Learning and Teaching

Private Scholar & Public Servant

Work by Hand & Brain

Calculation and Controversy

Glory and Gravity

Making Sense of Motion

From Library to Laboratory

Duty and Dominion

Footprints of the Lion

Cambridge Unviersity Library

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Newton lectures

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Calculation and Controversy

The young Newton owed his greatest intellectual debt to the French mathematician and natural philosopher, René Descartes. He was influenced by both English and Continental commentators on Descartes' work. Problems derived from the writings of the Oxford mathematician, John Wallis, also featured strongly in Newton's development as a mathematician capable of handling infinite series and the complexities of calculations involving curved lines.

The 'Waste Book' that Newton used for much of his mathematical working in the 1660s demonstrates how quickly his talents surpassed those of most of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, the evolution of Newton's thought was only possible through consideration of what his immediate predecessors had already achieved. Once Newton had become a public figure, however, he became increasingly concerned to ensure proper recognition for his own ideas.

In the quarrels that resulted with mathematicians like Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) or Johann Bernoulli (1667-1748), Newton supervised his disciples in the reconstruction of the historical record of his discoveries. One of those followers was William Jones, tutor to the future Earl of Macclesfield, who acquired or copied many letters and papers relating to Newton's early career. These formed the heart of the Macclesfield Collection, which has recently been purchased by Cambridge University Library.

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