Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys, or what did YOU do in isolation?


It is fortunately not often that millions of people on our planet find themselves in such a similar, dire situation, except in wars and epidemics, and so many, brave individuals have, in this present, horrific coronavirus situation, paid the ultimate price for their unselfishness in caring for the sick and dying. We should feel eternally grateful and humbled. I am.

NASA_newton4048_regHarking back to the truly dreadful plague of 1665: it was said that a five-year-old boy named John Morley was found dead at his home in Cambridge with black spots on his chest in July 1665 and became the town’s first bubonic plague victim. Townspeople started to isolate, and a young scholar at Trinity College named Isaac Newton fled to his home farm in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire to study. In the two years he was there, he studied calculus, created the science of motion and unravelled gravity, or so it was said. (Husband reckons he went scrumping, filled his pockets with apples and they were so heavy, his trousers fell down, but wouldn’t dream of putting forward such a theory… ).

pepysAs for the Diarist Samuel Pepys, in 1665, aged 32 years, he dined out wearing a camel-hair or goat suit, noting ‘The very best I wore in my life,’ during the plague. He commented that most doctors, lawyers and merchants fled the city and that ‘Parliament is postponed until October.’ Later, while in Drury Lane, he saw ‘two or three houses marked with red crosses’ and the words “Lord have mercy upon us.” Writ there, which was a sad sight to see.’ Claire Tomalin, Pepys biographer, spoke of his pain and suffering since a child which made him a stoic person. It was said that he welcomed whatever there was to enjoy.

Theatres, sports and other meeting places were closed and the poor – as ever then – had to steal or beg for food. History rarely shows us a pretty place.

Pepys was a clerk and worked for the Navy Board, had a wife called Elizabeth, but as he admitted, was up for many shenanigans with fancied chamber maids and the like. The times provided rich pickings for his diary, like the Restoration of the Merry Monarch, Charles II (from whom Pepys received favours), the Great Plague (An estimated 100,000 died – 20% of London’s population), the Great Fire of London and the terror waged by the Dutch when the Royal Navy suffered one of their worst defeats after they destroyed several British ships and captured Sheerness. Luckily peace swiftly followed. It is not known whether Pepys, who lived to the age of seventy, actually expected his diary to be published after his death, but it now famously infamous.

nature smlBack to the present, apart from a birth explosion in around nine months, I wonder what some of us will have accomplished/learned during this trying and protracted period of isolation. Of course, some will be almost speechless from boredom, while others will have gained more than they lost… Marriages and relationships will have floundered or, hopefully been made stronger. Life itself will, surely, be writ in larger letters, for it is the most precious thing we have, and Mother Nature, in her more likeable guises, will never have looked more attractive; or freedom sweeter. The fact that so many people have lost loved ones of all ages and creeds is heart-breaking and all the blaming won’t bring them back. We can, perhaps (must!) try harder to work together for the well being of each other. Surely, we can do that, in memory of all those lost and the brave heroes and heroines of this epidemic.

As such phenomena as splitting the atom, black holes, penicillin, and heaps of other, tremendous strides in technological fields have been discovered or accomplished, I questioned my feeble grey matter and did a lot of thinking. Sadly, I had to accept that – in the grand scheme of things – I had diddly-squat to offer, as I push when a sign says ‘pull’ and maths is not my best subject. So, what to do? Well – and I’m sure you are dying of curiosity!! – it’s mainly too prosaic to itemize – I lived, within the boundaries dictated, read, prized the telephone and my computer, exercised a little… toured the ‘estate’ (small urbanization and communal pool) daily, and thought some more. Oh, and read and wrote a lot. I missed our sons and their partners, but a loud hurray for my online friends. laptop_computer_hand_pen smlThey are a wonderful, friendly and helpful bunch. Not to mention good writers. So, what’s with all the thinking you may wonder? Well, I intend finishing the ULTIMATE, FABULOUS book I’ve been working on – forever – and new ideas have been percolating. You can drop my name at dinner parties if you like; autographs given on request. Who am I kidding… Joking aside, hubby and I have had more than a few laughs – quite silly things can spark us and we are most grateful for humour. It’s a great antidote to what’s really happening outside and saves sanity.

