When you come into any fresh company, observe their humours. Suit your own carriage thereto, by which insinuation you will make their converse more free and open. Let your discourse be more in querys and doubtings than peremptory assertions or disputings, it being the designe of travelers to learne, not to teach. Besides, it will persuade your acquaintance that you have the greater esteem of them, and soe make them more ready to communicate what they know to you; whereas nothing sooner occasions disrespect and quarrels than peremptorinesse. You will find little or no advantage in seeming wiser, or much more ignorant than your company. Seldom discommend anything though never so bad, or doe it but moderately, lest you bee unexpectedly forced to an unhansom retraction. It is safer to commend any thing more than is due, than to discommend a thing soe much as it deserves; for commendations meet not soe often with oppositions, or, at least, are not usually soe ill resented by men that think otherwise, as discommendations; and you will insinuate into men's favour by nothing sooner than seeming to approve and commend what they like; but beware of doing it by a comparison.
--Sir Isaac Newton to one of his pupils
An honest farmer, neither rich nor poor, was Isaac Newton. He was married to Harriet Ayscough in February, Sixteen Hundred Forty-two.
Both were strong, intelligent and full of hope. Neither had any education to speak of; they belonged to England's middle class--that oft-despised and much ridiculed middle class which is the hope of the world. Accounts still in existence show that their income was thirty pounds a year. It was for them to toil all the week, go to church on Sunday, and twice or thrice in a year attend the village fairs or indulge in a holiday where hard cider played an important part.
Isaac had served his two years in the army, taken a turn at sea, and got his discharge-papers. Now he had married the lass of his choice, and settled down in the little house on an estate in Lincolnshire where his father was born and died.
Spring came and the roses clambered over the stone walls; the bobolinks played hide-and-seek in the waving grass of the meadows; the skylarks sang and poised and soared; the hedgerows grew white with hawthorn-blossoms and musical with the chirp of sparrows; the cattle ranged through the fragrant clover "knee-deep in June."
Oftentimes the young wife worked with her husband in the fields, or went with him to market. Great plans were laid as to what they would do next year, and the year after, and how they would provide for coming age and grow old together, here among the oaks and the peace and plenty of Lincolnshire.
In such a country, with such a climate, it seems as if one could almost make repair equal waste, and thus keep death indefinitely at bay. But all men, even the strongest, are living under a death sentence, with but an indefinite reprieve. And even yet, with all of our science and health, we can not fully account for those diseases which seemingly pick the very best flower of sinew and strength.
Isaac Newton, the strong and rugged farmer, sickened and died in a week. "The result of a cold caught when sweaty and standing in a draft," the surgeon explained. "The act of God to warn us all of the vanity of life." Acute pneumonia, perhaps, is what we would call it--a fever that burned out the bellows in a week.
In such cases the very strength of the man seems to supply fuel for the flames. And so just as the Autumn came with changing leaves, the young wife was left to fight the battle of life alone--alone, save for the old, old miracle that her life supported another. A wife, a widow, a mother--all within a year!
On Christmas-Day the babe was born--born where most men die: in obscurity. He was so weak and frail that none but the mother believed he would live.
The doctor quoted a line from "Richard the Third," "Sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up," and gave the infant into the keeping of an old nurse with an ominous shake of the head, and went his way, absolved. His time was too valuable to waste on such a useless human mite.
The persistent words of the mother that the child should not, must not die, possibly had something to do with keeping the breath of life in the puny man-child. The fond mother had given him the name of his father, even before birth! He was to live to do the work that the man now dead had hoped to do; that is, live a long and honest life, and leave the fair acres more valuable than he found them.
Such was the inauspicious beginning of what Herbert Spencer declared was the greatest life since Aristotle studied the starry universe.
* * * * * * *
Outside of India the lot of widows is not especially to be pitied. A widow has beautiful dreams, while the married woman copes with the stern reality.
Then, no phase of life is really difficult when you accept it; and the memory of a great love lost is always a blessing and a benediction to the one who endures the first cruel shock.
The young widow looked after her little estate, and with perhaps some small assistance from her parents, lived comfortably and as happily as one has a right to in this vale of tears. Her baby boy had grown strong and well: by the time he was two years old he was quite the equal of most babies--and his mother thought, beyond them.
