Isaac Newton

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Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt.jpg
Isaac Newton portrayed by Godfrey Kneller , London 1702, National Portrait Gallery
Isaac Newton signature.svg
Issac Newton's signature

Sir Isaac Newton [ ˌaɪzək ˈnjuːtən ] (born December 25, 1642 jul. / January 4,  1643 greg. In Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth in Lincolnshire ; † March 20, 1726 jul. / March 31,  1727 greg. In Kensington ) was a English naturalist and administrator. In the language of his time, which did not yet make a sharp distinction between natural theology , natural sciences , alchemy and philosophy , Newton was called a philosopher .

Isaac Newton is the author of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica , in which he described universal gravitation with his law of gravitation and formulated the laws of motion , thereby laying the foundation for classical mechanics . Almost simultaneously with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , Newton developed infinitesimal calculus . He generalized the binomial theorem to any real exponent using infinite series . He is also known for his achievements in the field of optics : the particle theory of light that he defended and the explanation of the light spectrum .

Because of his achievements, especially in the fields of physics and mathematics (see History of Physics , History of Mathematics ), Sir Isaac Newton is considered one of the most important scientists of all time. The Principia Mathematica are classified as one of the most important scientific works.

A collection of writings in the holdings of the National Library of Israel , to theological and alchemical themes was in 2015 by the UNESCO for World Soundtrack Awards explained.


Newton's father of the same name, Isaac Newton, a successful sheep farmer and holder of the title Lord of the Manor, died three months before his son was born. In 1646 his mother married Hannah Ayscough for the second time. She moved in with her husband Barnabas Smith, who was pastor in the nearby North Witham ward , and Isaac stayed with his grandmother, Margery Ayscough, in Woolsthorpe. Newton felt his life bitterness at this neglect, and he didn't get on with his grandfather, James Ayscough. This left him nothing when he died in 1653 and Newton never mentioned him again later. When he was nineteen years old, listing his sins, one of them was a desire to set fire to the house of his mother and stepfather Smith. After his stepfather's death in 1653, his mother returned to Woolsthorpe and Newton lived briefly with her, his grandmother, and the three children from his mother's marriage to Smith. When he soon after attended the Kings School in Grantham , a public school ( Free Grammar School ) 5 miles from Woolthorpe, he lived in Grantham with a Clark family. According to the school reports, he was not very interested in school lessons, but is said to have enjoyed mechanical handicrafts at home. His now wealthy mother, a landowner, took him out of school on a trial basis so that he could take over the management of her property, but it turned out that he had no talent or interest in it. Newton's uncle William Ayscough convinced the mother that Newton should study, and Newton attended school in Grantham again from 1660, this time staying with the headmaster Stokes and showing more eagerness to learn. It is possible that he came into contact with Euclid's elements at that time, but there is no reliable evidence that this happened before his studies in 1663.


On June 5, 1661, he began to study at Trinity College , Cambridge , a college that his uncle attended. Despite his mother's fortune, he was a sizar, which means that his financial support was partly covered by the college. For this he had to work as a servant for other students. Possibly a distant relative and fellow of Trinity College, Humphrey Babington, was its patron.

He initially studied with the intention of becoming a lawyer. However, from the third year of studies he had more freedom in the subjects. At that time, the teaching of Aristotle and the late Scholastic school of the Cambridge Platonists set the tone in Cambridge , which means qualitative natural philosophy instead of quantitative investigations in the sense of Galileo . Newton's student notes, titled Quaestiones quaedam philosophicae (Some Philosophical Questions), show the influence of Descartes' mechanistic-dualistic thinking, Gassendi's atomistic ideas, and Henry More's Platonic-Hermetic views. He also studied Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle . Although they are radically different, the views of the mechanists and hermeticists from then on influenced Newton's thinking and formed - in their tension - the basic theme of his career as a natural philosopher. However, he preceded the Quaestiones with the saying that Aristotle and Plato were his friends, but that his best friend was the truth. He also studied Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler (optics).

From the end of 1663 he began to be interested in mathematics, reading Euclid's elements in the edition of Isaac Barrow (1630–1677), William Oughtred (Clavis mathematica), the geometry of Descartes and the book by Frans van Schooten about it, the edition of Collected works by François Viète by Frans van Schooten (with attachments by his students Johan de Witt , Johan Hudde , Hendrick van Heuraet ) and the Algebra by John Wallis , which also contained the first approaches to analysis and which prompted Newton to do his own work. Barrow had become a Fellow of Trinity College in 1663, but Newton probably only came into closer contact with him in the mathematical field a few years later.

