skip to content

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) came up to the University of Cambridge in 1661, graduating in 1665. In 1669 he succeeded Isaac Barrow in the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics. In 1699 Newton was appointed Master of the Mint, resigning the Lucasian Chair and his Trinity College Fellowship in 1701. He was elected President of the Royal Society in 1703, which post he occupied until his death.

Newton's papers in the University Library—many of which have been digitised and are available freely online through the Cambridge Digital Library—fall into three categories. 

  • Copies of his lectures deposited in the University Library in the seventeenth century under the regulations for the Lucasian Chair. These, and some correspondence relating to the University, were assigned the classmarks Dd.4.18, Dd.9.46, Dd.9.67, Dd.9.68, and Mm.6.50.
  • The 'Portsmouth collection' (MS Add. 3958-4007) of manuscripts in Newton's possession at the time of his death were transferred to the University by the fifth early of Portsmouth in 1872 for cataloguing by a syndicate and the mathematical and scientific papers were donated to the University in 1888. (The papers were inherited by Newton's neice Catherine whose daughter married John Wallop, second Earl of Portsmouth, and thus subsequent generations of the Portsmouth family.) Newton's mathematical papers were assigned UL classmarks MS Add. 3958-3964, 3968; manuscripts relating to the Principia MS Add. 3965, 3967; astronomy and optics MS Add. 3969-3972; chemistry MS Add. 3973-3975; with correspondence at MS Add. 3976-3986. Other manuscripts were assigned classmarks MS Add. 3987-4006, although some annotated printed works in this run have since been transferred to the Adversaria Class in the Rare Books Department. Copies of further letters are at MS Add. 4007. 
  • A substantial number of Isaac Newton's papers are in the Macclesfield Collection (MS Add. 9597,) acquired from the Earl of Macclesfield in 2000, which includes many other significant mathematical and scientific papers of the eighteenth century. 

To aid preservation, the Portsmouth Collection of Newton's original manuscripts is rarely produced for consultation. Readers who feel it essential that they consult the original collection must first apply, in writing, well in advance of any proposed visit to the Library. Permission to use the original papers may only be granted by the Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives.

The remainder of the Portsmouth papers, many concerned with alchemy, theology and chronology, were returned to Lord Portsmouth. These manuscripts were sold at auction at Sotheby's in London in 1936. Many have been returned to scholarly and public collections at King's College, Cambridge and the National Library of Israel. Further items are held at Trinity College, Cambridge, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Royal Society, London. A large number of Newton papers including many of those held in the University Library have been transcribed and published online by the Newton Project and the Chymistry of Isaac Newton

A helpful and entertaining introduction is Sarah Dry, The Newton Papers, Oxford University Press, 2014.

For more information contact Dr Katrina Dean (