9 Things You May Not Know About Isaac Newton

9 Things You May Not Know About Isaac Newton

1. His unhappy childhood helped shape his secretive personality.

Newton was born prematurely on Christmas Day 1642 at his family’s home, Woolsthorpe Manor, near the town of Grantham, England, several months after the death of his father, an illiterate farmer. When Newton was three, his mother wed a wealthy clergyman, Barnabas Smith, who didn’t want a stepson. Newton’s mother went to live with her new husband in another village, leaving behind her young son in the care of his grandparents. The experience of being abandoned by his mother scarred Newton and likely played a role in shaping his solitary, untrusting nature. As a teen, he made a list of his past sins and among them was: “Threatening my father and mother Smith to burn them and the house over them.” As an adult, Newton immersed himself in his work, had no hobbies and never married. He even remained silent about some of his scientific and mathematical discoveries for years, if he published them at all.

2. Newton’s mother wanted him to be a farmer.

At age 12, Newton was enrolled in a school in Grantham, where he boarded at the home of the local apothecary because the daily walk from Woolsthorpe Manor was too long. Initially, he wasn’t a strong student; however, as the story goes, following a confrontation with a school bully Newton started applying himself in an effort to best the other boy and transformed into a top student. However, at age 15 or 16, he was ordered to quit school by his mother (then widowed for a second time) and return to Woolsthorpe Manor to become a farmer. The teen was uninterested in the job and fared poorly at it. Eventually, Newton’s mother was persuaded by her son’s former headmaster in Grantham (where, incidentally, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925) to allow him to return to school. After finishing his coursework there, Newton left for Trinity College, University of Cambridge in 1661, putting farming behind him for good.

3. The Black Death inadvertently set the stage for one of his most famous insights.

In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Newton to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. While sitting in the garden there one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree, providing him with the inspiration to eventually formulate his law of universal gravitation. Newton later relayed the apple story to William Stukeley, who included it in a book, “Memoir of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life,” published in 1752.
In 2010, a NASA astronaut carried a piece of the ancient apple tree aboard the space shuttle Atlantis for a mission to the International Space Station. The Royal Society, a scientific organization once headed by Newton, loaned the piece of the tree for the voyage, as part of a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the group’s founding. Today, the original apple tree continues to grow at Woolsthorpe Manor.

4. As a professor at Cambridge, his lectures were poorly attended.

In 1669, Newton, then 26, was appointed the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, one of the world’s oldest universities, whose origins date to 1209. (Newton was the second person to hold the Lucasian professorship; the 17th person, from 1979 to 2009, was physicist and “A Brief History of Time” author Stephen Hawking.) Although he remained at Cambridge for nearly 30 years, Newton showed little interest in teaching or in his students, and his lectures were sparsely attended; frequently, no one showed up at all. Newton’s attention was centered on his own research.

5. Newton ran the Royal Mint and had forgers executed.

In 1696, Newton was named to the job of warden of the Royal Mint, which was responsible for producing England’s currency. He left Cambridge, his long-time home, and moved to his nation’s capital city, where the mint was located in the Tower of London. Three years later, Newton was promoted to the more lucrative position of master of the mint, a post he held until his death in 1727. During his tenure at the mint, Newton supervised a major initiative to take all of the country’s old coins out of circulation and replace them with more reliable currency. He also was focused on investigating counterfeiters, and as a result became acquainted with the city’s seedy underbelly as he personally tracked down and interviewed suspected criminals, receiving death threats along the way. A number of forgers he went after were sent to the gallows.

6. He had a serious interest in alchemy.

In addition to the scientific endeavors for which he’s best known, Newton spent much of his adult life pursuing another interest, alchemy, whose goals included finding the philosopher’s stone, a substance that allegedly could turn ordinary metals like lead and iron into gold. He was secretive about his alchemical experiments and recorded some of his research in code.
Among his other research projects, Newton analyzed the Bible in an attempt to find secret messages about how the universe works.

7. Newton served in Parliament—quietly.

From 1689 to 1690, Newton was a member of Parliament, representing Cambridge University. During this time, the legislative body enacted the Bill of Rights, which limited the power of the monarchy and laid out the rights of Parliament along with certain individual rights. Newton’s contributions to Parliament apparently were limited, though; he reportedly spoke only once, when he asked an usher to close a window because it was chilly. Nevertheless, while in London Newton became acquainted with a number of influential people, from King William III to the philosopher John Locke. Newton served a second brief term in Parliament, from 1701 to 1702, and again seems to have contributed little.

8. He had fierce rivalries.

When it came to his intellectual rivals, Newton could be jealous and vindictive. Among those with whom he feuded was German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz; the two men had a bitter battle over who invented calculus. Newton developed a version of calculus in the 1660s but didn’t publish his work at the time. In the 1670s, Leibniz formulated his own version of calculus, publishing his work a decade later. Newton later charged that the German scholar had plagiarized his unpublished writings after documents summarizing it circulated through the Royal Society. Leibniz contended he’d reached his results independently and implied that Newton had stolen from his published work. In an effort to defend himself, Leibniz eventually appealed to the Royal Society and in 1712 Newton, who’d served as the organization’s president since 1703, agreed that an impartial committee would be assembled to look into the issue. Instead, he packed the committee with his supporters and even penned the group’s report, which publicly credited him with discovering calculus. Today, however, Leibniz’s system of calculus is the one commonly used.

9. Newton was knighted.

In 1705, Newton was knighted by Queen Anne. By that time, he’d become wealthy after inheriting his mother’s property following her death in 1679 and also had published two major works, 1687’s “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” (commonly called the “Principia”) and 1704’s “Opticks.” After the celebrated scientist died at age 84 on March 20, 1727, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the resting place of English monarchs as well as such notable non-royals as Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and explorer David Livingstone.

Isaac Newton is considered one of the most important scientists in history. During his lifetime Newton developed the theory of gravity, the laws of motion (which became the basis for physics), a new type of mathematics called calculus, and made breakthroughs in the area of optics such as the reflecting telescope.

Newton’s Discoveries

  • Most Famous Discoveries. Newton’s three laws of motion set the foundation for modern classical mechanics.
  • Newton’s Magnum Opus – The Principia.
  • The Laws of Motion.
  • Discovery of the Law of Gravitation.
  • The Law of Gravitation.
  • Inquiry into the nature of light – Opticks.
  • Binomial Theorem.
  • Calculus.

15 Observational Facts About Isaac Newton

What Galileo and Descartes had begun, Isaac Newton polished: By discovering the mathematical principles that grounded everything from falling apples to orbiting moons, planets, and comets, Newton laid the foundations of modern physics. Oh, and he co-invented calculus too. And a new kind of telescope. And more. Some of his achievements are readily filed under G for genius others simply reveal his complex and all-too-human personality. Here are 15 things that you might not have known about Sir Isaac.


Newton’s father, also named Isaac Newton, died a few months before young Isaac was born in 1642. When his mother, Hannah, gave birth, the baby was so tiny he wasn’t expected to survive. John Conduitt, who would later marry Newton’s niece, recounts Newton’s claim that “when he was born, he was so little they could put him into a quart pot.”


