On reputation and history

Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber, 1951 (“Poor Superman”):

Everyone knows Newton as the great scientist. Few remember that he spent half his life muddling with alchemy, looking for the philosopher’s stone. That was the pebble by the seashore he really wanted to find.

Source: Heinlein, Robert A. (ed.), Tomorrow, the Stars, p. 208. SBN 425-01426-6, Doubleday & Company, Inc.


3 Responses to “On reputation and history”

  1. Milan Davidovic Says:

    Sounds to me as though Leiber might be judging Newton by today’s standards rather than those of Newton’s time.

    See Stephen Jay Gould’s “Rule of Five”, http://bit.ly/aCsH5d (Google Books link), in particular pg. 201.

  2. monado Says:

    I think Leiber’s point is that we are honoring Newton for what we think is important and not what he thought was important, so he’s agreeing with you. “The Rule of Five” seems to be more about feeling superior to our predecessors.

    I’m amused by how often we group everything into Fours: four winds, humors, directions, vows, etc.

  3. Milan Davidovic Says:

    Thanks — though from this (yes, it’s only Wikipedia) list of writings:


    it’s hard to see that he placed such a high priority on alchemy. But I’m not familiar with Newton’s life story so for all I know he did put a good deal of time into it.

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