Isaac Newton Creates a List of His 57 Sins (Circa 1662)

isaac newton list of sins

Sir Isaac New­ton, arguably the most impor­tant and influ­en­tial sci­en­tist in his­to­ry, dis­cov­ered the laws of motion and the uni­ver­sal force of grav­i­ty. For the first time ever, the rules of the uni­verse could be described with the supreme­ly ratio­nal lan­guage of math­e­mat­ics. Newton’s ele­gant equa­tions proved to be one of the inspi­ra­tions for the Enlight­en­ment, a shift away from the God-cen­tered dog­ma of the Church in favor of a world­view that placed rea­son at its cen­ter. The many lead­ers of the Enlight­en­ment turned to deism if not out­right athe­ism. But not New­ton.

In 1936, a doc­u­ment of Newton’s dat­ing from around 1662 was sold at a Sothe­by’s auc­tion and even­tu­al­ly wound up at the Fitzwilliam Muse­um in Cam­bridge, Eng­land. The Fitzwilliam Man­u­script has long been a source of fas­ci­na­tion for New­ton schol­ars. Not only does the note­book fea­ture a series of increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lems but also a cryp­tic string of let­ters read­ing:

Nabed Efy­hik
Wfn­zo Cpm­fke

If you can solve this, there are some peo­ple in Cam­bridge who would like to talk to you.

But what makes the doc­u­ment real­ly inter­est­ing is how incred­i­bly per­son­al it is. New­ton rat­tles off a laun­dry list of sins he com­mit­ted dur­ing his rel­a­tive­ly short life – he was around 20 when he wrote this, a stu­dent at Cam­bridge. He splits the list into two cat­e­gories, before Whit­sun­day 1662 and after. (Whit­sun­day is, by the way, the Sun­day of the feast of Whit­sun, which is cel­e­brat­ed sev­en weeks after East­er.) Why he decid­ed on that par­tic­u­lar date to bifur­cate his time­line isn’t imme­di­ate­ly clear.

Some of the sins are rather opaque. I’m not sure what, for instance, “Mak­ing a feath­er while on Thy day” means exact­ly but it sure sounds like a long lost euphemism. Oth­er sins like “Peev­ish­ness with my moth­er” are imme­di­ate­ly relat­able as good old-fash­ioned teenaged churl­ish­ness. You can see the full list below. And you can read the full doc­u­ment over at the New­ton Project here.

Before Whit­sun­day 1662

1. Vsing the word (God) open­ly
2. Eat­ing an apple at Thy house
3. Mak­ing a feath­er while on Thy day
4. Deny­ing that I made it.
5. Mak­ing a mouse­trap on Thy day
6. Con­triv­ing of the chimes on Thy day
7. Squirt­ing water on Thy day
8. Mak­ing pies on Sun­day night
9. Swim­ming in a kim­nel on Thy day
10. Putting a pin in Iohn Keys hat on Thy day to pick him.
11. Care­less­ly hear­ing and com­mit­ting many ser­mons
12. Refus­ing to go to the close at my moth­ers com­mand.
13. Threat­ning my father and moth­er Smith to burne them and the house over them
14. Wish­ing death and hop­ing it to some
15. Strik­ing many
16. Hav­ing uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese.
17. Steal­ing cher­ry cobs from Eduard Stor­er
18. Deny­ing that I did so
19. Deny­ing a cross­bow to my moth­er and grand­moth­er though I knew of it
20. Set­ting my heart on mon­ey learn­ing plea­sure more than Thee
21. A relapse
22. A relapse
23. A break­ing again of my covenant renued in the Lords Sup­per.
24. Punch­ing my sis­ter
25. Rob­bing my moth­ers box of plums and sug­ar
26. Call­ing Dorothy Rose a jade
27. Glutiny in my sick­ness.
28. Peev­ish­ness with my moth­er.
29. With my sis­ter.
30. Falling out with the ser­vants
31. Divers com­mis­sions of alle my duties
32. Idle dis­course on Thy day and at oth­er times
33. Not turn­ing near­er to Thee for my affec­tions
34. Not liv­ing accord­ing to my belief
35. Not lov­ing Thee for Thy self.
36. Not lov­ing Thee for Thy good­ness to us
37. Not desir­ing Thy ordi­nances
38. Not long {long­ing} for Thee in {illeg}
39. Fear­ing man above Thee
40. Vsing unlaw­ful means to bring us out of dis­tress­es
41. Car­ing for world­ly things more than God
42. Not crav­ing a bless­ing from God on our hon­est endeav­ors.
43. Miss­ing chapel.
44. Beat­ing Arthur Stor­er.
45. Peev­ish­ness at Mas­ter Clarks for a piece of bread and but­ter.
46. Striv­ing to cheat with a brass halfe crowne.
47. Twist­ing a cord on Sun­day morn­ing
48. Read­ing the his­to­ry of the Chris­t­ian cham­pi­ons on Sun­day

Since Whit­sun­day 1662

49. Glu­tony
50. Glu­tony
51. Vsing Wil­fords tow­el to spare my own
52. Neg­li­gence at the chapel.
53. Ser­mons at Saint Marys (4)
54. Lying about a louse
55. Deny­ing my cham­ber­fel­low of the knowl­edge of him that took him for a sot.
56. Neglect­ing to pray 3
57. Help­ing Pet­tit to make his water watch at 12 of the clock on Sat­ur­day night

via JF Ptak Sci­ence Books/Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intel­li­gent Per­son Should Read

Sir Isaac Newton’s Papers & Anno­tat­ed Prin­cip­ia Go Dig­i­tal

Neil deGrasse Tyson Deliv­ers the Great­est Sci­ence Ser­mon Ever

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (14)
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  • C. McCormick says:

    The ‘on Thy Day’ ref­er­ences appear to be refer­ring to doing work on the Sab­bath. He changed it up a bit with ‘Mak­ing pies on Sun­day night’.

