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Newton: the Man 1-6

Newton: the Man

Isaac Newton, the Philosopher and Mathematician, has been the subject of many volumes, but little in these the writings enables us to judge him as a man. Even Brewster in his Life of Newton, the great classic, devotes little space to the human side of Newton's character, and that chiefly refers to him only when a boy or an adolescent. Augustus de Morgan certainly, published essays on the life and work of Newton¹, where he refers a great deal to the moral side of his character. He also dealt in his usual masterly manner with the well-known scandal connected with his niece Catherine Barton². He even said, in his review of Brewster's Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Newton (1855):

``We are of opinion that the moral intellect of Newton not his moral intention, but his power of judging - underwent a gradual deterioration from the time when he settled in London.''

Discovery of the Library

I do not propose to refer to this view so much as to what I may call the lighter side of his human character; and for the this we have had very little material. Latterly, however, the discovery of Newton's library, and a complete catalogue of all his books, have thrown considerable light on this subject, since it will be generally admitted that a man's character is reflected very largely in his library. We know what he read and what he did not read, and so can judge of his likes and dislikes. Newton, further, had, as is fairly well known, a curious habit of ``dog's-earing'' the books he read frequently for the purpose of future reference; and the habit frequently shows us how his mind was working, since the point of the ``dog's-ear'' generally marks the particular reference he wanted.

The ``Inventary''

I also lately discovered a ``True and Perfect Inventary of all and Singular the Goods Chattels and Credits of Sir Isaac Newton.'' This list is so complete and so detailed that we could easily re-furnish every room in Newton's house (if it still existed) as it was at the time of his death. This inventory is not only of the furniture, curtains, etc, of each room, but gives a list of the plates, dishes, chocolate and coffee pots, and even the cooking utensils in the kitchen - as well as the sedan - chair in the stable.

The South Sea Bubble

This ``Inventary'' drew my attention to another extraordinarily interesting question - Newton's connection with the South Sea Company and the South Sea ``Bubble''. It had been known for a very long time that Newton had had dealings in this stock, but under what ``conditions'' was always - and appeared likely to continue for ever - a mystery. Some people said that Newton gambled in this stock and made a large sum of money - thus showing greed of gain. Others, on the contrary (chiefly on the authority of Mrs Conduitt, his niece), said that he lost £20,000 by his transactions. Both of these statements are untrue, as I shall show later; and far from Newton's character suffering from this investiga- tion, his views on ``Honesty'' were, as I shall show later on, so scrupulous as to amount to quixotism.

The Library

The history of Newton's library is extraordinary. That the very important library of England's greatest genius, a genius, be it noted, recognized even during his lifetime, who was Master of the Mint and President of the Royal Society for many years, should have practically disappeared at his death, and have only been re-discovered after nearly 200 years, appears almost incredible.

Discovery of the ``Inventary''

It is not commonly known that Newton died intestate. The fact is not mentioned in the standard Biography by Brewster, nor in the article in the Dictionary of National Biography by Glazebrook. From Maude's Wensleydale (1787), however, we learn that a very detailed inventory of Newton's effects was taken; but, as I was unable, after considerable search, to find a copy of this inventory I had given up all hope of tracing it - assuming, not unnaturally perhaps, that it had never been registered. By a lucky accident I found that this inventory had been taken by the order of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury; and, on inquiring at Somerset House, I was informed that the Records of this Court were in their keeping, though nothing was known about the document. On a search being made, this ``True and perfect Inventary'' was, to my great joy, at last found. It is on vellum, and is about five inches broad and seventeen feet long The skins, about thirty inches long, bear, each, a blue sixpenny stamp, and they are all sewn together.

Value of the Books

The document was extremely dirty; but india-rubber soon showed that it was well written and perfectly intelligible. From this ``Inventary'' we learn that Newton left ``362 books in Folio, 477 in Quarto, 1057 in Octavo, duodecimo and 24mo, together with above one hundredweight of pamphlets and wast books.'' The total of volumes was thus 1896. These books, we read, were in six book-cases and were ``valued at the sum of £270.''

The Huggins Collection

John Huggins, the very notorious warden of the Fleet Prison, was a near neighbour of Newton, living in Saint Martin's-in-the-Fields, and he appears to have ``pounced on the Library'' immediately after Newton's death. He paid £300 for it; and the receipt for this sum, as well as a complete list of the books, is now in the British Museum, and is dated 20th July, 1727. He sent the books to his son Charles Huggins, who was Rector of Chinnor (or Chinner), near Oxford, where they remained until the death of Charles in 1750. John Huggins, having purchased the patronage of Chinnor shortly before Newton's death, had presented his son Charles to the benefice in the year of Newton's death. Charles Huggins pasted his book-plate, with the Huggins arms (granted to John Huggins in 1725) and ``Revd. Carol. Huggins, Rector of Chinner, in Com. Oxon.,'' beneath, in all the books in this library.