He became a scholar on April 28, 1664, and received his bachelor's degree in April 1665. His real breakthrough as a mathematician and scientist came when the university was closed in the summer of 1665 because of the Great Plague and he returned to his home in Woolthorpe, where he spent the next two years in relative scientific isolation until the university reopened.

According to his own testimony in the Quaestiones , he had his first far-reaching ideas in 1665/1666, which led him on the trail of his three great theories: the infinitesimal calculus (in Newton's terminology the theory of fluxions), the theory of light and the theory of gravity . It is unclear how far he was with his theoretical approaches in this early period. The publication of his teachings in these areas and the circulation of his relevant manuscripts took place much later.

University career in Cambridge

After the quarantine was lifted in 1667, Newton became a Fellow of Trinity College (Cambridge) ; this meant not only acceptance of the 39 articles of the Church of England , but also the vow of celibacy . He was also ordained within seven years. In 1669 he became the holder of the Lucasian Chair for Mathematics . His predecessor Isaac Barrow, who retired, recommended him himself. In the same year De Analysi appeared as a manuscript per Aequationes Numeri Terminorum Infinitas, the forerunner of the infinitesimal calculus. That was the first step to Newton's fame; though few initiates knew of his achievements, he had become the leading mathematician of his day. From 1670 to 1672 he taught optics, where he particularly examined the refraction of light .

He could also make optics. In 1672 he built a reflecting telescope - later named after him - which he presented to the Royal Society in London. That same year he published his New Theory about Light and Colors in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. This paper caused a lot of discussion. There was a particularly tense relationship between him and Robert Hooke , a leading figure in the Royal Society, as both were respected scientists, but had fundamentally different opinions and each insisted on his “rights”.

Newton found it difficult to bear criticism of his publications, so he withdrew more and more from the scientific community and concentrated on his alchemical experiments. Around 1673 he began to study the texts of the Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers intensively - an activity which occupied him until his death. His studies led him to believe that the doctrine of the Trinity was a heresy that was persuaded to Christians in the 4th century. In 1675 he obtained a dispensation from the obligation to receive orders - probably because this would have contradicted his unorthodox views.

Isaac Newton 1689; Painting by Godfrey Kneller

In 1678 Newton suffered a nervous breakdown; the following year his mother died. For six years, until 1684, Newton found himself in a period of isolation and self-doubt. In 1679 he returned to his earlier considerations on mechanics; his writing De Motu Corporum of 1684 contained the main features of what he set out three years later in the Principia . In this work, he combined Galileo Galileo's research on acceleration , Johannes Kepler's research on planetary motions and Descartes' research on the problem of inertia into a dynamic theory of gravitation and laid the foundations of classical mechanics by formulating the three basic laws of motion . Newton was now recognized internationally; young scientists who shared his unorthodox scientific (and also theological) views gathered around him. Another argument with Hooke ensued - this time about the law of gravitation. (Hooke claimed that Newton stole the idea that gravity decreases with the square of distance - see "Mechanics" below.)

In 1687 he also played an essential role in the protest movement that wanted King James II to prevent the University of Cambridge from being converted into a Catholic institution. Around 1689 Newton began a theological correspondence with the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) and a very intensive friendship with the Swiss mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier . As an envoy from his university, he became a member of the English Parliament for a year . When his friendship with Fatio broke up in 1693, he suffered another nervous breakdown; his friends Locke and Samuel Pepys were alarmed and looked after him.

Isaac Newton's grave monument on the choir screen in Westminster Abbey London

Head of the Mint, sojourn in London

In 1696, through the mediation of his friend, who later became the Earl of Halifax , he became Wardein the Royal Mint in London; In 1699 he was appointed her "master". This effectively ended his career as a creative scientist. The office of Wardein was widely regarded as a lucrative benefice , but Newton took his duty seriously. His crackdown on counterfeiters was notorious. Three years later (1699) he was appointed to one of eight external members at the Paris Academy. In 1701 he resigned from his duties as professor at Cambridge; In the same year he published (anonymously) his law on the cooling of solid bodies in the air. In 1703 he became President of the Royal Society , a position he held until his death. Hooke died a year later, and he was finally able to publish his Opticks . In 1705 he was knighted by Queen Anne - not because of his services to science, but for his political activities. In the same year the priority problems began with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the invention of the infinitesimal calculus .

Newton had lived in London since 1696. He lived in a stately home that housed a small observatory and studied ancient history, theology and mysticism. From 1697 (1707?) Newton's house was run by his half-niece Catherine Barton . Newton wasn't married. According to the memories of Newton collected by William Stukeley , he developed an inclination towards the daughter of the pharmacist with whom he lived while at school in Grantham. The friendship lasted even when she married someone else. In 1699 he became a foreign member of the Académie des Sciences in Paris.

In 1720 he lost £ 20,000 in the South Seas speculation (around 3 million euros today) after having previously made larger profits. He complained that "he could calculate the motion of the stars but not the stupidity of men", but remained a wealthy man until his death.

In the years that followed, bladder stones increasingly troubled him . Eight days after his death, Newton was buried with great festivities in Westminster Abbey .

Newton was considered quite absent-minded and modest, but often reacted with great severity to criticism. His relationship with other scientists such as Robert Hooke , Christiaan Huygens , John Flamsteed and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , whom he boasted of having “broken his heart” in the dispute over the authorship of the infinitesimal calculus , is well known. After Flamsteed won a lawsuit for intellectual theft, Newton erased any reference to Flamsteed in the 1713 edition of the Principia (although he owed much to his precise observations).

Three years after his death, Alexander Pope came up with the following inscription for Newton's grave, but it was not executed there:

“Nature and Nature's Laws lay hid in Night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was Light. "

“Nature and nature's law were shrouded in night;
God said: Let there be Newton! And the universe was filled with light. "

- Alexander Pope

Research in science and philosophy


Title page of the fourth edition: Opticks or a treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colors of light, 1730

Newton gave his inaugural lectures on his theory of colors. When the Royal Society heard about his reflector telescope, he was able to demonstrate it there and met with great interest. In a letter to the Royal Society, he mentioned a new theory of light to the then secretary Henry Oldenburg in connection with the construction of the new telescope . The result was the publication of his theory about light and colors, which in 1704 formed the basis for the main work Opticks or a treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colors of light (“Optics or a treatise on reflection, refraction, curvature and the colors of light ”).

Since Johannes Kepler 's Paralipomena , optics has been a central component of the scientific revolution of the 17th century. Similar to Galileo Galileo's investigations in the field of mechanics, René Descartes ' discovery of the law of light refraction had underpinned the view that the cosmos as a whole was designed according to mathematical principles. Deviating from the ancient idea that colored phenomena are based on a change in light (which is naturally white), Newton's experiments with light slits and prisms came to the conclusion that white light is composed and is broken down into its colors by the glass. (Forerunners had claimed that the prism added the colors.) That way he could easily explain how the rainbow came about.

When Robert Hooke criticized some of his ideas, Newton was so outraged that he withdrew from public discussion. The two remained bitter opponents until Hooke's death.

Newton's reflecting telescope model from 1672 for the Royal Society (replica).

From his work Newton concluded that any telescope built with lenses must suffer from the dispersion of light, and suggested a reflector telescope to circumvent the problems. In 1672 he built a first copy (see picture). The type proposed by him (and later named after him) became the standard device for astronomers for many generations. However, Newton's prototype was not superior to the lens telescopes in use at the time, since its primary mirror was not parabolized and therefore suffered from spherical aberration . Later, achromatic lens combinations made of glasses with different refractive properties were developed for telescopes.

His finding that individual rays of light have immutable properties led him to believe that light consists of (immutable and atom-like) light particles. In doing so, he deviated fundamentally from Descartes, who had described light as movement in matter and white light as original (and thus not so far removed from Aristotle ). According to Newton, the impression of colors is created by corpuscles of different sizes.

In the Hypothesis of Light from 1675, Newton introduced the concept of ether : particles of light move through a material medium - this was pure materialism. Under the influence of his colleague Henry More , however, he soon replaced the light ether with occult forces - derived from hermetic ideas - that attract or repel the light particles.

With the particle theory of light, however, phenomena such as interference - described and used by Newton himself - or birefringence (due to polarization , described by Erasmus Bartholin as early as 1669) could not be explained.

In the New Theory about Light and Colors , Newton represented his corpuscle theory as well as his color theory. This again led to a bitter dispute with Christiaan Huygens and his wave theory of light, which he had in 1715 decided by desaguliers before the Royal Society. After Thomas Young carried out further experiments to confirm the wave theory in 1800, long after both deaths, it became the dominant doctrine. Today, both theoretical concepts are mathematically combined in quantum mechanics - although the modern photon concept has little in common with Newton's corpuscles.


He also laid the foundations of classical mechanics , the three basic laws of motion and the concepts of absolute time , absolute space and action at a distance (and thus indirectly the concept of determinism ). Together, these were the essential basic principles of physics of the time. Newton taught a dualistic natural philosophy - based on the interaction of active immaterial "natural forces" with absolutely passive matter - which became the basis of the scientific worldview of many generations. It was only Albert Einstein's theory of relativity that made it clear that Newton's mechanics dealt with a special case.

