A manuscript by Isaac Newton gives clues on his research on the Philosopher’s Stone

Portrait of Isaac Newton in 1689
Portrait of Isaac Newton in 1689

A manuscript by Isaac Newton came to light after having been part of a private collection for decades. This year it was purchased by the “Chemical Heritage Foundation” and will be made available online in a partnership with Indiana University and in particular its project “The Chymistry of Isaac Newton“. This manuscript is someway special because it’s about alchemy, a subject Newton was very interested about in the course of his life.

After Isaac Newton’s death on March 20, 1726, many of his manuscripts became part of his family’s legacy and weren’t published for a very long time because they weren’t considered “fit”. During the 20th century, many manuscripts were sold, most were eventually donated to Cambridge and some were purchased by the “Chemical Heritage Foundation”.

Isaac Newton’s manuscripts give an unusual portait of him, quite different from that of one of the fathers of modern science. In particular, you can note his remarkable interest in alchemy, to which he devoted much time conducting many experiments. Reading those works, we can see a curious mix of notes about physical phenomena related to Newton’s studies that have always been known and others related to alchemical experiments with symbols and a medieval and esoteric language unexpected as written by one of the most famous scientists in history.

Isaac Newton’s studies were very wide-ranging because they went from the Bible to the philosopher’s stone. He looked for hermetic knowledge in the proportions of Solomon’s temple and in the manuscript just purchased by the “Chemical Heritage Foundation” he prepared a recipe for a key precursor of the philosopher’s stone.

This Isaac Newton’s activity wasn’t secret and already in the 19th century scholars of history of science wondered how he could take alchemy seriously. Understanding the relationship between the alchemical research and those concerning physics, mathematics and other modern sciences by Newton can be difficult today, in the 17th century the concept of science was still influenced by medieval ideas.

The project “The Chymistry of Isaac Newton” seeks to offer on the Internet documents about the alchemical works by Isaac Newton. The term “Chymistry” was used in Newton’s time as a synonym for “alchemy”. This manuscript so far unpublished is a further contribution in the study of the history of one of the greatest scientists in history and the complexity of his research.

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