It is quite often stoutly declared by callow folks that mother-love is the strongest and most enduring love in the world, but the wise waste no words on such an idle proposition. Mother-love retires into the shadow when the other kind appears.
When the Reverend Barnabas Smith began, unconsciously, to make eyes at the Widow Newton over his prayer-book, the good old dames whose business it is to look after these things, and perform them vicariously, made prophecies on the way home from church as to how soon the wedding would occur.
People go to church to watch and pray, but a man I know says that women go to church to watch. Young clergymen fall an easy prey to designing widows, he avers. I can discover no proof, however, that the Widow Newton made any original designs; she was below the young clergyman in social standing, and when the good man began to pay special attentions to her baby boy she never imagined that the sundry pats and caresses were meant for her.
Little Isaac Newton was just three years old when the wedding occurred, and was not troubled about it. The bride went to live with her husband at the rectory, a mile away, and the little boy in dresses, with long yellow curls, was taken to the home of his grandmother. The Reverend Barnabas Smith didn't like babies as well as he had at first thought. Grandparents are inclined to be lax in their discipline. And anyway it is no particular difference if they are: a scarcity of discipline is better than too much. More boys have been ruined by the rod than saved by it--love is a good substitute for a cat-'o-nine-tails.
There were several children born to the Reverend Barnabas Smith and his wife, and all were disciplined for their own good. Isaac, a few miles away, snuggled in the arms of his old grandmother when he was bad and went scot-free.
Many years after, Sir Isaac Newton, in an address on education at Cambridge, playfully referred to the fact that in his boyhood he did not have to prevaricate to escape punishment, his grandmother being always willing to lie for him. His grandmother was his first teacher and his best friend as long as she lived.
When he was twelve years old he was sent to the village school at Grantham, eight miles away. There he boarded with a family by the name of Clark, and at odd times helped in the apothecary-shop of Mr. Clark, cleaning bottles and making pills. He himself has told us that the working with mortar and pestle, cutting the pills in exact cubes, and then rolling one in each hand between thumb and finger, did him a lot of good, whether the patients were benefited or not.
The genial apothecary also explained that pills were for those who made and sold them, and that if they did no harm to those who swallowed them, the whole transaction was then one of benefit. All of which proves to us that men had the essence of wisdom two hundred years ago, quite as much as now.
The master of the school at Grantham was one Mr. Stokes, a man of genuine insight and tact--two things rather rare in the pedagogic equipment at that time. The Newton boy was small and stood low in his class, perhaps because book-learning had not been the bent of his grandmother. The fact that Isaac was neither strong nor smart, nor even smartly dressed, caused him to serve in the capacity of a butt for the bullies.
One big boy in particular made it his business to punch, kick and cuff him on all occasions, in class or out. This continued for a month, when one day the little boy invited the big one out into the churchyard and there fell upon him tooth and claw. The big boy had strength, but the little one had right on his side.
The schoolmaster looked over the wall and shouted, "Thrice armed is he who knows his cause is just!" In two minutes the bully was beaten, but the schoolmaster's son, who stood by as master of ceremonies, suggested that the big boy have his nose rubbed against the wall of the church for luck. This was accordingly done, not o'er-gently, and when Isaac returned to the schoolroom, the master, who was supposed to know nothing officially of the fighting, prophesied, "Young Mr. Newton will yet beat any boy in this school in his studies."
It has been suggested that this prophecy was made after its fulfilment, but even so, we know that Mr. Stokes lived long enough to take great pride in the Newton boy, and to grow reminiscent concerning his great achievements.
Our hearts surely go out to the late Mr. Stokes, schoolmaster at Grantham.
* * * * * * *
There is surely something in that old idea of Indians that when they killed an enemy the strength of the fallen adversary entered into themselves.
This encounter of little Isaac with the school bully was a pivotal point in his career. He had vanquished the rogue physically, and he now set to work to do as much mentally for the whole school. He had it in him--it was just a matter of application.
Once, in after-life, in speaking of those who had benefited him most, he placed this unnamed chucklehead first, and added with a smile, "Our enemies are quite as necessary to us as our friends."
