The Math Forum



Search All of the Math Forum:

Views expressed in these public forums are not endorsed by NCTM or The Math Forum.


Math Forum » Discussions » Inactive » Historia-Matematica

Topic: [HM] Raju's postings on the topic "Unpublished manuscripts of Newton ?"
Replies: 1   Last Post: Jan 13, 2003 6:18 PM

Advanced Search

Back to Topic List Back to Topic List Jump to Tree View Jump to Tree View   Messages: [ Previous | Next ]
Tom Whiteside

Posts: 18
Registered: 12/3/04
[HM] Raju's postings on the topic "Unpublished manuscripts of Newton ?"
Posted: Jan 12, 2003 2:33 PM
  Click to see the message monospaced in plain text Plain Text   Click to reply to this topic Reply


Dear Julio,

Last 20 December I answered Ryan Castle's query on the implicit
assumption that he took Cajori's aside that papers of Newton's might still
exist to refer only to mathematical ones, and especially ones on fluxions.
You ought to have noticed as much, if you forgive.

I did lazily think of suggesting to him that he search Google for
"Manuscripts of Isaac Newton" except that he would have been
overwhelmed by the number of hits
(6436 today, but the number goes both up and down). After I noticed,
however, that ten and more of the first two hundred seemed to be re-editions
of a book of facsimiles of "Newton's Pre-Principia MSS, 1684-1686", CUP 1989
(with yet others later) I thought it best not to appear energetically
prolific in re-issuing a book which in fact has had a most limited sale.
(Now had I been issuing photo-images of Shakespeare's autograph "Hamlet" or
"King Lear" ! When ignorance is bliss ... .)

The reply I should have given was that the query has a long tradition
going back over the years to James Wilson in 1761, mistaken in vastly
over-estimating the physical bulk of these papers but accurate in placing
them in the possession of the Earl of Macclesfield at his family home,
Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire. These are not the papers acquired by Newton
's nephew-in-law John Conduitt not through the family attachment through
his wife Kitty, but over-ridingly (I will not begin to unravel why here)
because he was then the richest man in England which on his death passed
into the Portsmouth family into which his daughter married when she wed the
son of the man afterwards created first Lord Portsmouth, becoming with her
husband the second Lord and Lady after the father's death. (Ah! the
tricksinesses of the 18th English peerage.) Right through to the mid-19th
century both the current Earls of Macclesfield and Lords Portsmouth allowed
reasonable but willing access to their libraries. Then after a succession
of visits by scholars from Oxford University a number of valuable -
sometimes unique - items began to "stray" at Shirburn, and the then Earl
barred scholars physically from his Shirburn library, though the select few
were permitted to study named items under visual supervision in the nearby
Bodleian at Oxford. This attitude of hostility to scholars deepened during
the next century under an Earl who acceded to the title at 5 and lived till
he was 95. I was twice, for a single afternoon each, permitted to enter the
Library for an afternoon only when a goodly senior acquaintance of mine, Sir
Harold Hartley (look him up in "Who was who for 1970"), with whom he went
shooting squeezed from him, on his personal surety of my good conduct, a
unique permission to do so. And so it is that all of Newton's mathematical
papers appear in my edition, but (by the Earl's insistence) under the rubric
"from the original in private possesseion" -- near hypocritically so when,
as several times was the case, only half the original autograph was at
Shirburn. Moral ? ""Don't read the small print too closely. Sometimes you
don't know when you are better off for not knowing !"". Only on the basis
that you trust my best skill and cajoling forty years ago, especially when I
dared ask for photographs, could I have streamed out my vainglorious
banner-line on December 20 that

" NONE - repeat NONE - of Newton's mathematical manuscripts remain
unpublished "

