By Manju Gupta
SIR ISAAC NEWTON was born premature on Chrismas Day in 1642, at manor house of Woolsthorpe, near Grantham in Lincolnshire. He came from a family of farmers but never knew his father, who died in 1642, just three months before he was born. Isaac'smother left him in the care of his grandmother, so that she could marry again. He hated his stepfather and longed for maternal love which he never recieved. His childhood was anything but happy. His grandfather was never mentioned by Isaac in later life and the fact that the grandfather left nothing to his grandson Isaac in his will, made when the boy was ten-years old, suggests that there was no love lost between the two.
After his stepfather died in 1653, Isaac began to live in an extended family of mother, grandmother, a half-brother and half-sisters. He joined the Free Grammar School in Grantham, which was five miles away from his home. He showed scant interest in studies. His school reports described him as ?idle? and ?inattentive?. As a result, his mother took him out of the school to help her manage her estate. Here too, he showed no talent.
An incident is related about him. Every week Isaac used to accompany the servant to the market. On approaching the market, he would tell the servant to leave him behind, ?You?ll find me here on the way back. I shall be studying my books behind the hedge.? One day his uncle became suspicious of his all too frequent trips to the market and found Isaac lying on the grass, engrossed in some mathematical problem. He told the boy, ?Go back to your studies Isaac. Either you are a great loafer or a great genius?the Lord knows what.?
At his uncle'spersuasion, his mother sent him again to Free Grammar School in 1660. On completing his schooling, Isaac joined Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661. He was older than his classmates and entered as a sizar. (A sizar at Cambridge was a student who received an allowance towards college expenses in exchange for acting as a servant to other students).
Being terrible at athletics, Newton once chose to miss the sports meet at Cambridge. He was however forced to participate. It was then that the scientist in him helped him. He noted that a strong wind was blowing on the field. He lost his nervousness and took what he described later as ?timid leaps to take advantage of the gusts?, and won the event.
In college, he read Descartes? philosophy, mechanics of Copernicus, and astonomy of Galileo. In 1664 he wrote a statement meaning ?Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my best friend is truth,? showing himself as a free thinker from an early age. His interest in mathe-matics began in 1663 when he read Euclid'sElements.
Once Isaac was holding the hand of the woman he loved. His mind was however on the binomial theorem for infinite quantities. Lost in thought, he took the lady-love'sfinger to be his pipe-cleaner and started pushing it up the stem of his pipe, which he had just smoked. She cried out in pain and then he realised what he had done. Extremely embarrassed, he apologi-sed, ?This is how I find myself at fault. I find that I am cursed to remain a bachelor.?
In 1665, he received his bachelor'sdegree but his scientific genius was still hidden. In the summer of 1665, he returned to Lincolnshire and when he was 25-years old, he began making discoveries in mathematics, optics, physics and astronomy. Once a guest at his house showed him a prism and sold it to Isaac for an exorbitant price. His house-keeper rebuked him, ?Why, you silly man, you need only have paid a price according to the weight of the glass!? Newton only smiled because the purchase led him to formulate his theory of colour!
Over this theory, Newton landed in a controversy with English Jesuits in Liege, leading to a violent exchange of letters. In 1678 Newton suffered a nervous breakdown. His mother died the following year and he withdrew into his shell, avoiding people for years. His subsequent work made significant inroads into planetary motion that eventually led to his classic work, Principa Mathematica in 1687.
In 1689, Newton was elected as a member to the Convention Parliament. In 1693 he suffered a second nervous breakdown due to any of the possible reasons?chemical poisoning as a reuslt of his alchemy experiments; frust-ration with his researches; ending of a personal friendship with Fatio de Duillier, a Swiss-born mathematician; the problems resulting from his religious beliefs, regarding which he is reputed to have said, ?I can frame no hypothesis about Him (God). I am a scientist and I do not speculate about theological matters. I deal not with God, but with His observable laws.?
He was knighted in 1705, the first scientist to be so honoured for his work. He died in March 1727 in London. A short time before his death, he had written: ?I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me.?