Sir Isaac Newton and John Maynard Keynes: The Story of Newton’s Unpublished Manuscripts
Isaac Newton produced many well-known works in math, astronomy, and physics, but he produced about as many unpublished works which dealt with theology, alchemy, and the occult. This discovery was publicized by the then owner of the manuscripts economist John Maynard Keynes.
After purchasing the manuscripts in a 1936 auction, and then studying Newton’s unpublished works, in 1942 Keynes wrote his new impressions of the famous “Father of modern Science” in a paper (apparently meant to be a speech) Newton, the Man. In his paper, Keynes called Newton “the last of the magicians” and he isn’t exactly wrong.
Newton’s unpublished works explore chronology (applying meaning to numbers), alchemy, and Biblical interpretation (especially related to the Apocalypse). Newton was looking for cryptographic codes in ancient texts in the same way that he looked for codes in the natural world to help explain gravity, motion, and light.
Some think Newton’s scientific work may have been of lesser personal importance to him, as he placed emphasis on rediscovering the occult wisdom of the ancients. In this sense, some believe that any reference to a “Newtonian Worldview” as being purely mechanical in nature is somewhat inaccurate.
FACT: Keynes re-donated the alchemical papers to Cambridge in 1946 to allow others to study the works.
Secret Life of Isaac Newton (HD) – Full DocumentaryNOVA I Newton’s Dark Secrets (Full Documentary). The story of Keynes and Newton’s unpublished manuscripts.
“In the eighteenth century and since, Newton came to be thought of as the first and greatest of the modern age of scientists, a rationalist, one who taught us to think on the lines of cold and untinctured reason. I do not see him in this light. I do not think that anyone who had pored over the contents of that box that he packed up when he finally left Cambridge in 1696 and which, though partly dispersed, have come down to us, can see him like that. Newton was not the first thinker of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind to look out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance less than 10,000 years ago. Isaac Newton, a posthumous child born without a father on Christmas Day, 1642, was the last wonderchild to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage.” – Keynes on Newton
FACT: Newton was a lifelong bachelor living with his college roommate and assistant for over 20 years. During a Nervous breakdown in Newton’s middle-years, he accused his friend (and Jefferson’s inspiration for the Declaration of Independence) John Locke of “endeavoring to embroil him with women.”
Newton’s Secret Manuscripts, his Nervous Breakdown, and Hooke – Newton the Magi, Loner, and Friend
Keynes’s Newton, the Man, tells a wild and short story of the Newton he came to know after reading Newton’s unpublished manuscripts. Here are a few highlights to help you better understand Newton like Keynes did.
Newton had a nervous breakdown sometime in 1693 after writing his masterwork Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (the Mathematic Principles of Natural Philosophy AKA Natural Science commonly called Principia) which he first published in 1687. In Principia Newton published his invention of calculus, along with the laws of gravity and motion which calculus helps explain (Yes, Newton developed a branch of mathematics to explain his theories which sat in his head and went unpublished for decades).
Interestingly Principia was spurred on in part by a request from his friend Halley (of Halley’s Comet), one of Newton’s many famous friends. When Halley wanted to know how Newton knew gravity resulted in an elliptical orbit asking, “How do you know”? Newton said, “I’ve always known.” He translated his proof from calculus to Euclidean mathematics some time later, as he had not published calculus at that time.
The Calculus Controversy. Gottfried Leibniz was famously also said to have invented Calculus (today, given historical evidence, we credit both Newton and Leibniz with the invention of calculus). The ensuing dispute would embroil Europe in the greatest mathematical controversy of all time. One should note that like with Hooke (described below) Newton felt “he had always known” things. He kept his ideas mostly in his head (although he did write to Hooke and Leibniz and all three had mutual friends), so while it is possible Newton was the first, today we more accurately consider these discoveries as cases of “multiple discovery.”
Calculus wasn’t the only idea Newton kept to himself, he spent nearly as much time looking for cryptographic messages in old Bibles as he did thinking about light (even learning new languages in order to read old Bibles). Newton was secretly an Arian (meaning he didn’t believe in the Trinity, which was heresy in his time, not that he believed in an Aryan race) and had a sincere belief that God (the Father) was the only true God. He spent a great deal of time trying to disprove the theory of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) which his Contemporary Catholics favored. It was this private belief that prevented him from gaining top ranks in the Royal Society, as only ministers could achieve the upper ranks.
Isaac Newton The Trinity Notebooks.
Newton also worked to perfect Alchemy and find the philosopher’s stone dedicating large portions of his life and writings to thought experiments and real experiments in this regard. One doesn’t even have to guess as to why Newton hid these beliefs and worked in secret often holding ideas in his photographic memory rather than on paper.
William R. Newman on Why Did Isaac Newton Believe in Alchemy. Astrology, alchemy, element theory, these pseudosciences have been long replaced by chemistry and psychology and such, but in Newton’s day science and ancient knowledge were more entwined. One can’t forget the Newton poured through ancient texts looking for cryptographic codes when asking themselves “why did Newton believe in alchemy?”, but one also shouldn’t forget that part of alchemy and element theory become chemistry and part of astrology becomes astronomy.
19/42 Secret History: Leibniz the Optimist and Alchemy (vs. Isaac Newton’s science, Voltaire).
After his breakdown, Newton made his shift from a physicist to an economist, and in this, he shifted away from his physics and math, and his theological and alchemic musings. He didn’t publish again until after his friend/rival (famous scientist and head of the Royal Society, where Newton was also a high ranking member) Robert Hooke died.
Robert Hooke had tried to take credit for a few of Newton’s ideas (and partially rightly so, in the way Newton borrows from Galileo and Descartes, or borrows from Halley, he borrows from Hooke). Although there is proof of an exchange of ideas in the correspondence that Hooke and Newton had in which Newton acknowledges the influence, Newton rejected Hooke’s claim (and history agrees as it is Newton who offers what we still mostly today consider final proofs on gravity and motion).
The Newton-Hooke rivalry is particularly unfortunate as Hooke was one of the best scientists of the time (with many inventions, discoveries, and advances in science to his name, including that in 1665, he inspired the use of microscopes for scientific exploration with his book, Micrographia). Ultimately Newton, who as noted outlived Hooke, helped history to bury the importance of Hooke and today, not even a portrait of Hooke remains.
Robert Hooke Victim of Genius. Here is a look at England’s Leonardo Robert Hooke who Newton held an unfortunate grudge against.
There are many more Newton stories. You can find them in the article Later life of Isaac Newton and in Keynes’s Newton, the Man, as well in Newton’s own work and the countless book published about the Father of Science Sir Isaac Newton.
“…There are many records to prove his very great capacity. Read, for example, his correspondence with Dr. Covell, the Vice-Chancellor when, as the University’s representative in Parliament, he had to deal with the delicate question of the oaths after the revolution of 1688. With Pepys and Lowndes he became one of the greatest and most efficient of our civil servants. He was a very successful investor of funds, surmounting the crisis of the South Sea Bubble, and died a rich man. He possessed an exceptional degree almost every kind of intellectual aptitude – lawyer, historian, theologian, not less than mathematician, physicist, astronomer.” – Keynes on Newton
- Isaac Newton’s occult studies
- Newton, the Man
- Newton’s unpublished manuscripts
- Newton, The Last Magician