Soon, you will be able to check its accuracy for yourself. Two years ago
Cambridge University Library (drawing drawing not just on our National
Heritage Fund to make up the 50$ of the asking price at which our National
Lottery cut in with the rest) privately bought the Shirburn papers from the
present Earl of Macclesfield for the mere peanuts sum of £6.8 million [ =
the Sotheby's estimate of £7.5 million they would make at auction - read
more likely £50 million - reduced by the 10% sales commission, which of
course the Earl did not have to pay but instead settled by giving the
would-be auctioneers a token sum for their trouble]. These "Maccelesfield
Papers", now shelved as Add. MSS 9597, are not yet available for scholarly
inspection while they are being conserved, but those suitable for
reproducing on-line are at the same time being digitised, and will be ready
at a future date. (See the UL's Newton Page
. Pascal's "Traite du Triangle",
for instance, can already be had in the accompanying "Digital Library".)
The University Library also holds the scientific portion of the
"Portsmouth Papers" (not kept separate from its manuscript collection, but
shelved as Add. MSS 3958-4006 in it. The 5th Lord Portsmouth, Isaac Newton
Fellowes Wallop, in summer 1871 allowed into the family seat at Hurstbourn
Priors (near Southampton) a party of two Professors, J.C. Adams to calendar
the mathematical and astronomical papers (G.G. Stokes also, but I have never
found he did anything) and G.D. Liveing, Professor of Chemistry, to order
the (al)chemical ones, while the University Archivist, H.R. Luard, was
commanded to glance through Newton's letters. Because of University
commitments Luard returned to Cambridge well in advance of the two others.
(The inferior transcripts he made are now ULC. Add. MS 4007.) Adams and
Living alone returned to Hurstbourne to find Portsmouth away in the South of
France, and his wife so irritated that she told the two to pick what of
Newton's manuscripts they chose and take them off to study in Cambridge -
not such an invitation to mix the loose sheets up since Thomas Pellet had
been ordered by the Probate Court to wrap them up in the brown paper and
loosely tied string in which they were still kept when I, then a lonesome
research student at Cambridge in the late 1950s, started to do that unheard
of thing with the mathematical papers, actually dare to untie the string and
read what was inside. It was as a reward for busying themselves that Lord
Portsmouth made over to the University what he pretty much regarded as
worthless paper.
What he did keep were numerous private family papers (which he regarded
as no one else's business) along with several portraits and busts, some of
these yet to be offered on sale.
He also vetoed the passing on of the large of the greatest part of Newton's
papers on theology and chronology, together with the more outlandish of
those on alchemy (these, it is now known, all but all copied by him from
books and manuscripts of others). I could go into how studies made of these
by Portsmouth's uncle Arthur Fellowes (who would have succeeded to the title
before the 5th Lord had he not been outlived) much formed the family's
attitude to them. Arthur was a man of a deal of character. When Brewster
visited Hurstbourne in 1831 in search of MS material to fill out his coming
two-volume "Memoirs" he was put to sit in an ante-room to the main library
and read only the "typical" set of Newton's paper scarefully selected for
him.

All this is hard knowledge, in which of course the Editorial Fellow of
the post-16th century Volume on the History of Science issuing from the
Project of History, Philosophy & Culture issuing from the Centre for Studies
in Civilizations at New Delhi is expert. In recognition of his upstanding
position let me in courtesy calmly jugulate his particular blend of twaddle
and half-truth which claims India's primacy in the re-birth of mathematics
in 16th and 17th century Europe with a blade so sharp a blade that he may
well not feel the act done.
Before I do, however, let me murmur that for twenty years before he died
C.T. Rajagopal, the one who restored Kerala mathematics to its proper place,
was a warm postal friend of mine and that I gave him the two general
continued fractions whose first convergents yield the highly efficient
roundings off of the "Leibniz" (read "Gregory-Newton") infinite series for
pi/4 adduced in 13th century Kerala by its true first discoverer Madhava
(who also found the sine and cosine series). These highlights of Hindu
matmatics were virtually unknown in "civilised" northen India until C.M.
Whish of the East India Company disclosed them to a meeting of the Bombay
Scientific Society in 1835. Even though I can but with greatest difficulty
translate its Malayalam, I believe I am the only person in Britain who owns
a copy of the 1639 "Yukti-bhasa", first (and the only time, I think) printed
at a private press in the royal papace in Kerala in 1948.
But this will, I fear, not establish my credentials in Raju's eyes, since
Madhava uses ad hoc limit-increment arguments which I cannot in realism
allow to be systematic applications of any "calculus". To name them so is to
play Tweedle Dee, who in Lewis Carroll's (C.L. Dodgson's) "Alice through the
Looking Glass" delivered the crushing response to Tweedle Dum that
"Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were, it would be; but
as it isn't, it ain't". (We have our Oxbridge equivalents of the
"Mahabharata" ...)



