On December 25, 1642, Isaac Newton was born in the hamlet of Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He was the only son of a prosperous local farmer, also named Isaac Newton, who died three months before he was born. A premature baby born tiny and weak, Newton was not expected to survive. When he was 3 years old, his mother, Hannah Ayscough Newton, remarried a well-do-do minister, Barnabas Smith, and went to live with him, leaving young Newton with his maternal grandmother. The experience left an indelible imprint on Newton, later manifesting itself as an acute sense of insecurity. He anxiously obsessed over his published work, defending its merits with irrational behavior. At age 12, Newton was reunited with his mother after her second husband died. She brought along her three small children from her second marriage. Newton had been enrolled at the King's School in Grantham, a town in Lincolnshire, where he lodged with a local apothecary and was introduced to the fascinating world of chemistry. His mother pulled him out of school, for her plan was to make him a farmer and have him tend the farm. Newton failed miserably for he found farming monotonous. He soon was returned to King's School to finish his basic education. Perhaps sensing his innate intellectual abilities, his uncle, a graduate of the University of Cambridge's Trinity College, persuaded Newton's mother to have him enter the university. Newton enrolled in a program similar to a work study in 1661, and subsequently waited on tables and took care of wealthier students' rooms. When Newton arrived at Cambridge, the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century was already in full force. The heliocentric view of the universe—theorized by astronomers Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, and later refined by Galileo—was well known in most European academic circles. Philosopher René Descartes had begun to formulate a new conception of nature as an intricate, impersonal, and inert...
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