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10 Self-Confessed Sins of Isaac Newton

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Isaac Newton, as well as being a brilliant mind that split the difference between advancing and inventing physics as we know it, was very religious. When he was in his first year at Cambridge, he kept a debtor's ledger of the sins that he'd committed as a child. Read about the most shameful acts and violent past of young Isaac Newton.

10. Making a feather while on Thy day.

Anyone remember the Little House series, where every day they worked their prairie-wind-chapped asses off and risked getting bitten by badgers and nearly lost eyes to exploding potatoes (all true), but never complained about anything until they hit Sunday and literally had to do nothing all day? That was hundreds of years after Newton. And Newton was even more bored than the Little House people, although he was sorry about it later. He confesses everything from making a mousetrap on Sunday, to playing chimes, to helping a roommate with a school project, to making pies, to 'squirting water' on the Sabbath.


9. Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese.

Well, to be fair, he was only a boy at this time. He may have had all the unclean thoughts in the world, but Newton, on his death bed, is well known for saying he is proudest of dying a virgin. And this is from the guy who invented the Laws of Motion.


8. Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar.

Clearly he needed to compensate for lack of carnal pleasure with some other kind of physical comfort. It seems that Newton had a sweet tooth. There's this 'robbery.' There's the aforementioned pies, although they might be savory pies. And in another confession he talks about how he had 'gluttony in his sickness.' The guy needed to eat.


7. Using unlawful means to bring us out of distresses.

This is a strange sin because it's so vague. Could it be that the 'distresses' were financial, leading to another confessed sin of 'Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne.' Some biographers think that his is a sexual confession and his 'distresses' were carnal. Newton isn't just saying that he used immoral means, but unlawful ones. What law did he break?


6. Using Wilford's towel to spare my own.

Whatever else Newton was, he was a terrible roommate. Although he was a decent student, he was reputed to be bad at personal relationships with anyone, at any time. This sin, using someone's towel, was probably more a big deal during a time when plague was running through the countryside. He also confesses to, "Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot."


And his sweet tooth still reigned. Any plums anyone left out would probably be gone by the time they got back. He confessed the sin of "Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer." Just to top it off, Newton confessed to 'peevishness' with people over and over in his journal. He was clearly a moody little guy. No word on whether he apologized to them about it, but he apologized to God, and surely that was enough.


5. Putting a pin in John Keys hat on Thy day to pick him.

What's key in this is that he didn't confess because he felt guilty for putting a pin in his Keys' hat. He just confessed because he felt guilty for doing it on Sunday. And that's the first hint that people get that Newton was just a little more dangerous than the carefully scratched out painting of him in a wig make people think.


4. Punching my sister.

In fact, Newton confessed to beating the shit out of just about anyone. One of his other confessions is, "Beating Arthur Storer." We assume not beating him at Scrabble. (Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that Eduard Storer was the person that Newton stole the cherry cobs from. When Newton was at school he boarded with an apothecary whose wife had children, all with the surname Storer, from a previous marriage. It's clear that Arthur and Eduard and Isaac did not get on at all. Arthur grew up to be a great astronomer in the American colonies.) Another confession simply reads, "Striking many." Yet another is "Wishing death and hoping it to some." Which is something that many people do, idly, but apparently Newton took to a new extreme.


3. Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them.

That was Newton's own house. His mother, Hannah, married the Reverend Barnabus Smith when her first husband died. Smith and Newton didn't like each other, leading to what had to be the uncomfortable scene that this confession describes. Well, every kid has tantrums. Except . . .


2. Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew of it.

Any parents reading right now are very happy that they aren't the parents of Isaac Newton, and not just because Hannah and Barnabus are long dead. The scariest part of this is not that Newton had a crossbow, or that he lied about it. It's that Newton had a crossbow, lied about it, and thought that God was only concerned with the fact that he lied, not the fact that he was walking around with a crossbow. If he'd just said, "Yes, I have a crossbow. Go ahead, dad. Try to take it away from me," God, he thinks, would have been fine with it. As an aside, Newton with a Crossbow would make the best move title ever.


1. Calling Dorothy Rose a jade.

Clearly, Newton had done worse. Possibly with a crossbow. But this sin tops the list simply because it's so random. Newton supposedly had an early engagement to Katherine Storer, sister of the hapless Eduard and Arthur. He broke off the engagement in his teens and she went on to marry someone else. Other than that he maintained few other female relationships, and most of those were with people he was closely related to. "Jade" was a slang term for a nag, but also for a prostitute.


What's more, Newton is careful in most of his entries to distinguish between doing something wrong and lying about something wrong. Many entries about wrongdoing are followed by separate entries saying, "Denied I did so." Lying, for Newton, was a separate sin. This doesn't say that he called the unfortunate Dorothy Rose a jade "while having knowledge that she was not so,'' so it's reasonable to think that he did think she was a 'jade,' but felt he shouldn't have said so. But he did say so. And then he wrote it down in this journal. Newton was not only a genius, but rather an atypically priggish one. Dorothy Rose has the dubious honor of having caught the eye of the world's most straitlaced genius, who promptly called her a slut.

Images: National Portrait Gallery, London

Via The Newton Project.