In a few months Isaac stood at the head of the class. In mathematics he especially excelled, and the Master, who prided himself on being able to give problems no one could solve but himself, found that he was put to the strait of giving a problem nobody could solve. He was somewhat taken aback when little Isaac declined to work on it, and coolly pointed out the fallacy involved. The only thing for the teacher to do was to say he had purposely given the proposition to see if any one would detect the fallacy. This he gracefully did, and again made a prophecy to the effect that Isaac Newton would some day take his own place and be master of Grantham School.
In the year Sixteen Hundred Fifty-six the schooldays of Isaac Newton were cut short by the death of his stepfather.
His mother, twice a widow, moved back to "Woolsthorpe," a big name for a very small estate. Isaac was made the man of the house. The ambition of his mother was that he should become a farmer and stock-raiser.
It seems that the boy entered upon his farm duties with an alacrity that was not to last. His heart was not in the work, but the desire to please his mother spurred him forward.
On one occasion, being sent with a load of produce to Grantham, he stopped to visit his old school, and during his call struck a bargain with one of the boys for a copy of Descartes' Geometry. The purchase exhausted his finances, so that he was unable to buy the articles his mother had sent him for, but when he got home he explained that one might get along without such luxuries as clothing, but a good Geometry was a family necessity. About this time he made a water-clock, and also that sundial which can be seen today, carved into the stone on the corner of the house. He still continued his making of kites which had been begun at Grantham; and gave the superstitious neighbors a thrill by flying kites at night with lighted lanterns made from paper, attached to the tails. He made water-wheels and windmills, and once constructed a miniature mill that he ran by placing a mouse in a treadmill inside.
In the meantime the cows got into the corn, and the weeds in the garden improved each shining hour. The fond mother was now sorely disappointed in her boy, and made remarks to the effect that if she had looked after his bringing up instead of entrusting him to an indulgent grandmother, affairs at this time would not be in their present state. Parents are apt to be fussy: they can not wait.
Matters reached a climax when the sheep that Isaac had been sent to watch, overran the garden and demolished everything but the purslane and ragweed, while all the time the young man was under the hedge working out mathematical problems from his Descartes.
At this stage the mother called in her brother, the Reverend Mr. Ayscough, and he advised that a boy who was so bound to study should be allowed to study.
And the good man offered to pay the wages of a man to take Isaac's place on the farm.
So, greatly to the surprise and pleasure of Mr. Stokes of Grantham, Isaac one fine day returned with his books, just as if he had only been gone a day instead of a year.
At the home of the apothecary the lad was thrice welcome. He had endeared himself to the women of the household especially. He did not play with other boys--their games and sports were absolutely outside of his orbit. He was silent and so self-contained that he won from his schoolfellows the sobriquet of "Old Coldfeet." Nothing surprised him; he never lost his temper; he laughed so seldom that the incident was noted and told to the neighbors; his attitude was one of abstraction, and when he spoke it was like a judge charging a jury with soda-water.
All his spare time was given up to whittling, pounding, sawing, and making mathematical calculations.
Not all of his inventions were toys, for among other things he constructed a horseless carriage which was run by a crank and pumping device, by the occupants.
The idea of the horseless carriage is a matter that has long been in the minds of inventors.
Several men, supremely great, have tried their hands and head at it. Leibnitz worked at it; Swedenborg prophesied the automobile, and made a carriage, placing the horse inside, and did not give up the scheme until the horse ran away with himself and demolished a year's work. The government here interfered and placed an injunction against "the making of any more such diabolical contrivances for the disturbance of the public peace." All of which makes us believe that if either Edison or Marconi had lived two hundred years ago, the bailiffs would have looked after them with the butt end of the law for the regulation of wizards and witches--wizards at Menlo Park being as bad as witches at Salem.
Newton's horseless carriage later came to grief in a similar way to Swedenborg's invention--it worked so well and so fast that it turned a complete somersault into a ditch, and its manipulation was declared to be a pastime more dangerous than football.
Not all the things produced by Isaac about this time were failures. For instance, among other things he made a table, a chair and a cupboard for a young woman who was a fellow-boarder at the apothecary's. The excellence of young Newton's handiwork was shown in that the articles just mentioned outlasted both owner and maker.
* * * * * * *
Much of the reminiscence concerning the Grantham days of Sir Isaac Newton comes from the fortunate owner of that historic old table, chair and cupboard. This was Mary Story, who was later Mrs. Vincent.
