Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's life/Early life
Isaac was sent at a proper age to Grantham School, was built, founded, & well endow'd by Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester, born at Ropesly near here. The same prelate founded Corpus Christi College in Oxford. I have an old picture of him, painted on wood, which I bought at Stamford. he was blind in the latter part of his life. He was one of .
the people of Grantham have a common notion, that the learned Mr Walker, author of the book of latin particles, was Sr. Isaac's master. & they led me into that mistake in my Itinerary, pa. 49. but since, I have learned, that Mr John Stokes was at that time; who was succeeded by Mr Sisson, & he by Mr Walker. Mr Walker was an intimate acquaintance of Sir Isaac's; being minister of Colsterworth, where he dyed, & was buryed in the choir, 1684, with that famous inscription, which is thought to have been made by Sr. Isaac:
Mr. Stokes was accounted a very good scholar, & an excellent schoolmaster.
whilst Sr. Isaac was at Grantham School, he boarded at Mr Clarks house, an apothecary,to the present Mr Clark, now living. 'twas the next house to the George inn northward, in highstreet: which was rebuilt about anno 1700. Dr Clark MD, to Mr Clark, with whom the lad boarded, was usher to the school, at that time. he had been pupil to the famous Dr. Henry Moor, of Christs college, Cambridg; who was born in the great old house, almost over against mine, but more southward; being the first house on the left hand, coming from London, adjoining to the road leading toward Harlaxton. the house has been lately pulled down & a lesser built in its place. Some lime trees grow before the door.
Dr. Clark left the school, & practisd physick in I shall not recite all the storys of this kind I heard, suited well enough the taste of those that related 'em. but some few, tis necessary to mention. Grantham, with success. but every one that knew Sr. Isaac, or have heard speak of him, when he was here at school, recount with admiration the many instances of the extraordinary of his genius, whilst a boy; his strange inventions, uncommon skill & industry in mechanical works. they tell us, that insted of playing among the other boys, when from school, he always busyed himself at home, in making knicknacks of divers sorts, & models in wood, of whatever his fancy led him to. For which purpose he furnished himself with little saws, hatchets, hammers, chizels, & a whole shop of tools; which he would use with as much dexterity, as if he had been brought up to the trade, & all the money, his mother gave him, went in the purchase of 'em. XI shall not recite all the storys of this kind I heard, suited well enough the taste of those that related 'em. but some few, tis necessary to mention.
they remember particularly, that a new windmill, about that time, was set up in the way to Gunnerby; which is now demolished. a windmill is a sort of rarity in this country, abounding so much with rivers, & brooks: for which reason they chiefly use watermills. a walk to this new windmil was the usual amusement of the town of Grantham. the multitude return'd with some satisfaction to thir curiosity, but little improvement in thir understanding, & it was the comon rendezvous of the schoolboys. some said, he ty'd a string to the mouse, & pulling by it, made the mouse turn the mill. Newton's innate fire was soon excited, he penetrated beyond the superficial view of the thing. he was daily with the workmen, carefully observed the progress, the manner of every part of it, & the connexion of the whole. he obtain'd so exact a notion of the mechanism of it, that he made a true, & perfect model of it, in wood. & it was said to be as clean a piece of workmanship, as the original.
this sometime he would fasten upon the housetop, where he lodged: & clothing it with bits of cloth, for sails, the wind would readily take it. but Isaac was not content with this bare imitation: his spirit prompted him to goe beyond his prototype. & he added an extraordinary composition to it. he could put a mouse into it, which work'd it as naturally as the wind. this he used to style his mouse-miller. & complain'd jokingly, what a thief he was; for he eat up all the corn put into the mill.
I made inquiry, what they knew concerning the art, & contrivance of it. Xsome said, he ty'd a string to the mouse, & pulling by it, made the mouse turn the mill. some said, the mouse ran round a wheel like that of a turnspit: and that the hopper emptyed it self with the ground corn in his sight; therefore it always endevord to come to it, & then turn'd the wheel. however it was a piece of diversion, to not a little part of the town & country, to pay a visit to Isaac's mouse miller, & the farmers readily supplyd him with handfuls of corn, on market days.
he likewise made a good wooden clock, that went by weights, in the usual manner: this being a bare imitation, as before, was not sufficiently pleasing to him. but he made another clock which is much talked of still, on quite a new principle. it went by water dropping into a cistern: & was famous for its exactness. he constructed this out of a firdeal box which he beg'd of Mrs. Clarks bror. it was in shape much like other clocks; a case about 4 foot high, a dyal plate, painted by himself with figures: a wooden index that show'd the hour. this index was turn'd by a perpendicular piece of wood, rising, as the water filled the cistern: I suppose either by rack-work, as they call it, or by a string winding its self round an axis.