Purchase of the Library

Charles Huggins had an elder brother William, the author of Orlando Furioso, translated from the Italian (1758). William also made the first English translation of Dante's Divina Commedia, but what has become of this manuscript is a mystery, the more so as he left £50 to pay for its publication. On his father's death, meanwhile, William had inherited the patronage, and he presented his friend, the Rev. Dr. James Musgrave, LLD., whose acquaintance he had made at Magdalen College, Oxford, to the benefice. Dr. James Musgrave married William' s daughter Jane. He purchased the library from Charles Huggins' s Estate, according to his own statement, for £400.¹

The Musgrave Connection

Although Newton's library had practically disappeared, Edleston, in his Correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Cotes (1850), has a most interesting note referring to the journal of a Swedish traveller, one Professor Björnstohl, who records that he made, with others, a special journey from Oxford to Chinnor, ``about 18 miles away, to see Newton's books. The Rector of Chinnor, Dr. James Musgrave, possesses them They cost him £400. All the Editions of his works, with his own notes, corrections and many additions.'' Dr. James Musgrave further said that the library contained about 2,000 books. It is clear, therefore, that the existence of this library was certainly known in Oxford in 1775; and it was also known that it was in Dr. James Musgrave's possession at Chinnor

The Bookplates

Dr. Musgrave pasted his own book-plate over that of Charles Huggins, his plate being composed of the impaled arms of Musgrave, dexter, and the Huggins arms, sinister, surmounted by the Musgrave crest, and with the motto ``Philosophemur.'' This plate was engraved by B Green (circa 1736-1800).

Value of the Catalogue

The books were all carefully catalogued and accurately ``press-marked'' in ink Thanks to the very great kindness and courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Wykeham-Musgrave (of which I cannot say too much), who allowed me practically to ``ransack'' their mansion, cupboards and all other probable hiding-places for books, manuscripts, etc., I was fortunate enough to discover this catalogue. This catalogue, further, which appears to have been unknown, is extremely well made and accurate, besides being in such good order that it might have been made not more than twenty years ago. Its date, I judge from internal evidence, should be about 1760. Its value cannot be overestimated, since it is now possible to state definitely whether any particular volume formed part, or not, of Newton's library. For example, the Librarian of Mount Wilson Observatory wrote asking me whether a book that had been purchased a few years ago, and purported to have belonged to Sir Isaac was genuine. Having the ``pressmark'' sent me, I was able to say that it had undoubtedly formed part of Newton's library.

The ``Philosophemur Plate''

The books (or some of them, anyhow) appear to have been re-catalogued at Barnsley Park, since some of them have the ``Philosophemur'' book-plate surcharged, in pencil, ``Barnsley? Press Mark'' This catalogue, whether completed or not, cannot, in any case, be traced at present.

It is a curious fact that Dr. Musgrave, in his will, though he refers to his library, makes no mention of the books having belonged to Newton.

Barnsley Park

There was a baronetcy in the Musgrave family, the first baronet having been Edward Musgrave (1638). Dr James Musgrave was descended from the second son of the second baronet. He was never a baronet himself, but very shortly after his death, in 1778, his son became the eighth baronet, and the owner of Barnsley Park. The books were consequently transferred to Barnsley Park, where they have remained undisturbed ever since.

The ninth baronet does not appear to have cared much for books, and the tenth baronet, Sir William Augustus Musgrave, was Rector of Chinnor for sixty years, dying a celibate in 1875. The estate of Barnsley Park now passed to Georgina, daughter of the eighth baronet and sister of the ninth and tenth baronets. This lady, in 1836, had married Aubrey Wenman Wykeham of Swalcliffe Park, Co. Oxford; and in 1875, when the baronetcy became extinct, she assumed, by royal licence, 1876, the additional name of Musgrave; the family name now being Wykeham-Musgrave of Thame Park (Co. Oxford) and Barnsley Park (Co. Gloucester).

Sale of Thame Park

About 1920 Thame Park, with the mansion and its contents, was sold by auction. Many of the ``Philosophemur'' books were sent over from Barnsley Park to be included in the Thame Park sale. The Newton tradition having apparently been forgotten, there was no indication or suggestion in the sale catalogue that these hooks had formed part of Newton's library, though, certainly, some were autographed. There was no notification even that they came from Barnsley Park. The books were sold in bundles (one bundle being, in fact, composed of 200 volumes!), as if of no special interest or value, and were sold, in consequence, at rubbish prices.

Cataloguing the Library

In 1927 I thought that the whole library had either been scattered (most of the books sold having gone to the United States) or had been sent to the pulp mill. By a series of lucky accidents, however (which it is unnecessary to describe in detail), I became aware that a very substantial residue still remained at Barnsley Park, and I had the good fortune to be able to catalogue them during the summer of 1928, when I found that there still remained 860, which, out of 1,896, was a small moiety.

British Museum List

Of all the discoveries made at Barnsley Park the most important from a historical point of view is undoubtedly that of Dr. Musgrave's catalogue¹, which gives us what we could hardly have ever expected to get (though I have since discovered the list of Newton's books - as bought by John Huggins - in the British Museum), a complete list of all of Newton's books at the time of his death; and from such a list one can form a shrewd idea of Newton's likes and dislikes, and hence his character - his ``humanity,'' in short; for he was at the same time a great genius and a man who was intensely human. Beautiful as was his character, it was not perfect; but one must always remember the very dissolute state of ``Society'' in London during the thirty years Newton lived there. That Newton's was one of the greatest intellects that the world has ever seen is not to be questioned. Whether Newton was a greater intellectual giant than Archimedes may certainly be debated, though it would be impossible to decide this definitely, and I have certainly no intention of trying.

Forward to pages 7-15


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