Tuesday, January 19th, 2010
The Royal Society has published a new set of documents marking important moments in the history of science, including an 18th century manuscript telling the original Isaac Newton apple story.
It’s a 1752 biography of Newton by William Stukeley who knew the great man personally and worked with him Boswell-style. The biography has been squirreled away in archives of the Royal Society for centuries, only to be published now as part of the Society’s 350th anniversary celebrations.
“After dinner, the weather being warm, we went out into the garden and drank tea under the shade of some apple trees, only he and myself,” reads Stukeley’s account of an evening with Newton in the scientist’s garden.
“Amidst other discourse, he told me he was just in the same situation as when formerly the notion of gravitation came into his mind.
“Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself, occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood.
“Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the earth’s centre? Assuredly, the reason is that the earth draws it.”
Unlike the Royal Society’s already awesome Trailblazers site, the Turning the Pages site features actual facsimiles of the manuscripts, so you can read them online as if you were turning their fragrant yellow pages.
Other documents in the Turning the Pages collection include Thomas Paine’s 1789 letter “On Iron Bridges” , Henry James’s 1843 Fossil notebook with beautifully detailed sketches of fossils, the 1681 “Constitutions of Carolina” by John Locke and other luminaries of political philosophy.
See if your computer has the specifications to load the amazing 3D version. If you don’t have Microsoft Net 3.5, it’s really worth it to download for the full experience. Otherwise you can use the Accessible version which isn’t as flashy but still has great scans of each page.