this clock always stood in his own garret where he lay. & he took care every morning to supply it with a proper quantity of water. & the family upon occasion, went up thither, to be well informd upon the time of day. & it was left in the house long after he went to the University: destroyed, probably, when the house was pulled down, & rebuilt. he lov'd to vary his operations, & to bring them by tryal, to a greater simplicity. I was informed that he made another waterclock, which performed by dropping out of a cistern. the rod with the hours on it, descending. I remember very well, I have heard him speak of this himself, & at the Royal Society. particularly that time aforemention'd, when I was Dr. Halley's deputy; on account of some paper read on water clocks. Sr. Isaac spoke to it, & observ'd "the exactness and usefulness of that kind of machine". he said "the chief inconvenience attending it was this. the hole thro' which the water drops, must necessarily be extremely small. therefore it was subject to be furr'd up, by impuritys in the water. So hour-glasses made with sand will wear the hole thro' which it is transmitted, bigger. these inconveniences in time spoil the use of both instruments."
the lad was observ'd to indulge his fancy so much this way, that it broke in upon his time, and improvement at School, & was prejudicial to his learning. so that the consequence was, dull boys were sometime put over him, in form. but this always excited him to redouble his pains, to overtake them. & such was his capacity, that he could soon do it, & goe beyond them when he pleasd.
this was not unheeded by his master Stokes; & gentle remonstrances accordingly made. Still nothing induce him to lay aside, his mechanic experiments. but on holydays, & all the time, the boys had allow'd for play, he spent it in cutting, sawing, & knocking in his lodging room: pursuing that strong bent of his inclination. & this not only in things serious, but sometime ludicrous too; inventing such things as the rest of the schoolboys took part in the pleasure.
he was particularly ingenious at improving all thir usual diversions. for instance, in the fabrick of thir paper kites; in finding out thir proportions, figure, the best point of fastning the string, in how many places, the length of the tail, & the like. & as an omen of the sublimity of his discoverys, he invented the trick of a paper lanthorn with a candle in it, ty'd to the tail of a kite. this wonderfully affrighted all the neighboring inhabitants for some time, & causd not a little discourse on market days, among the country people, when overmugs of ale.
the paper for that famous episode in Hudibras, of Sydrophel & his comet.too was an invention of his own, made of crimpled paper, which he used to light himself with, to school in dark winter mornings: then flattening it, so as that he could put it into his pocket. but the affair of fastning this lighted lanthorn to the tail of a kite, gave a handle
Mr. Clark, aforementioned now apothecary, & surgeon in Grantham, tells me, that he himself likewise lodg'd, whilst a youth, in that same garret in the old house where Sr. Isaac had done. he says, the walls, & ceelings were full of drawings, which he had made with charcole. there were birds, beasts, men, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles, & triangles. that the drawings were very well done. & scarce a board in the partitions about the room, without Isaac Newton cut upon it.
I have heard likewise at Grantham School, that before the present seats, & desks were set up, he had cut his name in the old ones, upon all the places where he had sat; with the date of the year, in his several removes.
those clocks of Sr. Isaac's fabricating, put him upon a still higher, & more noble inquiry into the nature of the suns motion; his great ideas beginning to sprout forth, which at last surmounted the whole planetary system. he spent a good deal of time, & art, in satisfying his curiosity this way; by making sun-dyals of divers forms, & constructions; every where about the house in every room, window; in his own bed chamber especially, in the yard, & entrys, whenever the sun came. he did not do it in a little manner, as minute sciolists do, by making small sun-dyals: but show'd the greatness, & extent of his thought, by drawing long lines, tying long strings with running balls upon them; driving pegs into the walls, to mark hours, half hours & quarters. many contriveances he used, to find out the periods, conversions, & elevations of that great luminary. he made a sort of almanac of these lines, knowing the day of the month by them; the suns entry into signs, the equinoxes, & solstices. So that Sr. Isaac's dyals, when the sun shined, were the common guide to the family, & neighborhood. thus early did that fruitful, that sagacious, that immense genius show its self; which since has fill'd, rather comprehended the universe!
Sr. Isaac when a lad here at School, was not only expert at his mechanical tools, but equally so with his pen. for he busyed himself very much in drawing, which he took from his own inclination; & as in every thing else, improv'd it by a careful observation of nature. he learn'd to write of one old Barley, as he was commonly calld; who was writing master to the school. he lived, where now is the milstone alehouse, not far from my house in castle street. by this means our young artist furnishd his apartment with pictures of his own making. some he invented, some copyed from prints: some he did from the life, by memory chiefly, as that of his master Stokes. I have one of them, which happen'd to be preserv'd.
he drew several heads of, of Dr. Donne, & others. He made a picture of k. C. I., & wrote these verses underneath, as Mrs. Vincent of this town repeated them to me, by memory.