From 1678 onwards, in collaboration with Hooke and Flamsteed , he again dealt intensively with mechanics, especially with the laws formulated by Kepler . He published his preliminary results in 1684 under the title De Motu Corporum. In this work, however, there is no talk of the universal effect of gravity; its three laws of motion are not yet presented here either. Three years later, this time with the support of Edmond Halley , the summary Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Foundations of Natural Philosophy) appeared. With this work he wanted in particular to replace Descartes' natural philosophy ( Principia philosophiae, 1644), although he had to adopt the concept of inertia from him , which became a central point of Newtonian mechanics.

Newton was the first to formulate laws of motion that were valid both on earth and in heaven - a decisive break with the views of the traditional doctrine of Aristotle and later Peripatetics , according to which conditions in heaven are fundamentally different from those on earth. In addition, he provided the geometric argumentation for Kepler's three laws , traced them back to uniform causes (long-range effects of gravitation and inertia) and expanded them to the effect that not only ellipses , but all conic sections are possible ( Georg Samuel Dörffel had already shown in 1681 that that comets move on hyperbolic orbits). With his three laws of motion and the introduction of the general force of gravity (the word gravitation also goes back to him) Newton had convincingly confirmed the work of Copernicus , Kepler and Galileo .

Its mechanics have been considered by generations of scientists and historians to be a fundamental contribution in the sense of the rational justification of natural laws ( hypotheses non fingo means: “There are no assumptions in experimental philosophy”). It is often overlooked that Newton's considerations were based on a concept that is by no means considered to be objectively scientific: the hermetic tradition, which he had dealt extensively with during the quarantine period 1665–1666. Traditional natural philosophy explained natural phenomena with the movement of material particles (such as static electricity ) through an ethereal medium (such as Newton's Hypothesis of Light from 1675). Action at a distance (through “forces”) seemed just as impossible to her as the vacuum . Both Descartes and Leibniz (1693) have the idea that eddies in a “fluid” (Latin for liquid) kept the planets on their orbits. From 1679 on, however, Newton attributed certain processes ( exothermic reaction or surface tension ) to the effect of attractive or repulsive forces - this was a direct implementation of the occult "sympathies" or "antipathies" of the hermetic natural philosophy. What was essentially new, however, was that Newton treated these forces as quantities that can be grasped both experimentally and mathematically and geometrically.

In 1679 Hooke tried to renew contact with Newton and mentioned his theory of planetary motion in a letter. There was talk of an attraction that decreases with distance; Newton's answer assumed constant gravity. This correspondence (which dealt with an experiment on Earth) was the starting point for Hooke's later allegation of plagiarism to Newton. Newton had to admit that Hooke had led him on the right path: 1. an orbital ellipse results from a gravitational force that decreases (with the square of the distance from a focal point) and 2. explains this concept extraterrestrial, i.e. planetary, motion. However, Hooke's proposal for decreasing gravity was based on intuition , not - as in Newton's - on observation and logical deduction. In addition, Newton himself had developed the concept of quadratically decreasing gravity as early as 1665/66. On the other hand, Newton only came up with the idea of ​​the universal (i.e. also extraterrestrial) effect of gravity well after 1680.

The story is also told that Isaac Newton, while looking at an apple on an apple tree, and possibly also the fall of the apple from the tree in the garden of Woolsthorpe Manor, came up with the idea that celestial mechanics are based on the same gravity as the fall of apples the earth. This goes back to the Memoires of Sir Isaac Newton's Life by William Stukeley ; Voltaire used similar words to describe the legendary discovery. Whether it really happened that way remains questionable. Experts believe it is possible that Newton himself invented history in later years to show how he gained insights from everyday observations.

Newton's geometrically oriented explanations in the Principia could only be understood by experts. Two later editions (1713 with significant extensions and 1726) did not change anything. The breakthrough on the continent is thanks to Émilie du Châtelet , who from 1745 translated the work into French, translated Newton's geometric expression into the notation of calculus developed by Leibniz, and added numerous comments of her own to his text.


In addition to his fundamental achievements in physics, Newton was one of the founders of calculus alongside Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and made important contributions to algebra .

One of his earliest achievements was a generalized formulation of the binomial theorem with the help of infinite series . He proved that it is valid for all real numbers (including negative and fractions).

At the beginning of the 17th century Bonaventura Cavalieri and Evangelista Torricelli expanded the use of infinitesimal arithmetic quantities. At the same time, René Descartes and Pierre de Fermat used algebra to calculate areas and slopes of curves. Newton generalized these methods as early as 1660. Fermat and Newton's teacher Isaac Barrow recognized that these two processes are closely related: they are inverses of each other. Newton actually succeeded in connecting them using the "fluxion method"; In 1666 he developed the infinitesimal calculus. However, he did not publish his results until an appendix to Opticks in 1704.