Meanwhile, I bet many people have actually published their books, cooked up a storm, written songs and music and painted near masterpieces. Do tell what you have been doing.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

Thanks to Gavin Mortimer of The Spectator for the piece on Samuel Pepys.


55 thoughts on “Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys, or what did YOU do in isolation?

  1. robertawrites235681907 03/05/2020 / 5:09 pm

    Lovely to see a post from you, Joy, and such an entertaining one at that. I did know that Isaac Newton fled Cambridge and made lots of discoveries while he was away for two years, but it is great to read all the information together like this. I have been doing everything I usually do and have edited the first four chapters of my new book (there are twenty chapters). I must finish by the end of May so that I can send it to my editor in June. I have plans to write a book of South African historical short stories with a paranormal element. I have added a lot of housework, home schooling and more fondant art and baking to my schedule. No idea how I am fitting it all in but, somehow, I am.

  2. Tom 03/05/2020 / 6:29 pm

    What an interesting read, Joy, I thoroughly enjoyed it!
    It is a time for learning right now, and a time for actually figuring out what we want to learn – and do, for that matter.
    Good luck with your book, I hope you finish it soon. I’m attempting to write a few mystery tales (only for the blog!) and trying to learn other features of my various art programs. I’m also resting a lot more, which is nice. The time’s still passing quickly, however, so we’ll be back to (the new) normal very soon.

  3. Darlene 03/05/2020 / 7:51 pm

    A great post, Joy. I always love some history. Of course, this isn´t the first time we´ve had a pandemic and it won´t be the last. Hopefully, we learn from each one. Technology has certainly made this one easier to bear as we can keep in touch with loved ones. Glad you and Eric are doing OK. Hang in there. xo

    • Liz Gauffreau 04/05/2020 / 1:09 am

      I’ve been thinking the same thing recently, about how technology has been isolating from family and friends easier to bear. A generation ago, it would have been just the telephone, letters, and news stories on television.

  4. Jacquie Biggar 03/05/2020 / 8:16 pm

    I’m hoping we DO learn from this experience. Life is precious- our families irreplaceable. In the day-to-day rush we let those we love the most go by the wayside. I pray this Pandemic teaches us what is truly important in life ❤

  5. Liz Gauffreau 04/05/2020 / 1:12 am

    It’s good to see a new post from you, Joy! I wasn’t aware of the plague of 1665, so I read the history you related with a great deal of interest. I’ve been working: writing curriculum and going to Zoom meetings. I’ve been writing syllabic poetry since the lock-down, and have just started back into working a new novel.

  6. joylennick 04/05/2020 / 7:48 am

    Hi Liz, Thanks for reading. You certainly sound ‘intellectually’ absorbed, clever lady!.Very best luck with the new novel. I have never before been this ‘stuck’ with mine, but know – with patience – it will, eventually flow. Hopefully! (And who was it wrote about there being no such thing as ‘Writer’s block’? Ha ha. x

  7. Fabulous post Joy and let’s hope there will be equally innovative discoveries and works that emerge from this pandemic, there are certainly some heroes and villains.. I have pressed for this evening…hugsxx

  8. Jessica Norrie 04/05/2020 / 1:02 pm

    A great post! I think there’s a lot of cultural pressure actually… my partner just signed up for New York Met’s subscription service and now we have 500 operas to watch (well, 1 down and 499 to go). I may find some jobs to do in another room some nights… Pepy’s diary is surprisingly readable, isn’t it, I might make reading the whole of that rather than just excerpts a lockdown goal. When I’ve finished Hilary Mantel…

    • joylennick 04/05/2020 / 1:12 pm

      Thanks for reading, Jessica, I admit to loving some operas (Carmen, Madame Butterfly and La Boheme quickly come to mind) BUT there’s a limit – a bit like watching too much Morris Dancing….Cheers! x

      • Jessica Norrie 04/05/2020 / 3:23 pm

        ANY Morris dancing is too much Morris dancing, imho!

