Great Astronomers HTML version
It was just a year after the death of Galileo, that an infant came into the world who was
christened Isaac Newton. Even the great fame of Galileo himself must be relegated to a
second place in comparison with that of the philosopher who first expounded the true
theory of the universe.
Isaac Newton was born on the 25th of December (old style), 1642, at Woolsthorpe, in
Lincolnshire, about a half-mile from Colsterworth, and eight miles south of Grantham.
His father, Mr. Isaac Newton, had died a few months after his marriage to Harriet
Ayscough, the daughter of Mr. James Ayscough, of Market Overton, in Rutlandshire.
The little Isaac was at first so excessively frail and weakly that his life was despaired of.
The watchful mother, however, tended her delicate child with such success that he seems
to have thriven better than might have been expected from the circumstances of his
infancy, and he ultimately acquired a frame strong enough to outlast the ordinary span of
For three years they continued to live at Woolsthorpe, the widow's means of livelihood
being supplemented by the income from another small estate at Sewstern, in a
neighbouring part of Leicestershire.
[PLATE: WOOLSTHORPE MANOR. Showing solar dial made by Newton when a boy.]
In 1645, Mrs. Newton took as a second husband the Rev. Barnabas Smith, and on moving
to her new home, about a mile from Woolsthorpe, she entrusted little Isaac to her mother,
Mrs. Ayscough. In due time we find that the boy was sent to the public school at
Grantham, the name of the master being Stokes. For the purpose of being near his work,
the embryo philosopher was boarded at the house of Mr. Clark, an apothecary at
Grantham. We learn from Newton himself that at first he had a very low place in the class
lists of the school, and was by no means one of those model school-boys who find favour
in the eyes of the school-master by attention to Latin grammar. Isaac's first incentive to
diligent study seems to have been derived from the circumstance that he was severely
kicked by one of the boys who was above him in the class. This indignity had the effect
of stimulating young Newton's activity to such an extent that he not only attained the
desired object of passing over the head of the boy who had maltreated him, but continued
to rise until he became the head of the school.
The play-hours of the great philosopher were devoted to pursuits very different from
those of most school-boys. His chief amusement was found in making mechanical toys
and various ingenious contrivances. He watched day by day with great interest the
workmen engaged in constructing a windmill in the neighbourhood of the school, the
result of which was that the boy made a working model of the windmill and of its
machinery, which seems to have been much admired, as indicating his aptitude for
mechanics. We are told that Isaac also indulged in somewhat higher flights of mechanical
enterprise. He constructed a carriage, the wheels of which were to be driven by the hands