Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton


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Newton’s Reflecting Telescope

Herschel Reflecting Telescope: One night, using a reflecting telescope of his own design, William Herschel discovered an object moving across the sky. He first thought the object was a comet, but later discovered it was in fact a new planet that he would name Georgium sidus after King George III astronomers would rename the planet Uranus, 50 years later. Without the high quality he achieved with his telescopes, a quality that far surpassed anything that had been accomplished before, he would not have been able to discover Uranus.
Credit: Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum

In the mid 1600s, Isaac Newton was studying light and found that the bands of color plaguing early astronomers were formed from light passing through a lens or a prism. He came to the conclusion that white light is really a mixture of light of different colors. When light passes through a prism the different colors separate and are discernible. The same thing happens with a lens but to a much lesser degree. Newton thought that it would be impossible to get rid of chromatic aberration as long as lenses were used in telescopes.

Newton started working on another type of telescope that he thought should get rid of chromatic aberration. Instead of using a lens to focus the light from a star, Newton used a mirror. He experimented with different metals and polishing methods and made his first reflecting telescope in 1668. Newton was not the only astronomer to think of building a telescope with a mirror, but he was the first to produce a working reflecting telescope. His telescope was shown to the Royal Society of London, one of the most distinguished organizations promoting science. The demonstration was so successful that Newton was elected to membership to the Royal Society immediately. One hundred years later, my own brother William would also be admitted to the Royal Society when he discovered Georgium sidus using a telescope based on Newton’s design.

Reflecting telescopes proved difficult to construct. The mirrors were hard to polish to the proper shape. It was fifty years before another member of the Royal Society, John Hadley, improved the mirror by making it have a parabolic shape instead of Newton’s spherical shape. A parabolic mirror is able to focus all of the light to one point and thus provides a crisper image than does a spherical mirror. I know about this parabolic shape, as it is the design my brother used in making his own telescopes. There were times when I had to actually put food into William’s mouth because he could not stop grinding and polishing a mirror to eat. One time he was at it for sixteen hours straight.

Reflector: Diagram of a relecting telescope.
Credit: Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum


The Market Crash That Cost Newton a Fortune

It was the first “bubble” in stock-market history, and even Isaac Newton got caught up in the rush.

Related Content

In 1720, like many other wealthy men in Britain, Newton’s investments in the South Sea Company evaporated when the company’s shares skyrocketed, then crashed. Proving that even the most intelligent among us can be baffled by the stock market, Newton’s problems started when he re-bought some of the volatile stocks that he’d sold at a profit, leading to a major loss.

The story of the South Sea Company, a publically-traded company that was founded in 1711 to trade with the Spanish South American colonies, is one of the first big market crash stories. Between January and June of that year, the shares in the South Sea Company skyrocketed from 𧴸 each to �. By September, they were again worth 𧵧.

That year was the first time “bubble” was used in reference to publicly traded companies. In fact, writes Richard Evans for The Telegraph, 1720 was sometimes referred to as the “Bubble Year.”

Towed along by the success of the South Sea Company, “newly floated firms were seen as appearing like bubbles,” Evans writes. But alas, all bubbles burst.

In June 1720, Parliament passed the Bubble Act. It required all companies that sold stock to the public to hold a royal charter, reports the Harvard College Library.

Sounds like it would help control rampant speculation, right? But there was a problem. “The legislation had been introduced by the South Sea Company,” the library reports, “presumably as a means of controlling competition in the burgeoning market.”

The South Sea Company’s charter was seen as a vote of confidence in the company, writes Evans, and shares kept rising. But, he writes, “investors started to lose confidence in early July.”

By September, the bubble had burst, investors had lost the bulk of their investments,and the public was outraged, writes scholar Helen Julia Paul. The following year, she writes, a Parliamentary committee charged with investigating the matter released a report on this day in 1921, finding that the company’s directors had “circulated false claims of success and fanciful tales of South Sea riches,” Evans writes.  Government officials were also implicated. Many appeared in the resulting trials.

Where was Newton while all this was happening? Selling and buying, it seems. One quotation attributed to him from this period had him stating that he “could calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of the people,” writes author Jason Zweig.