- A secret art my soul prepares to try,
- If prayers can give me, what the wars deny.
- three crowns distinguishd here in order, doe
- present thir objects, to my doubtful view.
- Earths crown thats at my feet, I can disdain:
- which heavy is, & at the best but vain.
- but now a crown of thorns I gladly greet,
- sharp is this crown, but not so sharp as sweet.
- the radiant crown, which I above me see,
- is that of glory, & eternity.
she fancyed, & aver'd it, that he composd 'em himself. I rather suppose, he copyed the print from the frontispiece of Eikon Basilice.
these pictures, & drawings he made frames for, them himself, & color'd them over workman like. nothing was too difficult for his invention, & execution. Mrs. Vincent is a widow gentlewoman living now at Grantham (1727) aged 82. her maiden name was Storey, sister to Dr. Storey, a physician at Buckminster, near Colsterworth. her mother, who was a handsom woman, was second wife to Mr Clark the apothecary, where Sir Isaac lodg'd. so that she lived in the same house with him, all the time of his being at Grantham School; which was 7 years. further, her mother & Sir Isaac's mother were great intimates, which was one reason of his lodging at Mr Clarks.
Mrs. Vincent gave me much of the foregoing account, & confirm'd the relations of others. She says, Sir Isaac was always, a sober, silent, thinking lad; never was known scarce to play abroad among the boys; but would rather chuse to be at home, even among the girls. & would frequently employ himself very willingly, in making for them, little tables, nests of drawers, cubbords & other utensils, for her, & her playfellows; to set thir babys, & trinkets on.
she mentions likewise a chair, which he made with 4 wheels, wherein he could sit, & move him self with great agility; wherever he pleasd. She told me likewise, he was very curious in gathering herbs, which we call simpling. probably he might learn this from the prentices of the shop, where he lodg'd. tho' doubtless, he had inclination enough of his own, for every branch of natural knowledg.
Sr. Isaac & she being thus brought up together, it is said that he entertain'd a passion for her, when they grew up: nor dos she deny it. tis certain, he always had a great kindness for her. he visited her, whenever in the country, in both her husbands days: & gave her a sum of money, at a time when it was useful to her.
she is a woman but of a midle stature, of a brisk eye; & without difficulty, we may discern, she has been very handsom.
one reason why Sr. Isaac did not play much with his schoolfellows, was, that generally, they were not very affectionate toward him. he was commonly too cunning for them in every thing. they were sensible, that he had more ingenuity than they. & 'tis an old observation, that in all Societys, even of men, he who has most understanding, is least regarded.
one instance of Sr. Isaac's craft was this. on the day that Oliver Cromwell dyed, there was a very great wind, or tempest over the whole kingdom. that day, as the boys were playing, a sett of them went to leaping. Sr. Isaac, tho' 1654 he was little practis'd in the exercise, & at other times outdone by many; yet this day was surprizingly superior to them all. which they much wondered at, but could not discover the reason; which was this. Sr. Isaac observed the gusts of wind, & took so proper an advantage of them, as to carry him far beyond the rest of the boys.
*1654 when Sir Isaac had been about 7 years at school at Grantham, his father in law, Mr Smith, dyed. His mother lived all this while at north witham, in her husbands rectory house. but now she went back to her own house, at Wulsthorp. this house being the present one, was built by Mr. Smith but not of so large a form as the old one, which was become very runious; that wherein Sr. Isaac was born. she was left with three children by Mr Smith, all very young. she thought fit to recall her son Isaac Newton from school, intending to make him serviceable to her, in management of farming & country business, at Wulsthorp. accordingly we must suppose him attending the tillage, & grazing; following the plow, dungcart & the like works; or driving sheep to markets, & fairs. thus were we in danger of losing this prodigious man!
but these employments ill suited Sr. Isaac's taste. when he was orderd into the field to tend on the herds, & flocks; sitting under a hedg with a book in his hand, or busying himself with his knife, in models & inventions in wood work, he little regarded the business of the cattle. at other times, he would get to a spring head, or running stream, which this charming country abounds with; There he made little wheels, such as they use in water mills, some overshot, as they call 'em, some undershot, with proper dams, sluices, & the whole apparatus belonging to those engines. together with many other hydrostatic experiments. at those he sat gazing in serious contemplation, while the sheep, & the cows under his care, were strayd into the inclosures, & cornfields: which occasiond great outcry, & damage, to be repaid by his mother nor would he so much as remember dinner time: philosophy absorbed all his thoughts.
