Isaac Newton, 1642-1727

Biographical note

Natural philosopher, born at Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, the son of a small landed proprietor, and educated at the Grammar School of Grantham and at Trinity College, Cambridge. By propounding the binomial theorem, the differential calculus, and the integral calculus, he began in 1665 the wonderful series of discoveries in pure mathematics, optics, and physics, which place him in the first rank of the philosophers of all time. He was elected Lucasian Prof. of Mathematics at Cambridge in 1669, and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1672, over which body he presided for 25 years from 1703. In the same year his new theory of flight was published in a paper before the society. His epoch-making discovery of the law of universal gravitation was not promulgated until 1687, though the first glimpse of it had come to him so early as 1665. The discovery of fluxions, which he claimed, was contested by Leibnitz, and led to a long and bitter controversy between the two philosophers. He twice sat in Parliament for his University, and was Master of the Mint from 1699, in which capacity he presented reports on the coinage. He was knighted in 1705, and died at Kensington in 1727. For a short time, after an unfortunate accident by which a number of invaluable manuscripts were burned, he suffered from some mental aberration. His writings fall into two classes, scientific and theological. In the first are included his famous treatises, Light and Colours (1672), Optics (1704), the Principia (1687), in Latin, its full title being PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In the second are his Observations upon the Prophecies of Holy Writ and An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. In character Newton was remarkable for simplicity, humility, and gentleness, with a great distaste for controversy, in which, nevertheless, he was repeatedly involved.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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