Early in the year, “Newton dumped his South Sea shares, pocketing a 100% profit totalling �,” he writes.

"But just months later, swept up in the wild enthusiasm of the market, Newton jumped back in at a much higher price—and lost 㿀,000 (or more than $3 million in today’s money). For the rest of his life, he forbade anyone to speak the words ‘South Sea’ in his presence."

About Kat Eschner

Kat Eschner is a freelance science and culture journalist based in Toronto.


Isaac Newton - HISTORY

Sir Isaac Newton has been described by some as "one of the greatest names in human thought" (Cohen, 1985). Newton was responsible for discovering many outstanding scientific and mathematical concepts. Among those discoveries were his theories of motion and gravitation, the components of light and color and his development of the foundations of calculus. There were many interesting aspects of Newtons life which seemed at times to contradict each other.

Newton, was born on Christmas day in 1642 to a family of farmers in the east central portion of England in Linconshire. Surprisingly young Isaac was not an exceptional student. He enjoyed spending much of his time making contraptions such as a windmill used to grind grain, a clock which was powered by water and other various inventions. Unfortunately because of the time he spent on his projects he did very poorly in school. His teachers described him as "idle" and "inattentive". His father died before he was born and mother remarried leaving him in the care of his grandmother. At the age of fourteen Newton was forced to leave school to help his mother with farming.

Isaac spent much of his time on the farm reading and ended up returning to school. At the bidding of an uncle, Newton began furthering his education in June of 1661, when he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He set out to get a degree in law and this limited his field of study was very during his first few years of college. However, by the third year he was allowed more freedom to pursue other interests. During this time he was able to study new mathematical and scientific methods from such scientists and mathematicians as Galileo, and Wallis. Newton graduated from Cambridge in 1665, without any particular honors.

In the summer of 1665, Newton who had not been an exceptional student and appeared at times very average, seemed to under go a change. During an eighteen month period, in which the school he was at was shut down because of the plague, Newton came up with his theories of motion and gravitation, the components of white light, and calculus. The often told story of how Newton discovered gravity goes as follows: Newton was drinking tea as the British often do, and he observed an apple falling from a tree. He deduced that the same force which caused the apple to fall to the ground causes the moon to orbit the earth (Cohen, 1985). As stated earlier, Newton helped developed what he called fluxions, which is now called calculus ( Burton, 1997). This branch of mathematics Newton discovered, could be used find the answers to such problems as finding the speed of a ball that has been thrown in the air at any moment in the balls flight. During the same time period a German mathematician named Gottfried Leibniz also discovered calculus. With Newtons's and Leibniz's new discoveries mathematicians and scientists were able to enter into new regions of discovery.

As if that wasn't enough Newton made a third important discovery. He used a prism to show that white light is made up of many different colors. Before this scientists had thought that white light was a single entity. While Isaac was looking through a telescope, one day he noted how the light reflected many different colors and led him to this discovery.

Newton was very sensitive to negative comments and had to be convinced by another scientist Edmond Halley to publish his findings. After his book Principia Mathematica in which his various discoveries and ideas were presented, Newton enjoyed success in other realms. He became a member of the British Parliament and was a member of various mathematical organizations such as the Royal Society council to which he was later elected president. He died on March 31, 1727 in London.

Newton had many interesting characteristics such as his study alchemy. Which is a blend of chemistry, magic and religion. Achlemists' goal was to find a way to produce gold out of different metals and also to find a magic potion which could cure ills and increase ones life. Isaac was modest, and generous to his family and those who helped him along the way. Some of Newton's discoveries were later refuted by Albert Einstein in reference to his theories of gravitational pull. However, Einstein and others still contend that Newton was indeed a very important force in man's quest for knowledge and is highly regarded for his contributions in many different areas of science.


Isaac Newton: Who He Was, Why Apples Are Falling

Sir Isaac Newton was born especially tiny but grew into a massive intellect and still looms large, thanks to his findings on gravity, light, motion, mathematics, and more.

Isaac Newton Kneller Painting

Far more than just discovering the laws of gravity, Sir Isaac Newton was also responsible for working out many of the principles of visible light and the laws of motion, and contributing to calculus.

