Page images
[blocks in formation]

ALTHOUGH Newton's fame does not rest upon his contributions to English literature, we need make no apology for presenting here a brief view of the life and works of that Englishman who wrote the Principia, and won for his native land the fame of having given birth to the greatest natural philosopher the world has ever seen.

The hamlet of Woolsthorpe, eight miles south of Grantham in Lincolnshire, was the birth-place of Isaac Newton. His father farmed a small estate. During his school-life at Grantham and elsewhere, a remarkable taste for mechanics led him to spend his leisure in the construction of such things as model wind-mills and water-clocks; but his progress in his studies was very slow, until a strange accident produced a change. The boy above him gave him a heavy kick in the stomach one day; and this so roused the energies of young Isaac, that he worked industriously until he got above his injurer. He then continued his successful career until he stood at the head of his class.

At seventeen he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, became ultimately a Fellow, and in 1669 succeeded Dr. Barrow as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Here were performed most of those splendid optical experiments which placed the science of light on new foundations. Here and at Woolsthorpe, where he sometimes spent a while, he busied himself with those sublime investigations, resulting in his discovery of that grand law of universal





gravitation which the stars obey, as they wheel in huge ellipses round a central sun, and which at the same time guides the fall of the tiniest leaflet that flutters dead to the earth in the silence of an autumn wood.

In 1672 Newton was elected a member of the Royal Society, which was then an infant association, only twelve years old. Through the studious years that followed, his great work

:-a Latin treatise entitled in full, Philosophic Naturalis Principia Mathematica—was slowly but steadily growing to complete

It was published in 1687, at the expense of the 1687 members of the Royal Society, who were justly proud of the distinguished author. In the following year the University of Cambridge returned him as one of the members who represented her in Parliament an honour which he enjoyed more than once. But through all these years of honour and success he remained a comparatively poor man, until in 1695 he received his appointment as Warden of the Mint, a post worth about £600 a year.

This he held for four years, when he was promoted to be Master, with a salary of more than double what he had been receiving as Warden.

In 1692 occurred that distressing accident which some believe to have shaken his great mind for a time. The commonly received story—and a pretty one it is, often quoted to show how a gentle patience adorned the character of this great philosopher-runs thus : One winter morning, having shut his pet dog Diamond in his study, he came back from early chapel to find all his manuscripts upon the theory of colours, notes upon the experiments of twenty busy years, reduced to a heap of tinder. The dog had knocked down a lighted candle and set the papers in a blaze. “Ah! Diamond, Diamond, little do you know the mischief you have done,” was the only rebuke the dog received—though, as a Cambridge student writing in his diary at that very time tells us, “Every one thought that Newton would have run mad.”

High honours crowned the later life of the philosopher; of these the chief were his election in 1703 as President of the Royal Society, an office conferred on him every succeeding year until his



death; and his knighthood in 1705, under the royal hand of good Queen Anne. His long life, more fruitful, perhaps, in great wonders of scientific discovery than that of any other man in ancient or modern times, came to a close at Kensington in 1727, when the old man had passed his eighty-fourth year.

From the long list of Newton's works, the principal of which were written in Latin, some English publications may be selected. The first edition of his Optics (1704) appeared in his own tongue. A work entitled, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, was printed after the author's death. And, more interesting than either, both as affording a favourable specimen of Newton's literary power, and a proof how deeply this great interpreter of nature's laws was fascinated by the shadowy mysteries of prophecy, is the theological treatise, styled Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, which his executors published in 1733.


For understanding the prophecies, we are, in the first place, to acquaint our. selves with the figurative language of the prophets. This language is taken from the analogy between the world natural and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic.

