Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/341

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THE GENESIS OF THE LAW OF GRAVITY

ness. His enemies thought that they had vanquished him and his ideas. They even attempted to blot out his memory from among men by refusing to allow his grave to be marked. How little they knew! Already through Huygens the new knowledge had made great advances; and in the very year of Galileo's death was born the man whose mighty intellect was to flood with light the dark places of nature and to carry Galileo's work to a proud completion.

The year 1660 was in England an important year for science. This is the year of the founding of the Royal Society, and in the same year Isaac Newton, a young man of eighteen, entered the University of Cambridge from the town of Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire. In 1663 the society received a royal charter, and some time after King Charles is said to have sent it a weighty problem with which to test its powers. "Why is it," said the king, "that the same fish weighs less when alive and swimming in a pan of water, than when dead and floating on its surface?" There must have been rapid improvement in the caliber of its meetings, for in 1665 its members are listening to Robert Boyle's brilliant papers on the air-pump and the barometer.

In the meantime, Isaac Newton, destined for twenty-five years to be president of the society, was pursuing his studies at Cambridge and in 1665 was given the A.B. degree. This and the following year were the years of the great plague. For a time the Royal Society took refuge in Oxford, while the University at Cambridge was, in the fall of 1666 "sent down," the students and faculty scattering to escape contagion.

Newton returned home, his mind teeming with new ideas and hard problems. He had already mastered the most advanced scientific works of his time—Kepler's "Optics," Descartes's "Analytical Geometry" and Wallis's "Arithmetica Infinitorum." In reading, Newton was in the habit of noting what seemed to him capable of improvement. At this time (1666) he had already projected experiments in optics which were to be the first of his achievements to make him known to the world. In mathematics he had originated the binomial theorem and had laid the foundations of the infinitesimal calculus. Armed with this new weapon of analysis, Newton pushed his mathematical researches in many directions, solving with ease problems that had so far baffled attack. Whatever he touched turned to gold under his hand. So rapidly did his mind work that he seems not to have needed to work out each step in detail; his printed papers sometimes read like a list of answers to difficult propositions. For example, he presents a classification of cubic curves, giving seventy classes in all. Yet in all this list there is no suggestion of the process by which the results were obtained. Among the books that Newton read was Galileo's "Dialogues on Motion," and here as elsewhere he found abundant material for work. In this field of mechanics his mind worked with its usual clearness and