Photograph of Sir Godfrey Kneller painting by Science Source

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Legend has it that Isaac Newton formulated gravitational theory in 1665 or 1666 after watching an apple fall and asking why the apple fell straight down, rather than sideways or even upward.

"He showed that the force that makes the apple fall and that holds us on the ground is the same as the force that keeps the moon and planets in their orbits," said Martin Rees, a former president of Britain's Royal Society, the United Kingdom's national academy of science, which was once headed by Newton himself.

"His theory of gravity wouldn't have got us global positioning satellites," said Jeremy Gray, a mathematical historian at the Milton Keynes, U.K.-based Open University. "But it was enough to develop space travel."

Isaac Newton, Underachiever?

Born two to three months prematurely on January 4, 1643, in a hamlet in Lincolnshire, England, Isaac Newton was a tiny baby who, according to his mother, could have fit inside a quart mug. A practical child, he enjoyed constructing models, including a tiny mill that actually ground flour&mdashpowered by a mouse running in a wheel.

Admitted to the University of Cambridge on 1661, Newton at first failed to shine as a student.

In 1665 the school temporarily closed because of a bubonic plague epidemic and Newton returned home to Lincolnshire for two years. It was then that the apple-falling brainstorm occurred, and he described his years on hiatus as "the prime of my age for invention."

Despite his apparent affinity for private study, Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667 and served as a mathematics professor and in other capacities until 1696.

Isaac Newton: More than Master of Gravity

Decoding gravity was only part of Newton's contribution to mathematics and science. His other major mathematical preoccupation was calculus, and along with German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, Newton developed differentiation and integration&mdashtechniques that remain fundamental to mathematicians and scientists.

Meanwhile, his interest in optics led him to propose, correctly, that white light is actually the combination of light of all the colors of the rainbow. This, in turn, made plain the cause of chromatic aberration&mdashinaccurate color reproduction&mdashin the telescopes of the day.

To solve the problem, Newton designed a telescope that used mirrors rather than just glass lenses, which allowed the new apparatus to focus all the colors on a single point&mdashresulting in a crisper, more accurate image. To this day, reflecting telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, are mainstays of astronomy.

Following his apple insight, Newton developed the three laws of motion, which are, in his own words:

  • Newton's Law of Inertia: Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.
  • Newton's Law of Acceleration: Force is equal to the change in momentum (mV) per change in time. For a constant mass, force equals mass times acceleration [expressed in the famous equation F = ma].
  • Newton's Law of Action and Reaction: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Newton published his findings in 1687 in a book called Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) commonly known as the Principia.

"Newton's Principia made him famous&mdashfew people read it, and even fewer understood it, but everyone knew that it was a great work, rather like Einstein's Theory of Relativity over two hundred years later," writes mathematician Robert Wilson of the Open University in an article on a university website.

Isaac Newton's "Unattractive Personality"

Despite his wealth of discoveries, Isaac Newton wasn't well liked, particularly in old age, when he served as the head of Britain's Royal Mint, served in Parliament, and wrote on religion, among other things.

"As a personality, Newton was unattractive&mdashsolitary and reclusive when young, vain and vindictive in his later years, when he tyrannized the Royal Society and vigorously sabotaged his rivals," the Royal Society's Rees said.

Sir David Wallace, director of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, U.K., added, "He was a complex character, who also pursued alchemy"&mdashthe search for a method to turn base metals into gold&mdash"and, as Master of the Mint, showed no clemency towards coiners [counterfeiters] sentenced to death."

In 1727, at 84, Sir Isaac Newton died in his sleep and was buried with pomp and ceremony in Westminster Abbey in London.


Newton's laws of motion

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Newton’s laws of motion, relations between the forces acting on a body and the motion of the body, first formulated by English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton.

What are Newton’s laws of motion?

Newton’s laws of motion relate an object’s motion to the forces acting on it. In the first law, an object will not change its motion unless a force acts on it. In the second law, the force on an object is equal to its mass times its acceleration. In the third law, when two objects interact, they apply forces to each other of equal magnitude and opposite direction.

Why are Newton’s laws of motion important?

Newton’s laws of motion are important because they are the foundation of classical mechanics, one of the main branches of physics. Mechanics is the study of how objects move or do not move when forces act upon them.