  • ron says:

    Who was an athe­ist dur­ing the Enlight­en­ment? Even Voltaire was not an athe­ist. Please help.. I’m just look­ing for one name.

  • Jennifer Lilynn says:

    My guess, by con­text clues, is that by “Mak­ing a feath­er” and then “Deny­ing that he made it” might be fart­ing! As a feath­er might float through the room, so might a fart, and sure­ly, deny­ing one’s own farts can­not be a new con­cept. =)

  • Roboteusz Ł. (Rob-othy, Male) says:

    In my opin­ion »mak­ing a feath­er« goes for mak­ing an indi­an plume out of long feath­ers (amer­i­can-indi­an i mean). Chil­dren don’t fart, nor women do :) — in the first exam­ple they don’t even smell, it must be a mat­ter of metab­o­lism.

    AFAIR in the age between eleven/twelve, with a friend of mine we were cre­at­ing a cross­bow, hav­ing access to some wood­work machin­ery but did­n’t know a heck about the Hooke’s law not even the lin­ear new­ton’s dynam­ics and the spring did­n’t work as expect­ed. Did­n’t play amer­i­can indi­ans.

    The cipher could be solved — but you could please pro­vide “MORE Input DATA!”

    Its not ROT13, there were no J or U at the time of encypher­ing at New­ton’s key­board. I just must imple­ment ROT12 but tomor­row is Thy day.

    The cap­i­tals match up with Isaac New­ton’s sig­na­ture so it might be the key but this brought me nowhere close then to trans­late Nabed Efy­hik not clos­er than to:
    Elzvb Wdtftq/Rhcie
    or to Wgavdg Ytcfg
    or Efy­hik Slvdyz {If I Hike Slaved Yazz}?

  • Roboteusz Ł. (Rob-othy, Male) says:

    A B C D E F G H I K L M
    N O P Q R S T V W X Y Z
    Nabed Efy­hik ~=
    Anorq RSLvwx
    Khcfg Smvczy

  • Howard wideman says:

    Lar­ry he threat­ened to burn par­ents house because his father died before new­ton was born, moth­er remar­ried and aban­doned Isaac to grand­par­ents

  • Veronica Taylor says:

    I have solved this. Who specif­i­cal­ly at Cam­bridge do I need to talk to??

  • starlesstheshellcat says:

    I think that’s sort of the point miss 178 it’s “eng­lish made sim­ple”… I don’t think any­one at Cam­bridge will be too impressed with that. But if that is where your inter­ests lie than you should hash­tag a cou­ple of SIN’s oth­er cryp­tic ref­er­ences that he made in his sui­cide note; “Let the good times roll”/“Life Eter­nal”… etc.

  • starlesstheshellcat says:

    SIN is one of my best friends and giv­en what I know about how he thinks I have a cou­ple thoughts on the sub­jects men­tioned:

    First off; the sim­ple gema­tria of #feath­er and #penis are the same. So in all prob­a­bil­i­ty Sin is using “feath­er” as a metonym in place of “erec­tion”… which is why he hilar­i­ous­ly denied it ever hap­pened.

    In regard to “Nabed Efy­hik Wfn­zo Cpm­fke” by exten­sion of the same line of rea­son­ing I would reck­on its like­ly an expres­sion about the ‘#Tree of Knowl­edge of Good and Evil’ in Gen­e­sis: 2346÷2100=1.117142857÷π=3.555976157÷113=3.146881555

    The inclu­sion of the num­ber 113 is in accor­dance with rep­e­ti­tion of the num­ber 476 asso­ci­at­ed with the spell… It’s the pass­word and the sec­ond sequence of “555” con­firms this.

    I hope that clears things up.

  • Beth says:

    Assum­ing “mak­ing a feath­er” is sim­ply a quill pen. The sin was work­ing on the Sab­bath, as shown by the sim­i­lar ref­er­ences to mak­ing inno­cent things like pies and a mouse­trap, or even swim­ming, on “Thy Day”.

  • Meredith says:


  • Meredith says:

    This is very help­ful .

    My sis­ter’s toi­let explod­ed water every­where yes­ter­day

    No need to freaks out over any cri­sis.
    Must remain calm and con­tin­ue to save the plan­et in my mind.

  • Eva Betts says:

    It means strip­ping a real feath­er and fill­ing the quill with ink to use for writ­ing.

  • Giovanni says:

    Baron d’Holbach was a promi­nent athe­ist dur­ing the enlight­en­ment

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