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The Tory Newtonians: Gregory, Pitcairne, and Their Circle

  • Anita Guerrini

In the late 1680s, Archibald Pitcairne and David Gregory became devotees of Newton's natural philosophy. In the next decade, they formed the nexus of a scientific circle composed of their students. These men emerge as a specific group from the wider circle of Newton's followers for several reasons, having to do with kinship and community relationships as well as with shared intellectual beliefs. Gregory and, through him, Pitcairne were among the first to recognize Newton's achievement in the Principia. From their base in Edinburgh, later extending to Oxford and Leiden, they inspired several young men, including John and James Keill, John Freind, George Cheyne, George Hepburn, and William Cockburn. Gregory has long been recognized as a central figure among Newtonians, in part owing to his copious memoranda, but Pitcairne's significance both as an intellectual and as a catalyst has been neglected by historians. When one focuses on Gregory and Pitcairne and their notebooks and correspondence, as well as their published works, a well-defined group emerges around them who shared several characteristics. Politically, they were Tories. In religion, they were High Church Anglicans who valued the episcopacy and those points of ritual and doctrine that distinguished the English church from nonconformity. With the exception of John Freind, these men were Scots and shared kinship ties as well as geographic origin in the east and northeast of Scotland. Finally, all the members of this group were at least nominally physicians. Only one of them, John Keill, probably did not practice medicine, but he too took a medical degree.

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1 The definition of “Tories” and “Whigs” in this period, particularly the 1690s, is fraught with difficulty. As Kenyon, J. P. points out, the terms were disputed even by contemporaries (Stuart England [Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978], pp. 12. 271–72, 295–97). In general, Tories who accepted the Glorious Revolution (those who did not were Jacobites) accepted William as a de facto monarch and assumed a Stuart succession would continue with and beyond Anne. For them, the Act of Settlement of 1701 was a turning point. In the late 1690s, the Tories associated themselves with the High Church revival. On these topics, see esp. Kenyon, J. P., Revolution Principles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Holmes, Geoffrey, British Politics in the Age of Anne (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1967); Plumb, J. H., The Growth of Political Stability in England, 1675–1725 (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1967); and Henry Horwitz, “The Structure of Parliamentary Politics,” E. L. Ellis, “William III and the Politicians,” and Holmes, Geoffrey, “Harley, St. John and the Death of the Tory Party,” in Britain after the Glorious Revolution, ed. Holmes, G. (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1969), pp. 96–114, 115–34, 216–37.

2 Manuel, Frank E., A Portrait of Isaac Newton (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), chap. 13, pp. 264–91.

3 See Jacob, Margaret C., The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689–1720 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976).

4 Hunter, Michael, Science and Society in Restoration England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 185–87.

5 Stone, Lawrence, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 123–29.

6 On the structure of the community, see Bell, Colin and Newby, Howard, eds., The Sociology of Community (London: Frank Cass, 1974), particularly the foreward by Norbert Elias.

7 Biographical accounts of Pitcairne include Webster, Charles, An Account of the Life and Writings of the Celebrated Dr. Archibald Pitcairne (Edinburgh: Gordon & Murray; London: Richardson & Urquhart, 1781); Biographia Britannica (Biog. Brit.), 5:3359–66; Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB), 11:13; Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), 15:1221–23; Ritchie, R. Peel, The Early Days of the Royall Colledge of Physitians, Edinburgh (Edinburgh: G. P. Johnston, 1899), pp. 159–89; A Catalogue of the Graduâtes in the Faculties of Arts, Divinity and Law, of the University of Edinburgh, since its Foundation (Edinburgh: Neill, 1858), p. 100 (hereafter cited as Edin. Cat.). See also Johnston, W. T., ed., The Best of Our Owne: Letters of Archibald Pitcairne (Edinburgh: Saorsa Books, 1979). All these accounts are vague on events before 1680.

