The Grace Library – Sir Isaac Newton: beyond the maths.

This is the third in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

The Grace Library collection contains a wide range of volumes relating to Sir Isaac Newton, including many that were written by him. Newton is world famous for his work on physics, particularly Newtonian mechanics, but there are a range of other volumes written about and by him that are significantly less well known in the Grace Library collection. Newton’s works make up a significant part of the Grace Library collection, with 11 volumes written by Newton himself and a number of others written by others regarding Newton’s work.

The collection contains a work written by Newton named The chronology of ancient kingdoms, published in 1728, in which Newton detailed the history of various kingdoms located principally in the Near East. This involved linking various figures of Greek and Roman mythology to Biblical and historical events, and ultimately sought to prove that Solomon’s kingdom and temple were the earliest in human history. In doing this, he deviated massively from what is now accepted as Mesopotamian and Egyptian history and from the contemporary chronology of the Near East. The volume itself is part of the collection bequeathed by Duncan Fraser and named after Walter Stott, who were both Liverpool actuaries. However unfortunately it bares no other identifying provenance marks.

Another volume written by Newton is the Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, published in 1733. This volume is a work of theology, another departure from Newton’s more well-known works of physics and maths. The work is a collection of various notes written by Newton and published after his death by his half-nephew, Benjamin Smith, and as such is divided into two parts. This particular volume has a far clearer provenance history to it, bearing bookplates of ownership of a Rob Taylor and a John Baker, along with also being part of the Walter Stott collection.

The collection also contains many of Newton’s more well-known works, such as Opticks and Principia, along with French translations of the latter that were possessed by University College London and given out as examination prizes. Opticks bears a bookplate of Sir Ralph Milbanke. He was one of a line of baronets that formed part of the family of Ada Lovelace, a mathematician known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, an early predecessor to the modern computer.

Various volumes also appear that were not written by Newton, but were written about Newton. Among these are volumes that seek to analyse his work, such as Henry Brougham’s Analytical view of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia. Brougham was a significant Whig politician of the early 19th century, who supported free trade and an end to the slave trade, but also was a well-regarded lawyer and scholar who was one of the founders of University College London in 1826. Once again, this volume was part of the Walter Stott collection donated by Duncan Fraser to the University.

The Grace Library – The Brilliant Booles

This is the third in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

Particularly connected to the Grace Library collection are the Boole family, partly through Walter Stott, the husband of Alicia Boole. The most famous Boole is George Boole, known for Boolean logic, a key component of computer science and the philosophy of logic. Operators used on computers today such as ‘AND’, ‘OR’ and ‘NOT’ are known as Boolean operators.

George Boole (1814-1864)

George Boole taught briefly in Liverpool at Mr Marrat’s School , which would become part of the expanding Lime Street Station, at 4 Whitemill Street. This move was forced on Boole due to the collapse of his father’s shoe-making business. The school was run by William Marrat, who was, much like George Boole, self-taught in maths and science.

His wife, Mary Boole, specialised in the education of maths, writing various texts on education along with a variety of other topics including the occult. She was entirely self-taught, and was involved in the writing and editing of many of George Boole’s works. She was also the niece of Sir George Everest, after who Mount Everest was named.

In the collection, there is a bound collection of papers collated by Francis William Newman, one of which is written by and has a pencil inscription by George Boole. The collection also holds a bound group of papers written by him and owned by his daughter, Alicia Boole. Outside of the Grace library, the university library possesses a range of items relating to the Booles, including holdings from the transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, which George Boole contributed to.

Dedication from Boole to Newman.

Alicia Boole was also a mathematician, focusing mainly on four dimensional geometry, which she became interested in after receiving a set of small coloured wooden cubes from her mathematician brother-in-law, Charles Howard Hinton. She became a very well regarded mathematician, so much so that she was elected the president of the Liverpool Mathematics Society in 1914 and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Groningen.

Many of the volumes in the collection are linked to Alicia Boole through her husband, Walter Stott, who was a local actuary. Stott worked for the Worshipful Company of Actuaries in Liverpool, and was also elected president of LivMS. Much of the collection bears bookplates from the Walter Stott collection, and many bear inscriptions from him.

The Grace Library – Trigonometrica Britannica

This is the second in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

Another interesting item I came across in the Grace Library collection was the Trigonometrica Britannica, written by Henry Briggs (1561-1631) and published posthumously in 1633. The volume is notably rare, and is a table of trigonometric values that is noted for its high accuracy. Briggs prepared the tables while he was a professor of geometry at Oxford University, assisted by Gellibrand (1597-1637) who was a professor at Gresham College, London, and it was published in Gouda – at the time part of the Dutch Republic rebelling against Spanish rule.

Tables of logarithms were vital to mathematics prior to calculators, particularly for work on navigation, which Briggs was particularly interested in and spent much of his time working on. In navigation, multiplication of many digit numbers was necessary, which could be performed by the addition of their logarithms. Thus, Briggs worked to compile the first ever table of base 10 logarithms. This simplified laborious calculations for astronomers and navigators at the time, while also proving very significant for more modern mathematics (although Briggs did not have any understanding of powers as we know them today).

The work’s importance to navigation was particularly significant as Briggs also worked with the Virginia Company, who were a joint stock company created by King James I to create colonies in America. The improvement to navigation allowed greater European expansion into the Americas and also further European navigation of the ‘South Sea’, now known as the South Pacific. The work was also significant for astronomy, as prior to its publication many astronomers had feared that the difficulty of accurate calculations of logarithms would make many astronomical discoveries far more difficult.

The copy in the university library is an original Gouda publication, inscribed by what appears to be a ‘Johannus Derning’ and with notes throughout. The book was given to the university in memory of Samuel Forster Grace according to its university bookplate. He was one of the most brilliant mathematicians at Liverpool in the early 20th century and was known for his work on tidal theory, but sadly died in 1937 at just 43 as a result of wounds suffered in World War I. 

The Grace Library – Ramchundra

This post was written by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan.

The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics is a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries. I’m working on the collection as part of History in Practice, a work experience module available for second year history students at the university.

One item I catalogued in the Grace Library collection was A treatise on problems of maxima and minima, solved by algebra, written by the Indian mathematician Ramchundra in 1850. Ramchundra was born in 1821 in Panipat into a family of the Kayastha caste – a Hindu caste of bureaucrats – to a father who worked in the Indian revenue service. His father died in 1831, which forced Ramchundra into marriage in 1832 at just eleven years old, almost certainly for the financial support the dowry would provide. Ramchundra was able to pursue some education at the English Government School in Delhi and later at Delhi College, where he was later appointed to a teaching role. Here, he pursued his own work; the most significant of which was the Treatise that is in the Grace collection in Liverpool.

Noted mathematician Augustus de Morgan published the work in 1859 in London to try and bring it to a wider audience outside of India, despite poor reviews from other British mathematicians working in India. During this period, there was an increasing belief in Britain that the colonial subjects of the British Empire should be ‘educated’ in European ways. This atmosphere may have stimulated de Morgan’s interest in the work, but it also hindered its acceptance. Despite being published in London, the book received little interest from scholars in Britain and Europe. Ramchundra is not particularly well known even to this day in mathematics – books have been written on topics covered by him that do not even mention his work.

The Grace collection contains two copies of the work – one published in Calcutta and thus the original, and a copy of the London published version with de Morgan’s foreword. The London version was presented by the Secretary of State for India to a Reverend Dr. Bland, suggesting that it was at least recognised by the governing authorities in India. It isn’t clear how the original came into the possession of Walter Stott and Alicia Boole and then Duncan Fraser, who bequeathed the book to the University as part of the Walter Stott collection.