Leibniz developed the same procedure from 1670 onwards; he called it "differential calculus". While Newton started from the physical principle of instantaneous speed , Leibniz tried to find a mathematical description of the geometric tangent problem . Leibniz was considered an inventor until 1699; then Newton's former friend Fatio published a pamphlet in which he asserted its priority and implied that Leibniz had stolen Newton's idea during a visit to London in 1676. The result was a priority dispute that lasted until Newton's death. Today it is proven that the two scientists developed their results independently of each other.

Without the infinitesimal calculus, Newton would hardly have been able to gain or prove his groundbreaking insights into classical mechanics.

He also made a significant contribution to planar algebraic geometry by classifying the cubics and reducing them to an elliptic curve as a normal form through birational transformations (published 1710). In numerical mathematics, the Newton method (Newton-Raphson method) is named after him.

Under the title The Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton , the mathematical historian and Newton expert Derek Thomas Whiteside at the University of Cambridge published numerous Newton's mathematical manuscripts in eight volumes between 1967 and 1981.


In addition to the production of the first functioning mirror telescope and the discovery of gravity as the cause of planetary movements, an early theory about the formation of fixed stars should be mentioned. In 1712 he tried in his capacity as President of the Royal Society together with Halley , on the basis of Flamsteed's observations - and against his will - to bring out a catalog of stars with a star map (Historia coelestis Britannica) . This led to another heated dispute over copyrights. A court ruled in favor of Flamsteed.

Isaac Newton

Contrary to his great interest in alchemy, Newton didn’t believe in or bother with astrology . One of the greatest experts on Newton's manuscripts, Derek Whiteside , could not find a single word on astrology in Newton's extensive estate, and of the books in Newton's library, identified in 1752, the majority (477) were on theology, followed by alchemy ( 169), mathematics (126), physics (52) and astronomy (33), but only four that can be assigned to astrology. Shortly before his death, he mentioned to his confidante John Conduitt that his interest in the natural sciences was stimulated as a student in 1663 by a book on astrology, the diagrams of which he did not understand, but according to the same source Newton said that he soon afterwards deviated from the vanity and emptiness of the alleged science of astrology. The sometimes cited anecdote that Newton replied to Edmond Halley on a disrespectful remark about astrology, that he had studied the field but Halley did not, is wrong, it relates to theology and not to astrology and comes from the Newton biography of David Brewster.

More work

Newton also developed a law that describes the cooling of solid bodies in air. In the Principia , following a pioneering study by Robert Boyle , he presented how the measured speed of sound (in air) can be justified. In the same work he defined the viscosity of an ideal ( Newtonian ) liquid and thus laid the foundation for the mathematical recording of the behavior of fluids. An early formula for estimating the penetration power of bullets was developed by him.

In 1700 he invented his own temperature scale, the Newton scale . He also made the first sketch of a device for measuring angles with the help of mirrors and thus the basic idea for the sextant, invented half a century later .

"The last magician"

Less known than his scientific achievements from today's perspective are Newton's work in Christian Unitarian theology and in alchemy as the forerunners of the modern understanding of natural science.


In theology , Newton rejected the doctrine of the Trinity , so he represented an anti-Trinitarian (technically: unitarian ) view. This attitude was not without danger in his post as Fellow / Professor at Cambridge (his protégé and successor William Whiston was dismissed in 1710 on the same charge). He accused Athanasius of having corrupted Christian doctrine with his dogma of the Trinity (“Athanasius' corruption of doctrine”), which was soon followed by the general corruption of Christianity: “a universal corruption of Christianity had followed the central corruption of doctrine”. His related writings (including Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John. ) Could only be published posthumously.

It was only against the background of his Unitarian view that God grasps and embraces the whole world from inside and outside as a unity, not threefold, that Newton was able to form his idea that space and time are the sensorium of God through which he is at all times and is effective in all places at the same time.

In 1728 - also posthumously - his chronological calculations (The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended) were published, in which he attempted to reconcile the classical chronology (see Ussher-Lightfoot calendar ) with astronomical dates. He came to the conclusion that the world is 534 years younger than calculated by James Ussher .


In addition to his physical work and the study of the Bible, he also spent a lot of time (until around 1696) looking for the philosopher's stone , which, among other things, was promised to convert mercury and other base metals into gold.