As a youngster, Newton attended the King’s School, the local grammar school in Grantham, Lincolnshire (still functioning as a boys school to this day). One day the school bully kicked Newton in the stomach, prompting Newton to challenge the boy to a fight after class. John Conduitt writes: “Though Sir Isaac was not so lusty as his antagonist, he had so much more spirit and resolution.” Newton won the fight, which ended with Newton pulling the other boy by the ears, and pushing his face “against the side of the church.” The incident may have kick-started Newton’s academic performance: Before the fight, he was near the bottom of his class afterward, he rose to be first in the school.


Like the story of Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the story of Newton and the Apple has taken on legendary proportions. Lazing in the garden of his boyhood home, Newton saw an apple fall to the ground in contemplating its fall, he also thought about the Moon moving in its orbit around the Earth, eventually deducing that the same force—gravity—was the cause of both. As he recalled later, he “began to think of gravity as extending to the orb of the moon.” Historians suggest that the apple story, which Newton only told very late in life, should be taken with a grain of salt. And he never claimed it bonked him on the head.


As a student and later a professor at Cambridge, Newton had a reputation for being reclusive, and even a bit nasty. He had few close friends, rarely spoke, and sometimes got so caught up in his work that he forgot to eat. On one occasion, when no one turned up for his class, he’s said to have lectured to an empty room. (Some have suggested that Newton was autistic—a claim that has been made about Einstein, too—but such diagnoses are very hard to support based on historical information alone.)


Newton, who shunned the spotlight, was hesitant to publish many of his results. His most important work, on motion and gravity, collected dust in his study for more than two decades, until astronomer Edmond Halley urged him to publish. The resulting volume was finally printed in 1687 under the weighty title Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). Though only a select handful could fully comprehend the book’s dense formulas and diagrams, it cemented Newton’s reputation as the greatest scientist of his day.


You know the quote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” It sounds like Newton is giving credit to the great thinkers who came before. In fact, some historians now believe that it was likely intended as a jab at his rival, Robert Hooke, who was short and possibly hunchbacked. But others point out that Newton and Hooke wouldn’t have a falling out for another 10 years.


In spite of his reclusiveness, Newton had his portrait painted more than a dozen times, especially in the final quarter of his life. Historian Mordechai Feingold writes: “Only monarchs, and perhaps a few noblemen, surpassed Newton in the number of times they commissioned portraits of themselves.”


We remember Newton for his work in physics, astronomy, and mathematics, but his private letters and notebooks show that he was equally interested in alchemy (the attempt to turn metals such as lead into gold) and biblical chronology—including various attempts to predict the date of the Apocalypse. According to historian of science Stephen Snobelen, Newton’s most confident date for the end of the world was 2060—an idea that led to a provocative 2003 BBC TV documentary called Newton: The Dark Heretic.


Newton spent countless hours in his laboratory working on all manner of alchemical experiments. When some of his preserved hair was analyzed in the 1970s, it was found to contain high levels of mercury, arsenic, and other toxins. Some historians believe this partly explains his irritable behavior, and perhaps also a nervous breakdown that he suffered in the 1690s, when he was in his 50s.


OK, not literally in his eye—but Newton recounts how he inserted a bodkin (a long, thin sewing needle) between his eye and the adjacent bone as part of his investigation of vision and color perception. He inserted it “as near to the backside of my eye as I could,” applying pressure so as to distort the eye. The result? “Several white, dark, and colored circles” appeared. Now that’s dedication. (But don’t try it at home.)


Newton served two terms in the English Parliament, as the representative for Cambridge University. It’s said that he spoke only when he felt a draft, requesting that the window be closed.


Late in life, Newton took up a position at the Royal Mint in London, first as Warden and later as Master. He took his duties seriously, tracking down counterfeiters and anyone guilty of “clipping”—illegally hacking the edges off of coins, and melting down the silver for re-use. Newton devoted much energy to hunting down the offenders, becoming 17th-century London’s Dirty Harry. Several ended up at the gallows.


There has been much speculation about Newton’s sexuality (or lack thereof). The French philosopher, Voltaire, was at Newton’s funeral, and reported that, according to the doctors who had attended to the great man, Newton “never went near any woman.” Newton’s notebooks tell of his struggles to banish sexual thoughts from his mind. At least one biographer has argued that Newton was gay, citing his tumultuous relations with a young Swiss mathematician. However, scholars working on The Newton Project, which aims to put all of Newton’s writings online, says the claim of homosexuality is “purely conjectural and much disputed.”


Or so it was said. According to William Stukeley, the great thinker once loaned an acquaintance a copy of Euclid’s Elements, a weighty treatise on mathematics and geometry. The acquaintance asked Newton of what use the book might be, “upon which Sir Isaac was very merry.”

John Conduitt tells of a second time he laughed, when asked about why he didn’t talk about our own Sun as much as distant stars. Newton replied that it was because “[the Sun] concerned us more” and, as Conduitt described, “laughing added he had said enough for people to know his meaning.” (Sure it was, Isaac.)


In Newton’s time, the idea of “genius” had traditionally been associated with artists and poets. But after the Englishman’s work became widely known, the word took on a broader meaning. As Mordechai Feingold notes: “Largely owing to the towering example of Newton … in the course of the 18th century the concept was redefined.”

6 Things You Should Know About Isaac Newton

There are few areas of learning and scholarship that haven't been touched by Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727). And while you've probably heard some of the colorful stories (that he served in Parliament, but never spoke a word except to ask that a window be closed, he may have invented the cat flap, etc.), here are a few things you probably didn't know about the founder of modern science.

1. He didn't play well with others

Newton was a man of great ego and great temper, and had few close friends. His dispute with German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz over the invention of infintesmial calculus is the stuff of legend, but Newton's less famous academic feuds were both bitter and many. His fellow scientists John Flamsteed, Robert Hooke, and Henry Oldenberg were just a few of those who at times felt the sting of Newton's viciousness. Sir Isaac's most famous quotation may well have been an exercise in sarcastic, spiteful anger. In February 1676 Newton wrote to Hooke "if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Often taken as a sign of Newton's great humility, this famed quote was almost certainly intended as an insult to Hooke, who was hunchbacked and may have suffered from a form of dwarfism.

2. He had Mommy Issues

Newton's father died before he was born, and his mother, Hannah Ayscough, remarried when he was three, leaving him in his grandmother's care. Young Isaac hated his stepfather. He also had a troubled relationship with Hannah, confessing in his journal that he had once threatened to burn the house down with the couple inside. Later in life, Newton desperately sought his mother's approval, but she was bewildered by his scientific successes. In fact, she would have preferred it if he'd stayed home to manage the family estates. It may be for this reason that Newton never married it's believed by many that he remained celibate throughout his life.

3. He liked that Olde Time Religion (Very Olde Time!)

Newton was born into a Puritan-leaning Anglican family. By the time he was thirty, however, he was a secret heretic. While Newton was a deist and believed fiercely in a single God who created the universe and its natural laws, he could not reconcile traditional Christian trinitarianism with reason. Although he conformed outwardly with the Church of England for the sake of his social and academic positions, most scholars agree that Newton believed in Arianism - an ancient, virtually extinct Christian sect that denied the equal divinity of Jesus and God. Newton believed that worshipping Christ was a form of idolatry, and denied the existence of the Devil. Ironically, Newton was buried in Westminster Abbey - the spiritual heart of the church whose doctrines he rejected, even though he refused the sacrament on his deathbed.

4. He was good with his hands

Unlike many intellectuals, Newton was famously dextrous and could work skillfully with metal, wood and glass. He constructed, among other things, his own telescopes and even the tools with which he made them. The development of these skills was probably spurred on by his arrogance. In old age, he confided to his friend John Conduitt that he he made his own tools because "if I had stayed for other people to make my tools and things for me, I would have never made anything of [my theories]."

