– sed magis est amica veritas

Isaac Newton apparently paraphrased a well-known Latin phrase traditionally ascribed to Plato when he said: “Plato is my friend- Aristotle is my friend – but my greatest friend is truth.”

I was walking away from Paxton & Whitfield at 93, Jermyn St, with my purchase of pungent Epoisses, when I learned from an LCC plaque at no. 87 that “Sir Isaac Newton 1642-1727 lived here”. Newton gave up the residence at the Tower of London accorded to him as Warden of the Royal Mint to live in this house. It may simply have attracted him as having the more salubrious environs of the western side of the city.

However, Newton lived in this street from 1696 to 1709. That was the year when Queen Anne made Samuel Clarke the Rector of St James’s Piccadilly, the church which has one side on Jermyn St. And when Newton died in 1727, Clarke was offered the place of Master of the Mint. In fact, Clarke was probably Newton’s most trusted confidant, and espoused the superiority of the Newtonian system over the Cartesian tradition.

Until I looked up these details, I will confess, I could have told you two things about Isaac Newton.

1. The young Isaac Newton was sitting in his garden when an apple fell on his head and he suddenly came up with his theory of gravity.

2. Later on, his dog Diamond accidentally set light to the manuscript he was working on, setting his work on gravity back by a year.

However, Newton also claimed that his dog (it’s not even clear that he ever kept a pet) discovered two theorems in a single morning. He added that “one had a mistake and the other had a pathological exception.”.

All this suggests to me that a great man can be a mathematician, astronomer, theologian and physicist, and still hone a good anecdote over time. His apple story , for instance, fitted with the idea of an Earth-shaped object being attracted to the Earth, while also having resonance with the Biblical account of the tree of knowledge.

Apple Tree Yard lies very close to Jermyn Street. Go on, make something of that.

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