Of Genius Fire and Plague

Newton had no sooner graduated from Cambridge than he was forced to leave the university and return to Woolsthorpe, though not of his own choosing. In London, where the city's rapidly increasing population had reached half a million by 1660, people were suddenly taken ill. The disease began with a severe headache and dizziness, followed by trembling in the limbs, swelling under the arms and in the groins, raging fever, and, finally, telltale dark splotches on the skin, which the widely read...

The Alchemist

It WAS AT THE GLOBE THEATRE, THE LONDON PLAYHOUSE CONstructed in 1598, that most ofWilliam Shakespeare's dramas were first performed by a company of actors called Chamberlain's Men. Among the most memorable scenes played out on the Globe's stage was one from the tragedy Macbeth. It is set in a cave, where three witches circle a boiling cauldron, chanting To an audience of Shakespeare's time, there was nothing unusual about witches or boiling cauldrons or the casting of spells over a vile brew...

The Revolutionary Professor

With a bachelor's degree in hand and his status as a gentleman legally recorded, Newton returned to Cambridge and Trinity College to complete his master of arts. He now faced the fellowship elections of September and October 1667. If successful, he could extend his stay at Trinity indefinitely if not, he would likely be forced to choose between the life of an obscure gentleman farmer or the pastorship of a village church in rural Lincolnshire. For three days during late september, Newton and...

Your Most Unfortunate Servant

The book that supposedly nobody could understand was finally published in July 1687. Halley, who had put up his own money to see it through the press, set the price of the leather-bound volume at nine shillings, a bargain, considering the riches between its elegant covers. Not satisfied, he offered a second and cheaper version of the work in hopes that more people would read the revolutionary treatise. so awed was the astronomer that he paid its author yet another compliment. He wrote a poem...

To Play Philosophically

At a little before ten o'clock the drum roll began, first distant and then ever louder as the thousands gathering to see the king die wound their way through London's choked streets to the palace of Whitehall. It was January 30, 1649. The weather was exceedingly cold, the sky gray with scattered patches of sunshine, the frost so sharp that great chunks of ice clogged the arches of London Bridge spanning the river Thames. The previous day fifty-nine judges had signed the death warrant of King...

Book Nobody Understands

In August 1684 a handsome young astronomer named Edmond Halley boarded the London coach for Cambridge and sat back to ponder the events that had sent him on an important mission. Earlier in the year, he had entered into a lively conversation with Robert Hooke and Sir Christopher Wren, noted architect of the new St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Halley suggested that the force of attraction between the planets and the sun decreases in inverse proportion to the square of the distance between them....

Like a Boy on the Seashore

John Conduitt, the son of a wealthy family from the county of Hampshire in southern England, became a familiar face at Leicester House in the summer of1717. While there is no doubt that the young man was in awe of Sir Isaac Newton, the primary reason for his frequent visits had nothing to do with science, mathematics, or the operations of the mint. Conduitt came to 35 St. Martin's Street to court Catherine Barton, who at thirty-eight years of age was nine years older than her suitor, but still...

Mark of the Lion

In September 1695 Isaac Newton suddenly disappeared from Cambridge without explanation. He returned two weeks later but told no one where he had been. Rumors began to circulate that he secretly had gone to London, and finally secured the government post that his friend John Locke had been unable to deliver. These rumors were given substance in late November when the mathematician John Wallis wrote Edmond Halley from Oxford We are told here Newton is made Master of the Mint which, if so, I do...