Newton’s first law states that, if a body is at rest or moving at a constant speed in a straight line, it will remain at rest or keep moving in a straight line at constant speed unless it is acted upon by a force. This postulate is known as the law of inertia. The law of inertia was first formulated by Galileo Galilei for horizontal motion on Earth and was later generalized by René Descartes. Before Galileo it had been thought that all horizontal motion required a direct cause, but Galileo deduced from his experiments that a body in motion would remain in motion unless a force (such as friction) caused it to come to rest.

Newton’s second law is a quantitative description of the changes that a force can produce on the motion of a body. It states that the time rate of change of the momentum of a body is equal in both magnitude and direction to the force imposed on it. The momentum of a body is equal to the product of its mass and its velocity. Momentum, like velocity, is a vector quantity, having both magnitude and direction. A force applied to a body can change the magnitude of the momentum, or its direction, or both. Newton’s second law is one of the most important in all of physics. For a body whose mass m is constant, it can be written in the form F = ma, where F (force) and a (acceleration) are both vector quantities. If a body has a net force acting on it, it is accelerated in accordance with the equation. Conversely, if a body is not accelerated, there is no net force acting on it.

Newton’s third law states that when two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. The third law is also known as the law of action and reaction. This law is important in analyzing problems of static equilibrium, where all forces are balanced, but it also applies to bodies in uniform or accelerated motion. The forces it describes are real ones, not mere bookkeeping devices. For example, a book resting on a table applies a downward force equal to its weight on the table. According to the third law, the table applies an equal and opposite force to the book. This force occurs because the weight of the book causes the table to deform slightly so that it pushes back on the book like a coiled spring.

Newton’s laws first appeared in his masterpiece, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), commonly known as the Principia. In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus suggested that the Sun, rather than Earth, might be at the centre of the universe. In the intervening years Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and Descartes laid the foundations of a new science that would both replace the Aristotelian worldview, inherited from the ancient Greeks, and explain the workings of a heliocentric universe. In the Principia Newton created that new science. He developed his three laws in order to explain why the orbits of the planets are ellipses rather than circles, at which he succeeded, but it turned out that he explained much more. The series of events from Copernicus to Newton is known collectively as the Scientific Revolution.

In the 20th century Newton’s laws were replaced by quantum mechanics and relativity as the most fundamental laws of physics. Nevertheless, Newton’s laws continue to give an accurate account of nature, except for very small bodies such as electrons or for bodies moving close to the speed of light. Quantum mechanics and relativity reduce to Newton’s laws for larger bodies or for bodies moving more slowly.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Erik Gregersen, Senior Editor.


Isaac Newton Worked from Home During the Plague and ‘Discovered’ Gravity

Just like people all over the world are working from home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Isaac Newton had to work from home during the Bubonic plague.

It was during that time that he was his most productive, developing his theories of calculus, optics, and even gravity.

Isaac Newton was a physicist, mathemetician, astronomer, (and on and on), and is considered one of the most influential individuals in the advancement of human knowledge.

He wrote the famous book called Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica which was published in 1687. He is also widely and popularly known for his theories on the law of gravitation.

Isaac Newton works from home

Newton obtained his Bachelor&rsquos degree from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1665, and was going to continue his education. But due to the outbreak of the Bubonic plague, precautions were taken and the University was temporarily closed.

So Isaac Newton was working from home.

Ironically, while his time actually working at college was &ldquoundistinguished&rdquo, Newton&rsquos time working at home were his most productive years and would alter the course of science.

When Newton returned to Cambridge, he was made a fellow, and then a professor. Not bad.

The apple gravity story

Isaac Newton, working from home

Isaac Newton had the option of being in his garden because he was working from home. And though this story may not be entirely true, Newton claims it was when he watched an apple fall from a tree, that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravity.

Here&rsquos an account by an acquaintance who wrote Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton&rsquos Life:

&hellipwe went into the garden, & drank thea under the shade of some appletrees, only he, & myself. amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. &ldquowhy should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,&rdquo thought he to him self: occasion&rsquod by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a comtemplative mood: &ldquowhy should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earths centre? assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter. & the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earths center, not in any side of the earth. therefore dos this apple fall perpendicularly, or toward the center. if matter thus draws matter it must be in proportion of its quantity. therefore the apple draws the earth, as well as the earth draws the apple.

