I never particularly liked Newton despite his paramount discovery of the law of Universal Gravity from the fallen apple tree in his mother’s little garden. Maybe it was his somber, irate facial expression adorned with a long white wig. He was a reluctant spiritual godfather of physicists Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, whose theoretical findings are based on and upgraded from Newtonian laws of physics. However, being a keen observer of human characteristics, I am inclined to write the review about Newton’s personality traits, not a drab biological chronology and analyses of his laws of motion.
Isaac Newton was never the kind of chap whom you could be jovial with. If you caught Newton in a cafeteria or a coffeehouse and asked for an autograph, he would first give you a look with an exasperated grimacing and either reluctantly succumb to your request if he was in a good mood or curtly said, “I am busy.” His gaucheness in social interactions might be due to a deficiency in maternal affection and care. Newton’s mother willingly separated from her young and tender son when she married her second husband after the death of Newton’s father, whose name was also Isaac Newton. Although I object to profiling any kind and any person because it leads to a grave miscarriage of justice in many cases, Newton’s character profile doesn’t read favorably in any of his writings. To illustrate, Newton used to be harsh on his family servants, whom he often mistreated with corporeal measures and hit his younger sister. Nevertheless, his genius purchased indemnity for all his character flaws and beautified them as individual eccentricities endemic to the intellectual elites.
But the illustrated Godfather of Science was also a discreet practitioner of alchemy in search of the Philosopher’s Stone to turn it into gold. I wonder if all of the laws of motion Newton discovered were unexpected comeuppance of his private practice of alchemy. Not surprisingly, Newton kept his behind-the-façade business, and it was until the mid-18th century that the truth came to shine in his journal. Despite its occultist nature and nuance, Alchemy was also not too far from chemistry in studying metals according to three principles: Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury, based on four elements of air, earth, fire, and water. To this fascinating manipulation of heaven and earth, Aristotle added the 5th element of aether that was believed to fill the universe beyond the terrestrial sphere. The weightlessness due to the absence of gravity occurs in outer space full of invisible aether propagating light waves. As Newton’s principal muse to inspire his scientific musings, Aristotle is plausible to understand Newton’s fascination with alchemy. He treated it not as a magical practice but as a branch of chemistry that would have looked magical to the uninitiated.
Grumpy as he was, Newton was nonetheless a remarkable individual who devoted life to the pursuit of truth, a satisfaction of reason, in the temple of science, believing there are more than material bodies in this world, which became a foundation of quantum physics. With his head filled with the mystery of numbers and frail body subsisted on the nourishment on the mind, Newton was a lifetime bachelor without chivalric anecdotes or sybaritic tell-tales. Instead, he spurred his energy on his studies, wallowing in the delicacy of quiet and uneventful solitude. Newton influenced multidisciplinary studies including philosophy, and music, with his laws of motion, especially making the word “inertia” so democratically popular with the public that British pop band Blur made it a title song in their first Leisure album. You don’t have to like Newton to appreciate his contribution to the consilience of science and humanities. But it wouldn’t hurt you to learn what makes him enshrined in the Parthenon of civilization of humankind, even though he wasn’t a nice person to chat with.
Sometimes, life is stranger than fiction, imitating art, and vice versa. Picture this. A man on losing streaks decides his last bet on life in the New World. But, instead, he finds on arrival himself surrounded by the grim-faced henchmen of law with the gray eyes scanning the debonair foreigner’s appearance, measuring his moral value, judging his life at face value. The compass of Goddess Fortuna’s Wheel indicates the downfall of Oscar Slater in the direction of HM Prison Peterhead in Scotland. But, even though fortune’s malice has thrown Slater overboard, it certainly has not deprived him of a lifeboat in the person of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The case of Oscar Slater is often dubbed a sensational Edwardian murder mystery characterized by a scandalous wrongful conviction by the stupendousness of a miscarriage of justice in the history of any subject related from social justice to penal system, from police investigation procedures to forensic science. It follows from a death of a wealthy elderly woman brutally assaulted in her Glasgow home in 1908 when the Victorian prejudice against poor immigrants and foreigners, especially Jewish extraction, was PC all over on the isles. Slater being a secular German Jew with dark eyes and hair contrasted with the fairness of angelic British blonde, the blue-eyed ideal figure was the poster man of a criminal among the police and became their convenient suspect without due diligence and beyond a reasonable doubt. The Scottish police applied none of the evidentiary truth to the Slater case. On the contrary, they projected all of prejudice and complacency into the person of Slater, who was a sort of likable roguish streetwise swinger whose attractive suaveness and sleekness are reminded of Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Arthur Conan Doyle s helped Slater set free after twenty years of hard labor at the prison for the crime he had not committed. Suppose a true writer sees the world’s corruption at its heart and stands furious with people instead of grandstanding with rants and slurs. In that case, Conan Doyle stands along with Voltaire, George Orwell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the pantheon of the great writers who lived in the crowd of life.
Although Conan Doyle himself could not entirely be free from the conventional preconception about lower-class foreign immigrants and the jews, his integrity and charity exceeded the flaws. They changed the fate of the wrongly convicted man, which should be highly esteemed for universal recognition of all times. In the particular alchemy of literature as connecting the reader to the universal empathy, Doyle’s support of Slater’s innocence seems particularly conspicuous in the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The British general whose Toyota Jeep took up the already limited space could have held more Afghan evacuees in an airplane. Also, the former British Royal Marine chose to take 200 dogs and cats from the shelter with him over his Afghan workers and their families. But that’s not the end. The former Afghan employees of the British Embassy in Kabul are still clinging onto a thin ring of hope that their British ambassador boss for whom they had worked even during the Covid-19 pandemic scare would come to rescue. Would there be another Arthur Conan Doyle who would act on his principle of morality in the spirit of humanity who regard the lives of the oppressed Afghans as equally valuable as their own or similar kinds- that is, white and Christians?
My reference of Doyle’s involvement in the Slater case to current Afghanistan and refugee situations may seem a bit of a stretch with over-flowing maudlin sentimentalism. But I think Doyle’s determination to help Slater cause following the case of George Edalji, another miscarriage of justice based on racial discrimination, stems from his good natural good-heartedness aided by the brilliant mind searching for truth. It is a triumph of good over evil in the semblance of law and order. Unfortunately, I have a hard time finding a famous writer or poet who actively puts thinking into action, just as Doyle, Voltaire, Dickens, and Sand, whose brilliance of the minds resembled the magnificence of the Sun benefitting the life on earth. Where are such great writers now?
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