« AnteriorContinuar »
apparent; and when arguments failed him he had recourse to threats-declaring that he would publish another Commercium Epistolicum, though he had no appropriate letters to produce. All this is now matter of history; and we may find some apology for it in his excited feelings, and in the insinuations which were occasionally thrown out against the originality of his discovery; but for other parts of his conduct we seek in vain for an excuse. When he assailed the philosophy of Newton in his letters to the Abbé Conti, he exhibited perhaps only the petty feelings of a rival; but when he dared to calumniate that great man in his correspondence with the Princess of Wales, by whom he was respected and beloved; when he ventured to represent the Newtonian philosophy as physically false, and as dangerous to religion; and when he founded these accusations on passages in the Principia and the Optics glowing with all the fervour of genuine piety, he cast a blot upon his name, which all his talents as a philosopher, and all his virtues as a man, will never be able to efface.
James II. attacks the Privileges of the University of Cambridge-New
ton chosen one of the Delegates to resist this Encroachment-He is elected a Member of the Convention Parliament- Burning of his Manuscripts- His supposed Derangement of Mind--- View taken of this by foreign Philosophers-His Correspondence with Mr. Pepys and Mr. Locke at the time of his Niness- Mr. Millington's Letter to Mr. Pepys on the subject of Newton's Niness-Refutation of the Statement that he laboured under Mental Derangement.
From the year 1669, when Newton was installed in the Lucasian chair, till 1695, when he ceased to reside in Cambridge, he seems to have been seldom absent from his college more than three or four weeks in the year. In 1675, he received a dispensation from Charles II. to continue in his fellowship of Trinity College without taking orders, and we have already seen in the preceding chapter how his time was occupied till the publication of the Principia in 1687.
An event now occurred which drew Newton from the seclusion of his studies, and placed him upon the theatre of public life. Desirous of re-establishing the Catholic faith in its former supremacy, King James II. had begun to assail the rights and privileges of his Protestant subjects. Among otherillegal acts, he sent his letter of mandamus to the University of Cambridge to order Father Francis, an ignorant monk of the Benedictine order, to be received as master of arts, and to enjoy all the privileges of this degree, without taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. The university speedily perceived the consequences which might arise from such a measure. Independent of the infringement of their rights which such an order involved, it was obvious that the highest interests of the university were endangered, and that Roman Catholics might soon become a majority in the convocation. They therefore unanimously refused to listen to the royal order, and they did this with a firmness of purpose which irritated the despotic court. The king reiterated his commands, and accompanied them with the severest threatenings in case of disobedience. The Catholics were not idle in supporting the views of the sovereign. The honorary degree of M.A. which conveys no civil rights to its possessor, having been formerly given to the secretary of the ambassador from Morocco, it was triumphantly urged that the University of Cambridge had a greater regard for a Mahometan than for a Roman Catholic, and was more obsequious to the ambassador from Morocco than to their own lawful sovereign. Though this reasoning might impose upon the ignorant, it pro.
duced little effect upon the members of the university. A few weak-minded individuals, however, were disposed to yield a reluctant consent to the royal wishes. They proposed to confer the degree, and at the same time to resolve that it should not in future be regarded as a precedent. To this it was replied, that the very act of submission in one case would be a stronger argument for continuing the practice than any such resolution would be against its repetition. The university accordingly remained firm in their original decision. The vice-chancellor was summoned before the ecclesiastical commission to answer for this act of contempt. Newton was among the number of those who resisted the wishes of the court, and he was consequently chosen one of the nine delegates who were appointed to defend the independence of the university. These delegates appeared before the High Court. They maintained that not a single precedent could be found to justify so extraordinary a measure; and they showed that Charles II. had, under similar circumstances, been pleased to withdraw his mandamus. This representation had its full weight, and the king was induced to abandon his design.*
The part which Newton had taken in this affair, and the high character which he now held in the scientific world, induced his friends to propose him as member of parliament for the university. He was accordingly elected in 1688, though by a very narrow majority,t and he sat in the Convention Parliament till its dissolution. In the year 1688 and 1689, Newton was absent from Cambridge during the greater part of the year, owing, we presume, to his attendance in parliament; but it appears from
* See Burnet's History of his own Times, vol. i. p. 697. Lond. 1724.
+ The other candidates were Sir Robert Sawyer and Mr. Finch, and the votes stood thus.
Sir Robert Sawyer, 125
the books of the University that from 1690 to 1695 he was seldom absent, and must therefore have renounced his parliamentary duties. - During his stay in London he had no doubt experienced the unsuitableness of his income to the new circumstances in which he was placed, and it is probable that this was the cause of the limitation of his residence to Cambridge. His income was certainly very confined, and but little suited to the generosity of his disposition. Demands were doubtless made upon it by some of his less wealthy relatives ; and there is reason to think that he himself, as well as his influential friends, had been looking forward to some act of liberality on the part of the government.
An event however occurred which will ever form an epoch in his history; and it is a singular circumstance, that this incident has been for more than a century unknown to his own countrymen, and has been accidentally brought to light by the examination of the manuscripts of Huygens. This event has been magnified into a temporary aberration of mind, which is said to have arisen from a cause scarcely adequate to its production.
While he was attending divine service in a winter morning, he had left in his study a favourite little dog called Diamond. Upon returning from chapel he found that it had overturned a lighted taper on his desk, which set fire to several papers on which he had recorded the results of some optical experiments. These papers are said to have contained the labours of many years, and it has been stated that when Mr. Newton perceived the magnitude of his loss, he exclaimed, “Oh, Diamond, Diamond, little do you know the mischief you have done me!" It is a curious circumstance that Newton never refers to the experiments which he is said to have lost on this occasion, and his nephew, Mr. Conduit, makes no allusion to the event itself. The distress, however
which it occasioned is said to have been so deep as to affect even the powers of his understanding.
This extraordinary effect was first communicated to the world in the Life of Newton by M. Biot, who received the following account of it from the celebrated M. Van Swinden.
“ There is among the manuscripts of the celebrated Huygens a small journal in folio, in which he used to note down different occurrences. It is side , No. 8, p. 112, in the catalogue of the library of Leyden. The following extract is written by Huygens himself, with whose handwriting I am well acquainted, having had occasion to peruse several of his manuscripts and autograph letters. On the 29th May, 1694, M. Colin,* a Scotsman, informed me that eighteen months ago the illustrious geometer, Isaac Newton, had become insane, either in consequence of his too intense application to his studies, or from excessive grief at having lost, by fire, his chymical laboratory and several manuscripts. When he came to the Archbishop of Cambridge, he made some observations which indicated an alienation of mind. He was immediately taken care of by his friends, who confined him to his house and applied remedies, by means of which he had now so far recovered his health that he began to understand the Principia.'” Huygens mentioned this circumstance to Leibnitz, in a letter dated 8th June, 1694, to which Leibnitz replies in a letter dated the 23d, “I am very glad that I received information of the cure of Mr. Newton, at the same time that I first heard of his illness, which doubtless must have been
* This M. Colin was probably a young bachelor of arts whom New ton seems afterward to have employed in some of his calculations. These bachelors were distinguished by the title of Dominus, and it was usual to translate this word and to call them Sir. In a letter from News ton to Flamstead, dated Cambridge, June 29th, 1695, is the following passage: "I want not your calculations, but your observations only, for besides myself and my servant, Sir Collins (whom I can employ for a little money, which I value not) tells me that he can calculate an eclipse and work truly.