5. He was a law and order kind of guy

In 1696, Newton was made warden of the Royal Mint, and promptly set about recoining Britain's currency. He quickly found to his dismay that 20% of the coins taken into the Mint during the recoinage were counterfeit. Newton conducted an investigation, had himself appointed a justice of the peace, and successfuly prosecuted 28 people for counterfeiting, a capital crime. He famously put the coiner William Chaloner on trial a second time (Chaloner had used his powerful friends to secure acquittal the first time around). After his second trial, Chaloner was put to death, but don't feel too badly for him - he had made his fortune by setting up fake Catholic conspiracies, entrapping Catholics into revealing their beliefs and turning them over to the government for prosecution.

6. He believed in magic

The image of Newton as hyperrational man of science is somewhat difficult to reconcile with some of his extracurricular activities. In addition to his more respectable scientific pursuits, Newton was a student of alchemy and the occult. He conducted numerous experiments attempting to create the mythical Philosopher's Stone, a substance that could be used to transmute base metals into gold and create an elixir of immortality. His experiments with mercury may have led to the eccentricity that characterized his later years. Newton was obsessed with eschatology, the study of the end of the world, but was positive the end would not arrive prior to the year 2060 (many of his contemporaries believed Armageddon was much more imminent). He may also have been a member of the Rosicrucians, a mystical secret society. Fans of The Da Vinci Code, however, are sure to be disappointed the Priory of Sion, and Newton's leadership of it, are based entirely on modern forgeries.

Sir Isaac Newton is one of the most famous and influential scientists of all time. His discoveries in physics completely changed the world. Nowadays, his laws of motion are used everywhere and in almost everything. Without Newton, the field of mechanics would be different.

In 1705, Queen Anne knighted Newton for his service to the world. By that point, he already had wealth after inheriting his mother’s property. In 1687, Newton published the book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, popularly known as Principia. And in 1704, he published Opticks. He died in 1727 at the age of 84.

His body remains in Westminster Abbey, the resting place of English monarchs, as well as other notable names like Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and David Livingstone.

While most people are familiar with his laws of motion, let’s talk about some aspects of his life that are not as popular.

Unhappy childhood results in secretive personality

To his very last breath, Newton never married. He dedicated his entire life to science. Born prematurely on Christmas Day 1642 several months after the death of his father, Newton had an unhappy childhood. At the age of three, his mother remarried to a wealthy clergyman. He didn’t want a stepson, so his mother sent him to his grandparents.

With his father dead, and his mother abandoning him, Newton spent his childhood with his grandparents. That experience scarred Newton and played a role in shaping his solitary and untrusting nature.

As an adult, he immersed himself in his work. He had no hobbies and never married.

His mother wanted him to be a farmer

At the age of 12, Newton enrolled in a school in Grantham. He wasn’t a strong student in the beginning. But after a confrontation with a school bully, he wanted to best the other boy and started studying hard.

Yet, at the age of 16, his mother ordered him to quit school and return to Woolsthorpe Manor and become a farmer. He came back, but had little success at the job. He fared poorly at it, and eventually his former headmaster in Grantham persuaded his mother to get him back to school.

After finishing his coursework there, he left for Trinity College, University of Cambridge in 1661. Newton put farming behind him and started contributing to the world of science.

Black Death changed his life

You know the saying, “something good always comes out from something bad”? Well, in Newton’s case, that was the Black Death.

In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its door. That forced him to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. And there, while sitting in the garden, he saw an apple fall from a tree. As we know nowadays, that served as an inspiration to formulate the law of universal gravitation.

Students didn’t love his lectures

In 1669, at the age of 26, Newton got appointed the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge. Newton was the second person to hold the Lucasian professorship. Fun fact: Stephen Hawking hold that professorship from 1979 to 2009 as the 17th person.

Newton remained at Cambridge for nearly 30 years. But he showed little interest in teaching or in his students. That is why students almost never attended his lectures. Sometimes, no one showed up at all.

Isaac put his all attention on his own research.

Running the Royal Mint

Did you know that Isaac Newton served as the warden of the Royal Mint? And he had forgers executed? In 1696, he got the job, serving at the facility responsible for producing England’s currency.

He left Cambridge and moved to the nation’s capital city. Three years later, he got promoted to the position of master of the mint. He held this position until his death in 1727.

During his tenure, he supervised a major initiative to take all of the country’s old coins out of circulation and replace them with a more reliable currency.

Newton investigated counterfeiters, tracked down suspected criminals, and sent them to the gallows.

Serving in Parliament

From 1689 to 1690, he briefly served in Parliament, representing Cambridge University. During that time, the legislative body enacted the Bill of Rights, limiting the power of the monarchy and laying out the rights of Parliament among with certain individual rights.

During his tenure in the Parliament, he spoke only once, and only to ask an usher to close a window. He then served again in Parliament from 1701 to 1702, but again, with little contribution.

Want to Learn More?

  • "Alchemy" In Our Time. BBC., 24 Feb, 2005.http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9bn. Accessed on 13 Aug, 2017.
  • Greshko, Michael. "Isaac Newton’s Lost Alchemy Recipe Rediscovered" National Geographic, 6 Apr, 2016.http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160404-isaac-newton-alchemy-mercury-recipe-chemistry-science/. Accessed on 14 Aug, 2017.
  • "Isaac Newton" History.com. A&E Television Networks, 8 Jul, 2015.http://www.history.com/topics/isaac-newton. Accessed on 4 Aug, 2017.
  • Humanist Society of Australia, Inc.. "Isaac Newton – The Dark Heretic (2003)" YouTube, 11 Jul, 2014.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSolPNn0G7M. Accessed on 14 Aug, 2017.
  • "Isaac Newton: The man who discovered gravity" BBC,http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/zwwgcdm. Accessed on 13 Aug, 2017.
  • "Isaac Newton" The Royal Mint Limited, 5 Sep, 2007.http://www.royalmint.com/olympic-games/explore-your-coin/isaac-newton. Accessed on 29 Aug, 2017.
  • "Newton, Isaac (1642-1727)" Eric Weisstein's World of Biography. Wolfram Research, . Accessed on 14 Aug, 2017.
  • Nix, Elizabeth. "9 Things You May Not Know About Isaac Newton" History.com. A&E Television Networks, 5 Jul, 2015.http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-isaac-newton. Accessed on 14 Aug, 2017.
  • Pelta-Heller, Zack. "Sir Isaac Newton & The Philosopher's Stone" Biography.com. A&E Television Networks, 31 Mar, 2017.https://www.biography.com/news/isaac-newton-alchemy-philosophers-stone. Accessed on 29 Aug, 2017.
  • Pruitt, Sarah. "Rediscovering the Alchemy of Isaac Newton" History.com. A&E Television Networks, 8 Apr, 2016.http://www.history.com/news/rediscovering-the-alchemy-of-isaac-newton. Accessed on 12 Aug, 2017.
  • "Pseudoscience" Merriam-Webster,https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pseudoscience. Accessed on 14 Aug, 2017.
  • Williams, Liz. "A new online Isaac Newton archive sheds light on an era when science and faith were undivided" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 23 Mar, 2012.https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/mar/23/isaac-newton-archive-science-faith. Accessed on 31 Aug, 2017.

