‘Nothing imprints a story on the public’s imagination like a good anecdote. Not all are mythological or embellished. However, some accounts of purported events are clearly exaggerated and don’t add up……’
A recent item on the local BBC news covered a story of cuttings from the Apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor, the ancestral home of Sir Isaac Newton, being taken to keep alive the source from which the apocryphal falling Apple inspired the Natural Philosopher to formulate his theories of gravitational attraction. But several things about this legendary story don’t add up.
The story of the the Apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head first appeared in the “Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life”, written by William Stukeley and published in 1687. As a young man, Newton returned to Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire to avoid the Plague. Newton was born on 25 December 1642. The Plague affected England in 1665/1666 when Newton was 23 years old, which leads to the conclusion that story was at least 22 years old upon publication. Newton makes no mention of falling Apples in “The Principia Mathematica”, which has led many scholars to believe it never actually happened and may have been used by Newton, first as a metaphor in lectures, and latter as an embellished anecdote at dinner parties.
Whether you choose to believe the story or not, there is still a problem with the BBC news story. The preservation of the tree which sits in a small garden at Woolsthorpe is very unlikely to be the same allegorical tree because Apple trees usually only have a life span of 80 to 120 years. The oldest recorded Apple tree is 204 years old; still not old enough to be the tree under which Newton supposedly had his epiphany that led to his theory of gravitational attraction in 1665/1666.
I don’t question the validity and genius of Newton’s work, given what was known about physics at the time. Nor do I have a problem with the story of the falling Apple being used to educate children in schools today. But to make them believe that they may have a sibling of the original tree in the school gardens is on a par with the suspect King James Bible, venerated in every RE department and purporting to be “the gospels” of Jessie Chreezies disciples, which anyone with an IQ of above 80 should know to be nonsense, had they not been lied too since childhood by bigoted self-serving zealots with their own disreputable agenda……
Perhaps they could plant them next to the tree of “forbidden fruit” from the garden of Eden next to Jack’s Beanstalk……?