Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/271

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Ch. IX., §§ 164—168]
Newton's Early Life

some unsuccessful attempts to turn him into a farmer, he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1661.

Although probably at first rather more backward than most undergraduates, he made extremely rapid progress in mathematics and allied subjects, and evidently gave his teachers some trouble by the rapidity with which he absorbed what little they knew. He met with Euclid's Elements of Geometry for the first time while an undergraduate, but is reported to have soon abandoned it as being "a trifling book," in favour of more advanced reading. In January 1665 he graduated in the ordinary course as Bachelor of Arts.

166. The external events of Newton's life during the next 22 years may be very briefly dismissed. He was elected a Fellow in 1667, became M.A. in due course in the following year, and was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, in succession to his friend Isaac Barrow, in 1669. Three years later he was elected a Fellow of the recently founded Royal Society. With the exception of some visits to his Lincolnshire home, he appears to have spent almost the whole period in quiet study at Cambridge, and the history of his life is almost exclusively the history of his successive discoveries.

167. His scientific work falls into three main groups, astronomy (including dynamics), optics, and pure mathematics. He also spent a good deal of time on experimental work in chemistry, as well as on heat and other branches of physics, and in the latter half of his life devoted much attention to questions of chronology and theology; in none of these subjects, however, did he produce results of much importance.

168. In forming an estimate of Newton's genius it is of course important to bear in mind the range of subjects with which he dealt; from our present point of view, however, his mathematics only presents itself as a tool to be used in astronomical work; and only those of his optical discoveries which are of astronomical importance need be mentioned here. In 1668 he constructed a reflecting telescope, that is, a telescope in which the rays of light from the object viewed are concentrated by means of a curved mirror instead of by a lens, as in the refracting telescopes