8 On the Gregories, see Stewart, A. G., The Academic Gregories (Edinburgh and London: Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, 1901); Biog. Brit., 4:2348–72; DSB, 5:520–22, 524–30; Anderson, P. J., ed., Officers and Graduâtes of the University and King's College, 1495–1860 (Aberdeen: New Spalding Club, 1893), p. 37 (hereafter cited as Univ. and King's), and Fasti Academiae Mariscallanae, 1593–1860, 3 vols. (Aberdeen: New Spalding Club, 18891898), 2:219 (hereafter cited as Maris.); Lawrence, P. D. and Molland, A. G., “David Gregory's Inaugural Lecture at Oxford,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 25 (1970): 143–44. Gregory, James, Optica promota (London, 1663). Newton's correspondence with James Gregory is in Turnbull, H. al., eds., The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, 7 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19591977), vols. 1, 2 (hereafter cited as Corres.).

9 Anderson, , ed., Maris., 2:239.

10 Gregory's first published work was also on this topic; see below.

11 See the biographical sources listed in n. 7 above.

12 Sibbald, Robert, Memoirs, ed. Hett, Francis Paget (London: Humphrey Milford and Oxford University Press, 1932), pp. 7576.

13 Ritchie, pp. 54–56; Grant, Alexander, The Story of the University of Edinburgh, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1884), 1:217–19; DNB, 18:179–81.

14 Craig, W. S., History of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976), pp. 61. 6566; Ritchie, pp. 54–56, 66.

15 Ritchie, pp. 68–70.

16 Bower, Alexander, The History of the University of Edinburgh, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Waugh, & Innes, 1817), 1:306–7, 2:82. Edin. Cat. (p. 123) lists John Young as the previous holder of the chair, although he lectured without holding the title of professor (see Stewart, p. 53; Lawrence and Molland, p. 144).

17 Gregory, David, Exercitatio geometrica de dimensione figurarum sive specimen methodi generalis (Edinburgh. 1684). David Gregory to Isaac Newton, June 9, 1684, Carres., 2:396.

18 For Craig, see DNB, 4:1373; DSB, 3:458–59. For Campbell, see DNB, 3:300; copies of his correspondence with Pitcairne are in the National Library of Scotland, MS 3440, fols. 20–24.

19 Ritchie, pp. 271–72; Grant, 1:223; Bower, 1:376. Student notes of Pitcairne's lectures in Edinburgh are in the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London, MS 2451; and in the library of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Both sets date from 1712–13.

20 Mead, Richard, Of the Influence of the Sun and Moon on Humane Bodies … (London: R. Wellington, 1712), pp. 4344. Mead says that Pitcairne told him that he was lodging with Gregory in 1687.

21 Gregory to Newton, September 2, 1687, Cones., 2:484. Copies of the “Notae” are in Christ Church Library, Oxford University, Gregory MS 131; and University Library, University of Edinburgh, MS Dc.4.35.

22 Ferguson, William, Scotland's Relations with England (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1977), pp. 146–50; Riley, P. W. J., King William and the Scottish Politicians (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1979), pp. 110.

23 Riley, p. 4; Lenman, Bruce, “The Scottish Episcopalian Clergy and the Ideology of Jacobitism,” in Ideology and Conspiracy, ed. Cruickshanks, E. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1979), p. 39.

24 Stewart, pp. 55–58; the text of the act authorizing the visitors is on pp. 55–57.

25 The phrase “Presbyterian Inquisition” is Monro's. Lenman (p. 41) notes that virtually all the senior members at the University of St. Andrews were ejected.

26 Stewart, p. 58; Corres., 3:163, n. 19, quoting University Library, University of Edinburgh, Gregory MS B27.

27 Pitcairne, Archibald, The Assembly … (Edinburgh, 1817), p. 78.

28 Bower, 1:309–16; but cf. Eagles, Christina (“David Gregory and Newtonian Science,” British Journal of the History of Science 10 [1977]: 216–25), who shows that Gregory did not lecture on Newtonian science but only taught it in tutorials.

29 Pitcairne's Latin epitaph for Dundee was translated by John Dryden and is printed, with extensive commentary, in Dryden, John, Works, ed. Scott, Walter (London: W. Miller, 1808), 11:113–15.