how often has he sat upon a bank admiring the beautiful pasque flower, growing plentifully in the spring, upon the fine heaths hereabouts. Being a rare plant one year whilst I lived at Stamford, coming up to Town after Easter, I took up a number of these roots, each with a square bit of the turf round 'em, the flowers just opening. I often transplanted these flowers into my garden at Stamford, where they grew to an extraordinary bulk, & beauty.
minor moonwort these were packd close, side by side, so as to fill a box. a lid naild over it, it was sent to London, by the carrier. I set out at the same time, on my journy. on the Thursday I opend the box at the meeting of the Royal Society: & presented it with all the flowers blooming in perfect beauty, to the admiration of the whole company. Sir Hans Sloan then president declar'd, it to be the most splendid sight ever there exhibited; and orderd 'em to be carefully convey'd to Chelsea physic garden, & set in the ground. XI often transplanted these flowers into my garden at Stamford, where they grew to an extraordinary bulk, & beauty.
Sir Isaac who was so fond of plants, undoubtedly has often contemplated thir delicate purple, with yellow pointils. nor has the golden asphodel here growing escap'd his notice; nor the magic lunaria †minor moonwort, both very rare. the flower of bean trefoil, that extraordinary beauty, growing in bogs here, by the side of springs: nor the noble crimson berry of solanum lethale: the ripe juice of which I found to give an excellent blue color on paper. digitalis fox gloves loves a sandy soil, the delight of the Druids. This & vervain, flowring at midsummer time, they used with their great, & public midsummer sacrifice. the latter is called hierobotane the sacred plant for that reason; & columbaria pigeon herb. but the botanists are ignorant of the true reason. it was not that pigeons are fond of it, but that it was thus used in thir midsummer festival, when pigeons were the accustomed sacrifice. So the Foxgloves has not its name from fox, but folkes, popelli, meaning in old language what we now call fairies: notions deriv'd from the Druids using it at that time; as they did the fam'd mistletoe at their midwinter sacrifice.
on Saturdays, being market day at Grantham, Isaac was often sent, sitting on a horse laden with sacks of corn, & other commoditys to sell: a servant accompanying on the like business. when they had finished thir markets, they were to buy such things as the family wanted at home, to be had only in Towns; & so return. thir inn was at the Saracens head in westgate. Sr. Isaac would often bribe the man to drop him in going, at a hedg corner; & take him up again on his return. the time he spent in his favorite amusements, a book, simpling, & his mechanical experiments.
at other times, when Isaac went as far as Grantham, no sooner were they come to the inn, but he left man, & horses and ran up to the garret at Mr Clarks, where he had formerly lodg'd. The room was then filld with a great parcel of books, which belong'd to Dr. Clark deceased; consisting of physic, botany, anatomy, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, & the like. this was a feast to him exclusive of any thought of dinner, any regard to market business. there he staid till, the servant calld upon him to goe home.
another story I have heard told of him. south of Grantham is Spittlegate hill pretty steep, & high. tis usual to lead a horse up it. Sr. Isaac has been so intent in thought, that he has never minded remounting his horse at the top of the hill; & so has led his horse home all the way, being 5 miles.
once, they say, as he went home in this contemplative manner, the horse, by chance, slipt his bridle & went home. but Sr. Isaac walked on with the bridle in his hand, never missing the horse.
his admitted in 1660 rustic business. he was sufficiently satisfy'd that he would become a very extraordinary man. at length, he prevailed with his mother to send him back to school; that he might perfect his learning & fit him for the University. he added, that he would make a compliment to her of the 40s. per annum paid to the schoolmaster by all foreign lads. He took him home to the school house, to board with him; and soon compleated him in the learned languages., as well as the servants, complained how little serviceable he was to them, in any of their branches of business; & were not a little offended at his bookishness. the servants said, he was a silly boy, & would never be good for any thing. but his old master, Mr Stokes, who was now become rector of Colsterworth, judg'd much better: he saw the uncommon capacity of the lad, & admir'd his surprising inventions, the dexterity of his hand, as well as his wonderful penetration, far beyond his years. he never ceasd remonstrating to his mother what a loss it was to mankind, as well as a vain attempt, to bury so uncommon a talent, in
thus the world is intirely indebted to Mr Stokes, for Sr. Isaac Newton. to his memory, true philosophy pays its grateful resentiments, which otherwise would have lost its& founder of its great glory.
upon sending him away from school, we are told, his master was very confident of his prognostic concerning him; having set him in a conspicuous place in the school, tho' not agreable to the lads modesty, he made a speech to the boys, in praise of him, so moving, as to set them a crying. nor did he himself refrain a tear of love. however his mothers servants rejoic'd at parting with him, declaring, he was fit for nothing but the 'Versity. but it will ever be rememberd for the honor of Grantham school, to have given erudition to one of so exalted a capacity.
at this time Dr. Babington was senior fellow of Trinity college, Cambridg; a person of worth &