Sarah Dry

The public and private Isaac Newton

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I just posted this piece on the Gates Cambridge website. I was lucky enough to get funding from Gates for my PhD–am happy to start to live up to my side of the bargain. . . .

Gates Cambridge

In November of 1690, Isaac Newton sent a long essay to his friend, the philosopher and radical thinker John Locke. In it, Newton set forth the reasons he thought scripture had been corrupted over the centuries – and for his own disbelief in the Trinity, a key tenet of Anglicanism. He asked Locke to see about translating the work into French and having it published – anonymously – on the Continent. The contents of the essay were so controversial that Newton dared not attach his name to it.

The episode was unique. Never again would Newton come as close to publishing such sensitive material about his dramatically unorthodox religious beliefs. But the episode was also indicative of Isaac Newton’s lifelong relationship with publication. Never able merely to reject print culture outright – the rewards of priority, communication and prestige were too great for that – Newton was nevertheless intensely averse…

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