Miss Story was the same age as Isaac. She was just eighteen when the furniture was made roycroftie--she was a young lady, grown, and wore a dress with a train; moreover, she had been to London and had been courted by a widower, while Isaac Newton was only a lad in roundabouts.
Age counts for little--it is experience and temperament that weigh in the scale. Isaac was only a little boy, and Mary Story treated him like one. And here seems a good place to quote what Doctor Charcot said, "In arranging the formula for a great man, make sure you delay adolescence: rareripes rot early."
Isaac and Mary became very good chums, and used to ramble the woods together hand in hand, in a way that must have frightened them both had they been on the same psychic plane. Isaac had about the same regard for her that he might have had for a dear maiden aunt who would mend his old socks and listen patiently, pretending to be interested when he talked of parallelograms and prismatic spectra. But evidently Mary Story thought of him with a thrill, for she stoutly resented the boys calling him "Coldfeet."
In due time Isaac gravitated to Cambridge. Mary mooed a wee, but soon consoled herself with a sure-enough lover, and was married to Mr. Vincent, a worthy man and true, but one who had not sufficient soul-caloric to make her forget her Isaac.
This friendship with Mary Story is often spoken of as the one love-affair in the life of Sir Isaac Newton. It was all prosily Platonic on his part, but as Mary lived out her life at Grantham, and Sir Isaac Newton used to go there occasionally, and when he did, always called upon her, the relationship was certainly noteworthy.
The only break in that lifelong friendship occurred when each was past fifty.
Sir Isaac Newton was paying his little yearly call at Grantham; and was seated in a rustic arbor by the side of Mrs. Vincent, now grown gray, and the mother of a goodly brood, well grown up. As they thus sat talking of days agone, his thoughts wandered off upon quadratic equations, and to aid his mind in following the thread, he absent-mindedly lighted his pipe, and smoked in silence. As the tobacco died low, he gazed about for a convenient utensil to use in pushing the ashes down in the bowl of his pipe. Looking down he saw the lady's hand resting upon his knee, and he straightway utilized the forefinger of his vis-a-vis. A suppressed feminine screech followed, but the fires of friendship were not quenched by so slight an incident, which Mrs. Vincent knew grew out of temperament, and not from wrong intent.
She lived to be eighty-five, and to the day of her death caressed the scar--the cicatrice of a love-wound. All of which seems to prove that old women can be quite as absurd as young ones--goodness me!
* * * * * * *
When Isaac was eighteen, Master Stokes was so well impressed with his star scholar that he called in the young lad's uncle, the Reverend Mr. Ayscough, and insisted that the boy be sent to Cambridge. The uncle being a Cambridge man himself thought this the proper thing to do.
On June Fifth, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-one, Isaac presented his credentials from his uncle and Mr. Stokes, and was duly entered in Trinity College as a subsizar, which means that he was admitted on suspicion. A part of the duties of a subsizar was to clean boots, scrub floors and perform various other delightful tasks which everybody else evaded.
To be at Trinity College in any capacity was paradise for this boy. He thirsted for knowledge: to know, to do, to perform--these things were his desire. He had been brought up to work, anyway, and to a country boy toil is no punishment. "I knew that if worse came to worst I could get work in the town making furniture and earn a man's wage," he said.
In a month he had passed his first examinations and was made a sizar. Before this he had been fag to everybody, but now he was fag to the Seniors only. He not only made their beds and cleaned their rooms, but also worked their examples in mathematics, and thus commanded their respect.
Once, being called upon in class to recite from Euclid, he declined and shocked the professor by saying, "It is a trifling book--I have mastered it and thrown it aside." And it was no idle boast--he knew the book as the professor did not. When he arrived at Cambridge, he carried in his box a copy of Sanderson's Logic presented to him by his uncle--the uncle having no use for it. It happened to be one of the textbooks in use at Trinity. When Isaac heard lectures on Sanderson he found he knew the book a deal better than the tutor, a thing the tutor shortly acknowledged before the class. This caused young Mr. Newton to stand out as a prodigy. Usually students have to rap for admittance to the higher classes, but now the teachers came and sought him out. One professor told him he was about to take up Kepler's Optics with some post-graduate students--would young Mr. Newton come in? Isaac begged to be excused until he could examine the book. The volume was loaned to him. He tore the vitals out of it and digested them. When the lectures began, he declined to go because he had mastered the subject as far as Kepler carried it.