In 1936 the economist John Maynard Keynes bought most of Isaac Newton's alchemical manuscripts for King's College, Cambridge. 369 books from Newton's personal library were related to the mathematics and physics of his time, while 170 are works of the Rosicrucians , Kabbalah and alchemy . Keynes then referred to Isaac Newton as the last great "Renaissance magician". Newton created an alchemical index for himself with 100 authors, 150 scripts and 5000 page references under 900 key words. Jan Golinski suspects that Newton did this in the hope of being able to derive a coherent whole, a coherent teaching from it. Betty T. Dobbs thinks that Newton studied alchemical literature very thoroughly up to the 17th century and did so for 30 years without interruption. The Newton biographer Richard Westfall writes: "Newton never lost sight of his first love [meaning alchemy]." Westfall assumes that alchemical considerations also flowed into Newton's Hypothesis of Light (1675) and that Newton's reflections on orbital mechanics would have been transformed by alchemy. Betty T. Dobbs writes: “Newton's reintroduction of the concept of attraction in his Principia and his rejection of a mechanics based on ether as an explanation of gravity seemed to both Westfall and me a convincing argument for the influence of alchemy on his thinking, for many alchemical treatises deal with non-mechanical active principles that are conceptually comparable to Newton's theory of gravity. "

Johannes Wickert characterizes the spagyric Newton very aptly: “The same person who pondered the basis of the entire theory of nature experimented secretly at night in hidden laboratories.” And he continues: “He made from the ' Museum Hermeticum ', a standard work of Alchemists, cumbersome excerpts and revered figures like Michael Sendivogius , Michael Maier and Elias Ashmole ... Newton loved alchemical secrets, liked to unravel esoteric- alchemical symbols, yes, he used them himself ... Entire texts are written in the allegorical alchemist language. "( Wickert :) One can conclude with Betty Dobbs that everything Newton undertook after 1675 served to integrate alchemy into his mechanics. Isaac Newton did everything he could to advance his alchemical studies and yet he kept them hidden. Influences of his alchemical studies on his research are undoubtedly present. During the experiments, some on his own body, Newton poisoned himself several times.

Newton's estate

Newton bequeathed his written estate to his niece Catherine Barton and her husband John Conduitt. Their daughter married in 1740 a member of the noble Portsmouth family, on whose country estate in Hurstbourne Park in Hampshire the estate, therefore also called the Portsmouth Collection , was. In 1872 the Earl of Portsmouth gave the academic part of the estate to the Cambridge University Library. The remainder were cataloged in Cambridge in 1888. It was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1936 but only brought in £ 9,000. A large part of the alchemical manuscripts was bought by John Maynard Keynes, who handed them over to King's College in Cambridge. Many of the theological manuscripts were auctioned by Abraham Yahuda, most of whom came to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem . The rest is scattered in several libraries around the world, including the Dibner Collection, Babson College (Massachusetts), the Smithsonian Institution. Further collections of Newton's manuscripts are in the archives of the Royal Society, the library of Trinity College in Cambridge, the Bodleian Library in Oxford (especially on Newton's theological and chronological work), the Public Record Office (from Newton's work on the coin).


Special postage stamp of the Deutsche Bundespost for the 350th birthday
Also known as the Newton pendulum or Newton cradle, the shot put pendulum is a physical toy

Newton's approximation method and the SI unit of force ( Newton ), the Newtonian axioms , the Newtonian fluid , the Newton element and the Newton-Cotes formulas are named after Newton , as well as that of Joel Hastings Metcalf on March 30, 1908 in Taunton discovered asteroid (662) Newtonia , which was discovered on September 5, 1986 by Henri Debehogne at the La Silla Observatory , asteroid (8000) Isaac Newton and Newton , a lunar crater. A Luxembourg ship bears his name. He is also the namesake for the Île Newton in the Antarctic. Also the plant genus Newtonia Baill. from the legume family (Fabaceae) is named after him.

His portrait graced the English one-pound note from 1978 to 1984.


Publications during his lifetime

  • Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica . In Latin 1687, edited new editions 1713, 1726, English translation 1729, German edition: Sir Isaac Newton's Mathematische Principien der Naturlehre - Edited with remarks and explanations by J. Ph. Wolfers . Berlin 1872. (Unchanged reprint Minerva, 1992, ISBN 3-8102-0939-2 , for other editions see the article on the book).
  • Opticks . 1704 in English, revised edition in Latin 1706. The appendix also contains the first publications of his mathematical work in 1704 ( Tractatus de quadratura curvarum on analysis, Enumeratio linearum tertii ordinis on cubics).
  • Arithmetica Universalis . 1707 (Latin,editedby William Whiston ), 2nd edition 1722, English translation Universal Arithmetick by Joseph Raphson 1720.

