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THE UNKNOWN NEWTON

“The Unknown Newton”, The New Atlantis, Vol. 44 (Winter 2015), ISSN: 1543-1215, 46-115 pp.

Kirsten WALSH


Isaac Newton’s scientific legacy is well-known. What’s less well-known is that he was a staunch, though unorthodox, Christian, an alchemist, theologian, and Church historian. These facets of Newton’s life and work often seem at odds with our perception of the genius behind the calculus and universal gravitation. In five articles, by leading scholars in the field, the editors of this symposium seek to unveil this “unknown Newton”. In doing so, a much more coherent picture of Newton’s intellectual life emerges. I’ll start with the final article of the collection, where Sarah Dry tells us the “Strange Tale of Newton’s Papers”. This recounts how it is that Newton’s unpublished religious and alchemical work was largely ignored until surprisingly recently. John and Catherine Conduitt did a superb PR job after Newton’s death, making public only his scientific papers, and promoting the image of “a mythic Newton blessed with almost divine insight and a Christian faith of almost saintly purity to go with it” (106). Newton thus entered the pantheon of semi-divine National geniuses so venerated by the British.

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