Newton got a career boost from the Great Plague of 1665

He completed his bachelor’s degree at Cambridge University’s Trinity College in 1665 and wanted to continue his studies, but an epidemic of the bubonic plague soon altered his plans. The university closed its doors not long after the disease had begun its deadly sweep through London. During the first seven months of the outbreak, roughly 100,000 London residents had died.  

Back at his family home, Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton actually began working on some of his most important theories. It was here that he explored ideas of planetary motion and made progress on his understanding of light and color. Newton may have also made advances in his theory about gravity by observing an apple fall from a tree in his garden. 

After watching an apple fall from a tree, Newton claimed he had an epiphany about the concept of gravity.

#4 Newton’s birthday is celebrated as Newtonmas

Under the Old Style Julian Calendar, Newton’s birthday falls on December 25. Hence some non-believers celebrate 25 December as Newtonmas, as an alternative to celebrating the religious holiday Christmas. Celebrants exchange boxes of apples and science related items as gifts. The name Newtonmas can be attributed to the Skeptics Society, which needed an alternative name for its Christmas party.


Early life

Isaac Newton was born (according to the Julian calendar, in use in England at the time) on Christmas Day, 25 December 1642 (NS 4 January 1643 [a] ) "an hour or two after midnight", [7] at Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, a hamlet in the county of Lincolnshire. His father, also named Isaac Newton, had died three months before. Born prematurely, Newton was a small child his mother Hannah Ayscough reportedly said that he could have fit inside a quart mug. [8] When Newton was three, his mother remarried and went to live with her new husband, the Reverend Barnabas Smith, leaving her son in the care of his maternal grandmother, Margery Ayscough (née Blythe). Newton disliked his stepfather and maintained some enmity towards his mother for marrying him, as revealed by this entry in a list of sins committed up to the age of 19: "Threatening my father and mother Smith to burn them and the house over them." [9] Newton's mother had three children (Mary, Benjamin and Hannah) from her second marriage. [10]

From the age of about twelve until he was seventeen, Newton was educated at The King's School, Grantham, which taught Latin and Greek and probably imparted a significant foundation of mathematics. [11] He was removed from school and returned to Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth by October 1659. His mother, widowed for the second time, attempted to make him a farmer, an occupation he hated. [12] Henry Stokes, master at The King's School, persuaded his mother to send him back to school. Motivated partly by a desire for revenge against a schoolyard bully, he became the top-ranked student, [13] distinguishing himself mainly by building sundials and models of windmills. [14]

In June 1661, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, on the recommendation of his uncle Rev William Ayscough, who had studied there. He started as a subsizar—paying his way by performing valet's duties—until he was awarded a scholarship in 1664, guaranteeing him four more years until he could get his MA. [15] At that time, the college's teachings were based on those of Aristotle, whom Newton supplemented with modern philosophers such as Descartes, and astronomers such as Galileo and Thomas Street, through whom he learned of Kepler's work. [ citation needed ] He set down in his notebook a series of "Quaestiones" about mechanical philosophy as he found it. In 1665, he discovered the generalised binomial theorem and began to develop a mathematical theory that later became calculus. Soon after Newton had obtained his BA degree in August 1665, the university temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague. Although he had been undistinguished as a Cambridge student, [16] Newton's private studies at his home in Woolsthorpe over the subsequent two years saw the development of his theories on calculus, [17] optics, and the law of gravitation.

In April 1667, he returned to Cambridge and in October was elected as a fellow of Trinity. [18] [19] Fellows were required to become ordained priests, although this was not enforced in the restoration years and an assertion of conformity to the Church of England was sufficient. However, by 1675 the issue could not be avoided and by then his unconventional views stood in the way. [20] Nevertheless, Newton managed to avoid it by means of special permission from Charles II.

His studies had impressed the Lucasian professor Isaac Barrow, who was more anxious to develop his own religious and administrative potential (he became master of Trinity two years later) in 1669 Newton succeeded him, only one year after receiving his MA. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1672. [3]

Middle years


Newton's work has been said "to distinctly advance every branch of mathematics then studied". [22] His work on the subject, usually referred to as fluxions or calculus, seen in a manuscript of October 1666, is now published among Newton's mathematical papers. [23] His work De analysi per aequationes numero terminorum infinitas, sent by Isaac Barrow to John Collins in June 1669, was identified by Barrow in a letter sent to Collins that August as the work "of an extraordinary genius and proficiency in these things". [24]

Newton later became involved in a dispute with Leibniz over priority in the development of calculus (the Leibniz–Newton calculus controversy). Most modern historians believe that Newton and Leibniz developed calculus independently, although with very different mathematical notations. Occasionally it has been suggested that Newton published almost nothing about it until 1693, and did not give a full account until 1704, while Leibniz began publishing a full account of his methods in 1684. Leibniz's notation and "differential Method", nowadays recognised as much more convenient notations, were adopted by continental European mathematicians, and after 1820 or so, also by British mathematicians. [ citation needed ]

His work extensively uses calculus in geometric form based on limiting values of the ratios of vanishingly small quantities: in Principia itself, Newton gave demonstration of this under the name of "the method of first and last ratios" [25] and explained why he put his expositions in this form, [26] remarking also that "hereby the same thing is performed as by the method of indivisibles." [27]

Because of this, the Principia has been called "a book dense with the theory and application of the infinitesimal calculus" in modern times [28] and in Newton's time "nearly all of it is of this calculus." [29] His use of methods involving "one or more orders of the infinitesimally small" is present in his De motu corporum in gyrum of 1684 [30] and in his papers on motion "during the two decades preceding 1684". [31]

Newton had been reluctant to publish his calculus because he feared controversy and criticism. [32] He was close to the Swiss mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier. In 1691, Duillier started to write a new version of Newton's Principia, and corresponded with Leibniz. [33] In 1693, the relationship between Duillier and Newton deteriorated and the book was never completed. [ citation needed ]

Starting in 1699, other members [ who? ] of the Royal Society accused Leibniz of plagiarism. [34] The dispute then broke out in full force in 1711 when the Royal Society proclaimed in a study that it was Newton who was the true discoverer and labelled Leibniz a fraud it was later found that Newton wrote the study's concluding remarks on Leibniz. Thus began the bitter controversy which marred the lives of both Newton and Leibniz until the latter's death in 1716. [35]

Newton is generally credited with the generalised binomial theorem, valid for any exponent. He discovered Newton's identities, Newton's method, classified cubic plane curves (polynomials of degree three in two variables), made substantial contributions to the theory of finite differences, and was the first to use fractional indices and to employ coordinate geometry to derive solutions to Diophantine equations. He approximated partial sums of the harmonic series by logarithms (a precursor to Euler's summation formula) and was the first to use power series with confidence and to revert power series. Newton's work on infinite series was inspired by Simon Stevin's decimals. [36]

When Newton received his MA and became a Fellow of the "College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity" in 1667, he made the commitment that "I will either set Theology as the object of my studies and will take holy orders when the time prescribed by these statutes [7 years] arrives, or I will resign from the college." [37] Up until this point he had not thought much about religion and had twice signed his agreement to the thirty-nine articles, the basis of Church of England doctrine.

