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About the image:

A lock of Sir Isaac Newton's hair. This specimen is located in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. This piece of hair was allegedly part of a larger lock owned by the Earl of Portsmouth, which was given to a Fellow of Trinity College. This Fellow distributed smaller locks to his friends, one of whom gave this lock to the Library.

Portraits: Isaac Newton was known to be very jealous of his competitors in the scientific community. According to some accounts, he went so far as to wipe the name of fellow scientist Robert Hooke from the Royal Society records and destroy his portrait. Whether Hooke's portrait was destroyed or simply misplaced is a matter of some debate, but there is no doubt that Newton was a successful self-promoter, commissioning numerous portraits that depicted him as a great scientist.

Early Life: Newton was born fatherless; his father died and was buried the October before he was born. He was also born prematurely, and like many premature babies, there was fear for his survival. It has been said he was born so small he could fit in a quart mug. After his father's death, Newton 's mother remarried and left Newton with his maternal grandmother at three years old. When his stepfather died, Newton 's mother returned with Newton 's half-siblings, a boy and two girls. His step-siblings' children, Newton 's nephews and nieces, became the heirs to his estate.

Alchemy: There has been much publicity around the fact that Newton was interested in alchemy. This fact brings embarrassment to some students of his life and works, but others enjoy trying to find clues to Newton 's mysticism in the works of the father of “the age of reason.” At this point in scientific discovery, all mysticism and occultism was being purged from science. It would have been quite scandalous if anyone had found out the figurehead of science was involved in such things. After Newton 's death, his alchemical writings were sold: almost 650,000 words in his own hand.

It is hard to determine whether Newton 's alchemical interests were the irrational hobby of an otherwise rational mind, or whether the philosophical principles of alchemy truly shaped Newton 's scientific development. By looking at his alchemical experiments log, it appears that these thoughts never crossed his mind during the time he developed and wrote the Principia. Although in some cases, overtones of alchemy are sometimes obvious, such as the statement, “Nature...seems delighted with Transmutations," in the Opticks, there are very few of these statements. The general conclusion is that, apart from general inspiration, the creative influence of alchemy on Newton 's science and mathematics in “not proven.”

The Royal Society: Newton was appointed President of the Royal Society in 1703. By all accounts, Newton ruled with an iron fist, bringing the Society out of debt and into solvency through regular contributions from members. He also brought respectability back into the Society, demanding an aura of dignity and solemnity among their meetings.

Leibniz: Newton and Leibniz developed a long-standing feud over the discovery of calculus. He accused Leibniz of writing three works claiming some of the principles of the Principia as his own independent discoveries. When Newton appealed to the Royal Society for a hearing, he appointed members who supported his cause on the committee. It was even exposed recently that Newton himself wrote the committee's report, which he presented as impartial findings. That Newton would have lowered himself to accusing Leibniz of plagiarism shows his possessiveness of his inventions. Today, no one seriously questions Leibniz' originality and true mathematical genius, nor his independence in the formulation of the calculus.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
"Isaac Newton," available from;
Internet; accessed 10 November 2005.

Charles Coulston Gillispie, ed., "Isaac Newton,"
in Dictionary of Scientific Biography
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974
call number: Q141.D5 v.10 ref.

Westfall, Richard S., Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 752-753
call number: QC16.N7W35

Lisa Jardine, The Curious Life of Robert Hooke. London, 2003.


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