30 Cunningham, Andrew, “Sydenham versus Newton: The Edinburgh Fever Dispute of the 1690s between Andrew Brown and Archibald Pitcairn,” Medical History 1, suppl. (1981): 88, 9091. For Carstares, see DNB, 3:1096–99; and Riley, passim. Carstares was later president of the University of Edinburgh when Pitcairne taught there in the 1700s.

31 Lindeboom, G. A., “Pitcairne's Leyden Interlude Described from the Documents,” Annals of Science 19 (1963): 273–74.

32 For Stair, see DNB, 5:409–15; and Riley, p. 16.

33 Pitcairne, Archibald, Babell; a satirical poem, On the proceedings of the General Assembly in the year M.DC.XCII (Edinburgh, 1830). Lindeboom, p. 276.

34 Westfall, Richard S.. Never at Rest (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 499.

35 Gregory to Newton, August 8, 1691, Cones., 3:157–63.

36 Newton to Arthur Charlett, July 27, 1691, ibid., pp. 154–55; Lawrence and Molland (n. 8 above), pp. 145–46.

37 Royal Society, Gregory MS 247, fol. 80 (printed in Corres., 3:191). When Gregory wrote to Newton on November 26, 1691, the election had not yet taken place Cones., 3:181). A month later, as the quoted passage illustrates, he was working on his inaugural lecture (see Lawrence and Molland, pp. 145–46). For a different interpretation of this memorandum, see Guerlac, Henry and Jacob, M. C., “Bentley, Newton and Providence (the Boyle Lectures Once More),” Journal of the History of Ideas 30 (1969): 316–17. Jacob ([n. 3 above], pp. 153–54) repeats this interpretation.

38 Whiston, William, Memoirs (London, 1749), p. 123.

39 Westfall, p. 500.

40 Gregory to Newton, November 26, 1691, Corres., 3:181. For Caswell, see Foster, Joseph, Alumni Oxonienses, 1500–1714, 4 vols. (Oxford: Parker, 1891), 1:249; à Wood, Anthony, Alhenae Oxonienses … To which are added the Fasti, or Annals …, ed. Bliss, Philip, 4 vols. (London: Rivington, 18131820), vol. 4, col. 737.

41 Lawrence and Molland, pp. 146, 157; Foster, 2:602.

42 Kearney, H. F. (Scholars and Gentlemen [Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970], pp. 148–49, 157–58, 164) gives the dismal view. Contemporary accounts include à Wood, Anthony, Life and Times, ed. Clark, Andrew, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 18911900); and Hearne, Thomas, Remarks and Collections, ed. Doble, C. al., 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 18851921).

43 Gunther, R. G., Early Science in Oxford, 14 vols. (Oxford, 19231945), vol. 4.

44 Wood, , Life and Times, 3:7577.

45 All these men are listed in the DNB. For Smith, see also Kearney, pp. 163–64; and Bodleian Library (Bodl.), MS Smith 28.

46 Gunther, vol. 4, passim; the society's correspondence is in vol. 12.

47 Hunter (n. 4 above), pp. 174–79. Compare Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), pp. 56, 7273.

48 Gunther, 12:354. Charlett's correspondence includes Robert Plot to Charlett, March 26, 1694, and January 16, 1695/6, Bodl., MS Ballard 14, fols. 58, 71; Charlett to Hans Sloane, December 8, 1696, British Library (BL), Sloane MS 4036, fol. 277v; Charlett to Sloane, March 1, 1698/9, BL, Sloane MS 4039. fol. 215v. Charlett described frequent meetings with Aldrich, Gregory, and Wallis in Charlett to |Sloane?], February 3, 1698/9, Royal Society, MS vol. C.2, n. 34.

49 Mallet, C. E., A History of the University of Oxford (London: Methuen & Co., 1920), 3, chap. 20:117; Ward, W. E., Georgian Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), chap. 1. For Sacheverell, see DNB, 17:569–72; and Holmes, Geoffrey, The Trial of Doctor Sacheverell (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972); for Atterbury, see DNB, 1:705–10; and Bennett, G. V., The Tory Crisis in Church and State (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975). For Smith, see n. 45 above.