He was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1669, on Barrow's recommendation. During that time, any Fellow of a college at Cambridge or Oxford was required to take holy orders and become an ordained Anglican priest. However, the terms of the Lucasian professorship required that the holder not be active in the church – presumably, [ weasel words ] so as to have more time for science. Newton argued that this should exempt him from the ordination requirement, and Charles II, whose permission was needed, accepted this argument. Thus a conflict between Newton's religious views and Anglican orthodoxy was averted. [38]


In 1666, Newton observed that the spectrum of colours exiting a prism in the position of minimum deviation is oblong, even when the light ray entering the prism is circular, which is to say, the prism refracts different colours by different angles. [40] [41] This led him to conclude that colour is a property intrinsic to light – a point which had, until then, been a matter of debate.

From 1670 to 1672, Newton lectured on optics. [42] During this period he investigated the refraction of light, demonstrating that the multicoloured spectrum produced by a prism could be recomposed into white light by a lens and a second prism. [43] Modern scholarship has revealed that Newton's analysis and resynthesis of white light owes a debt to corpuscular alchemy. [44]

He showed that coloured light does not change its properties by separating out a coloured beam and shining it on various objects, and that regardless of whether reflected, scattered, or transmitted, the light remains the same colour. Thus, he observed that colour is the result of objects interacting with already-coloured light rather than objects generating the colour themselves. This is known as Newton's theory of colour. [45]

From this work, he concluded that the lens of any refracting telescope would suffer from the dispersion of light into colours (chromatic aberration). As a proof of the concept, he constructed a telescope using reflective mirrors instead of lenses as the objective to bypass that problem. [46] [47] Building the design, the first known functional reflecting telescope, today known as a Newtonian telescope, [47] involved solving the problem of a suitable mirror material and shaping technique. Newton ground his own mirrors out of a custom composition of highly reflective speculum metal, using Newton's rings to judge the quality of the optics for his telescopes. In late 1668, [48] he was able to produce this first reflecting telescope. It was about eight inches long and it gave a clearer and larger image. In 1671, the Royal Society asked for a demonstration of his reflecting telescope. [49] Their interest encouraged him to publish his notes, Of Colours, [50] which he later expanded into the work Opticks. When Robert Hooke criticised some of Newton's ideas, Newton was so offended that he withdrew from public debate. Newton and Hooke had brief exchanges in 1679–80, when Hooke, appointed to manage the Royal Society's correspondence, opened up a correspondence intended to elicit contributions from Newton to Royal Society transactions, [51] which had the effect of stimulating Newton to work out a proof that the elliptical form of planetary orbits would result from a centripetal force inversely proportional to the square of the radius vector. But the two men remained generally on poor terms until Hooke's death. [52]

Newton argued that light is composed of particles or corpuscles, which were refracted by accelerating into a denser medium. He verged on soundlike waves to explain the repeated pattern of reflection and transmission by thin films (Opticks Bk.II, Props. 12), but still retained his theory of 'fits' that disposed corpuscles to be reflected or transmitted (Props.13). However, later physicists favoured a purely wavelike explanation of light to account for the interference patterns and the general phenomenon of diffraction. Today's quantum mechanics, photons, and the idea of wave–particle duality bear only a minor resemblance to Newton's understanding of light.

In his Hypothesis of Light of 1675, Newton posited the existence of the ether to transmit forces between particles. The contact with the Cambridge Platonist philosopher Henry More revived his interest in alchemy. [53] He replaced the ether with occult forces based on Hermetic ideas of attraction and repulsion between particles. John Maynard Keynes, who acquired many of Newton's writings on alchemy, stated that "Newton was not the first of the age of reason: He was the last of the magicians." [54] Newton's interest in alchemy cannot be isolated from his contributions to science. [53] This was at a time when there was no clear distinction between alchemy and science. Had he not relied on the occult idea of action at a distance, across a vacuum, he might not have developed his theory of gravity.

In 1704, Newton published Opticks, in which he expounded his corpuscular theory of light. He considered light to be made up of extremely subtle corpuscles, that ordinary matter was made of grosser corpuscles and speculated that through a kind of alchemical transmutation "Are not gross Bodies and Light convertible into one another, . and may not Bodies receive much of their Activity from the Particles of Light which enter their Composition?" [55] Newton also constructed a primitive form of a frictional electrostatic generator, using a glass globe. [56]

In his book Opticks, Newton was the first to show a diagram using a prism as a beam expander, and also the use of multiple-prism arrays. [57] Some 278 years after Newton's discussion, multiple-prism beam expanders became central to the development of narrow-linewidth tunable lasers. Also, the use of these prismatic beam expanders led to the multiple-prism dispersion theory. [57]

Subsequent to Newton, much has been amended. Young and Fresnel combined Newton's particle theory with Huygens' wave theory to show that colour is the visible manifestation of light's wavelength. Science also slowly came to realise the difference between perception of colour and mathematisable optics. The German poet and scientist, Goethe, could not shake the Newtonian foundation but "one hole Goethe did find in Newton's armour, . Newton had committed himself to the doctrine that refraction without colour was impossible. He, therefore, thought that the object-glasses of telescopes must forever remain imperfect, achromatism and refraction being incompatible. This inference was proved by Dollond to be wrong." [58]

Mechanics and gravitation

In 1679, Newton returned to his work on celestial mechanics by considering gravitation and its effect on the orbits of planets with reference to Kepler's laws of planetary motion. This followed stimulation by a brief exchange of letters in 1679–80 with Hooke, who had been appointed to manage the Royal Society's correspondence, and who opened a correspondence intended to elicit contributions from Newton to Royal Society transactions. [51] Newton's reawakening interest in astronomical matters received further stimulus by the appearance of a comet in the winter of 1680–1681, on which he corresponded with John Flamsteed. [59] After the exchanges with Hooke, Newton worked out proof that the elliptical form of planetary orbits would result from a centripetal force inversely proportional to the square of the radius vector. Newton communicated his results to Edmond Halley and to the Royal Society in De motu corporum in gyrum, a tract written on about nine sheets which was copied into the Royal Society's Register Book in December 1684. [60] This tract contained the nucleus that Newton developed and expanded to form the Principia.

The Principia was published on 5 July 1687 with encouragement and financial help from Edmond Halley. In this work, Newton stated the three universal laws of motion. Together, these laws describe the relationship between any object, the forces acting upon it and the resulting motion, laying the foundation for classical mechanics. They contributed to many advances during the Industrial Revolution which soon followed and were not improved upon for more than 200 years. Many of these advancements continue to be the underpinnings of non-relativistic technologies in the modern world. He used the Latin word gravitas (weight) for the effect that would become known as gravity, and defined the law of universal gravitation. [61]

In the same work, Newton presented a calculus-like method of geometrical analysis using 'first and last ratios', gave the first analytical determination (based on Boyle's law) of the speed of sound in air, inferred the oblateness of Earth's spheroidal figure, accounted for the precession of the equinoxes as a result of the Moon's gravitational attraction on the Earth's oblateness, initiated the gravitational study of the irregularities in the motion of the Moon, provided a theory for the determination of the orbits of comets, and much more. [61]

Newton made clear his heliocentric view of the Solar System—developed in a somewhat modern way because already in the mid-1680s he recognised the "deviation of the Sun" from the centre of gravity of the Solar System. [62] For Newton, it was not precisely the centre of the Sun or any other body that could be considered at rest, but rather "the common centre of gravity of the Earth, the Sun and all the Planets is to be esteem'd the Centre of the World", and this centre of gravity "either is at rest or moves uniformly forward in a right line" (Newton adopted the "at rest" alternative in view of common consent that the centre, wherever it was, was at rest). [63]

Newton's postulate of an invisible force able to act over vast distances led to him being criticised for introducing "occult agencies" into science. [64] Later, in the second edition of the Principia (1713), Newton firmly rejected such criticisms in a concluding General Scholium, writing that it was enough that the phenomena implied a gravitational attraction, as they did but they did not so far indicate its cause, and it was both unnecessary and improper to frame hypotheses of things that were not implied by the phenomena. (Here Newton used what became his famous expression "hypotheses non-fingo" [65] ).

