Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Letter to Francis Astor in 1669
By Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727)
SINCE in your letter you give me so much liberty of spending my judgment about what may be to your advantage in traveling, I shall do it more freely than perhaps otherwise would have been decent. First, then, I will lay down some general rules, most of which, I believe, you have considered already: but if any of them be new to you, they may excuse the rest; if none at all, yet is my punishment more in writing than yours in reading.  1
  When you come into any fresh company:—1. Observe their humors. 2. Suit your own carriage thereto, by which insinuation you will make their converse more free and open. 3. Let your discourse be more in queries and doubtings than peremptory assertions or disputings; it being the design of travelers to learn, not to teach. Besides it will persuade your acquaintance that you have the greater esteem of them, and so make them more ready to communicate what they know to you; whereas nothing sooner occasions disrespect and quarrels than peremptoriness. You will find little or no advantage in seeming wiser or much more ignorant than your company. 4. Seldom discommend anything though never so bad, or do it but moderately, lest you be unexpectedly forced to an unhandsome retraction. It is safer to commend anything more than it deserves, than to discommend a thing so much as it deserves; for commendations meet not so often with oppositions, or at least are not usually so ill resented by men that think otherwise, as discommendations: and you will insinuate into men’s favor by nothing sooner than seeming to approve and commend what they like; but beware of doing it by comparison. 5. If you be affronted, it is better, in a foreign country, to pass it by in silence and with a jest, though with some dishonor, than to endeavor revenge: for in the first case, your credit’s ne’er the worse when you return into England, or come into other company that have not heard of the quarrel; but in the second case, you may bear the marks of the quarrel while you live, if you outlive it at all. But if you find yourself unavoidably engaged, ’tis best I think, if you can command your passion and language, to keep them pretty evenly at some certain moderate pitch; not much heightening them to exasperate your adversary, or provoke his friends, nor letting them grow overmuch dejected to make him insult. In a word, if you can keep reason above passion, that and watchfulness will be your best defendants. To which purpose you may consider, that though such excuses as this—He provoked me so much I could not forbear—may pass among friends, yet amongst strangers they are insignificant, and only argue a traveler’s weakness.  2
  To these I may add some general heads for inquiries or observations, such as at present I can think on. As,—1. To observe the policies, wealth, and State affairs of nations, so far as a solitary traveler may conveniently do. 2. Their impositions upon all sorts of people, trades, or commodities, that are remarkable. 3. Their laws and customs, how far they differ from ours 4. Their trades and arts, wherein they excel or come short of us in England. 5. Such fortifications as you shall meet with, their fashion, strength, and advantages for defense, and other such military affairs as are considerable. 6. The power and respect belonging to their degrees of nobility or magistracy. 7. It will not be time misspent to make a catalogue of the names and excellencies of those men that are most wise, learned, or esteemed in any nation. 8. Observe the mechanism and manner of guiding ships. 9. Observe the products of nature in several places, especially in mines, with the circumstances of mining and of extracting metals or minerals out of their ore, and of refining them; and if you meet with any transmutations out of their own species into another (as out of iron into copper, out of any metal into quicksilver, out of one salt into another, or into an insipid body, etc.), those above all will be worth your noting, being the most luciferous, and many times lucriferous experiments too, in philosophy. 10. The prices of diet and other things. 11. And the staple commodities of places.  3
  These generals (such as at present I could think of), if they will serve for nothing else, yet they may assist you in drawing up a model to regulate your travels by. As for particulars, these that follow are all that I can now think of;—viz., 1. Whether at Schemnitium in Hungary (where there are mines of gold, copper, iron, vitriol, antimony, etc.) they change iron into copper by dissolving it in a vitriolate water, which they find in cavities of rocks in the mines, and then melting the slimy solution in a strong fire, which in the cooling proves copper. The like is said to be done in other places which I cannot now remember; perhaps too it may be done in Italy. For about twenty or thirty years agone there was a certain vitriol came from thence (called Roman vitriol), but of a nobler virtue than that which is now called by that name; which vitriol is not now to be gotten, because perhaps they make a greater gain by some such trick as turning iron into copper with it than by selling it. 2. Whether in Hungary, Sclavonia, Bohemia, near the town Eila, or at the mountains of Bohemia near Silesia, there be rivers whose waters are impregnated with gold; perhaps, the gold being dissolved by some corrosive water like aqua regis, and the solution carried along with the stream that runs through the mines. And whether the practice of laying mercury in the rivers, till it be tinged with gold, and then straining the mercury through leather, that the gold may stay behind, be a secret yet, or openly practiced. 3. There is newly contrived, in Holland, a mill to grind glasses plane withal, and I think polishing them too; perhaps it will be worth the while to see it. 4. There is in Holland one Borry, who some years since was imprisoned by the Pope, to have extorted from him secrets (as I am told) of great worth, both as to medicine and profit; but he escaped into Holland, where they have granted him a guard. I think he usually goes clothed in green. Pray inquire what you can of him, and whether his ingenuity be any profit to the Dutch. You may inform yourself whether the Dutch have any tricks to keep their ships from being all worm-eaten in their voyages to the Indies; whether pendulum clocks do any service in finding out the longitude, etc.  4
  I am very weary, and shall not stay to part with a long compliment; only I wish you a good journey, and God be with you.  5

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