'm skipping down here now.
You can read this on your own. That was published in 1713. 1717 is the second English edition of the Optics. 1721 is the third English edition of the Optics. 1726 is the third edition of the Principia. All this time he's active. 1715 is the death of Charles Montague, Lord Halifax.
Generous provision for Catherine Bartons in his will. That's Rupert's nice way of saying he knows perfectly well that Augustus De Morgan had to write a whole book defending that relationship and why the money passed. There are other significant things in here, like the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence which Newton had some hand in.
Newton was throughout his life an outspoken anti-trinitarian, but outspoken only to two or three people because he knew if it were any more he would be thrown out of his professorship and probably thrown out of the mend. He was, by any standards at the time, a heretic, Christian heretic.
His own view, is he was, later in life, his own view was he was put on Earth to save Christianity from the Catholics. And I don't mean just the Roman, I mean the Anglican, too, and all the distortions they had done by introducing doctrine of the Trinity and various other things.
As Sara Dries husband, Rob Eilif, co-editor with me in the new edition of The Cambridge Companion of Newton at my request I'll say. As Rob likes to say his views in theology were almost indistinguishable from the views in Judaism. Jesus was a prophet with no claim to deity whatsoever.
But nevertheless, Newton thought of himself as a Christian, doubt ever Jewish. He continued to work right up to his mid 80s. Gets sick in what is it March of 1727 and dies in his 84th year. By then, of course, Sir Isaac Newton, quite famous. There are all sorts of events in here, I'm not gonna go through them.
I hope I've done enough to give you a general sense of what his life is like. It's relatively solitary even when he was growing up, because, of course, his mother was away etc. Relatively solitary life except interaction with fellow students and fellow members of Trinity College where of course he would have dinner with the other fellows every night.
For those that didn't know, if you were a fellow of a college then you were guaranteed meals, a small stipend, and beautiful quarters. You didn't have to worry about anything else, and if you were a professor, you were supposed to give lectures. Very few people seemed to have attended Newton's lectures, but he was required to give written forms of the lectures and put them into the library, and we have more from that than we have for anything else other than publications.
His lucasian lectures are, are quite extensive and you'll see some of that as we go on. But until he, until he moves to London and becomes a figure in London society and Katherine moves in with him it's a relatively solitary life. After that, it's a much more eventful life, in the sense that he was socially active all the time.
President of the Royal Society, attending all the meetings, talking to lots of people, running them in, etc., but still doing a fair amount of research at various times.