With the Principia, Newton became internationally recognised. [66] He acquired a circle of admirers, including the Swiss-born mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier. [67]

Classification of cubics

In 1710, Newton found 72 of the 78 "species" of cubic curves and categorised them into four types. [68] In 1717, and probably with Newton's help, James Stirling proved that every cubic was one of these four types. Newton also claimed that the four types could be obtained by plane projection from one of them, and this was proved in 1731, four years after his death. [69]

Later life

In the 1690s, Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal and symbolic interpretation of the Bible. A manuscript Newton sent to John Locke in which he disputed the fidelity of 1 John 5:7—the Johannine Comma—and its fidelity to the original manuscripts of the New Testament, remained unpublished until 1785. [70]

Newton was also a member of the Parliament of England for Cambridge University in 1689 and 1701, but according to some accounts his only comments were to complain about a cold draught in the chamber and request that the window be closed. [71] He was, however, noted by Cambridge diarist Abraham de la Pryme to have rebuked students who were frightening locals by claiming that a house was haunted. [72]

Newton 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. He took charge of England's great recoining, trod on the toes of Lord Lucas, Governor of the Tower, and secured the job of deputy comptroller of the temporary Chester branch for Edmond Halley. Newton became perhaps the best-known Master of the Mint upon the death of Thomas Neale in 1699, a position Newton held for the last 30 years of his life. [73] [74] These appointments were intended as sinecures, but Newton took them seriously. He retired from his Cambridge duties in 1701, and exercised his authority to reform the currency and punish clippers and counterfeiters.

As Warden, and afterwards as Master, of the Royal Mint, Newton estimated that 20 percent of the coins taken in during the Great Recoinage of 1696 were counterfeit. Counterfeiting was high treason, punishable by the felon being hanged, drawn and quartered. Despite this, convicting even the most flagrant criminals could be extremely difficult, however, Newton proved equal to the task. [75]

Disguised as a habitué of bars and taverns, he gathered much of that evidence himself. [76] For all the barriers placed to prosecution, and separating the branches of government, English law still had ancient and formidable customs of authority. Newton had himself made a justice of the peace in all the home counties. A draft letter regarding the matter is included in Newton's personal first edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which he must have been amending at the time. [77] Then he conducted more than 100 cross-examinations of witnesses, informers, and suspects between June 1698 and Christmas 1699. Newton successfully prosecuted 28 coiners. [78]

Newton was made President of the Royal Society in 1703 and an associate of the French Académie des Sciences. In his position at the Royal Society, Newton made an enemy of John Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal, by prematurely publishing Flamsteed's Historia Coelestis Britannica, which Newton had used in his studies. [80]

In April 1705, Queen Anne knighted Newton during a royal visit to Trinity College, Cambridge. The knighthood is likely to have been motivated by political considerations connected with the parliamentary election in May 1705, rather than any recognition of Newton's scientific work or services as Master of the Mint. [81] Newton was the second scientist to be knighted, after Francis Bacon. [82]

As a result of a report written by Newton on 21 September 1717 to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury, the bimetallic relationship between gold coins and silver coins was changed by royal proclamation on 22 December 1717, forbidding the exchange of gold guineas for more than 21 silver shillings. [83] This inadvertently resulted in a silver shortage as silver coins were used to pay for imports, while exports were paid for in gold, effectively moving Britain from the silver standard to its first gold standard. It is a matter of debate as to whether he intended to do this or not. [84] It has been argued that Newton conceived of his work at the Mint as a continuation of his alchemical work. [85]

Newton was invested in the South Sea Company and lost some £20,000 (£4.4 million in 2020 [86] ) when it collapsed in around 1720. [87]

Toward the end of his life, Newton took up residence at Cranbury Park, near Winchester with his niece and her husband, until his death in 1727. [88] His half-niece, Catherine Barton Conduitt, [89] served as his hostess in social affairs at his house on Jermyn Street in London he was her "very loving Uncle", [90] according to his letter to her when she was recovering from smallpox.

Personal relations

Although it was claimed that he was once engaged, [b] Newton never married. The French writer and philosopher Voltaire, who was in London at the time of Newton's funeral, said that he "was never sensible to any passion, was not subject to the common frailties of mankind, nor had any commerce with women—a circumstance which was assured me by the physician and surgeon who attended him in his last moments". [92] This now-widespread belief that he died a virgin has been commented on by writers as diverse as mathematician Charles Hutton, [93] economist John Maynard Keynes, [94] and physicist Carl Sagan. [95]

Newton had a close friendship with the Swiss mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier, whom he met in London around 1689 [67] —some of their correspondence has survived. [96] [97] Their relationship came to an abrupt and unexplained end in 1693, and at the same time Newton suffered a nervous breakdown [98] which included sending wild accusatory letters to his friends Samuel Pepys and John Locke—his note to the latter included the charge that Locke "endeavoured to embroil me with woemen". [99]

In 2015, Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, called Newton "a nasty antagonist" and "a bad man to have as an enemy". [100] He particularly noted Newton's attitude towards Robert Hooke and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.


Newton died in his sleep in London on 20 March 1727 (OS 20 March 1726 NS 31 March 1727). [a] His body was buried in Westminster Abbey. [101] Voltaire may have been present at his funeral. [102] A bachelor, he had divested much of his estate to relatives during his last years, and died intestate. [103] His papers went to John Conduitt and Catherine Barton. [104] After his death, Newton's hair was examined and found to contain mercury, probably resulting from his alchemical pursuits. Mercury poisoning could explain Newton's eccentricity in late life. [103]

The mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange said that Newton was the greatest genius who ever lived, and once added that Newton was also "the most fortunate, for we cannot find more than once a system of the world to establish." [105] English poet Alexander Pope wrote the famous epitaph:

Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night
God said "Let Newton be" and all was light.

Newton was relatively modest about his achievements, writing in a letter to Robert Hooke in February 1676, stating "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." [106]

Two writers think that the above quotation, written at a time when Newton and Hooke were in dispute over optical discoveries, was an oblique attack on Hooke (said to have been short and hunchbacked), rather than—or in addition to—a statement of modesty. [107] [108] On the other hand, the widely known proverb about standing on the shoulders of giants, published among others by seventeenth-century poet George Herbert (a former orator of the University of Cambridge and fellow of Trinity College) in his Jacula Prudentum (1651), had as its main point that "a dwarf on a giant's shoulders sees farther of the two", and so its effect as an analogy would place Newton himself rather than Hooke as the 'dwarf'.

In a later memoir, Newton wrote:

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 sea-shore, 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. [109]

In 1816, a tooth said to have belonged to Newton was sold for £730 [110] ( US$ 3,633) in London to an aristocrat who had it set in a ring. [111] Guinness World Records 2002 classified it as the most valuable tooth, which would value approximately £25,000 ( US$ 35,700) in late 2001. [111] Who bought it and who currently has it has not been disclosed.

