Cumberland Times-News

April 20, 2013

Isaac Newton is still at the top of his class

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— In teaching physics at the

first year and second year college

level, the discoveries of

Isaac Newton are the foundation



forces and

how they




may have

never come

to light were

it not for


Halley, who

persuaded a

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

minor gentry.

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

to Jesus.)

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

family farm.

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.


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 . He is available

as a speaker on his column topics.