Genius seems to consist in the ability to concentrate your rays and focus them on one point. Isaac Newton could do it. "On a Winter day I took a small glass and so centered the sun's rays that I burned a hole in my coat," he wrote in his subsizar journal.
The youth possessed an imperturbable coolness: he talked little, but when he spoke it was very frankly and honestly. From any other his words would have had a presumptuous and boastful sound. As it was he was respected and beloved. At Cambridge his face and features commended him: he looked like another Cambridge man, one Milton--John Milton--only his face was a little more stern in its expression than that of the author of "Paradise Lost."
In two years' time Isaac Newton was a scholar of whom all Cambridge knew. He had prepared able essays on the squaring of curved and crooked lines, on errors in grinding lenses and the methods of rectifying them, and in the extraction of roots where the cubes were imperfect: he had done things never before attempted by his teachers. When they called upon him to recite, it was only for the purpose of explaining truths which they had not mastered.
In Sixteen Hundred Sixty-four, being in his twenty-second year, Isaac Newton was voted a free scholarship, which provided for board, books and tuition. On this occasion he was examined in Euclid by Doctor Barrow, the Head Master of Trinity.
Newton could solve every problem, but could not explain why or how. His methods were empirical--those of his own.
Many men with a modicum of mathematical genius work in this way, and in practical life the plan may serve all right. But now it was shown to Newton that a schoolman must not only know how to work out great problems, but also why he goes at it in a certain way; otherwise, colleges are vain--we must be able to pass our knowledge along. The really great man is one who knows the rules and then forgets them, just as the painter of supreme merit must be a realist before he evolves into an impressionist.
Newton now acknowledged his mistake in reference to Euclid, and set to work to master the rules. This graciousness in accepting advice, and the willingness to admit his lapse, if he had been hasty, won for him not only the scholarship, but also the love of his superiors. Milton was a radical who made enemies, but Newton was a radical who made friends. He avoided iconoclasm, left all matters of theology to the specialists, and accepted the Church as a necessary part of society. His care not to offend fixed his place in Cambridge for life.
It was Cambridge that fostered and encouraged his first budding experiments; it was there he was sustained in his mightiest hazards; and it was within her walls that the ripe fruit of his genius was garnered and gathered. When his fame had become national and he was called to higher offices than Cambridge supplied, Cambridge watched his career with the loving interest of a mother, and the debt of love he fully paid, for it was very largely through his name and fame that Cambridge first took her place as one of the great schools of the world.
* * * * * * *
Newton took his degree of Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge, in January, in the year Sixteen Hundred Sixty-five. The faculty of Trinity would not even consider his leaving the college: he was as valuable to them as he would be now if he were a famous football-player. Besides the scholarship, there were ways provided so he could earn money by private tutoring and giving lectures in the absence of the professors.
He had written his essay on fluxions, described their application to fluents and tangents, and devised a plan for finding the radius of curvity in crooked lines. In August of the same year that Newton was given his degree, the college was dismissed on account of an epidemic, and Newton went home to Woolsthorpe to kill time. In September, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-five, he then being twenty-three, while seated in his mother's garden, Newton saw that storied apple fall. What pulled it down? Some force tugging at it, surely!
Galileo had experimented with falling bodies, and had proved that the weight and size of a falling body had nothing to do with its velocity, save as its size and shape might be affected by the friction of the atmosphere. The first person to put into print the story of the falling apple was Voltaire, whose sketch of Newton is a little classic which the world could ill afford to lose. Adam, William Tell and Isaac Newton each had his little affair with an apple, but with different results.
The falling apple suggested to Newton that there was some power in the ground that was constantly pulling things toward the center of the earth.
This power extended straight down into the earth--he knew it--he had dropped a stone into a mine, and had also dropped things from steeples. He dropped apples from kites by an ingenious device of two strings, and he concluded that an apple taken a hundred miles up in the air would return to earth.
He then began to speculate as to just what a body would do a thousand or ten thousand miles from the earth. So high as we could go, or as deep as we could dig, this drawing power was always present. The Law of Gravitation!
If a cannon-ball was fired in a straight line at a distant target, the gunner had to elevate the aim if he would hit the target, for the ball described a curve and would keep dropping to the earth until it struck the ground. Something was pulling it down: what was it? The Law of Gravitation!