So if you&rsquore working from home, take some inspiration from Isaac Newton and make the most of it, whether that means working hard or spending more time with loved ones at home. You don&rsquot need to discover gravity, though.

To learn more about Isaac Newton and his works, there are plenty of resources. We encourage you to study the lives of all people from history who made contributions and can inspire us to make contributions, ourselves.

Here are some places to visit if you&rsquod like to learn more about Newton:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which you can visit here.

Wikipedia, of course. You can visit that page here.

And check out this page on Biography.com here.

A weekly newsletter for History Buffs like you. Once a week. Cool stuff only.


The Science of Color

In the 1660s, English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton began a series of experiments with sunlight and prisms. He demonstrated that clear white light was composed of seven visible colors.

By scientifically establishing our visible spectrum (the colors we see in a rainbow), Newton laid the path for others to experiment with color in a scientific manner. His work led to breakthroughs in optics, physics, chemistry, perception, and the study of color in nature.

Aristotle developed the first known theory of color believing it was sent by God from heaven through celestial rays of light. He suggested that all colors came from white and black (lightness and darkness) and related them to the four elements – water, air, earth, and fire. Aristotle’s beliefs on color were widely held for over 2000 years until being replaced by those of Newton.

Opticks, one of the great works in the history of science, documents Newton’s discoveries from his experiments passing light through a prism. He identified the ROYGBIV colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) that make up the visible spectrum. The visible spectrum is the narrow portion within the electromagnetic spectrum that can be seen by the human eye. Other forms of electromagnetic radiation, waves of energy, that we cannot see include radio, gamma and microwaves. The cells in our eyes called cones are sensitive to the wavelengths found in the visible spectrum. They allow us to see the all the colors of the rainbow.

…if the Sun’s Light consisted of but one sort of Rays, there would be but one Colour in the whole World…

–Sir Isaac Newton, Opticks

Goethe challenged Newton’s views on color, arguing that color was not simply a scientific measurement, but a subjective experience perceived differently by each viewer. His contribution was the first systematic study on the physiological effects of color. Goethe’s views were widely adopted by artists. Although Goethe is best known for his poetry and prose, he considered Theory of Colors his most important work.

Colour are light’s suffering and joy.

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This very rare book formed the foundation for modern color printing. Le Blon was the first to outline a three-color printing method using primary colors (red, yellow, blue) to create secondary colors (green, purple, orange). He makes an important distinction between “material colors,” as used by painters, and colored light, which was the focus of Newton’s color theories. Le Blon’s distinction marks the first documentation of what is now referred to as additive and subtractive color systems. Rainbows, TVs, computer screens and mobile devices all emit light and are examples of an additive color system (the subject of Newton’s Opticks). Red, green and blue are the primary additive colors and when combined they produce transparent white light. Books, paintings, grass and cars are examples of a subtractive color system which is based on the chemical makeup of an object and its reflection of light as a color. Subtractive primary colors - blue, red, and yellow – are often taught to us as children, and when mixed together they create black.

…I arriv’d at the skill of reducing the Harmony of Colouring in painting to Mechanical Practice…

–J.C. Le Blon, Coloritto

These colorful line diagrams reveal the chemical compositions of metals. When a pure metal is burned and viewed through a spectroscope, each element gives off unique spectra, a sort of color fingerprint. This method, called spectral analysis, led to the discovery of new elements, and marked the first steps towards quantum theory.

Can you see the numbers in the circles? 4.5 percent of the population cannot see the entire visible spectrum, a condition called color vision deficiency, or color blindness. Ishihara plates are used to test patients for the various types of color blindness.

Can you find the animal hiding in this image? Camouflage uses color to conceal forms by creating optical illusions. American artist Abbott Thayer introduced the concept of disruptive patterning, in which an animal’s uneven markings can disguise its outline. In this illustration Thayer shows how a peacock can disappear into its surroundings.

