Summer thoughts…

Oxford, summer, unusually un-British weather. Currently setting up and drafting a chapter on Newton’s reading practices, with specific focus on his chronological readings. Turns out I find it extremely difficult to turn all the finds I collected over the past three years into a coherent narrative. Whatever happened to creativity?

I keep on thinking how fitting this is, because it is precisely what Newton would have said had we asked him. All the drafts he left show a man frantically trying to arrange his subject matter. How to set up the argument? (what, actually, is the argument?) How to arrange the various chapters? What should the first, overarching chapter contain? The evolution of his work throughout the four decades he spent on it is wild, constantly branching, discarding entire setups for totally new ones. You should have a look at my first setups, the ones I constructed during my second year. Yikes… And then there is the bi-or even tri-or-multi-linguality: Newton reading mainly Latin tomes, often accompanying Greek original texts, but also various works in English and French, with his output first in Latin, and later in English. Again, there is a parallel: being Dutch, reading in Latin, Greek, English, German, sometimes French or Italian, and writing in English – or at least, trying to…

Newton never finished his chronology: what was eventually published was a draft described as ‘neat’ and ‘complete’ – which is quite true when compared to many of the other drafts – but one only need to leaf through the pages [which one can do here] to see Newton still made additions and deletions. And the editors might as well have picked this version; comparing both suggests Newton might have well written them simultaneously, rather than sequentially. Rest assured, I do not have any intentions of writing two versions of my thesis. I think writing just one is hard enough!

To be continued…

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