The moon was attracted toward us and would surely fall into us, but for the fact that there were other attractions drawing her toward them. The movements of the planets were owing to the fact that they were obeying attractions. They were moving in curves, just like cannon-balls in motion. They had two movements, also, like the cannon-ball.
Newton had noticed that the stars within a certain territory all moved in similar directions, and so must be acted upon by the same influences. The Law of Gravitation!
It is held by many people in East Aurora and elsewhere that Newton's invention is a devilish device originated for the benefit of surgeons and crockery-dealers. But this is not wholly true.
Without this Law of Gravitation the Earth could not retain her spherical shape: only through this constant drawing in toward the center could she exist.
The other planets, too, must be round or they could not exist, and so they also had this same quality of gravity in common with the Earth--a drawing in of everything toward the center. Here was clearly a positive discovery--this similarity of the heavenly bodies!
Every one of the heavenly bodies was exerting a constant attraction toward all other heavenly bodies, and this attractive power must be in proportion to the distance they were from the object acted upon. Thus were their movements and orbits accounted for.
At this time Newton was perfectly familiar with Kepler's Law, that the squares of the periodic times of a planet were as the cubes of its distance from the sun. And from this, he inferred that the attraction varied as the square of the planet's distance from the sun.
Here he was working on territory that had never been surveyed. At first, in his exuberance, he thought to figure out the size and weight of each planet quickly by measuring its attractive power. He did not realize that he had cut out for himself work that would require many men and several centuries to cover, but surely he was on the right scent--a finite man keen upon the secrets of the Infinite!
He was still at his mother's old home in the country, without scientific apparatus or the stimulus of colleagues, when we find by a record in his journal that antique groan because there were only twenty-four hours in a day, and that eight were required for sleep and eight more for recreation!
A subject a little nearer home than planetary attraction had now switched him off from measuring and weighing the stars. He was hard at work in his mother's little sitting-room, with the windows darkened, much to that good woman's perplexity.
By shutting out all light from the windows and allowing the sun's rays to enter by a little, circular aperture, he had gotten the sunlight captured and tamed where he could study it. This ray of light he examined with a small hand-glass he himself had made. In looking at the ray, quite accidentally, he found it could be deflected and sent off at will in various directions. When thrown on the wall, instead of being simply white light it had seven distinct colors beginning with violet and running down to red. So white light was not a single element: it was made up of various rays which had to be united in order to give us sunlight.
Eureka! He had found the secret of the rainbow--the sun's rays broken up and separated by the refracting agency of clouds!
Well does Darwin declare that the separation of sunlight into its component parts, and the invention of the spectrum, have marked an advance in man's achievement such as the world had not seen since the time of wonder-working Archimedes.
* * * * * * *
The Cambridge University was closed until October, year of Sixteen Hundred Sixty-seven. Most of the intervening time Newton spent at the home of his mother, but from accounts of his we can see that the College people kept their eagle-eye upon him, for they sent remittances to him regularly for "commons."
When he returned to Cambridge he was assigned to the "spiritual chamber," which was a room next to the chapel, that had formerly been reserved as a guest-room for visiting dignitaries.
In March, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-eight, he was given the degree of Master of Arts. His studies now were of a very varied kind. He was required to give one lecture a week on any subject of his own choosing. Needless to say his themes were all mathematical or scientific. Just what they were can best be inferred by consulting his cashbook, since the lectures themselves were not written out and all memoranda concerning them have disappeared. This account-book shows that his expenditures were for a Gunter's Book (he who invented the Gunter's Chain), a magnet and a compass, glue, bulbs, putty, antimony, vinegar, white lead, salts of tartar, and lenses.
And in addition there are a few interesting items such as one sees in the Diary of George Washington: "Lost at cards, five shillings." "Treating at tavern, ten shillings." "Binding my Bible, three shillings." "Spent on my cousin, one pound, two." "Expenses for wetting my degree, sixteen shillings."
The last item shows that times have changed but little: this scientist and philosopher par excellence had to moisten his diploma at the tavern for the benefit of good fellows who little guessed with whom they drank.
