In teaching physics at the
first year and second year college
level, the discoveries of
Isaac Newton are the foundation
to light were
it not for
reluctant Newton to publish his
Laws of Motion and Universal
Gravitation. Halley even partially
financed Newton’s great
work, the Principia (short for
“Principles of Natural Philosophy”
In those days, the term scientist
was not used; Newton
and his fellow scientists were
then known as Natural
Philosophers. Newton was
hyper sensitive and had kept
his work secret for the better
part of 20 years.
I recently purchased “Newton’s
Notebook”, by Joel Levy.
This book details Newton’s
family background, his childhood
antics, his life at Cambridge,
his pursuit of Alchemy
and deep interest in Theology.
Published in 2009 by the Running
Press, “Newton’s Notebook”
has ISBN 978-0-7624-
Newton was born on Christmas
Day in 1642; about two
months earlier, his father
Isaac, a sheep farmer had died
at age 36. His mother, Hannah
Ayscough Newton was of the
Hannah saw that her son be
educated. For Isaac was the
first of the Newton line to be
able to write his own name.
The baby Isaac was quite
small and frail; his christening
was delayed until Jan. 1, 1642.
(At that time, the English
changed the year number on
March 25, the date that Mary
was visited by an angel, telling
her that she was to give birth
Three years later, Hannah
caught the eye of a local minister,
Barnabus Smith, who had
lost his wife six months earlier.
The marriage contract called
for Hannah to live with her new
husband and leave Isaac
behind, to be raised by Hannah’s
In the meanwhile, Hannah
had three more children, two
daughters and a son by
Upon the death of Barnabus,
Hannah moved back to the
Newton ancestral home, bringing
her two daughters and son
to join Isaac.
The children didn’t get along.
On Newton’s long list of sins,
number 24 was “punching my
At the age of 12 Newton was
old enough to attend grammar
school at Grantham, too far to
commute so he boarded nearby.
The King’s School was a
one room school house with 80
students. The classes were in
Latin, which Isaac had to learn
Newton covered the wall of
his room with charcoal paintings.
Newton’s favorite book
was “Mysteries of Nature and
Art” by John Bates, which
inspired him to draw, build
devices and do experiments.
At first, Newton was undistinguished
as a scholar. But
one day, a lad at a higher level
kicked Isaac in the stomach.
Newton then challenged the
bully to fight in the Church
There Newton’s persistence
won out. Isaac pulled the bully
by his ears and pushed his face
against the church wall. Not
only did Newton want to triumph
physically, he wanted to
show his dominance in the
classroom. Once Newton
began to apply himself intellectually,
he quickly rose to the top
of the class.
Newton began to fill his
room with all kinds of models
including a windmill, a mousetrap
and a number of sundials.
He lived on a floor above an
apothecary shop where Newton
helped Mr. Clark (the
apothecary) make salves,
potions and medicines.
At 17, Isaac was summoned
home by his mother to run the
One misadventure after
another made it clear that
Newton was no farmer. He
would often sneak back to the
apothecary’s house and read
some of Mr. Clark’s books.
Newton was fined for letting
the pigs go into the corn fields
and not keeping the fences in
repair. Newton’s mother was in
despair. Hannah’s brother, the
Rev. William Ayscough suggested
that Isaac go to a University.
Newton returned to his
old school at Grantham to prepare
for entrance to Cambridge.
In June of 1661, Newton was
admitted to Trinity College at
Cambridge. There was a caste
system of students based on
wealth: at the top were the
wealthy, followed by the merely
affluent, the sizars who served
the masters and fellows (teachers)
and lastly the subsizars,
who served the other students.
Newton, with his small
allowance from his mother (10
pounds a year) was a subsizar.
Like Galileo before him, Newton
went into a university dominated
by the thinking of Aristotle.
Future columns will deal
with Newton’s development,
largely due to his own readings,
reflections and experiments.
SKY SIGHTS THIS
WEEK: The gibbous moon
moves from Leo to Virgo, passing
by Spica, Virgo’s brightest
star on Wednesday evening
and Saturn on Thursday
The moon will be full on
Thursday. Early Sunday morning,
the planet Saturn will be
closest to the Earth. Saturn
will then rise as the sun sets
and hang in the sky all night
Bob Doyle invites any readers comments
and questions. E-mail him at
firstname.lastname@example.org . He is available
as a speaker on his column topics.
In teaching physics at the
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