50 For Arbuthnot, see Aitken, George, The Life and Works of John Arbuthnot (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892); Beattie, Lester, John Arbuthnot (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1935); and Olson, Richard, “Tory High Church Opposition to Science and Scientism in the Eighteenth Century: The Works of John Arbuthnot, Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Johnson,” in The Uses of Science in the Age of Newton, ed. Burke, John G. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983), pp. 171204.

51 See n. 1 above.

52 Gregory's letters to Charlett are in Bodl., MS Ballard 24. The Scottish preference for claret over port indicated their continued independent trade with France, a vexed issue with England.

53 Bodl., MS Ballard 24, fols. 45, 47, 52; Lawrence and Molland (n. 8 above), p. 147.

54 Corres, (n. 8 above), 3:205–14. Newton's, IsaacDe natura acidorum (1692) can be found in Corres., vol. 3, n. 54. Gregory's copy of the manuscript is Royal Society, Gregory MS, fols. 17, 64–65.

55 Lindeboom (n. 31 above), pp. 278, 280–82.

56 Ibid., pp. 280–82; Cunningham (n. 30 above), p. 90; Webster (n. 7 above), pp. 17–20.

57 Christie, J. R. R., “The Origins and Development of the Scottish Scientific Community, 1680–1760,” History of Science 12 (1974): 124.

58 Lindeboom, p. 282.

59 Edin. Cat. (n. 7 above), p. 134; Smith, R. W. Innes, English-speaking Students of Medicine at the University of Leyden (Edinburgh and London; Oliver & Boyd, 1932), p. 49; Anderson, , ed., Univ. and King's (n. 8 above), p. 143; DNB, 4:648–49; Munk, William, Roll of the Royal College of Physicians, 2d ed. (London, 1878), 1:507–9; Keevil, J. J., Medicine and the Navy (Edinburgh and London: E. & S. Livingstone, 1958), 2:286–92.

60 Keevil, 2:288.

61 Swift, Jonathan, Journal to Stella, ed. Williams, Harold (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948), p. 171. Cockburn, William, Oeconomia corporis animalis (London, 1695).

62 Viets, Henry, “George Cheyne, 1673–1743.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 23 (1949): 435–39; Anderson, , ed., Marls, (n. 8 above), 2:263; Life of George Cheyne M.D. (Oxford: Parker, 1846). According to Viets, Gilbert Burnet was responsible for Cheyne's tutoring position.

63 Innes Smith, p. 113.

64 DNB, 4:217–19; DSB, 3:244–45.

65 Anderson, , ed., Univ. and King's, p. 124.

66 Innes Smith, pp. 115–16; Edin. Cat., p. 135.

67 Cunningham (n. 30 above); Howie, W. B., “Sir Archibald Stevenson, His Ancestry, and the Riot in the College of Physicians in Edinburgh,” Medical History 11 (1967): 269–84.

68 Innes Smith, p. 116; for Cheyne, see BL, Sloane MSS 4034, 4045.

69 Gregory mentioned his recent marriage in Gregory to Charlett, September 26, 1695, Bodl., MS Ballard 24, fol. 38; on Oliphant, see Ritchie (n. 7 above), p. xi; Craig (n. 14 above), pp. 408–12; Innes Smith, p. 173.

70 Eagles (n. 28 above).

71 Biog. Brit., 4:2801–8; DNB, 10:1198–99; DSB, 7:275–77. In National Library of Scotland, MS Adv. 80.2.11, is an account for fabric “Bought Be My Lady Dundass of Mrs Keill,” dated February 23, 1694, and signed Sarah Cockburn (continued use of the maiden name appears to have been common in Scotland). John Keill's son was also a draper (Biog. Brit., 4:2808). For Scougall, see DNB, 17:1059–60; for Cockburn, see DNB, 4:615–17.

72 John Cockburn to Thomas Smith, September 17, 1692, Bodl., MS Smith 48, fols. 231–32.

73 Edin. Cat., p. 144; Foster (n. 40 above), 2:840; DNB, 10:1198. Gregory's account of the Scotch exhibition is in University Library, University of Edinburgh, MS Gregory Dk. 1.2(2), fol. E.

