Person: Arbuthnot, John
John Arbuthnot was a Scottish scholar who translated Huygens' tract on probability in 1692 and extended it by adding a few further games of chance. This was the first work on probability published in English.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Alexander Arbuthnott was well educated having studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen.
- Arbuthnot entered Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1681 where he studied the standard arts course taken by all students at this time.
- Arbuthnot graduated in 1685 and there is no record of what he did in the next six years.
- In August the Scottish resistance was crushed at the Battle of Dunkeld and Robert Arbuthnot fled to France.
- Certainly John did not take part in the military campaign and there is some evidence that he was in Edinburgh studying mathematics with David Gregory.
- In 1690, because of the unrest in Scotland, David Gregory left Edinburgh and went to Oxford and Arbuthnot may have spent time in Oxford.
- They went together to Oxford where once more Arbuthnot was with his friend David Gregory.
- At Oxford Arbuthnot studied medicine privately during 1694-96, then took a medical degree at the University of St Andrews defending his theses on the day that he enrolled on 11 September 1696.
- In 1695 William Woodward published Essay towards a natural history of the Earth and Arbuthnot responded with publishing An examination of Dr Woodward's account two years later.
- After Queen Anne came to the throne on 1702, Arbuthnot gained favour being employed in his capacity as a medic at Court.
- A detailed treaty was proposed in the summer of 1706 and Arbuthnot published a pamphlet A sermon preach'd to the people at the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh on the subject of the union which made clear that its author was a Scot who believed in the economic benefits of a union.
- Arbuthnot continued his scientific work submitting a paper to the Royal Society in 1710 discussing the slight excess of male births over female births in the years from 1629 to 1710.
- In this paper Arbuthnot claims to demonstrate that divine providence, not chance, governs the sex ratio at birth.
- Arbuthnot's main fame, however, rests on his reputation as a wit and on his satirical writings.
- The character in these pamphlets, John Bull, became a symbol of the English character.
- With Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay and Thomas Parnell he founded the Scriblerus Club in 1713, whose purpose was to satirise bad poetry and pedantry.
- After Queen Anne died on 1 August 1714, despite Arbuthnot attending her in her final illness, he went to France for a while.
Born April 1667, Inverbervie, Kincardine, Scotland. Died 27 February 1735, London, England.
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive