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.

by | Permalink | Comments (14) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (14)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.