In addition, Newton edited the Geographia generalis by Varenius (1672) and published Letters on Optics from 1672 to 1676 , as well as articles in other journals, for example about his telescope in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 1672.

Newton's unpublished work circulated (with limited access) in academic circles as letters or manuscripts, for example:

  • De Motu Corporum in Gyrum . Given to Halley in 1684, with a derivation of the Kepler laws.
  • De analysi per equationes numero terminorum infinitas. An early manuscript on analysis given to Isaac Barrow in 1669.

Publications after Newton's death

  • Method of Fluxions . Translation by John Colson , 1736 (the manuscript is from 1671, Methodus Fluxionum et Serierum Infinitarum).
  • The System of the World. 1728 in English, followed by a Latin edition (authorized by the heirs) also 1728 (De Mundi Systemata), an early manuscript version of the third part of the Principia, which is much more easily understandable than the version in the Principia.
  • The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms, Amended. (Ed. John Conduit), London 1728, with the appendix Short Chronicle from the first memory of things in europe to the conquest of persia by Alexander the great, Online.
  • Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John. Benjamin Smith, London / Dublin 1733.
  • An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture (A historical account of two notable forgeries of Scripture). J. Payne, London 1754 (written in the form of letters to John Locke , reprinted in Turnbull et al. (Ed.): Correspondence of Isaac Newton. Volume 3).
  • Lectiones Opticae. 1729 (lectures on optics).
  • Derek T. Whiteside (Ed.): The Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton. 8 volumes, Cambridge University Press, 1967–1981.
  • Derek Whiteside (Ed.): The mathematical works of Isaac Newton. 2 volumes, New York, Johnson Reprint Corp., 1964 (Newton's published work).
  • Rupert Hall , Marie Boas Hall (Ed.): Unpublished scientific papers of Isaac Newton. A selection from the Portsmouth Collection in the University Library, Cambridge, The University Press, Cambridge 1962.
  • Herbert Westren Turnbull , J. Scott, L. Tilling, Rupert Hall (Eds.): The Correspondence of Isaac Newton. 7 volumes, Cambridge, 1959 to 1977.
  • Alan Shapiro (Ed.): The optical papers of Isaac Newton. Volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1984 (only volume 1 published so far, three volumes were planned).
  • Andrew Janiak (Ed.): Isaac Newton: Philosophical Writings. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • IB Cohen, RE Schofield (Eds.): Isaac Newton's Papers and Letters on Natural Philosophy. 2nd edition, Harvard University Press, 1978.

Rob Iliffe's Newton Project has set itself the task of making Newton's unpublished writings generally available, starting with the theological and optical writings.

There is also an Indiana University Bloomington project to publish the alchemical scriptures.




  • I. Bernard Cohen , George E. Smith (Eds.): The Cambridge Companion to Newton. Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-65177-8 .
  • John Fauvel and others (eds.): Newton's work. The foundation of modern science. Birkhäuser, Basel / Boston / Berlin 1993.
  • Helmut Pulte , Scott Mandelbrote (Eds.): The Reception of Isaac Newton in Europe. 3 volumes. Bloomsbury, London 2019, ISBN 978-0-8264-7970-9

Newton as an alchemist

  • Richard L. Gregory: Alchemy of matter and of mind. Nature, Vol. 342, 1989, pp. 471-473.
  • Betty JT Dobbs : The Janus faces of genius. The role of alchemy in Newton's thought. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Betty JT Dobbs: The Foundations of Newtons Alchemy, or The Hunting of the Green Lyon. Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • Karin Figala : The Exact Alchemy of Isaac Newton. His "lawful" interpretation of alchemy - illustrated using the example of some authors who influenced him. In: Negotiations of the Natural Research Society in Basel. 94, 1984, pp. 157-227.
  • Karin Figala: Newton as alchemist. History of Science Vol. 15, 1977, 102-137.
  • Jan Golinski: The Secret Life of an Alchemist. In: John Fauvel and others (eds.): Newton's work. The foundation of modern science. Birkhäuser, Basel / Boston / Berlin 1993.
  • William R. Newman : Newton the alchemist , Princeton University Press 2018

