The Biography of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

The Biography of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
From The Dictionary of National Biography – Volume 14, 1909

Statue of Isaac Newton
Statue of Isaac Newton

Sir ISAAC (1642-1727), natural philosopher, was born in the manor-house at Woolathorpe, a hamlet of Colsterworth, eight miles south of Grantham, Lincolnshire, on 26 Dec. 1642. Engravings of the house, which is still standing, appear in Thomas Maude’s’ Wensleydale, 1771, and in Tumor’s ‘Collections for the History of Grantham,’ 1806, p. 157. He was baptised at Colsterworth 1 Jan. 1642-3. His father, Isaac Newton of Woolsthorpe, had married in April 1642 Hannah, daughter of James Ayscough of Market Overton, Rutland, but died at the age of thirty-six, in October 1642, before the birth of his son. The small estate of Woolsthorpe had been purchased by the philosopher’s grandfather, Robert Newton (d. 1641), in 1623. Some three years after her first husband’s death, 27 Jan. 1645-6,  Newton’s mother married Barnabas Smith, rector of North Witham, Lincolnshire, who died in 1656, leaving by him one son, Benjamin, and two daughters, Marie (wife of Thomas Pilkington of Belton, Rutland) and Hannah (second wife of Thomas Barton of Brigstock, Northamptonshire).

On his mother’s second marriage Newton was left at Woolsthorpe in charge of his grandmother, Mrs. Ayscough. He was sent in 1654 to the grammar school at Grantham, then kept by a Mr. Stokes. For some time he made little advance with his books, but a successful fight with a boy older than himself awakened a spirit of emulation, and  Newton soon rose to be head of the school. At the age of fourteen he was removed from school by his mother, who had returned to Woolsthorpe on the death of her second husband, in order to take part in the management of her farm. This proved distasteful to Isaac, there are various stories of the way in which he occupied himself with mathematics and other studies when he ought to have been attending to his farm duties and by the advice of his uncle, William Ayscough, rector of Burton Coggles, Lincolnshire, he was sent back to school in 1660 with a view to preparing him for college. Ayscough was himself a Trinity man, and on 5 June 1661 Isaac Newton was matriculated as a subsizar at Trinity College, Cambridge, under Mr. Pulleyne. Few details of his undergraduate life remain. In 1664 he made some observations on halos, afterwards described in his ‘Optics’ (bk. ii. pt. iv. obs. 18), and on 28 April of the same year he was elected a scholar. He graduated B.A. in January 1665, but unfortunately the ‘ordo senioritatis’ for that year has not been preserved.

Newton’s unrivalled genius for mathematical speculation declared itself almost in his boyhood.