Wee people at London, are so humbly immersd in slavish business,
& taken up wth providing for
a wretched Carkasse; yt there's nothing almost, but what is grosse
& sensuall to be gotten from
us. If a bright thought springs up any time here, ye Mists
& Foggs extinguish it again presently,
& leaves us no more, yn only ye pain, of seeing it die & perish away from us.
Humphrey Ditton to Roger Cotes, ca. 1703
THE CALCULUS OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
During the last decade of his life, Sir Isaac Newton took the measure of achievement.
Probably shortly before 1725, Newton scribbled on the undated cover of a letter a brief list
of those discoveries he believed belonged entirely ‘to the English’. Included were ‘the
variation of the Variation’ (magnetic declination); the circulation of the blood; telescopic
sights and the micrometer variously improved by his contemporaries, Robert Hooke and
John Flamsteed; and ‘the Libration of the Moon’ likely in reference to Newton's own
explanation of lunar eccentricity. Notably, this was not simply a personal calculation.
Newton makes no mention of such controversial matters as the fluxional calculus, the
refraction of light, or even the measure of universal gravitation, which he otherwise might
have claimed as his own efforts. Even the private lights of the solitary genius could still
accommodate a distinctly broader sense of the depth of national accomplishment.