Though many accounts of Newton as professor describe his lectures as either so difficult or so dull that classrooms were typically empty, his trading cards at suggest genuine interest and excitement, at least when orbital mechanics was on the syllabus. This disconnect was one of the many mysteries Newton scholars had grappled with. Until now.
Unbelievably, we have stumbled across first-hand accounts of Newton’s lecture hall prowess from the very students he taught more than three centuries ago. Yes, we have in our possession the 17th century Cambridge equivalent of “Rate My Professor” from nearly two dozen of Newton’s pupils.
- “Newton’s lecture on his First Law just seems to go on and on.”
- “I found his description of gravity rather formulaic.”
- “Signed up for his ‘Lectures on Gravity’ course. Had to drop it.”
- “Surprisingly, his lectures on Gravity were rather down to Earth.”
- “His lectures on changes in momentum feel forced.”
- “Fortunately his treatment of acceleration provided a nice change of pace.”
- “No reaction to his Third Law.”
- “His lectures on torque really had their moments.”
- “His lectures on orbital mechanics tended to go around in circles.”
- “Presented some very revolutionary ideas on planetary motion!”
- “Found his lesson on Opticks to require extreme focus.”
- “Upon reflection, his lecture on telescopes wasn’t really so bad.”
- “His discussion of white light was actually quite colorful!”
- “His corpuscular nature of light was confusing to me, but it might have been my fault for not reading the packet.”
- “He discussed conic sections in the most hyperbolic of terms.”
- “I really tried to follow his lecture on limits but he just couldn’t get to the point.”
- “This guy loves to go off on a tangent!”
- “It was hard to differentiate between one topic and the next.”
- “Prof. Newton seems to have boundless love for the harmonic series.”
- “Was it the end of the world to audit his Book of Revelations class? Yes, actually.”
So there you have it. Kind of a mixed bag really! I’m sure we’ve all had better teachers and all had worse. But what about those students? Damn clever chaps, aren’t they!