74 Valadez, F. and O'Malley, C. D., “James Keill of Northampton, Physician, Anatomist, and Physiologist,” Medical History 15 (1971): 317–35; Biog. Brit., 4:2809–11; DNB, 10:1197–98; DSB, 7:274–75; Innes Smith, p. 131; Anderson, , ed., Univ. and King's, p. 123.

75 Biog. Brit., 3:2024–44; DNB, 7:661–63; DSB, 5:156–57; Munk (n. 59 above), 2:48–56. For Robert Freind, see DNB, 7:683–84; and Bennett (n. 49 above), passim.

76 Freind's Latin ability is commented on in Biog. Brit., 3:2024. For Aldrich, see Biog. Brit., 1:96; Hiscock, W. G., Henry Aldrich of Christ Church (Oxford, 1960); DNB, 1:251. For Atterbury, see n. 49 above.

77 Jacob (n. 3 above), pp. 78–79. Compare Geoffrey Holmes, review of The Newtonians and the English Revolution, by Jacob, Margaret C., British Journal of the History of Science 11 (1978): 164–71. Other accounts of this debate are Bennett, pp. 38–43; and Mallet (n. 49 above), 3:7–9. See also Swift's, JonathanBattle of the Books (1704).

78 Foster, 2:533. On Keill's role in the natural theology debate, see Kubrin, David, “Providence and the Mechanical Philosophy” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1968). pp. 318–34. Keill, John, An Examination of Dr Burnet's Theory of the Earth. Together with some Remarks on Mr Whiston's New Theory of the Earth (Oxford, 1698).

79 See the biographical sources cited above. Freind, John, “A letter … Concerning a hydrocephalus,” Philosophical Transactions 21, no. 256 (September 1699): 318–22. and Epistola … De spasmi rarioris historica,” Philosophical Transactions 22, no. 270 (March–April 1701): 799804. Gregory's travels can be traced through his memoranda and especially through his correspondence with Charlett in Bodl., MS Ballard 24.

80 Cheyne, George, Philosophical Principles of Natural Religion (London: G. Strahan, 1705), preface. For Craig, see n. 18 above. Wotton's comment, from the 3d ed. of his Reflections (1705), is quoted in Aitken (n. 50 above), p. 33, n. 2.

81 Keill, John, “Epistola ad cl. virum Gulielmum Cockburn … in qua leges attractionis aliaque physices Principia traduntur,” Philosophical Transactions 26 (1708): 174–88.

82 Swift, Journal to Stella (n. 61 above), passim; for Keill, see DSB, 7:276.

83 Elias (n. 6 above), pp. xviii–xxi. Pitcairne criticized the Keills in a letter to his friend Robert Gray, December 27, 1709, BL, Sloane MS 3216, fols. 174–75. John Keill played a part in Pitcairne's ongoing dispute with Robert Sibbald (dating back to 1695), and he may have authored a satirical pamphlet against Pitcairne (cf. University Library, University of Edinburgh, MS La.III.535).

84 Guerrini, Anita, “Archibald Pitcairne and Newtonian Medicine” (typescript, 1986).

85 Cunningham (n. 30 above), passim.

86 Cheyne, George, A New Theory of Fevers (London: H. Newman & J. Nutt, 1701), preface; Keill, James, “An Account of Animal Secretion,” in Essays (London: G. Strahan, 1717); Keill, John, Introductio ad veram physicam (Oxford, 1702); Freind, John, Chymical Lectures (London: J. Bowyer, 1712), preface.

87 Kubrin, pp. 318–34. Even if, as has been argued, Kubrin has overstated Keill's influence on Newton, this does not rule out their fundamental agreement on this topic. Compare Force, James (William Whiston, Honest Newtonian [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985], pp. 6062), who argues against Kubrin's view but offers no concrete evidence.

88 Westfall (n. 34 above), p. 639. Cheyne, George, Fluxionem methodus inversa … ad … Archibaldum Pitcarnium (London, 1703).

89 Thackray, Arnold, Atoms and Powers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 55, The Business of Experimental Philosophy,” in Actes, XIIe Congrès international d'histoire des sciences, 1968 (Paris, 1970), pp. 155–59, and “‘Matter in a Nut-shell.’” Ambix 15 (1968): 2953.

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