Albert Einstein kept a picture of Newton on his study wall alongside ones of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. [112] In a 2005 survey of members of Britain's Royal Society (formerly headed by Newton) asking who had the greater effect on the history of science, Newton or Einstein, the members deemed Newton to have made the greater overall contribution. [113] In 1999, an opinion poll of 100 of the day's leading physicists voted Einstein the "greatest physicist ever," with Newton the runner-up, while a parallel survey of rank-and-file physicists by the site PhysicsWeb gave the top spot to Newton. [114]

The SI derived unit of force is named the Newton in his honour.


Newton's monument (1731) can be seen in Westminster Abbey, at the north of the entrance to the choir against the choir screen, near his tomb. It was executed by the sculptor Michael Rysbrack (1694–1770) in white and grey marble with design by the architect William Kent. [115] The monument features a figure of Newton reclining on top of a sarcophagus, his right elbow resting on several of his great books and his left hand pointing to a scroll with a mathematical design. Above him is a pyramid and a celestial globe showing the signs of the Zodiac and the path of the comet of 1680. A relief panel depicts putti using instruments such as a telescope and prism. [116] The Latin inscription on the base translates as:

Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race! He was born on 25 December 1642, and died on 20 March 1726/7.—Translation from G.L. Smyth, The Monuments and Genii of St. Paul's Cathedral, and of Westminster Abbey (1826), ii, 703–704. [116]

From 1978 until 1988, an image of Newton designed by Harry Ecclestone appeared on Series D £1 banknotes issued by the Bank of England (the last £1 notes to be issued by the Bank of England). Newton was shown on the reverse of the notes holding a book and accompanied by a telescope, a prism and a map of the Solar System. [117]

A statue of Isaac Newton, looking at an apple at his feet, can be seen at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. A large bronze statue, Newton, after William Blake, by Eduardo Paolozzi, dated 1995 and inspired by Blake's etching, dominates the piazza of the British Library in London.

Although born into an Anglican family, by his thirties Newton held a Christian faith that, had it been made public, would not have been considered orthodox by mainstream Christianity, [118] with one historian labelling him a heretic. [119]

By 1672, he had started to record his theological researches in notebooks which he showed to no one and which have only recently [ when? ] been examined. They demonstrate an extensive knowledge of early Church writings and show that in the conflict between Athanasius and Arius which defined the Creed, he took the side of Arius, the loser, who rejected the conventional view of the Trinity. Newton "recognized Christ as a divine mediator between God and man, who was subordinate to the Father who created him." [120] He was especially interested in prophecy, but for him, "the great apostasy was trinitarianism." [121]

Newton tried unsuccessfully to obtain one of the two fellowships that exempted the holder from the ordination requirement. At the last moment in 1675 he received a dispensation from the government that excused him and all future holders of the Lucasian chair. [122]

In Newton's eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin. [123] In 1999, historian Stephen D. Snobelen wrote, "Isaac Newton was a heretic. But . he never made a public declaration of his private faith—which the orthodox would have deemed extremely radical. He hid his faith so well that scholars are still unraveling his personal beliefs." [119] Snobelen concludes that Newton was at least a Socinian sympathiser (he owned and had thoroughly read at least eight Socinian books), possibly an Arian and almost certainly an anti-trinitarian. [119]

In a minority position, T.C. Pfizenmaier offers a more nuanced view, arguing that Newton held closer to the Semi-Arian view of the Trinity that Jesus Christ was of a "similar substance" (homoiousios) from the Father rather than the orthodox view that Jesus Christ is of the "same substance" of the Father (homoousios) as endorsed by modern Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants. [124] However, this type of view 'has lost support of late with the availability of Newton's theological papers', [125] and now most scholars identify Newton as an Antitrinitarian monotheist. [119] [126]

Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton's best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the Universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, "So then gravity may put the planets into motion, but without the Divine Power it could never put them into such a circulating motion, as they have about the sun". [128]

Along with his scientific fame, Newton's studies of the Bible and of the early Church Fathers were also noteworthy. Newton wrote works on textual criticism, most notably An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture and Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John. [129] He placed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at 3 April, AD 33, which agrees with one traditionally accepted date. [130]

He believed in a rationally immanent world, but he rejected the hylozoism implicit in Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza. The ordered and dynamically informed Universe could be understood, and must be understood, by an active reason. In his correspondence, Newton claimed that in writing the Principia "I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity". [131] He saw evidence of design in the system of the world: "Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system must be allowed the effect of choice". But Newton insisted that divine intervention would eventually be required to reform the system, due to the slow growth of instabilities. [132] For this, Leibniz lampooned him: "God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion." [133]

Newton's position was vigorously defended by his follower Samuel Clarke in a famous correspondence. A century later, Pierre-Simon Laplace's work Celestial Mechanics had a natural explanation for why the planet orbits do not require periodic divine intervention. [134] The contrast between Laplace's mechanistic worldview and Newton's one is the most strident considering the famous answer which the French scientist gave Napoleon, who had criticised him for the absence of the Creator in the Mécanique céleste: "Sire, j'ai pu me passer de cette hypothese" ("I do not need such a hypothesis"). [135]

Scholars long debated whether Newton disputed the doctrine of the Trinity. His first biographer, David Brewster, who compiled his manuscripts, interpreted Newton as questioning the veracity of some passages used to support the Trinity, but never denying the doctrine of the Trinity as such. [136] In the twentieth century, encrypted manuscripts written by Newton and bought by John Maynard Keynes (among others) were deciphered [54] and it became known that Newton did indeed reject Trinitarianism. [119]

Effect on religious thought

Newton and Robert Boyle's approach to the mechanical philosophy was promoted by rationalist pamphleteers as a viable alternative to the pantheists and enthusiasts, and was accepted hesitantly by orthodox preachers as well as dissident preachers like the latitudinarians. [137] The clarity and simplicity of science was seen as a way to combat the emotional and metaphysical superlatives of both superstitious enthusiasm and the threat of atheism, [138] and at the same time, the second wave of English deists used Newton's discoveries to demonstrate the possibility of a "Natural Religion".

The attacks made against pre-Enlightenment "magical thinking", and the mystical elements of Christianity, were given their foundation with Boyle's mechanical conception of the universe. Newton gave Boyle's ideas their completion through mathematical proofs and, perhaps more importantly, was very successful in popularising them. [139]

Prophetic interpretation & Eschatology

In a manuscript he wrote in 1704 (never intended to be published), he mentions the date of 2060, but it is not given as a date for the end of days. It has been falsely reported as a prediction. [140] The passage is clear when the date is read in context. He was against date setting for the end of days, concerned that this would put Christianity into disrepute.