Again, to the text of Raju's posting on [HM] on 20 December last. In
context, as I have said, Cajori in the aside cited by Ryan Castle on 19
December last referred only to unpublished papers by Newton on fluxions.
Your repetition of his query should have noticed this, if you forgive,
rather than set it under under the generaised head "[HM] Unpublished
Manuscripts of Newton ?". whether or not you thought that the [Historia
Mathematica]". You thereby gave C.K. Raju to blast in the next day with the
outrageous

"A cartload of Newton's [theological and chronological] papers
(his lifework, in fact) is unpublished, and remained secret for
centuries. Some key manuscripts were, till recently, unavailable
when I tried to get them. ... The Newton project at Imperial
College now proposes to publish them over the next few years.
This is just another instance of how singularly and persistently
unreliable "authoritative" [understand in the main recent
European and American ?] histories of science have been."

(I insert the interpolations in tune with his following letter of 23
December,)

To get this out of the way, not all members of [HM] will have precise
knowledge of "The Newton project at Imperial College [London]" to which Raju
refers. Particularly since I have no attachment to it I would have felt the
obligation, as Raju does not, to refer anyone who might wish to know more of
the project now getting under way under Robert Iliffe there to digitize
Newton's non-scientific papers, translated where the original is not in
English, making these in the first instance freely available on-line and
ultimately published in some twenty volumes by Cambridge University Press,
at least to its whixat erial College, London home page
before slagging, by implication,
pointing to it as "just another instance" of how "Some key manuscripts were,
till recently, unavailable when I tried to get them. ...". Were I Iliffe
I would in the civility which Raju craves to take him to court for the
imputed slander. I do urge Raju to satisfy himself, in every instance
that he thinks he has been denied physical access to a Newton MS other
than on valid grounds, that he looks again to see if there is any reason
for the bar which has not occurred to him before.
Does he fully comprehend that the public and university libraries which now
hold by far the largest quantity of Newton's papers are highly worried that
at the present rate of their use they might not last another century ? Know
that I, the University's Professor of History of Mathematics, have now to
accede to my Cambridge Library's draconian rule that I must give a month's
notice with stated reason for consulting any Newton MS in it, and (in theory
! let "them" try ... ) be prepared even so for being refused. Those who are
barred might well, I realise, suspect conspiracy or even racism as the true
ground for being refused. I am -- hear this well, Raju ! -- neither
conspirator nor racist, but a rugged individualist who follow no one else's
flag or call. Private owners have full legal right to allow or refuse
access to Newton (as with any other) papers in their possession, or even
admit their ownership. There is nothing I can do about that. In the
uncertain tatality of my awareness there is no conspiracy abroad to deny
anyone access to any Newton except with justification. Tell me the details
if you have been so deprived in the past.

In Raju's letter of 20 December all that remains is his cocksure
reference to a

" ... cartload of Newton's unpublished [theological and
chronological] papers (his lifework, in fact) [which has]
remained secret for centuries".

(He will not challenge the insertions, I think, which his letter of 23
December directs.]

A "cartload" vastly exaggerates the truth. In my support let me tell you
of the afternoon when, as I was sitting rather bored in the University
Library's MS Room an Under-librarian came quietly up to my seat to say in a
low voice (if these weren't his words, they ought to have been) "We have
just re-boxed the Newton papers. Would you like to see them ?" And he then
took me through the massive forbidding fire-door into the fairyland (heated
to a constant 68F and with air dries/humidified to a constant amount) where
all the UL's MSS are housed. He guided me halfway down to where twenty or
so buff-coloured parchment boxes bearing labels from Add 3958 to Add 4007
were shelved in rows to about four feet high, and left me with a quick word
that it was all right for me to open any, but he would be back in a few
minutes. How rare a privilege it was for me to be there unguarded can be
measured by the fact that other passing librarians would come up with
inquiring look though no one asked me whether I had permission to be in the
room unattended which I almost certainly would never have been granted had
I asked for it. I found I could easily embrace in my arms the boxes with
arms outstretched, so little and so large the ULC collection of Newton's
"Portsmouth" papers. (It had not then been enriched by imports from the
"Macclesfield Collection", but these would not have increase their physical
volume by all that much). And yet how much intellectual power throbbed
beneath my fingers !! It wasn't even the volume of the stout boxes I was
grasping, since (as I came later to know) the papers often occupied no more
of the space inside. The mood was gone in a moment, replaced by the
awareness that their content was only paper with ink scrawls dried into
them, and the knowledge that only people like myself were still giving life
to what was literally dead as dust. Never in my life have I been other than
angry when they are set in glass cases with useless notes from librarians
thinking to set out a minimal white card under some figure which Newton
himself has often misdrawn. Ah ! my prejudices are hanging out in their
bloodiest raw.

