Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727)

Essay by mpaoneCollege, UndergraduateA+, December 2004

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Isaac Newton's life can be divided into three quite distinct periods. The first is his boyhood days from 1643 up to his appointment to a chair in 1669. The second period from 1669 to 1687 was the highly productive period in which he was Lucasian professor at Cambridge. The third period (nearly as long as the other two combined) saw Newton as a highly paid government official in London with little further interest in mathematical research.

Isaac Newton was born prematurely on Christmas day 1642 (4 January 1643, New Style) in Woolsthorpe, a hamlet near Grantham in Lincolnshire. His Father died only three months before he was born (also named Isaac), the fatherless infant was small enough at birth to fit 'into a quartpot.' When he was three years old Isaac's mother, Hanna, placed him with his grandmother so that she could remarry and raise a second family with Barnabas Smith, a wealthy man from nearby North Witham.

Until Hanna returned to Woolsthorpe in 1653 after the death of her second husband, Newton was denied his mother's attention, a possible clue to his complex character. Newton's childhood was anything but happy.

When his mother returned to Woolsthorpe in 1653, Newton was withdrawn from school to fulfill his birthright as a farmer. Some say he was happy to fail at it, and returned to King's School at Grantham to prepare for entrance to Trinity College, Cambridge. A turning point in Newton's life came in June 1661 when he left Woolsthorpe for Cambridge University. Newton entered his uncle's old College, Trinity College Cambridge, on 5 June 1661. He was older than most of his fellow students but, despite the fact that his mother was financially well off, he entered as a sizar. A sizar at Cambridge was a student who received an...