  9. CarolCooks2 04/05/2020 / 1:21 pm

    Joy… Lovely to have a recap of times past.. I have found this enforced cocooning a bit damping of my thoughts.. We have our son and 2 grandkids with us which is lovely but have to entertain the kids we have stripped bikes etc… Ones grandson even cleaned his work station today his mouse mat etc.. That was a first.. Sigh.. He is now demanding that nannie cooks something new… He is a hard task master and critic..

    • joylennick 04/05/2020 / 2:30 pm

      Hi Carol, Two of our three sons live nearby but we’ve only seen one from a distance this last five weeks because of isolation. And the Spanish police have been strict…Fortunately, we now live on an urbanisation with a patio, gardens/pool etc., so it is very pleasant and we shouldn’t complain as we have everything we need. It is heart-breaking though for the relatives and poor souls who have died. Especially those nursing. I bet it’s ever busy in your household with grand-children too. I would have liked one, but it wasn’t to be. I worked with children part-time for ten years and loved it.Keep well Carol. Virtual hug. x

      • CarolCooks2 04/05/2020 / 3:00 pm

        Thank you, Joy..yes we are lucky as they keep us on our toes…Where we live it is very quiet and our local shops are quiet…some deliver to us even without being asked but I am guessing they need the sales so we just say thank you and pay up…we like to support the small businesses. Stay well and safe ,Joy…Hugs xx

  10. Norah 04/05/2020 / 1:48 pm

    What at interesting post, Joy. I learned lots. Thank you. I’m pleased you and your Hub have found lots to laugh about. We certainly need to, don’t we? Stay safe. I think there may still be more to come.

    • joylennick 04/05/2020 / 2:13 pm

      Thanks Norah, Trust you are well and not climbing the wall. That I very much doubt!! Knowing you.My husband has always been a bit of a wit, thankfully. It’s his way of dealing with problems, although he is always respectful and has a very serious side too. Keep safe. Virtual hug. x

  11. D. Wallace Peach 04/05/2020 / 3:42 pm

    I like your husband’s theory regarding Newton’s theory. 🙂 It’s a strange time, Joy, and so many people seem to be “off,” but there are opportunities, both the creative sort and for reflection, while we isolate. I’ve been editing and editing, slower than I’d hoped, but I plan to have a trilogy out in August (?). Fingers crossed. Take care, my friend, and Happy Writing!

    • joylennick 04/05/2020 / 6:59 pm

      Hi Diana, Yep, ‘im indoors does like making a quip or two. It keeps the spirits up!. You are such a wonder, work-wise, Diana. There’s me struggling to finish one book, and you’re talking about a trilogy…Good for you. Here’s oodles of luck with them. Take care. Virtual hug. x

  12. amreade 04/05/2020 / 4:02 pm

    Such an interesting post, and it shows that history repeats itself again and again. I cannot do calculus, let alone invent it, but I can write and exercise and cook, all of which I’ve been doing. And gardening. It’s a blessing to be able to go outside and enjoy the weather and the sunshine. Thanks for the reminder to look for the silver linings.

    • joylennick 05/05/2020 / 11:42 am

      Hi, Thank you for reading my post. I’m a dunce at maths,ashamed to say and only wish my brain was sharper (husband’s is like a knife..) but as long as I can write a little (lot!) I’m happy. History is fascinating but not pretty a pretty place! The Bubonic plague must have been horrendous. not as though this one is a picnic… I was a child in WW11, and like now, people pulled together and there was wonderful camaraderie, thankfully. Cheers. x

  13. ruthlarrea 04/05/2020 / 5:20 pm

    Interesting, Joy, and well researched. The very best bit was your husband’s comment about Newton and the scrumped apples! Made me laugh. xx

    • joylennick 05/05/2020 / 11:50 am

      Thanks, Ruth. Although it’s a dark place…history is always fascinating. I MUST write a short historical (hysterical?!) story. Everything takes a lot longer now I’m older…The book I’m supposed to be working on is taking forever. MUST cut back on social gossiping, which is difficult. Hope you and your husband are well and look forward to our monthly meetings, whenever…Take care. x

      • ruthlarrea 06/05/2020 / 5:17 pm

        Thanks, Joy. We’re both well, and I hope you and your family are, too. Yes, everything takes longer now for me, too, and to be honest I’m sick of the whole process of self-promotion, and will probably continue with writing, but not with publishing. I’ve joined up with some friends of mine on Skype to critique one another’s work, and that’s helpful. Yes, it’ll be good when our monthly meeting start again. x

  14. Antoinette Truglio Martin 04/05/2020 / 6:12 pm

    The parrells are telling and You nailed the sentiment. Thanks for the insight and giggle.