Thayer, an American artist, devoted much of his life to understanding how animals conceal themselves in nature for survival. In his book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, Thayer presented his beliefs of protective coloration as an essential factor in evolution helping animals disguise themselves from predators. He received much praise and criticism. He was extreme in his views arguing that all animal coloration was for protective purposes and failing to recognize other possible reasons such as sexual selection – characteristics for attracting a mate. Teddy Roosevelt most notably attacked his theories by pointing out that this concealment doesn’t last all season, or even all day, but was dependent on a single frozen moment in times. Despite these shortcomings, Thayer went on to be the first to propose camouflage for military purposes. Although his suggestions were initially rejected, his former students were among the founders of the American Camouflage Society in 1916 and his theories were eventually adopted and are still used today.

Albatross D.Va, 1917-1918
Courtesy of the National Air and
Space Museum

The colorful pattern on this German aircraft from World War I is called lozenge camouflage. Its disruptive pattern applied Abbott Thayer’s theories in an effort to inhibit enemy observation from the air and on the ground.


Isaac Newton - HISTORY

Especially in the earlier part of his life, Newton was a deeply introverted character and fiercely protective of his privacy. Even in his maturity, having become rich, famous, laden with honours and internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s foremost thinkers, he remained deeply insecure, given to fits of depression and outbursts of violent temper, and implacable in pursuit of anyone by whom he felt threatened. The most famous example of this is his carefully-orchestrated campaign to destroy the reputation of Gottfried Leibniz, who he believed (quite unfairly) had stolen the discovery of calculus from him. Yet he was also capable of great generosity and kindness, and there is no lack of tributes to his affability and hospitality, at least in his later years.

His psychological problems culminated in what would now be called a nervous breakdown in mid-1693, when, after five nights of sleeping ‘not a wink’, he temporarily lost all grip on reality and became convinced that his friends Locke and Pepys were conspiring against him. He later confessed to Locke that during this crisis, ‘when one told me you were sickly . I answered twere better if you were dead’ (it is not clear whether Newton really did tell anyone this or merely imagined that he had). He seems, however, to have made a full recovery by the end of the year.

Many post-Freudian biographers (and not only fully paid-up Freudians) trace the roots of Newton’s insecurity and aggressiveness to his earliest years. His father died before he was born. When he was barely three years old, his mother remarried and moved into the home of her new husband Barnabas Smith, leaving the infant Isaac in the care of her own parents until Smith’s death some seven years later, when she came back, bringing with her two daughters and a son from her second marriage.

It should be said that such an arrangement was not particularly unusual in the mid-seventeenth century, but that does not in itself rule out the possibility - if not the likelihood - that this early experience of loss and betrayal permanently damaged Newton’s capacity for trust and close friendship. It has also been suggested - though this is purely conjectural and much disputed - that he was a repressed homosexual, which if true would undoubtedly have placed a man of his background and upbringing under extreme mental strain.

Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that Newton’s defensive secretiveness makes it extremely difficult to form a full and balanced assessment of his character. There are no private diaries, and hardly any of his correspondence touches on details of his private life or state of mind. Though we are lucky to have a substantial collection of second- and third-hand accounts of Newton’s early years (see the documents in Newton as Seen by Others), only a very few manuscripts in his own hand, dating from his boyhood and undergraduate years, give a more direct insight into his personal world.

By far the most important of these is the list Newton wrote out in 1662 of all the sins he could remember having committed, which he kept up-to-date for an uncertain but fairly short period thereafter (in the Fitzwilliam Notebook). Addressed directly to God, this gives a fascinating glimpse into Newton’s conscience. Perhaps the most striking feature of the list is how short it is and how innocuous most of the ’sins’ now seem. The misdemeanours Newton confessed are far less racy than those recorded in Samuel Pepys’s much more famous and substantial diary, but they obviously weighed heavily on him, and he adopted the same strategy as Pepys of writing in shorthand as a sort of code (though in both cases it is a relatively simple code to crack).

It says much about the sternly puritanical cast of Newton’s upbringing that many years after the event he still felt guilty about several minor instances of Sabbath-breaking, including ‘Squirting water on Thy day’ and ‘Making pies on Sunday night’. Other misdeeds seem, to modern secular ears, even more innocuous: ‘Idle discourse on Thy day and at other times’ ‘Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter’. Yet there are also hints of the rages and dark depressions that would continue to blight his adult life: ‘Striking many’ ‘Punching my sister’ ‘Wishing death and hoping it to some’.

