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Happy 380th Birthday to Isaac Newton

January 4th is the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton; Woolsthorpe, England (1643).

He was born very prematurely and so small that it was said that he could fit into a quart pot. His father had died three months before Newton was born, and the plan was for the boy to take over the running of the family farm when he grew up. He wasn't a good farmer, and his uncle suggested that he be sent to the university instead. He went to Cambridge, and when it was shut down during a plague outbreak, Newton went home and studied mathematics and physics on his own. It was during this time that he first developed his theories of gravity and optics. His first published scientific achievement was the invention of a reflecting telescope.
At the age of 43, Newton published his Principia, which overturned nearly everything humankind had believed about the universe up to that point. He proved that the celestial bodies were governed by the same laws of physics as objects on Earth. He incorporated Kepler's laws of planetary motion into his own theories about gravity, and established his own Three Laws of Motion.

Sir Isaac Newton, who wrote, "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

For those following the recent thread about Westminster Abbey,
Newton is buried there in Scientists' corner, close to Charles Darwin, and more recently, Steven Hawking.

Posted by
346 posts

Only this is one of those quirks of history, in that when the Catholic Church made the switch from the old Julian Calender to the new Gregorian Calender in 1582, England as a Protestant state would not follow. The Gregorian Calender dropped 10 days to realign the calender and liturgical year. It also moved the start of the new year from March 25th to January 1.

Because England did not switch to the new calender, it would be 10 days behind Catholic Europe and continue to observe the start of the New Year on March 25. This means that Issac Newton would have been born on and known his birthday to be December 25, 1642. In turn his death was recorded as March 20, 1726 -- at the end of and in the last few days of 1726.

In the Protestant world of the time the Treaty of Lübeck was May 12 1629 while in the Catholic world it was May 22, 1629

It is only after the Calender Act of 1750, that Great Britain switches from the Julian to the Gregorian Calender. Only now at this time, there was an 11 day difference between the two calendars. The switch required the year 1751 to be truncated. The year 1750 would end on March 24 as normally expected. The year 1751 would start March 25, but end December 31 (and not in the following March). The year 1752 would begin on January 1. To drop the 11 days, September 2, 1752 would be followed the next day by September 14, 1752.

Because of Great Britain's calender switch, many dates in the months of January-March are adjusted to the new calender, but not always. This is how Newton's birthday became January 4, 1643 at the beginning of the year and his death date became March 31, 1727.

George Washington's birthday was recorded February 11 1731; late in the year 1731. With the calendar change in 1750, his birthday became February 22, 1732; now early in the year 1732 rather than late in the previous year. In the late-18th century it was not uncommon to observe and celebrate both dates.

The burial register at St George's Church in Gravesend lists Pocahontas' burial as 21 March 1616. Which would be in the last few days of 1616. In the decades after it was common to write the date as 21 March 1616/17 to differentiate between Old Style and New Style dates. Now her burial is now simply given as 21 March 1617. Fascinating though that the date was not and has not been adjusted 10 days, only the year was adjusted.

Thank you for the post about Issac Newton and the reminder of the 17th century birth of modern science. And please forgive my history geeking.

Posted by
2223 posts

This calendar issue has come up before in threads here on the forum -- I'm glad you expanded our understanding of it further!

Just this past weekend with the extreme weather here in North America it has been on my mind that celebrating the new year at the end of the winter season and start of blossoming spring would be much more pleasant than having it happen in the middle of winter. Brrr!