skip to content

Newton Papers : Papers Relating to the dispute Respecting the Invention of Fluxions

Newton Papers

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Add. 3968 contains a wealth of material related to the dispute Newton had with Leibniz over priority in the invention of the calculus, a bitter debate that smouldered throughout the first decade of the eighteenth century. In the <i>Philosophical Transactions</i> for 1708, the controversy caught fire. One of Newton’s supporters, the Oxford mathematician John Keill, hinted broadly that Leibniz had plagiarised Newton when, in 1684, he had described the calculus for the first time in print. In 1711, Leibniz complained about Keill’s accusation in a letter to the secretary of the Royal Society, of which Newton was now President. By then, Newton had begun to allow his disciples access to the manuscripts from his youth that would largely prove his claim to have invented the method (although not the notation) of the calculus used by Leibniz. Displaying deviousness in controversy that presented a stark contrast to his relative openness in the 1670s, Newton searched his own records to select passages that seemed to support his case.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'> Superficially, one of the most telling examples of Newton’s priority in the manipulation of infinite series was a tract, entitled ‘De analysi per aequationes numero terminorum infinitas’, that Isaac Barrow had communicated to Collins on 31 July 1669. Collins had copied the manuscript and then returned the work to Newton (see ‘Out of Mr Newton’s Treatise de Analysi per aequationes infinitas, communicated sent by Dr Barrow to Mr Collins [the] 31<sup>th</sup> of July 1669’ [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(251);return false;'>3968.10, fol. 126r</a>]). This was probably written in 1712, the year in which the Royal Society prepared its response to Leibniz’s complaints about the conduct of Keill. Newton presented the initial selections from his papers to the Society on 24 April 1712, at a meeting that endorsed his claims. For much of the rest of the year, in between attempts to solve queries posed by the young editor, Roger Cotes, of the long-awaited second edition of the <i>Principia</i>, Newton completed the hunt for evidence and himself drafted the judgement of the Royal Society. This was published and distributed for free in January 1713 with the title <i>Commercium Epistolicum;</i> it was almost entirely the work of the man it claimed to vindicate. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> The items in Add. 3968 prove Newton’s careful structuring, choice of material (the most important consisting in letters from the papers of John Collins acquired by William Jones in 1709), and editorial work related to the publication of the <i>Commercium Epistolicum</i> [<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(531);return false;'>Add. 3968.19</a>]. They also show that Newton was the author of the anonymous review published in the <i>Philosophical Transactions</i> for the year 1715 [see for example, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(169);return false;'>3968.8, fols 85r</a>].</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Niccolò Guicciardini, Università degli Studi di Milano, and Scott Mandelbrote, Peterhouse, Cambridge.</p>

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , and information about sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available


If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: