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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Isaac Newton


Isaac Newton was born, according to the Julian calendar (in use in England at the time) on Christmas Day, December 25. 1642.

He was born at Woolsthorpe House, near the hamlet of Colstenworth in Lincolnshire.

He was born prematurely. Isaac wasn't expected to live beyond a few hours, but proved everyone wrong in style.

His father, also named Isaac Newton, was a yeoman (a farmer who owned his own piece of land). who couldn’t write his own name. He died three months before Newton was born.

Isaac's mother Hannah Ayscough remarried Barnabas Smith, the minister of the church at North Witham, a nearby village when Newton was 2-years old. Isaac was left in the care of his grandma Margery Ayscough at Woolsthorpe.

Isaac was a lonely boy after his widowed mother remarried and shunned playing with other children, preferring his own company.

As a child, Isaac demonstrated an early ability to devise mechanical toys.

The manor house where Isaac was bought up at Woolsthorpe is now preserved as a Museum.

Newton began his schooling in the village schools and later was sent to The King's School, Grantham.

Isaac was educated at The King's School From the age of about twelve until he was seventeen, The school taught Latin and Greek but no mathematics worth mentioning.

At one time Isaac was relegated to the lowest class at school, but he snapped out of his mental lethargy when a fight with a bully moved him to better his own standing and he became a top-rated student.

Newton dropped out of school at his mother’s request as she hoped he would become a successful farmer.

Newton's college notebooks contained a coded list of his childhood sins, which included punching his sister, threatening to burn down his stepfather’s house and making pies on a Sunday


As a young farmer Newton was fined in the manor court for letting his swine trespass while he built water wheels in the stream.

Newton hated farming and failed to make a success of it.

Henry Stokes, the master of The King's School persuaded Newton's mother to send him back there so that he might complete his education.

On June 5, 1661 Newton was admitted as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his uncle William Ayscough had studied. At that time the college's teachings were based on those of Aristotle, but Newton preferred to read the more advanced ideas of men such as Copernicus, Descartes, Galileo and Kepler.

Soon after Newton had obtained his B.A. degree in August 1665, the university temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague and Newton continued his studies at Woolsthorpe.

In April 1667, Newton returned to Cambridge and in October was elected as a fellow of Trinity. He received his Master of Arts Degree the following year.

In 1669, Newton succeeded the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, Isaac Barrow. However, his lectures were deemed to be rather poor, and were often delivered to an empty room. Fortunately he only lectured about eight times a year.

Newton was active in anti-Catholic politics at Cambridge, and during the reign of the Catholicish James II, he led the opposition at the university. This prompted his election to parliament as the MP for Cambridge University in 1689.

As an MP Newton did not have a great political agenda. He only made one recorded speech in Parliament. As he stood up, the House of Commons hushed in expectation of hearing the great man’s maiden speech. Newton observed that there was a window open, which was causing a draught and asked that it be closed, then he sat down.

After a nervous breakdown Newton concentrated his energies on serving the country as a Civil Servant, He moved to London to take up the post of Warden of the Royal Mint in 1696, a position that he had obtained through the patronage of Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As Warden of the Mint Newton conducted a major campaign against counterfeiting, sending several men to their death on the gallows.

He received a salary of £500 and a percentage of every pound coined.

Newton was appointed Master of the Mint in 1699. He reformed the English coinage system with strategies which today would be called Thatcherite.

In 1701 Newton was elected as MP for the second time for Cambridge University and as a result he resigned as from his university duties.

Upon the death of Robert Hooke, Newton was elected as the President of the Royal Society in 1703.

Newton in a 1702 portrait by Godfrey Kneller

On April 16, 1705, Queen Anne knighted Newton during a royal visit to Trinity College, Cambridge. The award was not for his achievements in science and mathematics but as an election gambit by his patron and former pupil, Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax.

Newton was the second scientist to be knighted, after Sir Francis Bacon.


Although an excellent mathematician, Newton was incapable of performing simple mental arithmetic.

In 1665, whilst a student at Cambridge, Newton discovered the generalized binomial theorem and began to develop a mathematical theory that later became calculus. Soon after, the university temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague and Newton was forced to go back home to his mother's house in Woolsthorpe. Newton's private studies at his mother's home in Woolsthorpe over the subsequent 18 months saw the development of his theories on calculus.

Though Newton developed calculus before Gottfried Leibniz, the German had published his findings first and had the better notion. This provoked a furious row between the two of them. The German asked the Royal Society to arbitrate without realizing that Newton was its President. Newton set up a committee of his own friends to investigate which to nobody's surprise accused the unfortunate Leibniz of plagiarism.


Newton worked most of his life in isolation. He avoided discussion and debate with the rest of the scientific community in order to pursue his own unique path.

In a 18 month period during 1665 and 1666, the plague forced Newton to leave Cambridge and go back home to his mother's house at Woolsthorpe in the country. Seeing an apple fall from a tree, (probably a Flower of Kent, a large green variety), he entered into a profound train of thought as to the causes, which could lead to such a drawing together, or attraction.

Newton later showed that planets retain their orbits by gravity, the same law which makes apples fall to the ground.

In 1683 Newton explained the relationship between gravity and tides.

Isaac Newton, already recognised as a leading scientist for his discoveries of the laws of gravity published Principia Mathmaticia on July 5, 1687. A notoriously difficult book to understand, but one of the most important books on science ever written, it set out laws which showed the Universe to be divinely ordained and set the foundation of the science of mechanics. Newton explained that gravitational force was responsible for controlling the motions of the celestial bodies.

