Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s life, by William Stukeley Spread 0

Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s life, by William Stukeley Spread 0 cover
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Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s life, William Stukeley, 1752

The antiquary and scientist William Stukeley (1687-1765) made well-known and extensive field studies of Stonehenge and Avebury. He lived in London for a decade, from 1717, befriending Sir Isaac Newton and becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, before returning to Lincolnshire.

Stukeley practised medicine in Grantham from 1726 and gathered local recollections of a more youthful Newton. These stories, with Stukeley’s own recollections, were committed to paper in 1752 as ‘Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s life’. Stukeley gives us glimpses of the great scientist at the beginning and end of his life. By his own admission, the tales he recorded “may be accounted trivial”, but Stukeley trusted in their importance as source material for future biographers “as now most of those that personally knew him [Newton], are gone…”

Crucially, Stukeley recorded Newton’s telling of the apple-tree story, in which the falling apple becomes the source of his ideas on gravity (see page 42). The memoir-writer’s trivia included the most famous anecdote in all modern science.