Person: Barrow, Isaac
Isaac Barrow was an English mathematician who developed a method of determining tangents that closely approached the methods of calculus, and he was first to recognise that integration and differentiation are inverse operations.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- He sent Isaac to Charterhouse and paid twice the regular fee to get special attention for Isaac.
- However Isaac did not receive this attention and acquired the reputation as a bully while his education suffered.
- When Thomas heard of this, he transferred Isaac to Felstead, Essex in 1640 where the headmaster had a reputation for strict discipline.
- Here Isaac made rapid progress, both in developing his character and in learning.
- At Felstead Barrow learnt Greek, Latin, Hebrew and logic in preparation for University.
- However, the headmaster, realising Isaac's potential, took him in and later appointed him as a tutor to Thomas Fairfax.
- In 1643 Barrow was admitted as a foundation scholar at Peterhouse, Cambridge.
- In 1644 Barrow went to London where he was supported by Thomas Fairfax.
- However, Fairfax soon ran out of money and left Isaac destitute.
- Barrow accompanied a former school friend, who promised to support him, to Trinity College, Cambridge.
- Barrow enrolled in 1646 and performed menial duties in return for instruction with poor board and lodging.
- Duport, the Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, tutored Barrow without taking any fees, both due to Barrow's talent and that both were royalists.
- Under Duport, Barrow studied Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Italian, literature, chronology, geography and theology.
- Barrow studied arithmetic, geometry and optics and, like all students of the time, was encouraged not to specialise in a subject such as mathematics before graduating.
- Barrow graduated in 1649 and successfully competed for a college fellowship in the same year.
- Barrow was considered to be the ring leader of a group of royalists from 1648.
- Two years later Barrow again faced expulsion due to a speech he made on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.
- In 1652 Barrow graduated with his M.A. In 1654 he defended the University in a speech in which he spoke of the importance of learning Greek, Latin and literature for the purpose of acquiring a firm basis for learning.
- Barrow had taken an oath to study divinity when he was admitted as a fellow, and, after briefly studying medicine, he began studying divinity again.
- During this period Barrow was appointed to the college lectureship in Humanity.
- However Barrow was told that he did not have enough experience in teaching and was not well-travelled enough to receive the position.
- In 1655 Barrow set sail for France, after he had received an award for travelling from the University.
- Barrow spent the first ten months in Paris where he reported that he was rather disappointed in that the University was not nearly as impressive as he had been expecting.
- While in Florence Barrow spent much of his time in the Medici Library where there was a great collection of coins.
- Barrow later used the expertise he had acquired to act as a collector of coins and medals for a London merchant who helped Barrow with much needed finance.
- While in Florence, Barrow met Carolo Renaldini who was writing a paper on algebra.
- Barrow then set sail for Turkey but his ship came under attack from pirates.
- Barrow landed at Smyrna where he spent seven months.
- Despite failing to keep in contact with Cambridge, as set out in the conditions of his award, Barrow was granted an extension.
- While in Constantinople Barrow spent much time studying divinity and in particular the local Greek Church.
- In some financial difficulty, Barrow began his return journey at the end of 1658.
- On the journey home the ship docked at Venice where it caught fire and all Barrow's possessions were lost.
- The Professor of Greek voluntarily resigned in recognition that there were others who were better suited to the position - one of these people being Barrow himself.
- This left the way open for Barrow who, with no opposition, was elected to the position that many felt he should have had years before.
- Barrow campaigned for professors to receive benefits from their College Fellowships, if they held one, and his campaign was successful.
- Barrow's interest in mathematics and his small income made the position of Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, London appear very attractive when it became vacant in 1662.
- Barrow took his duties very seriously.
- Barrow became one of 150 scientists who were elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 20 May 1663 at one of the first meetings of the Society.
- Barrow was an obvious choice for this position and he relinquished the Greek chair for the mathematics because, he explained, of his greater interest in mathematics than Greek, because less work was involved, and that it had always been his intention to hold the Greek chair temporarily.
- In the spring of 1664 Barrow delivered the first six of his mathematics lectures which consisted of basic material.
- When it re-opened in April 1666 Barrow delivered another eight lectures but after June there was another outbreak of the plague.
- Isaac Newton attended these lectures and had many private discussions with Barrow about the work.
- Newton took much encouragement from these sessions with Barrow and they influenced his work greatly.
- John Collins published most of Barrow's lectures: Lectiones Opticae Ⓣ(Lectures on optics) was published in 1669, Lectiones Geometricae Ⓣ(Lectures on geometry) in 1670 and Lectiones Mathematicae Ⓣ(Lectures on mathematics) in 1683.
- Barrow did not prepare his work for publishing, Newton and others undertook this task.
- Most of Barrow's mathematics had been done over the years 1663 to 1669.
- The Lectiones Geometricae probably represent work which Barrow studied while at Gresham.
- In 1669 Barrow resigned from the Lucasian Chair and did no further mathematical work.
- While Master of Trinity, Barrow was occupied with two major issues.
- In April of 1677 Barrow travelled to London where he contracted malignant fever.
Born October 1630, London, England. Died 4 May 1677, London, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Analysis, Origin England
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive