Isaac Newton—The Man

149. Isaac Newton after John Vanderbank 1725
Isaac Newton after John
Vanderbank 1725

On Christmas Day in Lincolnshire in 1642
a baby boy for Hannah Newton bravely struggled through.
Because he was so fragile, it occasioned little mirth,
his father having died three months before his birth.
He discovered country life around Woolsthorpe Manor,
but was devastated aged three, when Barnabas took Hannah.
In later life he admitted to his anger—and his curse.
He was sent to school at Grantham, where he excelled in verse.
“His genius now begins to mount upward as pace.”
For advanced education—Cambridge was the place.
When he went to Trinity College in 1661
his intellectual growth had now thus begun.
Each year he attended the local Stourbridge Fair,
and bought books on astrology and prisms there.
Some figures in the book of astrology
stimulated an interest in trigonometry.
As this type of mathematics was previously hid
he decided to make a study of the Greek Euclid.
If you want to see Mr. Newton smile,
ask him if Euclid is worthwhile.
An outbreak of plague forced Isaac back home.
For two years his thoughts and intellect would roam.
We all know the story of the falling apple,
but it took many years this problem to grapple.
“For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention.”
At the age of 24, he worked on the science of motion.
“And minded Mathematicks and Philosophy more than at any time since.”
But he had no ambition the general public to convince.
“I see not what there is desirable in publick esteeme.”
To be a celebrity was not his longed for dream.
“On Analysis by Infinite Series” was sent to the Royal Society,
but he requested that it be done so—anonymously.
At age 27 Isaac was beginning to shine,
and was made Lucasian Professor in 1669.
Newton also had a fine practical hand
and made a telescope with lenses he ground.
This was shown to the Royal Society in December
and they made him—in January 1672—a member.
As well as new laws in the universe to discover—
Isaac was working with prisms, light and colour.

Plato said the two great cosmic forces
were Reason and Necessity.
Isaac Newton had them both—I think you will agree.
Ananke goddess of Necessity seized Isaac’s brain.
A driven loner with Natural Philosophy to explain.
He set himself problems and worked obsessively—
saying, “I keep the subject constantly before me.”
The only relationship that Isaac had desired
was the inverse square law one—that he required.
Held by Ananke’s bonds, he was bound to find
the necessity for truth and reason to unwind.
It was said that he practised celibacy
and he pronounced the way to chastity.
“… avert the thoughts by some imployment…”
(don’t let the fantasy become important.)
At Trinity, Wickins helped him for 20 years.
No word of an attachment—just a career?
I don’t think he was after the Philosopher’s Stone,
but self-taught discovery while working alone.
During much of his research he was in seclusion,
Newton, as university lecturer—was a delusion.

For Isaac, Cambridge was just a place to be,
with few close friends and no sociability.
Cloistered in his room—laboratory
he practised in secret—alchemy.
In 1675 he wrote Clavis—(The Key).
The change in state of matter—was chemistry.
One substance he studied—was mercury,
but it had a certain toxicity,
and handling it was not healthy.
His interests stretched beyond alchemy.
There was numerology and biblical chronology.
There was natural magic and history.
There was hermetic secrets and prophecy,
and the delicate subject of his theology.
An Arian believer he was suspected to be.
That sect had a problem with the Trinity.
They could not accept that Christ was all three.
But in those days such belief was heresy.

“On the shoulders of giants”—in Isaac’s quote
was a reference to Hooke being remote.
In translation I think you will agree,
that—Pygmaei and vident—are plural you see.
He means that in order for people like Hooke to achieve,
they must use others’ talents to help them perceive.
For Newton always used mathematical thought,
and dismissed Hooke’s guesses as all for naught.
When he became president of the Royal Society
references to his nemesis he erased with glee.
In 1676 Newton’s—Experimentum Crucis—
was seen by Society members to fit his hypothesis.
We know this was a defining moment in time,
but for Isaac this achievement wasn’t prime.
He slipped into another period of isolation.
Where proving hypotheses was his sole occupation.
His next phase of work was destined to be
via a question on the inverse square law, from Halley.
He wrote out—De Motu—for Halley to see,
who said—”you must publish this Natural Philosophy.”
In 1687—Principia—was available, with complexity—
“to avoid little smatterers in mathematicks bating me.”
When the second and third editions were completed
any references to Flamsteed* and Leibniz** were deleted.
In character Isaac was not effete—
for him, revenge was very sweet.
In spite of all this academic celebrity,
he had a minor breakdown in 1693.

No appetite, no sleep, and depression
gave him deterioration and confusion.
The cause can only be speculation.
To his work—complete dedication,
but parts of his life were in deprivation.
With Fatio de Duillier he had an association.
Maybe a friendship, or an infatuation?
Newton was nobody’s fool in an assignation.
He would always protect his own reputation.
He recognized a poor consummation
and that Fatio’s praise was just adulation.
Letters to friends showed muddled frustration.
After four months of disorder—no escalation.
He broke off with the man who caused this vexation.

He wrote—Praxis—an alchemist’s “multiplication”,
but without little or any verification.
Unusual for a man who had proof as fixation.
Then in 1696 Montague gave regeneration.
As Warden of the Mint, Newton had recuperation.
After 35 years in Cambridge—a new occupation.
The work gave him a renewed motivation.
In London he would have no more isolation.
His friends increased there by affiliation.
Renovating the Mint required concentration.
He had great success with standardization.
No tolerance at all for coin devaluation.
He pursued forgers and clippers with investigation.
His knowledge and methods were an innovation.
The Mint was sound with his implementation.
When challenged, he never avoided confrontation.
When roused, he pursued avenues of vindication.

Renewed as—man about town—with great acclamation.
At home—surrounded by crimson—in jubilation.
His new coat of arms was a gentrification.
In 1703 there was another salutation.
President of the Royal Society—by invitation.
And of course he improved their administration.
In 1704 Opticks was published, a new revelation.
After thirty years of complete incubation.
Light, cosmology and metaphysics—as a compilation.
Reflections, refractions, inflexions and observation.
In 1705 another cause for celebration—
“Sir Isaac Newton”—was the new notation.

With analysis as a lifelong fascination,
he still sought the formula for unification.
Uniting all forces of nature with one explanation.
There was something unusual by his estimation—
that there was probably universal unobservable motion!
In his own discoveries he feared imitation.
He would not accept any duplication.
He believed the Ancients had profound interpretation.
In the history of science he has no emulation.
His interests ranged far in exploration.
A man whose ideas had great ramification.
In his name—force equals mass times acceleration.
His diligent studies were for edification.
He was someone of lucid clarification.
The pebble he found*—a new form of calculation.
I conclude—the greatest scientist—with no hesitation.

* Flamsteed was Astronomer Royal who provided Newton with data.

** Gottfried Leibniz was a German mathematician who also discovered calculus.

* The Latin word for “pebble” is—calculus.