Accordingly, the whole world natural, consisting of heaven and earth, signifies the whole world politic, consisting of thrones and people; or so much of it as is considered in the prophecy. And the things in that world signify the analogous things in this. For the heavens, and the things therein, signify thrones and dignities, and those who enjoy them; and the earth, with the things thereon, the inferior people; and the lowest parts of the earth, called Hades or Hell, the lowest or most miserable part of them. Whence, ascending towards heaven, and descending to the earth, are put for rising and falling in power and honour; rising out of the earth or waters, and falling into them, for the rising up to any dignity or dominion, out of the inferior state of the people, or falling down from the same into that inferior state; descending into the lower parts of the earth, for descending to a very low and unhappy state; speaking with a faint voice out of the dust, for being in a weak and low condition ; moving from one place to another, for translation from one office, dignity, or dominion to another; great earthquakes, and the shaking of heaven and earth, for the shaking of dominions, 80 as to distract or overthrow them; the creating a new heaven and earth, and the passing away of an old one, or the beginning and end of the world, for tbe rise and reign of the body politic signified thereby.

[blocks in formation]

WHEN Addison returned from the Continent with a head much better furnished with classic thoughts and elegant scholarship than was his purse with guineas, foremost among the few faces that presented themselves at the door of his dingy lodging in the Haymarket, was the round good-humoured countenance of an old schoolfellow and college friend, formerly Dicky Steele of the Charterhouse, but now rollicking Captain Richard Steele of Lucas's Fusiliers. The two names—Addison and Steele- -are inseparably linked together, from the partnership of the two men in those periodical essays out of which have grown our Blackwoods and our Cornhills, our Edinburghs and our Quarterlys.

Steele, the son of a man who acted as Secretary to the Duke of Ormond, then Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, was born about 1675 in Dublin. During his school-days at the Charter-house in London, he was the admiring junior of Addison, whom he afterwards joined at Oxford, being entered at Merton College in 1692. Leaving Oxford without a degree, he enlisted, much against the wishes of all his friends, as a private in the Horse Guards, dazzled by the splendour of the richly laced scarlet coats and the white waving plumes of that gallant corps. This rash step cost him a fortune; for a wealthy Irish relative, indignant at the news, cut the name of the reckless fellow out of his will. But his agreeable manners, and frank, open jovialty, won him many friends. Ormond, in



whose troop he rode, obtained a cornetcy for him; he became secretary to Colonel Lord Cutts; and ultimately. was made a captain in Lucas's Fusiliers.

During the wild life he spent about town with his brother officers, stung sometimes by his upbraiding conscience, he wrote and published a devotional work, called The Christian Hero, by which he intended to correct his errors and force himself to pull up in time. But his only reward was the laughter of the town; for the idea of a fast-living soldier, who could never resist the attractions of the Rose Tavern or the delight of beating the watch at midnight, appearing in print as a religious character, seemed to have in it something irresistibly comic. Yet for the time Steele was sincere in his intentions of reform. He soon, however, appeared as an author in a different line. Three comedies from his pen— The Funeral, The Tender Husband, and The Lying Lover—were performed in 1702, and the two following years. The sober tone of the last having drawn down a storm of hisses from the audience, Steele in disgust withdrew from dramatic authorship. A greater task than the writing of second-rate plays was in store for his genial pen. Between the failure of the “ Lying Lover” and the first issue of

the “ Tatler,” Steele married his second wife, Prue, Miss 1707 Scurlock of Caermarthenshire, who, by preserving some A.D. four hundred letters from her husband, written chiefly in

taverns and coffee-houses, has enabled us to form truer ideas of the man Dick Steele than we could get from any other

There we have displayed the inner life of the improvident rake, whose dissipation does not sour the sweetness of his nature, who is often detained from home by some mythical business, and softens his announcement of delay by a little present to his wife of tea or walnuts, or a guinea or two, when his purse is not in its normal condition of emptiness. He held at this time the appointment of Gazetteer, which he afterwards exchanged for the post of Commissioner of Stamps. The former office, by giving him an early command of foreign news, enabled him to commence the publication of the “ Tatler” in 1709.


« PreviousContinue »