No ambiguity about this one, if you are an Englishman, you should feel nothing but pride that you share your heritage with Sir Isaac Newton. Newton was born on Christmas morning 1642 about ten miles outside the Lincolnshire town of Grantham where Margaret Thatcher lived, and died in the same city, London, on March 31, 1727. He was also born in the same year as another great man of science, Galileo, and shared his passion for the heavens, and then some.
This hour long programme is currently on BBC iplayer
for those who can receive it, but it won't be for much longer. Although there is little new here, including the innuendo that Newton was homosexual, the programme uses his own words, and those of his contemporaries, to show the greatest scientist of all time warts and all. As his father, Isaac Newton the Elder, died before he was born, and his mother all but abandoned him, it is hardly surprising in spite of his wealthy background that he became something of a misanthrope.
His genius and insatiable quest to unlock the secrets of the Universe probably made all his relationships difficult, and it should not be forgotten that at this time, few women outside royal circles enjoyed any sort of education, so it is not so surprising that, tortured genius that he was, he preferred his own company, if he didn't actually look down on us lesser mortals.
The programme covers all his major discoveries, and mentions his Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica
which is now on-line at the University of Cambridge
, his alma mater
where he was also Professor of Mathematics.
Yes, he did get sidetracked by alchemy, but his work on optics, gravitation, the laws of motion and a whole new branch of mathematics more than compensates for that. Unlike Margaret Thatcher, the greatest scientist who ever lived was awarded a state funeral, and unlike next Wednesday there was no concern over protesters, he didn't start a war in the Falklands, and no one ever accused him of snatching children's milk. Another modern parallel here, Elton John's original lyricist Bernie Taupin grew up in rural Lincolnshire, and but for fate, he might have ended up managing a chicken farm
. Newton grew up in rural Lincolnshire, and if he hadn't been so totally inept, he might have ended up managing a pig farm. There must be some sort of coded message there, but thankfully Newton's long years of Bible
study never enabled him to decypher it.