So then the time times & half a time [sic] are 42 months or 1260 days or three years & an half, recconing twelve months to a year & 30 days to a month as was done in the Calender [sic] of the primitive year. And the days of short lived Beasts being put for the years of [long-]lived kingdoms the period of 1260 days, if dated from the complete conquest of the three kings A.C. 800, will end 2060. It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. [141]
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. Christ comes as a thief in the night, and it is not for us to know the times and seasons which God hath put into his own breast. [142] [140]


In the character of Morton Opperly in "Poor Superman" (1951), speculative fiction author Fritz Leiber says of Newton, "Everyone knows Newton as the great scientist. Few remember that he spent half his life muddling with alchemy, looking for the philosopher's stone. That was the pebble by the seashore he really wanted to find." [143]

Of an estimated ten million words of writing in Newton's papers, about one million deal with alchemy. Many of Newton's writings on alchemy are copies of other manuscripts, with his own annotations. [104] Alchemical texts mix artisanal knowledge with philosophical speculation, often hidden behind layers of wordplay, allegory, and imagery to protect craft secrets. [144] Some of the content contained in Newton's papers could have been considered heretical by the church. [104]

In 1888, after spending sixteen years cataloguing Newton's papers, Cambridge University kept a small number and returned the rest to the Earl of Portsmouth. In 1936, a descendant offered the papers for sale at Sotheby's. [145] The collection was broken up and sold for a total of about £9,000. [146] John Maynard Keynes was one of about three dozen bidders who obtained part of the collection at auction. Keynes went on to reassemble an estimated half of Newton's collection of papers on alchemy before donating his collection to Cambridge University in 1946. [104] [145] [147]

All of Newton's known writings on alchemy are currently being put online in a project undertaken by Indiana University: "The Chymistry of Isaac Newton" [148] and summarised in a book. [149] [150]

Newton's fundamental contributions to science include the quantification of gravitational attraction, the discovery that white light is actually a mixture of immutable spectral colors, and the formulation of the calculus. Yet there is another, more mysterious side to Newton that is imperfectly known, a realm of activity that spanned some thirty years of his life, although he kept it largely hidden from his contemporaries and colleagues. We refer to Newton's involvement in the discipline of alchemy, or as it was often called in seventeenth-century England, "chymistry." [148]

Charles Coulston Gillispie disputes that Newton ever practised alchemy, saying that "his chemistry was in the spirit of Boyle's corpuscular philosophy." [151]

In June 2020, two unpublished pages of Newton's notes on Jan Baptist van Helmont's book on plague, De Peste, [152] were being auctioned online by Bonham's. Newton's analysis of this book, which he made in Cambridge while protecting himself from London's 1665–1666 infection, is the most substantial written statement he is known to have made about the plague, according to Bonham's. As far as the therapy is concerned, Newton writes that "the best is a toad suspended by the legs in a chimney for three days, which at last vomited up earth with various insects in it, on to a dish of yellow wax, and shortly after died. Combining powdered toad with the excretions and serum made into lozenges and worn about the affected area drove away the contagion and drew out the poison". [153]

Enlightenment philosophers chose a short history of scientific predecessors—Galileo, Boyle, and Newton principally—as the guides and guarantors of their applications of the singular concept of nature and natural law to every physical and social field of the day. In this respect, the lessons of history and the social structures built upon it could be discarded. [154]

It was Newton's conception of the universe based upon natural and rationally understandable laws that became one of the seeds for Enlightenment ideology. [155] Locke and Voltaire applied concepts of natural law to political systems advocating intrinsic rights the physiocrats and Adam Smith applied natural conceptions of psychology and self-interest to economic systems and sociologists criticised the current social order for trying to fit history into natural models of progress. Monboddo and Samuel Clarke resisted elements of Newton's work, but eventually rationalised it to conform with their strong religious views of nature.

Newton himself often told the story that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation by watching the fall of an apple from a tree. [156] [157] The story is believed to have passed into popular knowledge after being related by Catherine Barton, Newton's niece, to Voltaire. [158] Voltaire then wrote in his Essay on Epic Poetry (1727), "Sir Isaac Newton walking in his gardens, had the first thought of his system of gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree." [159] [160]

Although it has been said that the apple story is a myth and that he did not arrive at his theory of gravity at any single moment, [161] acquaintances of Newton (such as William Stukeley, whose manuscript account of 1752 has been made available by the Royal Society) do in fact confirm the incident, though not the apocryphal version that the apple actually hit Newton's head. Stukeley recorded in his Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life a conversation with Newton in Kensington on 15 April 1726: [162] [163] [164]

we 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. "why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground," thought he to him self: occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a comtemplative mood: "why 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."

John Conduitt, Newton's assistant at the Royal Mint and husband of Newton's niece, also described the event when he wrote about Newton's life: [165]

In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought. Why not as high as the Moon said he to himself & if so, that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition.

It is known from his notebooks that Newton was grappling in the late 1660s with the idea that terrestrial gravity extends, in an inverse-square proportion, to the Moon however, it took him two decades to develop the full-fledged theory. [166] The question was not whether gravity existed, but whether it extended so far from Earth that it could also be the force holding the Moon to its orbit. Newton showed that if the force decreased as the inverse square of the distance, one could indeed calculate the Moon's orbital period, and get good agreement. He guessed the same force was responsible for other orbital motions, and hence named it "universal gravitation".

Various trees are claimed to be "the" apple tree which Newton describes. The King's School, Grantham claims that the tree was purchased by the school, uprooted and transported to the headmaster's garden some years later. The staff of the (now) National Trust-owned Woolsthorpe Manor dispute this, and claim that a tree present in their gardens is the one described by Newton. A descendant of the original tree [167] can be seen growing outside the main gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, below the room Newton lived in when he studied there. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent [168] can supply grafts from their tree, which appears identical to Flower of Kent, a coarse-fleshed cooking variety. [169]

3. Scavenged the Bible for Codes

Newton felt that the Bible was full of hidden sacred wisdom. Newton treated the Bible as a complex cryptogram coded in symbols and mathematics. He thought that deciphering it would reveal an unknown knowledge of how nature works. He even believed the ancient Jews knew the sun was the center of the Solar System! In annotations of an alchemy/biblical manuscript entitled Manna, Newton reflects upon his belief that hidden alchemical formulas were within the bible: “This philosophy, both speculative and active, is not only to be found in the volume of nature, but also in the sacred scriptures, as in Genesis, Job, Psalms, Isaiah and others. In the knowledge of this philosophy, God made Solomon the greatest philosopher in the world.” Newton further believed that Solomon, “the greatest philosopher in the world “ imparted unknown sacred wisdom in his architecture—The First Temple in Jerusalem. Newton was obsessed with it and believed the dimensions, design, construction material, location, etc of the Temple revealed essential mathematical facts, such as how to calculate Pi or find the volume of a hemisphere. He wrote a whole chapter of “The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms” about his interpretations and observations of the temple. Newton’s source was the description of the Temple in 1 Kings of the Hebrew Bible, translated from the original Hebrew by, you got it, Isaac Newton. Newton contended that the proportions of the Temple of Solomon were sacred. To Newton, the geometry of the temple corresponded to a chronology of Hebrew history and revealed the size of Earth and man’s relative size to it. To Newton, the Temple of Solomon conveyed great truths about man’s function in the world.

London, England, United Kingdom

• Sir Isaac Newton was born on 4th January 1643. (As per the “old” Julien calendar, Newton’s birth date is displayed as December 25, 1642)
• He lived in Woolsthorpe a village in southwestern Lincolnshire, England, in the house entitled as ‘Manor house’.

• After a basic education in local schools, at the age of twelve, he joined King’s School in Grantham, England, and lived in the house of a pharmacist named Clark.
• Isaac Newton built mechanical devices, including a windmill run by a live mouse, floating lanterns, and sundials in Clark’s laboratory.
• He became an established physicist and mathematician and got credited as one of the great minds of the 17th century Scientific Revolution.
• In 1687, he published his most acclaimed work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, which is said to be only and the most influential book on physics.
• Newton died in London on March 31, 1727.

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