But first whom shall we send
In search of this new world, whom shall we find
Sufficient? Who shall tempt with wandring feet
The dark unbottom’d infinite Abyss
And through the palpable obscure find out
His uncouth way, or spread his aerie flight
Upborn with indefatigable wings
Over the vast abrupt, ere he arrive
The happy Ile…
MILTON, Paradise Lost
The story thus far…
In Boston in October 1713, Daniel Waterhouse, sixty-seven years of age, the Founder and sole Fellow of a failing college, the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Technologickal Arts, has received a startling visit from the Alchemist Enoch Root, who has appeared on his doorstep brandishing a summons addressed to Daniel from Princess Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach, thirty.
Two decades earlier, Daniel, along with his friend and colleague Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, knew Princess Caroline when she was a destitute orphan. Since then she has grown up as a ward of the King and Queen of Prussia in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, surrounded by books, artists, and Natural Philosophers, including Leibniz. She has married the Electoral Prince of Hanover, George Augustus, known popularly as “Young Hanover Brave” for his exploits in the recently concluded War of the Spanish Succession. He is reputed to be as handsome and dashing as Caroline is beautiful and brilliant.
The grandmother of George Augustus is Sophie of Hanover, still shrewd and vigorous at eighty-three. According to the Whigs-one of the two great factions in English politics-Sophie should be next in line to the English throne after the death of Queen Anne, who is forty-eight and in poor health. This would place Princess Caroline in direct line to become Princess of Wales and later Queen of England. The Whigs’ bitter rivals, the Tories, while paying lip service to the Hanoverian succession, harbor many powerful dissidents, called Jacobites,
who are determined that the next monarch should instead be James Stuart: a Catholic who has lived most of his life in France as a guest and puppet of the immensely powerful Sun King, Louis XIV.
England and an alliance of mostly Protestant countries have just finished fighting a quarter-century-long world war against France. The second half of it, known as the War of the Spanish Succession, has seen many battlefield victories for the Allies under the generalship of two brothers in arms: the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. Nevertheless France has won the war, in large part by outmaneuvering her opponents politically. Consequently, a grandson of Louis XIV now sits on the throne of the Spanish Empire, which among other things is the source of most of the world’s gold and silver. If the English Jacobites succeed in placing James Stuart on the English throne, France’s victory will be total.
In anticipation of the death of Queen Anne, Whiggish courtiers and politicians have been establishing contacts and forging alliances between London and Hanover. This has had the side-effect of throwing into high relief a long-simmering dispute between Sir Isaac Newton-the preeminent English scientist, the President of the Royal Society, and Master of the Royal Mint at the Tower of London-and Leibniz, a privy councilor and old friend of Sophie, and tutor to Princess Caroline. Ostensibly this conflict is about which of the two men first invented the calculus, but in truth it has deeper roots.