Newton was deeply interested in all forms of natural sciences and material theory, an interest that ultimately would lead to some of his better-known contributions to science. During Newton's lifetime, the study of chemistry was still in its infancy, thereby leading many of his experimental studies to consist of the use of esoteric language and vague terminology more accurately associated with alchemy and occultism. It would be several decades after Newton's death that experiments of stoichiometry under the pioneering works of Antoine Lavoisier were conducted and analytical chemistry, with its associated nomenclature, would come to resemble modern chemistry, as we know it today.
Much of Newton's writing on alchemy may have been lost in a fire in his laboratory, so the true extent of his work in this area may have been larger than is currently known. Newton also suffered a nervous breakdown during his period of alchemical work, which is thought by some due to the psychological transformation that alchemy was originally designed to induce, though there is also speculation it may have been some form of chemical poisoning (possibly from mercury, lead, or some other substance).
Newton's writings suggest that one of the main goals of his alchemy may have been the discovery of The Philosophers Stone (a material believed to turn base metals into gold), and perhaps to a lesser extent, the discovery of the highly coveted Elixir of Life. There is no evidence to suggest he was successful in either attempt.
Newton's work was left unpublished due to practices of alchemy being banned in England because of unscrupulous practitioners who would often promise wealthy benefactors unrealistic results in an attempt to swindle money. In some cases, the punishment for unsanctioned alchemy would include the public hanging of an offender on a gilded scaffold while adorned with tinsel and other items.
The Philosopher's Stone
Several documents were written by Newton indicate an interest in the procurement or development of The Philosopher's Stone. Most notably are documents entitled, Artephius his secret Book, followed by The Epistle of Iohn Pontanus, wherein he beareth witness of ye book of Artephius, these are themselves a collection of excerpts from another work with the equally lengthy title of, Nicholas Flammel, His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures which he caused to be painted upon an Arch in St Innocents Church-yard in Paris. Together with The Secret Booke of Artephius, And the Epistle of Iohn Pontanus: Containing both the Theoricke and the Practicke of the Philosophers Stone.
These works may also have been referenced by Newton in its Latin version found within Lazarus Zetzner's, , a volume often associated with the Turba Philosophorum and other early European alchemical manuscripts. Nicolas Flamel, (one subject of the aforementioned work) was a notable, though mysterious figure, often associated with the discovery of The Philosophers Stone, Hieroglyphical Figures, tarot, and occultism. Artephius, and his "secret book", were also subjects of interest to 17th Century alchemists.
Also part of Newtons collection was, The Epitome of the treasure of health written by Edwardus Generosus Anglicus innominatus who lived Anno Domini 1562. This is a twenty-eight-page treatise on the Philosopher's Stone, the Animal or Angelicall Stone, the Prospective stone or magical stone of Moses, and the vegetable or the growing stone. The treatise concludes with an alchemical poem.
In a manuscript he wrote in 1704 in which he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible, Newton estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said,
This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.
Newton was interested in the proportions of the Temple of Solomon given in 1 Kings. He noted that the Temples' measurements given in the Bible maths problems, related to solutions for pi and the volume of a hemisphere, V = (2 / 3) pi r3.