Newton's papers on theology and chronology are predominantly from his
last years -- and yes ! I do know the major exceptions. Raju can of course
never repeat with the non-scientific papers what I did that afternoon at
Cambridge niversity Liibrary with its holdins of the scientifif ones. As I
have said those, virtually all the ones in broadest sense (al)chemical,
theological (including biblically based chronogical) and to do with Newton's
administration of the Mint, which after Adams, Liveing and their colleagues
at Cambridge had done their bit, were in 1888 -- Living managed to keep back
some invaluable notebooks - returned to Lord Portsmouth. Half a century
later, the family (which set up its main home in Kenya after the First War)
became strapped for cash and the papers (including some important scientific
letter, notably Halley's letters to Newton in the mid-1680s when he was
editing the "Principia", which by the terms of the division Cambridge ought
to have kept) were in the first instance offered to the nation at a price to
be assessed by Sotheby's senior cataloguer, John Taylor. He, after
compiling a magnificent catalogue, in some trepidation put a reserve of
£10,000 on their monetary value and the family made it known that an offer
from the English (sic) government for that amount would be accepted. When
the then prime minister Stanley Baldwin refused it, the papers were put up
for sale at Sotheby's on two days of July 1936, realising in total - too
many goodies were on offer at once - only £10,050, so that after Sotheby's
premiun of 10% was deducted the family gained only £9,045 from the sale.

These "Sotheby" papers Portsmouth are now scattered across the world, and
scholars have been swapping finding lists of their current locations for
half a century. The economist J.M. Keynes bought some of the finest items
on sale, most notably the Halley-Newton letters, but he died at the Second
War's end in 1945. When I was a lonely and unsure research student, one
neither with a Cambridge (or Oxford) first degree nor from his college, his
great friend Lionel Munby, Librarian of King's College here, was not just
kind to me but went to quite extra-special lengths to help me into the world
of Newton scholarship (populated by all of half dozen as it then was!). Not
least he showed me his private copy of the 1936 Sotheby sale catalogue, its
margins marked up with current locations. Years later another good friend
of mine, the historian of Newton's chemistry Peter Spargo, of Cape Town,
compiled a near complete fiding list of the (al)chemical pieces sold at
Sotheby's. More recently Iliffe has done the same for the theological
papers. Their combination (listed on the Imperial College menu at
, shouldn't Raju
have mentioned brought to his readers' attention ?) do not begin to make up
Raju's "cartload" of "unpublished Newton manuscripts", on theology and
(al)chemistry, even though several have now appeared in print, and more than
a beginning has been made at Imperial College on editing and digitising a
number of the Keynes MSS at King's here. (Personally I think what ensues is
over-edited into sterility. If you are like-minded, no need to know
Newton's autograph of "The original of Monarchies",(Keynes MS 146) to see
that is
log-jammed with its careful notice of every last minimissimal cancellation.
But each to his/her opinion.)


I had meant to go on to deal with Raju's second letter of 23 December.
But what a wearisome collection of jingoistic nonsense, moaning half-truths
and sheer moonshine lie embraced in such of its phrases as

"the image of Newton ... built up while authoritative historians
of science like Brewster deliberately suppressed Newton's
manuscripts for so long ? [and] now beginning to be exposed ?

" ... it is very hard for me to regain faith in the authenticity
of a tradition of history-writing [now] shown to have successfully
suppressed such a major aspect of Newton's life and work for some
two and a half centuries. [and] to believe that such a tradition
did not distort, in numerous subtler ways, an understanding of
other aspects of his work.

"successfully misinforming by de-emphasizing a key aspect of the
truth

"I think the attempt to grasp the whole truth is further obstructed
by the practice of authoritatively reiterating the implicit
assumption that ... ... can hence have no possible relation to
his scientific work.

" ... I have specifically argued is that Newton's physics was
influenced by his view of time as a historian and theologian and
that a better physics can and has been obtained by rejecting
unacceptable theological elements that influenced his physics.

"Similarly, on my view that mathematics is a social construction,
a proper history of mathematics must take into account how the
understanding of mathematics has varied with culture and theology,

"Further, it is my intention to decolonize the history of science
and mathematics, and to remove the systematic biases that
authoritative Western historians of science have long introduced
in it.

"Specifically, the attempt is to make the history of science more
real by getting rid of a variety of myths -- such as that Newton
invented the calculus.

