I have stumbled upon the following alleged Newton's quotes, but I could not find them in any of their works.

No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.

No sciences are better attested than the religion of the Bible.

What we know is a drop, what we don't know is an ocean.

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Where exactly do they come from? Are they apocryphal? Is there anywhere a comprehensive compilation of alleged Newton quotes indicating their authenticity and source?

  • $\begingroup$ wikiquote.org has a page on Newton. It has the "smoother pebble" quote, but not the other three. $\endgroup$ Oct 15, 2019 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ If they only occur on junky quote sites without reference, and no other place, there is little point to investigating their origin. Too many people have a tendency to attach big names to generic platitudes they think up or overhear, and the life is too short. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Oct 15, 2019 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ "Those quotes belong to Archimedes, not Newton" --attr. to A. Lincoln. :-) $\endgroup$ Oct 15, 2019 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ You can search Newton's and related writings on The Newton Project. $\endgroup$
    – Geremia
    Oct 15, 2019 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because demonstrates no prior research. $\endgroup$
    – Geremia
    Oct 15, 2019 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


The fourth quote is found in the posthumous work "Anecdotes, Observations and Characters, of Books and Men" Vol 1 (page 158), by the historian Joseph Spence (1820). They are reported to have been uttered by Newton just before his death (1727) to Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsey (though the latter was recorded to be in France at the time).

The second probably refers to this quote: "I find more sure marks of the authenticity of the Bible than in any profane history whatever." It was published by Bishop Richard Watson (and professor in Cambridge) in "An Apology for Christianity" (1776, page 91), as related to him by his former teacher Dr Robert Smith, Master of Trinity College, who heard it directly from Newton. The book was meant to be a response to Gibbon's book which laid the blame for the Roman empire's decline to Christianity.

The third quote seems to be a paraphrase of the fourth. The first is probably apocryphal.


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