Mathematical Treasure: Jurin’s Defence of Sir Isaac Newton

Cynthia J. Huffman (Pittsburg State University)

The image below is the title page of Geometry no friend to infidelity: or, A defence of Sir Isaac Newton and the British mathematicians, in a letter to the author of the Analyst. The title page lists the author as Philalethes Cantabrigiensis, but it is believed that the author is actually James Jurin.

Title page of Jurin's 1734 defense of Isaac Newton.

Jurin (1684–1750) was a physician and scientist who did work with the smallpox vaccination and capillaries. He was a strong supporter of Sir Isaac Newton; this 84-page work was published in 1734 in reaction to the Bishop George Berkeley’s The Analyst, which had appeared earlier that year. (It was in The Analyst that Berkeley questioned if fluxions were the “ghosts of departed quantities.” More on Berkeley’s The Analyst can be found on Convergence.) According to Carl Boyer's The History of the Calculus and Its Conceptual Development, this work by Jurin contained weak arguments. However, it was the first of about 30 such works over the next 7 years written in response to the early logical issues in calculus raised by Berkeley. These arguments actually led to work by others, including Colin Maclaurin and the Bernoullis, on making the foundations of calculus more rigorous.

The image below shows the first page after the Table of Contents and the start of the response to Bishop Berkeley.

Opening of James Jurin's Defence of Sir Isaac Newton.

Two other works are bound with this copy of A defence upon Sir Isaac Newton:

  1. The Analyst, by Bishop George Berkeley.
  2. A panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton / translated from the French, pronounced by Mr. Fontenelle before the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, by Andrew Reade, with remarks by James Wilson. (More on this eulogy of Newton can be found on Convergence.)

A complete digital scan of Geometry no friend to infidelity, along with A Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton, is available in the Linda Hall Library Digital Collections. (The scan of Geometry no friend to infidelity comes first with A Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton starting after page 84.) The call number is QA35.B47 1734.


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Index to Mathematical Treasures