"Authoritative histories of science have for centuries
systematically 'overlooked' such processes of transmission
commencing in the 16th c. CE.)"



There is some truth here, rather more codswallop, and 'tis mostly the a
priori thinking of a beginning doctoral student. I am too tired just now --
I am quite sure onlookers have quite given up long ago -- to make other
reply. I will, however, tease Raju by asking him why it was such a howler
to set the orbit of the "Great Comet" of 1680/1, determining whose elements
Newton regarded as his finest discovery in the heavens, on the astronomical
half-globe (not that you can see this from the ground since the useless wood
screen was placed around it in 1834 -- nice bit of real history, that !) on
the astronomical half-globe hanging perilously over his head on his
Westminster Abbey monument.

Really no more excet except to pass a final general comment. The sum of
money made recently available to pursue research -- with eyes open
objectively to receive the unexpected, and not with Raju's parti pris and
ideas already fixed -- into Newton has, if anything, significantly shrunk.
With the current heavy emphasis on opening up the texts of his
non-scientific papers public has led to its corneriong the lion's share of
the funds which are to be had. Suddenly there is little or no money further
to do basic research into Newton's scientific ones, what does go on proceeds
at a tortoise crawl when it moves at all. Having published eight volumes of
Newton's mathematical papers, of which few (it seems to me) and still fewer
read (as distinct from citing it importantly in their bibliographies) I
increasingly ask who genuinely wants to know the hard truths about the
realities of past science, for good and for ill, away from all wishy-washy
myths and pretensions ? So many on [HM] are prepared to spend their time
disputing minima in the new book by Dauben and Scriba on "Writing the
History of Mathematics Its Historical Development"? Two years ago I put
up on [HM] a brief notice that the printed record of a recent meeting on
Newton's mathematics and science held two years before at the Royal Society
was now available for study. It wasn't world-shattering if you passed it
by, but it attracted two responses one which repeated its bibliographical
details from the net (scarcely cheering to me who wrote its title and to
whom the mini-conference was dedicated), and the other announcing that no
copy of the book existed in Maine. It brought together for the last time
all but one -- Sam Westfall died of a heart attack some years ago -- of
those who half a century ago stoked the furnace of the "Newton industry" to
white heat. My contribution was an off-the-cuff account of the Lancashire
slum boy (which still I am, Raju be warned !) through a first degree in
French and Latin (I always get that in to kick the legs out from under of
those whose prejudice, often unglimpsed by them, that historians of
mathematics must themselves be professional mathematicians) to be

D.T. Whiteside,

University Professor of the
history of Mathematics and Exact Sciences,
Department of Pure Mathematics / Tel +44 (0)1223
337994
Centre for Mathematical Sciences Fax +44 (0)1223
337920
Wilberforce Road, Cambridge CB3 0WB E-mail
d.t.whiteside@dpmms.cam.ac.uk
< private >
unctom@cabin.abel.co.uk

Oh, and in full reply to when Newton was born, it was on the same day
1641 years after the birth of Christ in 1 AD ("CE" is here totally
irrelevant) in the Julian calendar, pretty well univerally accepted in North
Europe by the 14th century -- so capturing the Nordic "Midwinterbloc" -- as
the last Sunday, 25 December, that yearby. With the added days (I remember
these as the integral part of 3c/4 - 2 where c is the century) which advance
Julian (O[ld] S[tyle] to be the astronomically more accurate Gregorian
(N[ew]
S[tyle]), I find no difficulty in obeying the dual convention prevailing in
17th and 18th century England (until 1753 when changeover to Gregorian was
made) Newton was born on "Christmas Day 1642/43", understanding 25 December
1642 (OS) = 4 January 1643 (NS).
Just one thing further. New Year's Day in the Julian calendar was Lady
Day, 25 March, and all days before then were counted in the previous year.
(The equivalent Gregorian date, adding on the 11 days difference in 1753,
was 5 April, still the first of our tax year.) This will explain why on his
memorial -- NOT his tomb if you please !! ( he lies, and then again maybe
not, in a goodly coffin in the crypt beneath)- in Westminster Abbey in
London it is set down that he died on 20 March 1726 (viz. OS = 31 March 1727
NS).

Satis superque.






Point your RSS reader here for a feed of the latest messages in this topic.

[Privacy Policy] [Terms of Use]

© The Math Forum at NCTM 1994-2017. All Rights Reserved.