He also had "poor relations" come to visit him; and it is significant that while there are various items showing where he lost money at cards, there are no references to any money won at the same business, from which we infer that while there was no one at Cambridge who could follow him in his studies, there yet were those who could deal themselves better hands when it came to the pasteboards.
Evidently he got discouraged at playing cards, for after the year Sixteen Hundred Sixty-eight, there are no more items of "treating at the tavern" or "lost at cards." The boys had tried to educate him, but had not succeeded. In card exploitations he fell a victim of arrested development.
I suppose it will not cause any one a shock to be told that "the greatest thinker of all time" was not exactly a perfect man.
So let the truth be known that throughout his life Newton had a well-defined strain of superstitious belief running through his character. He never quite relinquished the idea of transmutation of metals, and at times astrology was quite as interesting to him as astronomy.
In writing to a friend who was about to pay a long visit to the mines of Hungary, he says, "Examine most carefully and ascertain just how and under what conditions Nature transforms iron into copper and copper into silver and gold."
In his laboratory he had specimens of iron ore that contained copper, and also samples of copper ore that contained gold, and from this he argued that these metals were transmutable, and really in the act of transmutation when the process was interfered with by the miner's pick.
He had transformed a liquid into a mass of solid crystals instantly, and all of the changes possible in light, which he had discovered, had enlarged his faith to a point where he declared, "Nothing is impossible."
It is somewhat curious that Isaac Newton, who had no soft sex-sentiment in his nature, quite unlike Galileo, still believed in alchemy and astrology, while Galileo's cold intellect at once perceived the fallacy of these things.
Galileo also saw at once that for the sun to stand still at Joshua's command would really mean that the Earth must cease her motion, since the object desired was to prolong the day. Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered the Law of Gravitation, yet believed that at the command of a barbaric chieftain, this Law was arrested, and that all planetary attraction was made to cease while he fought the Philistines for the possession of pasture-land to which he had no title.
Galileo did not know as much as Newton about planetary attraction, but very early in his career he perceived that the Bible was not a book that could be relied upon technically.
With Newton the Bible presented no difficulties. He regularly attended church and took part in the ritual. Religion was one thing and his daily work another. He kept his religion as completely separate from his life as did Gladstone, who believed the Mosaic account of Creation was literally true, and yet had a clear, cool, calculating head for facts.
The greatest financial exploiter in America today is an Orthodox Christian, taking an active part in missionary work and the spread of the Gospel.
In his family he is gentle, kind and tender; he is a good neighbor, a punctilious churchgoer, a leader in Sunday-School, and a considerate teacher of little children.
In business relations he is as conscienceless as Tamerlane, who built a mountain of skulls as a monument to himself. He is cold, calculating, and if opposed, vindictive. On occasion he is absolutely without heart: compassion, mercy or generosity are not then in his make-up.
The best lawyers procurable are paid princely sums to study for him the penal code, and legislatures have even revised it for his benefit. Eviction, destruction, suicide and insanity have even trod in his train. A picture of him makes you think of that dark and gloomy canvas where Cĉsar, Alexander and Napoleon ride slowly side by side through a sea of stiffened corpses. Bribery, coercion, violence and even murder have been this man's weapons. He is the richest man in America. And yet, as I said in the beginning, all this represents only one side of his nature: he reads his chapter in the Bible each evening by his family fireside, and tenderly kisses his grandchildren good-night.
The individual who imagines that embezzlers are all riotous in nature, and by habit are spendthrifts, does not know humanity. The embezzler is one man; the model citizen another, and yet both souls reside in the one body.
Nero had a passion for pet pigeons, and the birds used to come at his call, perch on his shoulder and take dainty crumbs from his lips.
The natures of some men are divided up into water-tight compartments. Sir Isaac Newton kept his religion in one compartment, and his science in another--they never got together.
Voltaire has said, "When Sir Isaac Newton discovered the Law of Gravitation he excited the envy of the learned men of the world; but they more than got even with him when he wrote a book on the prophecies of the Bible."
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When Newton was only twenty-seven years old he was elected the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Trinity, an office that carried with it a goodly salary and also very much honor. Never before had so young a man held this chair.
Newton was a pioneer in announcing the physical properties of light.
Every village photographer now fully understands this, but when Newton first proclaimed it he created a whirlwind of disapproval.
