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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1498

"Nabed Efyhik
Wfnzo Cpmfke'"--Issac Newton, ca. 1660
So begins this extraordinary work known as the Fitzwilliam Manuscript1: Isaac
Newton's name, plus for words on two lines, which the Newton scholars suspect to be
a key to a cipher. It was purchased at a Sotheby auction by Maggs Brothers in 1936
for £180, and within the month found itself in the Fitzwilliam Museum. What makes
it fantastic--aside from having some mathematical/physical work by Sir Isaac in its
5,000 or so words--is the almost impossible inclusion of a list of what Newton could
remember of the sins that he had committed. He finds 47 transgressions within his
It seems to me that listing the sins of people is nearly as old as writing, since
the absolutely overwhelming aspect of that practice is describing sin in general or, of
course, the sin of others. Or the judicial end, the sins of people have been listed and
judged many millions of times for billions (or whatever) of offenses. And certainly
the listing or provocation or announcement of sin has been endless fodder for
entertainment in the forms of story telling, theatre, novels, and so on. Then, too,
there's all of the religious indictment and beseeching for proclaiming sins for
atonement. On the individual level for a living human, a famous person, it is
extremely uncommon to find a highly personal listing like this, even whispered as
they were into a notebook, Sir Isaac I am sure thinking as though this was almost as
good as writing the sins in dust. I wonder how he would feel, seeing people
discussing them, like this?
This transcribed list comes from the fantastic Newton Project,2 site.
Newton (1642-1727) writing in about 1662 (and about 20 years old), and who was at
Cambridge for a few years already, just prior to what was perhaps his most
astonishing period of creativity, (and with the time of the Plague, just a few years in
the future):
"Before Whitsunday 1662.
"[Note: Whitsunday, the Sunday of the feast of Whitsun (or "White Sunday") or
Pentecost int he Christian liturgical year, celebrated/observed seven weeks past
Easter, the celebration too of summer, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ's
disciples (Acts of the Apostles chap 2.) ALSO Newton at this point is 20 years old.]

Vsing the word (God) openly

Eating an apple at Thy house
Making a feather while on Thy day
Denying that I made it.
Making a mousetrap on Thy day
Contriving of the chimes on Thy day
Squirting water on Thy day
Making pies on Sunday night
Swimming in a kimnel on Thy day
Putting a pin in Iohn Keys hat on Thy day to pick him.
Carelessly hearing and committing many sermons
Refusing to go to the close at my mothers command.
Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them
Wishing death and hoping it to some
Striking many
Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese.
Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer
Denying that I did so
Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew of it
Setting my heart on money learning pleasure more than Thee
A relapse
A relapse
A breaking again of my covenant renued in the Lords Supper.
Punching my sister
Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar
Calling Dorothy Rose a jade
Glutiny in my sickness.
Peevishness with my mother.
With my sister.
Falling out with the servants
Divers commissions of alle my duties
Idle discourse on Thy day and at other times
Not turning nearer to Thee for my affections
Not living according to my belief
Not loving Thee for Thy self.
Not loving Thee for Thy goodness to us
Not desiring Thy ordinances
Not long {longing} for Thee in {illeg}
Fearing man above Thee
Vsing unlawful means to bring us out of distresses
Caring for worldly things more than God
Not craving a blessing from God on our honest endeavors.
Missing chapel.
Beating Arthur Storer.
Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter.
Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne.
Twisting a cord on Sunday morning
Reading the history of the Christian champions on Sunday
Since Whitsunday 1662

Vsing Wilfords towel to spare my own
Negligence at the chapel.
Sermons at Saint Marys (4)
Lying about a louse
Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot.
Neglecting to pray 3
Helping Pettit to make his water watch at 12 of the clock on Saturday night
1. From the website of the Newton Project (described following): "Miscellaneous
notebook containing Newton's accounts for 1665-9, a series of increasingly
complicated mathematical problems, and a highly revealing personal confession. At
Whitsun 1662, Newton compiled a list of all the 47 sins he could remember having
committed in his life, from stealing cherries to "threatning my [step]father and mother
... to burne them and the house over them". The accounts section charts the beginning
of his study of alchemy in 1669, with purchases of books, materials and a furnace to
equip the makeshift laboratory he set up in the grounds of Trinity College."
2. The Newton Project is the work of Professor Rob Iliffe (Director, AHRC Newton
Papers Project) and Scott Mandelbrote (Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse,