A secret assistant to ‘lone genius’ is mentioned in Isaac Newton’s 330-year-old notebook.


A secret assistant to the ‘lone genius’ is mentioned in Isaac Newton’s 330-year-old notebook.

HISTORIANS have recently discovered letters from Issac Newton to his assistant, proving that he was far from an introverted loner.

The letters were addressed to John Wickins, Newton’s long-time Cambridge University assistant, and go against popular belief that Newton was an introverted scholar who lived alone.

Between 1665 and 1683, Mr Wickins shared Trinity College with the famous mathematician.

He worked as an amanuensis, or unpaid assistant.

In their rooms, which had been converted into a laboratory, he would copy Newton’s notes and source materials for the pair’s experiments.

Newton’s telescope, built in 1678, also mentions him by name.

The Newton-Wickins reflector is thought to be the most accurate of the three Newton designed, thanks in part to Wickins’ contribution to the mirror.

Academics recently discovered that the two had more than just a mathematician-assistant relationship.

Some of the letters are fairly typical of what researchers already know about the scholar.

Wickins instructs his assistant to find “transparent stones” growing on iron for their telescope in a letter addressed to him.

In another, dated July 19, 1677, he vented his frustrations with a Jesuit priest over his particle theory of light, threatening to “lay open” one of the priest’s students.

“For what pleases me may not after Perusal please you andamp; then they will be but lumber to you,” Newton wrote in another letter, dated August 19, 1682, lamenting the difficulty of recommending books to Wickins, writing: “For what pleases me may not after Perusal please you andamp; then they will be but lumber to you.”

Newton’s only friend at Cambridge, according to researchers, was Mr Wickins, who paid his “dividends and chamber rent” and later left his furniture and a wooden pint flagon behind after leaving Trinity.

The letters show Newton was “not living in isolation from people around him” and was “willing to share things with people,” according to Scott Mandelbrote, editorial director of the Newton Project and Fellow of Peterhouse at Cambridge University.

“We have tended to think of Newton as a kind of lone genius, the man whose lectures no one attended, the man whose ideas were so difficult that none of his Cambridge contemporaries could understand him,” he said.

“He is talking to his friends about things and is willing to involve his friends and contemporaries in problem-solving discussions.”

“Brinkwire News Summary.”


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