Newton: The Making of Genius

Newton: The Making of Genius

Patricia Fara

Language: English

Pages: 333


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Publish Year note: First published January 2002

Isaac Newton has become an intellectual avatar for our modern age, the man who, as even children know, was inspired to codify nature's laws by watching an apple fall from a tree. Yet Newton devoted much of his energy to deciphering the mysteries of alchemy, theology, and ancient chronology. How did a man who was at first obscure to all but a few esoteric natural philosophers and Cambridge scholars, was preoccupied with investigations of millennial prophecies, and spent decades as Master of the London Mint become famous as the world's first great scientist? Patricia Fara demonstrates that Newton's reputation, surprisingly limited in his day, was carefully cultivated by devoted followers so that Newton's prestige became inseparable from the explosive growth of science itself.

Newton: The Making of Genius is not a conventional biography of the man but a cultural history of the interrelated origins of modern science, the concept of genius, and the phenomenon of fame. Beginning with the eighteenth century, when the word "scientist" had not even been coined, Fara reveals how the rise of Isaac Newton's status was inextricably linked to the development of science. His very surname has acquired brand-name-like associations with science, genius, and Britishness -- Apple Computers used it for an ill-fated companion to the Mac, and Margaret Thatcher has his image in her coat of arms.

Fara argues that Newton's escalating fame was intertwined with larger cultural changes: promoting him posthumously as a scientific genius was strategically useful for ambitious men who wanted to advertise the power of science. Because his reputation has been repeatedly reinterpreted, Newton has become an iconic figure who exists in several forms. His image has been so malleable, in fact, that we do not even reliably know what he looked like.

Newton's apotheosis was made possible by the consumer revolution that swept through the Atlantic world in the eighteenth century. His image adorned the walls, china, and ornamental coinage of socially aspiring British consumers seeking to identify themselves with this very smart man. Traditional impulses to saint worship were transformed into altogether new phenomena: commercialized fame and scientific genius, a secularized version of sanctity. Handsomely illustrated and engagingly written, this is an eye-opening history of the way Newton became a cultural icon whose ideas spread throughout the world and pervaded every aspect of life.

'Fara's brilliant book is not so much a biography as the story of a phenomenon . . . fascinating' Scotsman

'Fara does not debunk Newton as recent novelists have but delivers him more whole and greater than ever' Sunday Herald

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to ensure some sort of memorial for his long stay in London. Campaigners wrote angry letters to newspapers, published nostalgic itineraries tracing his footsteps through the city, and wrote poems hymning the capital’s great intellectual citizen. In addition to routine pleas for heritage plaques, more exciting suggestions included encasing Newton’s house in a dome, and building an underground shrine to be opened up every fifty years. A more realistic approach was taken by souvenir hunters who

136) and 22 July 1727, quoted in Brewster, Memoirs (1855), vol. 2, p. 414. See also Stewart, Kneller (1983), pp. 71–2. 17. Spence, vol. 1, p. 350 (on Lord Pembroke); Pointon, Hanging the Head, pp. 53–78. 18. Hawkins, Franks and Grueber, vol. 2, pp. 469–73; Smith, Portrait Medals; Snelling, plate 29. 19. From Addison’s 1713 Dialogues upon Medals and Pope’s epistle To Mr Addison, both quoted in Wimsatt, Portraits of Pope, p. 50. 20. Abbé de Guasco, 1767, quoted Haskell, p. 5; Yarrington. 21.

nouveaux sont vus dans Albion! / Dans ce pays célèbre et si fier de Newton! / Oh combien l’univers doit envier cet île!’). 30. Rosenau. There were several engravings of medals by Roettier: see Smith, ‘Portrait medals’. For advertisements, see Mercure de France (October 1735), 813 and (August 1766), 208; Yarrington; Ozouf. 31. Etlin; Charlton; McManners, pp. 33–67; Wiebenson, pp. 81–9. 32. Le Dantec and le Dantec, pp. 112–50 (quotation from Girardin p. 138); Girardin, pp. 33–40 (quotation p.

religious centre behind the altar, classical marble monuments were chosen by families and friends to commemorate contemporary heroes. This distinction in style and function between the eastern and western parts of the Abbey was emphasized still further in the nineteenth century by a decorative screen, which nowadays frames Newton in coloured tracery.22 Although Conduitt specified many of the details of Newton’s monument, he employed William Kent to make the initial sketches, which were

about the Paraguayan postage stamp that shows Newton’s head next to Leibniz’s integration sign! Many contestants agreed that Leibniz was the first to publish an outline of differential calculus, and it is his – not Newton’s – system that was subsequently developed to form the basis of modern techniques. On the other hand, Newton and his champions claimed that he had originated the basic concept twenty years earlier, and had been openly discussing it in letters with Leibniz and other scholarly

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