16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton
16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton

16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton

Larry Holzwarth - September 21, 2018

16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton
Newton’s earliest biographers mentioned his use of popular nostrums of his day, leading to speculation that he was a hypochondriac. Wikimedia

15. Newton has been described as being a hypochondriac

Isaac Newton, other than the period in which he suffered a breakdown during his alchemy experiments, lived a long and relatively healthy life, with few periods of sickness noted in his letters and those of his contemporaries. Yet he was described by many supporting the idea of mental health issues affecting him as suffering from hypochondria. The accusations are based on Newton’s alchemy experiments, in which he also mixed various medicinal potions along with his search for the elixir of life, and his reliance on a balm of the day known as Lucatello’s Balsome, which promised relief for many ailments, including measles, dog bite, and the illness for which Newton allegedly took it, consumption.

Newton did write of being confined to his, “Chamber by a cold” at one juncture, though he was about his business again within a week and it would be improbable that during such a long life he would not have suffered many colds, especially given the knowledge of medicine and contagion at the time. The use of such balms and nostrums was commonplace during Newton’s lifetime. If Newton did believe that he had consumption there are no records of his consulting a physician for relief, nor of him participating in the taking of healthful waters then believed to relieve the condition.

16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton
Newton preferred his own company to that of others, even to the end of his long and productive life. Wikimedia

16. He was a solitary and reclusive, preferring his own company to that of others

Over time, Isaac Newton developed the personality which led him to prefer to be alone, avoiding social contacts except when necessary for the advancement of his work. In his writings and those of his contemporaries, he exhibited little in the way of a sense of humor, and he did not easily share his achievements with others by making note of their contributions. He did not express his emotions other than in bursts of anger; other feelings remained under strict self-control. He did not speak or write of his own desires, and the only indications of his possessing a sense of remorse were in the lists of “sins” he prepared for himself while in his youth.

He was not free from a sense of sexual desire, since he wrote of the means to control it, and thus remain chaste, a condition in which he apparently remained throughout his life. “The way to chastity is not to struggle with incontinent thoughts but to avert the thoughts by some imployment (sic), or by reading, or by meditating on other things, or by convers”, Newton told a relative late in his lifetime. The only record of any potential romantic involvement was an adolescent one, before he began his academic career. Probably the best description of Newton’s personality comes from Humphrey Newton, who served as his secretary for a time at Trinity College. “His behavior was mild and meek, without anger, peevishness, or passion, so free from that, that you might take him for a stoic.” But clearly, he was not without his demons, as human as are all.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Mercury Poisoning: A probable cause of Isaac Newton’s physical and mental ills”. L. W. Johnson, M. L. Wobarsht, Notes and Records, The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science. July 1, 1979

“Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer”. Michael White. 1997

“Isaac Newton’s Personal Life”. The Newton Project, Oxford University. 2018. Online

“Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton”. Rob Iliffe. 2017

“Balancing Newton’s Mind: his singular behavior and his madness of 1692-93”. Milo Keynes, Notes and Records, The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science. September 20, 2008

“The Newton-Leibniz Controversy”. Gerald L. Alexanderson, Leonard F. Klosinski, Bulletin of the American Mathematics Society. February 1, 2016

“Robert Hooke, Britain’s Leonardo, papers go online”. Roger Highfield, The Telegraph. October 8, 2007

“Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist”. Thomas Levenson. 2009

“Isaac Newton Used This Recipe in His Hunt to Make a Philosopher’s Stone”. Danny Lewis, Smithsonian Magazine, April 11, 2016

“Notes In Which Isaac Newton Sought to Unlock Secrets Of Bible Sold At Auction”. TOI STAFF, Times Of Israel, 13 December 2020

“Isaac Newton: Was He a Jerk Due to Asperger’s?”. Ross Pomeroy, Real Clear Science, October 31, 2013

“Einstein and Newton showed signs of Autism”. Hazel Muir, New Scientist. April 30, 2003

“The Personality of Isaac Newton”. Milo Keynes, The Royal Society. 1995

“Why Was Isaac Newton Such a Jerk?” Stephen Ross Pomeroy, Forbes Online. November 4, 2013

“Celebrity Meltdown: Isaac Newton (1642-1727)”. Staff of Psychology Today. November 1999

“Flaws of Gravity”. Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair. April 2008

“In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and his Times”. Gale Christianson. 1984

“How Isaac Newton Lost His Marbles and more medical mysteries, marvels, and mayhem”. Dr. Jim Leavesley and George Biro. 2010

“The Cambridge Companion to Newton”. Bernard I. Cohen, George E. Smith, editors. 2002