Why? You endeavoured to embroil me with weomen…

Here’s a post about an episode in the life of Sir Isaac Newton which I first came across when reading about Samuel Pepys. Many assume that Newton’s behaviour was a result of mental illness on his part, but that’s by no means clear. I can think of many possible reasons why he might have acted the way he did, including that he just found the behaviour of other people too perplexing…

Corpus Newtonicum

Why. It is a word that I frequently entertain when I study Isaac Newton. There is no scientist about whom so much is written, yet I feel that we only know so little about the man. Most Newton biographers provide us with detailed descriptions of his life and works, using the abundance of source materials available: Newton’s correspondence, descriptions by himself and others of various episodes of his life, Trinity College and Cambridge University attendance records, and so on. Every biographer, in his own way, tries to understand some of the more poignant moments in Newton’s life. Likewise, many struggle.

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14 Responses to “Why? You endeavoured to embroil me with weomen…”

  1. Apparently, Newton was extremely upset about something that Locke and Pepys had tried to do: to “embroil him with weomen” and to “sell him an office”

    I first parsed this as “sell him an orifice”. (At least I’ll restrain from adding the appropriate smiley.)

  2. “When reaching a certain age, many scholars would find themselves a position in London, or a vicarage, and marry.”

    Presumably Cambridge dons were not allowed to marry. I believe those at Oxford were not allowed until the second half of the 19th century.

    • telescoper Says:

      Fellows of Cambridge colleges were not allowed to marry in Newton’s time. This didn’t change until 1860.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        There was a mistresses’ enclave at Ely, just outside the jurisdictional range of the university police, and a rash of marriages soon after dons were permitted to marry. But too late for George Green and his lady.

      • In his AIP interview, I came across some tasty quotes from Wal Sargent:

        But Feynman had a genuine broad interest, of course. I wondered about Murray Gell-Mann at times.

        —Wallace Sargent
        I wanted to go back to Britain, or at least to go somewhere else. A prime consideration was the lack of women at Caltech, which I was not used to.

        —Wallace Sargent
        Yes, Herstmonceux Castle. There were lots of young woman assistants and there were lots of rhododendron bushes to get up to hanky panky in, etcetera, so it was really very nice.

        —Wallace Sargent

  3. “It has been suggested that he was a homosexual – hence his intimate feelings for Fatio”

    I initially parsed this as “hence his intimate feelings for fellation”. 🙂

  4. Note that “woemen” is essentiall “wömen”, i.e. an umlaut. (Note that “men” is essentially “män”, also an umlaut.) While now written “women”, the “o” is still pronounced differently (not like an o-umlaut, but still).

    I once heard a woman from Scotland say “women”, with the standard pronunciation, when only one woman was intended. Is this standard in Scots? What about other dialects in the North?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Isn’t it more likely to relate to a diphthong than an umlaut?

      • The current pronunciation is not a dipthong (even though, after the great vowel shift, many single vowels are actually diphthongs); I don’t know if there was historically. An umlaut would be in keeping with Germanic tradition.

  5. “We don’t know much about Newton’s sexuality (but please do watch Rob Iliffe’s take here). It has been suggested that he was a homosexual – hence his intimate feelings for Fatio – but we have no evidence for this. On his death bed, Newton did confess that he was a still a virgin.”

    In the context of the time, would this exclude homosexuality?

    • telescoper Says:

      No idea on that, but the nature of his relationship with Fatio, though close, wasn’t necessarily sexual.

      I’m not even convinced that Shakespeare’s sonnets – most of which relate to a very close and loving friendship between a young man and an older one – are about a sexual relationship. They may be, if course, but it’s far from obvious.

  6. I noted this statement from someone who probably knows more about Newton than anyone else:

    But even if it could be proved beyond doubt that Newton was the leading whoremonger of London, the immensity of his impact on the modern intellect would remain unaltered.

    —Richard Westfall

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