When a man at that time put forth an unusual thought, it was regarded as a challenge. Teachers and professors all over Great Britain, and also in Germany and France, at once set about to show the fallacy of Newton's conclusions.
Newton had issued a pamphlet with diagrams showing how to study light, and the apparatus was so simple and cheap that the "Newton experiments" were tried everywhere in schoolrooms.
People always combat a new idea when first presented, and so Newton found himself overwhelmed with correspondence.
Cheap arguments were fired into Cambridge in volleys. These were backed up by quibbling men--Pro Bono Publico, Veritas and Old Subscriber--men incapable of following Newton's scientific mind. In his great good-nature and patience Newton replied to his opponents at length.
His explanations were construed into proof that he was not sure of his ground. One man challenged him to debate the matter publicly, and we hear of his going up to London, king that he was, to argue with a commoner.
Such terms as "falsifier," "upstart," "pretender," were freely used, and poor Newton for a time was almost in despair.
He had thought that the world was anxious for truth! Some of his fellow-professors now touched their foreheads and shook their heads ominously as he passed. He had gone so far beyond them that the cries of "whoa!" were unnoticed.
It is here worth noting that the universal fame of Sir Isaac Newton was brought about by his rancorous enemies, and not by his loving friends. Gentle, honest, simple and direct as was his nature, he experienced notoriety before he knew fame.
To the world at large he was a "wizard" and a "juggler" before he was acknowledged a teacher of truth--a man of science.
When the dust of conflict concerning Newton's announcement of the qualities of light had somewhat subsided, he turned to his former discovery, the Law of Gravitation, and bent his mighty mind upon it. The influence of the moon upon the Earth, the tilt of the Earth, the flattening of the poles, the recurring tides, the size, weight and distance of the planets, now occupied Newton's attention. And to study these phenomena properly, he had to construct special and peculiar apparatus.
In Sixteen Hundred Eighty-seven the results of his discoveries were brought together in one great book, the "Principia." Newton was forty-five years old then.
He was still the Cambridge professor, but was well known in political circles in London on account of having been sent there at various times to represent the University in a legal way.
His diplomatic success led to his being elected a member of Parliament. Among other great men whom he met in London was Samuel Pepys, who kept a diary and therein recorded various important nothings about "Mr. Isaac Newton of Cambridge--a schoolteacher of degree, with a great dignity of manner and pleasing Countenance." It seems Newton thought so well of Pepys that he wrote him several letters, from which Samuel gives us quotations. Pepys really claimed the honor of introducing Newton into good society.
Among others with whom Newton made friends in Parliament was Mr. Montague, who shortly afterward became Secretary of the Exchequer. Montague made his friend Newton a Warden of the Mint, with pay about double that which he had received while at Cambridge.
In this public work Newton brought such talent and diligence to bear that in Sixteen Hundred Ninety-seven he was made Master of the Mint, at a salary of fifteen hundred pounds a year--a princely sum in those days.
There is no doubt that the fact that Newton was a devout Churchman and an upholder of the Established Order was a great, although perhaps unconscious, diplomatic move.
His delightful personality--gracious, suave, dignified and silent--won for him admiration wherever he would go. In argument his fine reserve and excellent temper were most convincing. Had he turned his attention to the law he would have become Chief Justice of England.
In Seventeen Hundred Three he was elected President of the Royal Society, an office he held continuously for twenty-five years, and which tenure was only terminated by his death.
In Seventeen Hundred Five the Queen visited Cambridge, and there with much pageantry bestowed the honor of Knighthood which changed Professor Newton into Sir Isaac Newton.
But the man himself was still the simple, modest gentleman. The title did not spoil him--he was a noble man from boyhood.
His duties as Master of the Mint did not interfere with his studies and scientific investigations. He revised and rewrote his "Principia," and in Seventeen Hundred Thirteen the new edition was issued. One copy was most sumptuously bound, and Sir Isaac, who was a special favorite at Court, presented it in person to the Queen. Those who are interested in such things may, by applying to the Curator of the British Museum, see and turn the leaves of this book, reading the gracious inscription of the author, while a solemn man in brass buttons stands behind.
Newton died March Twentieth, Seventeen Hundred Twenty-seven, at the age of eighty-five, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The verdict of humanity concerning Sir Isaac Newton has been summed up for us thus by Laplace: "His work was pre-eminent above all other products of the human intellect."