    • joylennick 05/05/2020 / 11:54 am

      Hola Antoinette, Fabulous name….Thank you for reading. The Bubonic plague must have been horrendous, not that the present one is much different. In general, people have been marvellous, but it is heart.breaking to swell on..

      • joylennick 05/05/2020 / 11:57 am

        Hola Antoinette, What a fabulous name! Thank you for reading. History is a dark place but fascinating all the same. All plagues are obviously evil and the sooner this one passes, the better, eh.(Husband’s always ready with a quip!) Take care. x.

  15. dgkaye 04/05/2020 / 7:13 pm

    I do enjoy your summations about life, Joy. You’ve done well keeping busy, and safe! I hope you won’t be venturing anywhere for some time without a mask even though I’ve read Spain is slowly starting to open. I saw footage of parks opening in Rome. Nobody was wearing a mask? Seriously? Please stay safe. And do keep us abreast of developments of your new fabulous book! Hugs xoxo

    • joylennick 04/05/2020 / 7:45 pm

      Hi Debby,

      Gracias, Thanks for reading my post. The ‘lock-in’ has been strict here but they are relaxing things a little now.What a truly dreadful ‘phenomenon’ this virus is. But people never cease to amaze me with their resilience and courage. I was seven when evacuated in WW11 and, even then,I noticed how people helped each other. The camaraderie was incredible.Let’s hope this horrible period ends soon. Both take care. Virtual hugs. xx

      • dgkaye 04/05/2020 / 11:37 pm

        Amen Joy! And please do wear a mask. This is not the end yet and there are too many people around who just don’t get it. ❤

  16. howikilledbetty 04/05/2020 / 7:45 pm

    What a fabulous post! Beautifully written and of course this simply highlights why I am struggling so much with my own book …. Your writing is natural, it flows, it’s an utter delight! What have I been doing (apart from reading and listening to everything I can get my hands on about creating proper structure within a book)? I’ve started Duolingo and am now completely addicted to a ridiculous green owl who congratulates me when I get five answers in a row correct … it’s quite pathetic what I will do for a little praise! I’m writing, reading, experimenting with cooking and have discovered that our Manhattan smoke alarm not only has a very loud siren, but also the recording of a very angry American woman who shouts, “Fire! Fire! Evacuate immediately!” repeatedly until tea towels have been waved, doors opened and windows opened to their maximum six inches. This, I have also discovered, makes my usually placid husband, rather stressed. Apart from that, life carries on … Katie

    • joylennick 04/05/2020 / 9:49 pm

      Hi Katie, Thank you so much for you kind words. Writing is often a struggle – we all edit and re-edit over and over. It is such an art, we are forever learning. Stay hungry for more…and I’m sure you’ll make it. And who doesn’t like praise?! Good luck with the cooking! Cheers. x

  17. OIKOS™-Publishing 04/05/2020 / 8:18 pm

    Thank you for this very motivating posting, full of very interesting history. Yes, we have to get the positivity out of this crisis and the lockdown. What else could be do? 😉 Be well and stay save. Michael

    • joylennick 04/05/2020 / 9:31 pm

      Thank you, Michael. Yes, the sooner they find an antidote the better. Keep well. Cheers.

  18. Mary Smith 05/05/2020 / 12:23 am

    A very enjoyable post. I’ve been thinking a lot, too, about the book I should be ploughing ahead with writing but somehow end up deciding I’ll get stuck in tomorrow. And wondering how much notice we’ll be given before lockdown ends and I can clean the house before any visitors turn up.

    • joylennick 05/05/2020 / 12:01 pm

      Thanks for reading, Mary.I love history – dark though it is..I too should be writing my book. Retired but not enough time!! We should all be cloned . so many books to read and write….Take care. x

  19. petespringerauthor 05/05/2020 / 3:41 am

    History continues to give us lessons that we are far more alike than different. I think if we all concentrated on being decent people instead of always looking at life in terms of us vs. them, the world would be a far happier place.

