Newton and Alchemy I: John Maynard Keynes and the Myth of Newton the Magician

On 13 and 14 July 1936, a huge amount of private papers of Isaac Newton belonging to Viscount Lymington were auctioned at Sotheby’s in London. The auction was not a big success: the entire collection only raised £9,000 (this would be c. £640,000 today according to this calculator).[1] Still, the auction drew the attention of one famous man – the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), who ended up buying many of the papers. There were two main subjects addressed by Newton’s private papers: alchemy and theology. Keynes was mainly interested in the alchemical papers, while a Jewish scholar and collector, Abraham Yahuda, bought most of the theological ones.[2]