Nothing else quite so revealingly personal as this survives, but much can be read between the lines of the other private notebooks Newton kept as a schoolboy and undergraduate.

In the Pierpont Morgan Notebook, begun probably in 1659 (two years before Newton went to Cambridge), there are numerous series of words arranged, under a number of subject headings, in quasi-alphabetical order. This was done, presumably, as a handwriting and/or vocabulary-building exercise, and for the most part the lists are copied verbatim from a popular text-book of the day, Francis Gregory’s Nomenclatura brevis anglo-Latino, but Newton makes some surprising and surely revealing additions of his own. The word ‘Father’, copied from Gregory, is followed by Newton’s own supplement ‘Fornicator, Flatterer’, while ‘Brother’, though it is indeed followed by ‘Bastard’ in Gregory’s list, sparked a whole volley of further abusive terms in Newton’s mind, including ‘Blasphemer’, ‘Brawler’, ‘Babler’, ‘Babylonian’, ‘Bishop’ and ending with ‘Benjamite’. A ‘Benjamite’ was an over-indulged youngest son (in reference to Genesis 42, in which Jacob shows his youngest son Benjamin preferential treatment over his brothers). It is surely significant that Newton’s younger half-brother was also called Benjamin.

The other most crucial evidence for an understanding of Newton’s development in adolescence and adulthood is supplied by the lists of expenses he kept from 1659-69 in the Fitzwilliam Notebook and another one now known as the Trinity Notebook. These soften the image of an unsmiling, self-absorbed, Puritan Newton by revealing that as an undergraduate he did get out once in a while, to the tavern and the bowling green, and even occasionally played cards (and lost). Perhaps still more surprisingly, he appears to have run an informal money-lending operation for fellow students at Cambridge, though whether he charged interest on his loans is unclear.

These notebooks also chart the development of Newton’s intellectual interests. His practical bent, which later enabled him to devise and conduct experiments unassisted and to build most of his scientific apparatus himself, is already evident in the Pierpont Morgan notebook, the early part of which is crammed with recipes for making paints and medicines and instructions for performing conjuring tricks. In 1669, the expense lists begin to fill up with purchases of (al)chemical materials, books and equipment to stock the private laboratory he set up in the grounds of Trinity College. His disillusion with the very conservative curriculum on offer at Cambridge is evidenced by another notebook (Add. Ms. 3996 in Cambridge University Library), which begins with a series of notes on Aristotle and other orthodox academic sources but then abruptly changes tack and engages actively with the latest theories in science and mathematics, particularly those of Descartes.

Newton’s intellectual activities as an undergraduate were almost entirely extra-curricular. His near-total disregard for the subjects he was ostensibly supposed to be studying - primarily the ethics and natural philosophy of Aristotle - actually led to his being regarded as a decidedly poor scholar until his genius was recognised by the mathematics professor Isaac Barrow. But as this notebook proves, he was in fact far more in touch with current developments in international scholarship than most of his tutors and professors.

Unfortunately, no such personal material survives - if it ever existed - from the later, more public phase of Newton’s career. But the insights these documents offer into his formative years, adolescence and early adulthood make them indispensable to any attempt to form a rounded picture of Newton the man.


N.B.C. to Nabisco

In 1898, N.B.C. had 114 bakeries and a capital of US $55 million. They built an enormous bakery in downtown New York, what is today the Chelsea Market, and continued to expand it. The chief architect of this project was Adolphus Green, and he insisted on standard recipes for N.B.C.'s products. They continued to make two wildly successful products that the little bakery companies had made: Fig Newtons (they added the Fig to the name when the cookie received good reviews), and Premium Saltines.

A new cookie called Uneeda Biscuit was introduced in 1898—and despite the goofy name N.B.C. even had a copyright infringement case over competitors who called their biscuits Uwanta and Ulika. In 1903, N.B.C. introduced Barnum's Animal Crackers in the famous decorative box resembling a circus cage filled with animals and in 1912, they introduced both Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and the unstoppable Oreos.


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