Older literature

  • Sir David Brewster : The life of Sir Isaac Newton. London 1831 (German: Sir Isaac Newtons life together with a description of his discoveries. Leipzig 1833).
  • Brewster: Memoirs of the life, writings and discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton. 2 volumes, Edinburgh 1855, reprinted New York / London 1965.
  • WW Rouse Ball : An essay on Newton's Principia. Macmillan 1893.
  • Louis Trenchard More: Isaac Newton. Scribner's 1934.
  • Sergei Ivanovich Wawilow : Isaac Newton. Berlin 1951.
  • Frank Manuel: A portrait of Isaac Newton. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1968.
  • Frank Manuel: Isaac Newton historian. Cambridge 1963 (the authoritative study of Newton's chronological work).
  • Fritz Wagner : Isaac Newton. In the twilight between myth and research. Studies on the Age of Enlightenment. Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1976. ISBN 3-495-47339-4 .
  • Rebekah Higgitt, Rob Iliffe, Milo Keynes (Eds.): Early Biographies of Isaac Newton 1660-1885. 2 volumes, Pickering and Chatto, 2006.



Web links

Wikisource: Isaac Newton  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Isaac Newton  - Sources and full texts (English)
Commons : Isaac Newton  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Before 1752 the Julian calendar was used in England and the new year was on March 25th . started, not January 1st. Newton's death date is on his memorial in Westminster Abbey by the inscription OBIIT. XX. MAR. MDCCXXVI specified. His funeral took place on March 28, 1727, see The London Gazette 1. – 4. April 1727 - both dates according to the English calendar of that time. Between the death on March 20, 1726 jul. and the funeral on March 28, 1727 jul. So there were only eight days, in between was the turn of the year.
  2. ^ Isaac Newton's Theological and Alchemical Papers. UNESCO Memory of the World, accessed August 31, 2017 .
  3. Stephen Haddelsey and Susan Haiman: Woolsthorpe Manor . Birthplace of Isaac Newton. Ed .: The National Trust. Acorn Press, Swindon 2008, ISBN 978-1-84359-224-2 (English).
  4. a b c d e f g h John J. O'Connor, Edmund F. RobertsonSir Isaac Newton. In: MacTutor History of Mathematics archive .
  5. David Speiser: Newton's "Principia" - work and effect. In: Negotiations of the Natural Research Society Basel. Volume 89, 1980, p. 107.
  6. Westminster Abbey: Sir Isaac Newton.
  7. ^ LTO: Isaac Newton: also on the move in forensics. Retrieved March 4, 2020 .
  8. ^ Stukeley, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newtons Life, 1752
  9. ^ List of members since 1666: letter N. Académie des sciences, accessed on January 27, 2020 (French).
  10. ^ The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq., In Nine Volumes, Complete, Volume the Second . London 1797, p. 403 ( limited preview in the Google book search, translation BM Goldberg 1833 limited preview in the Google book search).
  11. A Letter of Mr. Isaac Newton, Professor of the Mathematicks in the University of Cambridge; Containing His New Theory about Light and Colors: Sent by the Author to the Publisher from Cambridge, Feb. 6, 1671/72; In Order to be Communicated to the R. Society. In: Philosophical Transactions. Volume 6, number 80, February 19, 1672, pp. 3075-3087, doi: 10.1098 / rstl.1671.0072 .
  12. See also literature: A. Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall: Unpublished scientific papers of Isaac Newton. Pp. 221–228: "On Air and on the Aether"
  13. Thomas Sonar : The history of the priority dispute between Leibniz and Newton. Springer Verlag, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-662-48861-4 .
  14. Eric W. Weisstein : Cubic Curve . In: MathWorld (English).
  15. ^ Sarah K. Bolton: Famous Men of Science. Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., New York 1889.
  16. ^ Robert H. van Gent: Isaac Newton and Astrology , Utrecht University. Retrieved January 10, 2020. The article follows the essay by van Gent in: Correlation: Journal of Research into Astrology, Volume 12, 1993, No. 1, pp. 33-37
  17. Wilfried J. Bartz: Zur Geschichte der Tribologie (=  Handbook of Tribology and Lubrication Technology . Volume 1 ). expert verlag, 1988, ISBN 978-3-8169-0313-0 , chap. 4.7, p. 108–109 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  18. ^ RS Westfall: Never at Rest. A Biography of Isaac Newton. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1984, p. 315.
  19. Extensive German report in: Deutsche Acta Eruditorum , or, History of the scholars who understood the current state of literature in Europe. Leipzig 1735, Volume 195, pp. 195–222.
  20. See Betty T. Dobbs: The Janus faces of genius. The role of alchemy in Newton's thought. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  21. 111 ff.
  22. ^ Newton Project, inheritance . See also Westfall: Never at Rest. Pp. 875 f.
  23. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .
  24. ^ The Newton Project. Oxford University Faculty of History, accessed May 16, 2019 .
  25. ^ The Chymystry of Isaac Newton. Indiana University Bloomington, accessed May 16, 2019 .