Newton's own copy of his Principia, with hand-written corrections for the second edition

Newton was responsible for building the first practical telescope in late 1668. His first reflecting telescope was about eight inches long and it gave a clearer and larger image.

Replica of Newton's second Reflecting telescope presented to the Royal Society in 1672

Newton developed a theory of color based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colors of the visible spectrum. He named seven colors in the spectrum even though indigo is barely distinguishable as a separate color because seven was his favorite number.

In 1704 Isaac Newton published Optiks, which enlightened his discoveries on light and color.

Newton once tried looking at the sun in a mirror, essentially blinding himself for three days and experiencing afterimages for months.

Newton had a pup called Diamond who one day, whilst his master was attending chapel, knocked over a candle on the scientist's desk. This started a blaze, which destroyed many years research. Newton was despondent. “O Diamond!” he shouted. “Thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done!”

Newton was modest of his own achievements, famously writing in a letter to fellow polymath Robert Hooke in February 1676: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants". The phrase has since been used as an inscription on a £2 coin and as the title of one of rock band Oasis’s albums.

The Oasis album is actually titled Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants. It was supposed to say "shoulders," but by the time they noticed the mistake, it was too late.

When asked how he managed to make all those important discoveries he replied "Nocte dieque incubando". Translated he meant "By thinking about it day and night."


Newton maintained the Holy Spirit revealed his discoveries to him and that the understanding of the Scriptures was more important than his scientific work.

A Unitarian and Arian Anglican, Newton came to believe that "Trinitarianism is a fraud and that Arianism is the true form of primitive Christianity." His Unitarian and Arian beliefs meant he did not believe that Christ was the Son of God . His religious views were held by the established church to be very heretical.

Sir Isaac Newton was convinced that there is a hidden code in the Bible and he spent half his life trying to find it even going as far as to learn Hebrew. Arising from this, an unusual book of theology by the scientist concerning Daniel's prophecies and the end of the world was published three years after his death.

His friends, embarrassed by its contents had prevented its publication for years. However Newton had considered it to be his own finest work.

Newton practiced astrology and was fascinated by alchemy and magic. He worked till dawn for nights on end attempting to master alchemy.

After Newton's death, a sealed trunk was found among his belongings containing nearly 100,000 pages of notes he’d written on astronomy, chemistry, alchemy and the occult.


As a young man Isaac Newton was what we would now describe as rather a hippy. A contemporary recalled that he often 'dined in college ... stockings untied, head scarcely combed'.

By his 30s, Newton's hair was already grey, falling to his shoulders and usually uncombed. He was thin and almost equine with a strong nose and gibbous eyes.

A copy of a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller(1689).

In 1816 one of Newton's teeth was sold in an auction to a nobleman for £730. The nobleman had it set in a ring.

A miserable character, it is believed Newton only laughed once in his whole life after someone asked him what possible use there could be for geometry.

The absent minded Newton was unable to find his way around his Cambridge college but said he could find his way around the universe.


Newton never married, nor had any recorded children.. It is believed he only had one romantic relationship, and is said to have died a virgin.

When he was a student at Grantham, Newton lodged with the local apothecary, William Clarke and eventually became engaged to the apothecary's stepdaughter, Anne Storey, before he went off to Cambridge University at the age of 19. As Newton became engrossed in his studies, the romance cooled and Miss Storey married someone else. It is said he kept a warm memory of this love, but Newton had no other recorded 'sweethearts' .

Newton's niece, Catherine Barton Conduitt, served as his hostess in social affairs at his house on Jermyn Street in London; he was her "very loving Uncle", according to his letter to her when she was recovering from smallpox.

Newton had few friends, but got on well with the astronomer Edmund Halley, who had encouraged him to produce his great work, Principia  in 1687.

Newton cared little for meals and often forsaked eating for hours when he was caught up in his work.

Newton didn't enjoy opera. On hearing Handel play upon the harpsichord, Newton could find nothing worthy to remark but the elasticity of his fingers.

When he was appointed Warden of the Mint, Isaac Newton found a house in Jermyn Street, London. He brought luxurious, mainly crimson furniture, engaged servants and invited his 20-year-old niece Catherine Barton to be his housekeeper. He slept in a crimson mohair bed.

Isaac Newton lost the equivalent of $3 million in today's money on stock market in 1720.


Historians agree that Isaac Newton had bipolar disorder, autism, or schizophrenia, or some combination of all three.

In 1678 Isaac Newton suffered from a nervous breakdown and fifteen years later he had a second one due to a combination of overwork and mercury poisoning from his alchemy experiments.

Isaac Newton was so obsessed with turning base metal to gold that samples of his hair showed mercury levels up to 40 times higher than average. This is considered to be the reason he went mad in his later years.


Newton died in his sleep at his house on Jermyn Street in London on March 20, 1726. As a bachelor, he had divested much of his estate to relatives during his last years, and died intestate.

Isaac Newton in old age in 1712, portrait by Sir James Thornhill

Newton's last words were: "I don't know what I may seem to the world , but as to myself , I seem to have been only like a boy laying on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

On his deathbed, Newton refused to accept the sacrament of the Anglican church.

He was the first scientist to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

Newton was disliked by Keats as he "destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism."


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