Numero pondere & mensura Deus omnia condidit. *

D[omi]no Possessori plurimum colendo hanc Tesseram suam posuit

Isaacus Newton

Londini 11mo Sept. 1722

 * Wis 11:20.


God hath ordered all things in measure and number and weight. *

I recommend this motto of mine to the much respected possessor [of this book].

Isaac Newton

In London, on September 11, 1722.







p. 109. London, September 22, 1722

Newton, Isaac, Sir
(1643-1727), English physicist, mathematician, astronomer

Isaac Newton was born on January 4, 1643 in Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham in Lincolnshire. In England, where the Julian calendary was still observed, this day fell on Christmas, December 25. His father, Isaac Newton died at the age of 36, three months before the birth of his son. His mother Hannah Smith married again and moved to her husband's town. Isaac's grandmother stayed in Woolsthorpe Manor, and took care of him. In 1655 he was sent to the grammar school of Grantham, but after the death of his stepfather his mother called him home to work in the manor. However, his uncle and the rector of the school managed to convince her to let him back to school. He lived at the town's pharmacist, and already at this time he prepared curious instruments, small mills and water-meters. In 1661 he went to Trinity College in Cambridge, where he read mathematics and philosophy. During the plague years of 1665-66 the college was closed, and Newton went back to Woolsthorpe. Here he made his great discoveries, the differential and integral calculus, the theory of colours, the laws of dynamics, as well as the law of universal gravitation, but at this time he did not publish either of them. In 1667 he became fellow of the College, and in the following year Master of Art. In this year he prepared his first mirror telescope. In 1669 his professor Isaac Barrow (1630-1677), himself one of the forerunners of differential calculus, resigned, and gave his post to his brilliant student. Newton began his lectures on optics in the Trinity College in 1670. In 1672 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of London; he demonstratd his telescope, and presented his first treatise on the theory of light and colours. However, the disputes following thereafter, principally the sharp criticism of Robert Hooke prevented him from publishing his results. Hooke also accused him of having stolen his recognitions on the interpretation of the movement of the planets. Finally, through the reconciling intervention of Edmond Halley, and with his financial support and stimulation in 1687 he published one of his chief-d'oeuvres: Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, treating the laws of dynamics and general gravitation. In this topic he also had correspondence with Richard Bentley, the future Master of Trinity College. In 1697 he was sorely tried by the death of his mother. He also continued to support the family of his half-brothers. In 1692 he fell in a deep exhaustion, and he completely retired from scholarly work for two years. In 1689 and in 1701-1702 he represented the University of Cambridge in the Parliament of London. In 1696 he became Warden, and from 1699 the Director of the British mint. He moved to London, and from 1703 until his death he was President of the Royal Society. In 1704 he published his second chef-d'oeuvre, the Optics, on the nature of light. In 1705 he was knighted by Queen Anne for his scholarly merits, as well as for his efforts done in the Mint.

His unfortunate dispute of precedence with Leibniz had begun some years earlier, and it left him no peace neither after the death of Leibniz: it embittered all his life, caused a great harm to the development of mathematics, and especially in British scholarly life. The German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) discovered parallel with Newton the differential and integral calculus, and he published his results in 1684 and 1686. Newton had arrived to these same recognitions earlier, but he spread them only in a narrow circle, and published them only in 1704, in two articles connected with the Optics. The notation introduced by Leibniz is simpler and more uniform. The merits of both are indisputable. The basic theorem of mathematical analysis expressing the connection between differential and integral calculus is today called Newton-Leibniz-theorem.

Sir Isaac Newton founded no family. He died on March 31, 1727 (according to the old calendar, on March 20), and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His long Latin epitaph gives an account of his scholarly merits [Jöcher III 891]. His two most important works are the Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. London, 1687. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. London, 1729. – Opticks, or, a treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light. Also two treatises of the species and magnitude of curvilinear figures. London, 1704.

Newton was extremely respected and legends circulated about him already in his life. Even in later times anecdotes were made on his modesty and distractedness, that obfuscate reality to some degree. The literature around his personality and scholarly achievements amounts to a whole library. Even Voltaire belonged to his popularizers. Today every schoolboy knows the name of Newton. If one has a single look at a lexicon of natural sciences, or an index of a handbook of mathematics or physics, will suddenly find a handful of expressions or theorems beginning like “Newton's…”: and continuing like binominal theorem, liquid, ring, law of cooling, alloy, telescope… The unit of force in the SI (Système Internationale) has borrowed his name: it is called newton, and abbreviated as N. All the achievements of Newton had their foundations in the thoughts of his forerunners, Galilei, Kepler, Descartes and others, but he (and Leibniz in the field of mathematics) organized these into unified theories. He indicated new directions in scholarly and philosophical thought, like that white light can be decomposed into colours, that force is needed not to maintain movement, but to change it, that celestial and terrestrial phenomena (weight of bodies, ebb and flow, the movement of the moon and of the planets) obey the same laws, that one has to base his theories both on experience and thought. The 17th century, “le grand siècle”, was the century of genius. Newton himself wrote to Hooke in 1676: “If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” He was right, but only a Newton was able to step on the shoulders of the giants. Trinity College of Cambridge still keeps some of his personal objects and manuscripts. His statue there bears the inscription from Lucretius: Qui genus humanum ingenio superavit.

Isaac Newton choose a motto really fitting to himself from the Bible, one written eighteen centuries earlier by the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria: Thou [God] hast ordered everything in measure and number and weight. – Edmond Halley has noted in the Album of Páriz Pápai in 1716 in Oxford (p. 237).

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