English-Speaking Countries in a Nutshell – Sir Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day 1642 in Lincolnshire, England. He was a premature baby and, in fact, he was so weak and small that nobody expected him to survive.  Against all odds, the baby lived, but he was an orphan. Isaac’s father, a wealthy and illiterate farmer who could not even sign his name, had died three months before Isaac’s birth.

When the boy was three years old, his mother married an Anglican minister. Her new husband did not want to raise the child, so Isaac was left behind with his grandparents and almost never saw his mum. He missed her very much and felt very lonely. Till the end of his life he was a loner and a very secretive person, and did not get on well with other people.

Isaac went to a local village school where he learned to read and write. Since he was very intelligent and the school could not teach him much more, he was soon sent to another school, farther away from home. Unfortunately, he did not like it and he did not find the school subjects interesting.  He was not a very good student at first, but his grades improved after a fight with another student. Isaac wanted to have better grades than he did, so he started working hard and soon became top of the class.

When he was ten, his stepfather died and Isaac’s mother moved back. She wanted her eldest son to become a good farmer. However, farming did not interest him at all, and one of his teachers persuaded his mother that such a brilliant student should go to university. She was not very happy about that and even though she agreed to send him to Cambridge, she refused to pay his fees. Thus, Isaac had to work as a servant for the rich students to pay for his education.

Newton did not like many things that were taught at Cambridge, but he loved the library. He read the works of ancient philosophers, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and many others. He was also interested in mathematics, astrology and alchemy, which was then considered to be as legitimate as other areas of science. Newton, and many other respected alchemists, searched for the Philosopher’s Stone that was supposed to turn other metals into gold, and the Elixir of Life that would make people immortal.

When the plague broke out in England, universities were closed and all the students had to return home. The year and a half that Newton spent on his mother’s farm turned out to be very productive. During that period of time Newton invented his own form of mathematics, which is now known as calculus. He studied light and figured out how rainbows are formed. He also started working on the laws of motion and the theory of gravity.

According to a popular story, one day Isaac was sitting under an apple tree and suddenly an apple fell on his head. He started thinking about why objects moved downwards and came up with the idea of a force that pulls them towards the Earth.

When the epidemic ended, Newton returned to Cambridge. He became a lecturer but teaching was definitely not one of his strengths. His classes were boring and almost nobody attended them – but Newton did not care much and preferred to spend time thinking.

His interest in astronomy led him to build a telescope that was much better than anything else used before. Even the king was impressed with Newton’s invention and soon he became a member of the Royal Society.

In 1687 he published his famous book ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’, which laid the foundation of modern physics and explained the idea of gravity. It also presented Newton’s three laws of motion which explained the movement of things in the Universe. In 1703 he became president of the Royal Society. In 1705, in recognition of his great achievements, he was knighted and became Sir Isaac Newton.

Newton’s intellect remained sharp till the end of his long life. When he died in 1727 at the age of eighty-five, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, among kings, queens and other great people of England.