According to popular legend, while on his deathbed, Isaac Newton confessed that he had never ‘known’ a woman. Since Newton did undoubtedly have several female acquaintances during his lifetime, this has generally been interpreted in the biblical sense – that is, that the Englishman died a virgin. Of course, there is a chance that he knew a man, or even several men, in his lifetime. But the general consensus is that Newton was completely asexual, shunning physical affection and preferring to make himself intimate with the workings of the universe than with another human being.
To call Newton a genius is perhaps an understatement. Born in 1642, he was admitted to Cambridge University before the age of 20. It was here where he produced the bulk of his body of work, including ground-breaking studies into calculus and physics, as well as pioneering insights into gravity and planetary movements. While in his later life he received countless awards and much adulation for his scientific discoveries and publications, this didn’t translate into popularity or even love. Newton was famously reclusive and private. If he did interact with other people, it was often to argue with them or pick fights. Fair to say, Newton made a lot of enemies.
According to some biographer’s Newton was simply too busy to pursue romantic liaisons. He himself famously remarked: “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent.” However, it seems more likely he was simply asexual. For 20 years, from 1663 to 1683, he shared a room with John Wickins, a fellow Cambridge student and later a fellow of Trinity College. There was never any hint of a sexual relationship between them – and, as is often pointed out, if there were any rumors of Newton being homosexual, his many enemies or rivals would have gladly used this to smear his name.
Since Newton never wrote a diary and, unlike many of his peers, wasn’t in the habit of writing personal letters to friends and peers, we can only speculate about his sexuality. However, it’s almost certain he was a virgin when he died at the age of 84 in 1727. The French philosopher Voltaire, who was in London when the great polymath was buried, famously noted that Netwon “was never sensible to any passion, was not subject to the common frailties of mankind, nor had any commerce with women – a circumstance which was assured me by the physician and surgeon who attended him in his last moments.” Perhaps it was this lack of passion that led him to become arguably the greatest genius that ever lived?
Read More: Madness of Sir Isaac Newton!