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Mathematical Treasure: Fontenelle’s Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton

Author(s): 
Cynthia J. Huffman (Pittsburg State University)

The image below is the title page of A Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton, an English translation of a tribute to Newton by the Frenchman Bernard de Fontenelle (1657–1757). This 34-page work was published in 1728, the year after Newton died, and is based on an obituary notice Fontenelle presented to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris.

Title page of Fontenelle's 1728 Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton.

Beginning in 1697, Fontenelle served as the permanent secretary of the Academy of Sciences in Paris for 42 years.  He was also a poet and was known for his writing ability. This obituary in tribute to Newton is one of 69 such “éloges” that Fontenelle wrote. These 69 obituaries, including those of Newton and Leibniz, can be found in the Histoire du renouvellement de l'Académie des Sciences (Paris, 3 vols., 1708, 1717, 1722).  (A copy of this history of the Academy of Sciences is at the Linda Hall Library.) 

A Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton contains a detailed biography of Sir Isaac Newton, beginning with his birth and education, continuing with Newton’s contributions to mathematics and science, and concluding with a description of the man Newton, his death, and his estate. For example, an explanation is included on how Newton was able to find areas and centers of gravity of many curves using infinite series before Mercator published finding the area of a hyperbolic segment using an infinite series in 1668. The image below shows Fontenelle’s description of the infamous Newton-Leibniz Calculus Controversy.

Page 7 of Fontenelle's 1728 Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton.

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

  1. 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 ... by Philalethes Cantabrigiensis (a pseudonym for James Jurin).
  2. The Analyst, by Bishop George Berkeley  (More on Berkeley’s The Analyst can be found on Convergence.

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

Images in this article are courtesy of the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology and used with permission. The images may be downloaded and used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study, provided the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology is credited as the source. For other uses, check out the LHL Image Rights and Reproductions policy.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Cynthia J. Huffman (Pittsburg State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Fontenelle’s Panegyric upon Sir Isaac Newton ," Convergence (September 2019)

Dummy View - NOT TO BE DELETED

Mathematical Treasures: The Linda Hall Library