  20. Jane Sturgeon 05/05/2020 / 12:16 pm

    Joy, you are just that, a joy. This is an interesting post and I chuckled at your husband’s theory for Newton. 😉 I am managing and so grateful for the health of my loved ones. I live alone (which is alright) and work from home, so I am also grateful for the technology that links us. My focus and concentration are scattered, so I have started to do tasks in bite-sized chunks. It’s working and I break it up by doing push-ups against a wall. I do hope you are giggling. Sometimes, I can run several bite-sized chunks together. My saving grace is knitting and crochet in the evenings, but I guess I have overdone that as my hands have swelled a tad! It’s a roller coaster and learning process, that’s for sure. Sending you both much love, always. ❤

    • joylennick 05/05/2020 / 12:29 pm

      Hi Jane, What a lovely reply! You are a sweetie. Like you, I am doing things in bite sized pieces. Type for an hour, then polish off a menial job. Another hour and then do the washing/etc.,A huge pat on the back each time… I also do exercises indoors and check out the ‘estate’ – ha ha – patio and small communal garden and pool a few times. My husband loves penning amusing quips,thankfully. Although he does have a very serious side too..I’m a lot older than you, so don’t run any more or go for very long walks (only wish I could!) But I did a lot of Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi years ago so am quite supple. keep safe. Big virtual hugs. Love Joy xx

      • Jane Sturgeon 05/05/2020 / 12:34 pm

        You are a joy. ❤ I, like you, do not run and I admire your supplity and have to address my lack of! Joy, <3, always. ❤

  21. Tandy | Lavender and Lime 06/05/2020 / 10:39 am

    I did not make a list of extra things to do during lockdown – all I did was remain positive. As I am doing now. Of course being back at work makes it that much easier. I trust the world will learn that material wealth is not as important as physical health.

    • joylennick 06/05/2020 / 12:06 pm

      Thanks, Tandy. I think the ‘hoi poloi’ should keep reminding the politicians and greedy at the top, that physical health is way above material wealth. Take care. x

  22. tidalscribe 07/05/2020 / 4:00 pm

    Samuel Pepys often pops up on BBC Radio 4 reading his diaries. Strange to think that he was younger than my younger son when he was writing his plague diary. I believe he stopped writing a diary quite early on due to failing eyesight. With electric lights and a computer I wonder what his older reflections would have been. But I guess nothing would have been as dramatic as the plague and fire years.

    • joylennick 07/05/2020 / 5:08 pm

      Thank you for reading, Tidalscribe. None of my three sons kept a diary, although I do. How prosaic mine reads after Pepys…although i also have the terrible virus to report – and I was a child in WW11 – although I didn’t keep a diary then, while the experiences are still vivid. Who knows what life has in store for us, eh! We must keep positive…Cheers

  23. Jennie 09/05/2020 / 4:19 am

    Fabulous post, Joy! There is so much here, from history to humor to how we can all learn from this isolation and pandemic. It’s all in our attitude.

    • joylennick 09/05/2020 / 9:41 am

      Thanks, Jennie. If I’ve learned one thing in my long life, it is the value of attitude. It does make all the difference…Cheers. x

      • Jennie 09/05/2020 / 1:14 pm

        It really does, Joy. You live up it your first name. 😀

  24. joylennick 12/05/2020 / 9:19 am

    Thanks again, Jack. What’s normal anymore, eh!

  25. stepupandstandout 12/05/2020 / 10:49 pm

    As always Joy, a pleasure to read your detailed, rich and flavoured writing. History, comment and humour all rolled into a short article.

    • joylennick 13/05/2020 / 10:11 am

      Thank you kind lady! I aim to please. x

  26. macjam47 13/05/2020 / 2:57 am

    I am also one of those who “push when a sign says ‘pull’.” I love how you combine history and humor in this fantastic post.

    • joylennick 13/05/2020 / 10:03 am

      Thank you for reading and your kind comments. Much appreciated.

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