1666: Annus Mirabilis

John Dryden wrote a poem in 1667 to commemorate a truly rotten year: 1666. The ‘Miracle’ was that Britain had survived such a truly terrible year. It started with the Plague which drove everyone out of London. But in February, they started coming back. But then, there was a huge fire in London. The whole city burned down. Only 6 people died, but 13,000 houses were burnt. The Clash have a song called London’s Burning. They also have one called London’s Calling, which is also pretty grim and apocalyptic. But anyway, there actually was a Great Fire of London in 1666 that leveled London. It was started when the Royal Baker and a woman who worked for him didn’t put out the fire in the ovens, and an ember glowed hot enough to ignite the whole town. All of the houses were made of wood and highly flammable. The thing that gets me is that the Royal Baker was located on Pudding Lane.

Annus Mirabilis by John Dryden

What else happened that year, as if that wasn’t enough? Well, there were a few wars with the Dutch. They were fought at sea. The first one the British lost, but they came back and defeated the Dutch in the second. So, Dryden wrote this poem entitled Annus Mirabilis. Miracle Year. It is funny but this very same year or thereabouts is also Isaac Newton’s Annus Mirabilis. He came up with Calculus, and a lot of his discoveries in Optics and Physics during this year. As a side note, I must mention that Gottfried Leibniz over in Germany also came up with Calculus around this same time, and he actually published his before Newton. There was a lot of hub bub over that–who came up with it first and did one steal ideas or plaigirize the other, but in the end they both get credit, though of course the English give more credit to Newton and the Germans more to Leibniz.

I think that what makes 1666 a really memorable year is that it contains 666, which was the number of The Beast in The Revelation of Saint John, the final book in the New Testament. They were expecting the drama, and they weren’t disappointed. The reason that Isaac Newton was able to make so much progress that year was that he was teaching at a college, Oxford or Cambridge, one of those, and they were all sent home because of the plague. He had a lot of free time to pursue his own interests.

This happened soon after the English Civil War. The King had been killed by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army, but by this time the Monarchy was re-established. This happened in 1660, and that is also the year that The Royal Society, for Science, was established.

Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell Society


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