Far from Cambridge and the epidemic that left 100,000 dead, the scientist still found time to start his studies on calculus and optics.
Feeling bored during the quarantine? How about discovering the next theory that will revolutionize our understanding of the universe? This is what Isaac Newton did when the University of Cambridge released his students to return home and take cover from London’s Great Plague, an epidemic of bubonic plague that affected England between 1665 and 1666.
Back at the Woolsthorpe Manor, 60 miles from Cambridge, it is no exaggeration to say that Newton had an annus mirabilis, Latin for “miraculous year” or “year of wonders.” After all, the student had plenty of time to work on his math problems, which later gave rise to modern calculus, and did some experiments with prisms, starting his studies on optics. In the same period, it is worth mentioning that, yes, in the absence of a TV series to watch, Newton watched an apple fall from a tree.
Thus, the student formulated the Law of universal gravitation. According to it, “two bodies attract each other with force proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance that separates their centers of gravity”. With this discovery, Newton eliminated the dependence on divine action and started modern science.
In 1667, Newton returned to the university with his theories in hand. In six months, he won the title of fellow. In two years, he was already a teacher.
The Great Plague that London went through at that time and left Newton in confinement was less deadly than the Black Death, which occurred in the 14th century. Still, it caused about 100 thousand deaths in 18 months, representing about a quarter of the London population at the time.
Newton was not the only one to have brilliant ideas while resting at home during a quarantine. The author Albert Camus wrote his most notable book, The Plague, when an epidemic of bubonic plague hit Algeria. In the past few weeks, the bestseller first published in 1947 has returned to top seller lists in many bookstores around the world, especially in Italy and France.
In addition, William Shakespeare also wrote notable works like King Lear during a quarantine. Between the years 1603 and 1613, the Globe Theatre and other theaters in London were closed for a total of 78 months. The measure was taken to avoid agglomerations in the English capital, which faced a series of outbreaks of bubonic plague throughout the 17th century – as Newton also witnessed.
Knowing that the play was performed for the first time on December 26, 1606, with the presence of King James I, it is quite possible that he wrote it that year or the year before, while facing social isolation away from the stage.