Nicholas Saunderson

(1683—1739) mathematician

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Nicholas Saunderson was born at Thurlstone, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and died of gangrene in Cambridge on 19 April 1739. He lost his sight through smallpox when twelve months old. He was taught arithmetic by his father, an excise officer, and attended school in Peniston, where he learned to speak French and became fluent in the classics. In order to progress in his favourite studies in mathematics, he devised a wooden board, consisting of holes, pins and silken threads, with which he could perform calculations (adjusting the pins in the holes to represent different digits) and draw geometrical figures. A fuller explanation of this device is found in the Introduction to The Elements of Algebra (1740). At the age of eighteen, Saunderson was taught algebra and geometry by private tutors, who spent many hours reading to him the works of Euclid, Archimedes and Diophantus. In 1707 he matriculated at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he began teaching mathematics as a private tutor. He established himself as one of the best lecturers in mathematics. In 1711 he was awarded an MA and immediately elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in succession to Whiston. In 1719 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1728 was awarded an LL.D. In c.1723 he married Abigail Dickson, and they had two children.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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