Person: Saunderson, Nicholas
Nicholas Saunderson was a blind English mathematician who developed a high reputation as a teacher.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Nicholas, his parents' eldest son, was born in the small village of Thurlston (today written Thurlstone) about 11 km west of Barnsley and about 20 km north west of Sheffield.
- Tragically when he was about one year old Nicholas contracted smallpox and, as a result, he became blind and, in some ways even worse, he not only lost his sight but also his eyes.
- To learn from books was only possible for Nicholas if people were available to read to him.
- Had Saunderson not met the mathematician William West when he was 18 years old he might not have been able to study mathematics at the highest level.
- Because of his blindness, attending university to take a degree was not a realistic option, so Saunderson continued to study higher mathematics at home guided by West.
- However Saunderson did not have the money to be formally admitted to the College or the University.
- Saunderson told him that he was hoping to become a teacher of mathematics.
- Whiston was very impressed by his abilities and Saunderson was soon lecturing to large classes of students.
- Roger Cotes, who was already working at Cambridge when Saunderson began teaching there, became the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in 1708 and, in the following year, he began editing a second edition of Newton's Principia.
- Saunderson soon became friends with Cotes for they shared a common interest in the Principia.
- Saunderson was studying the work with the aim of trying to make it more accessible to his students.
- As well as getting expert advice from Whiston and Cotes, Saunderson met Newton and was able to learn directly from him about certain difficult points in the text of the Principia.
- Although Saunderson was an obvious choice to succeed him, he had no degree having never attended university.
- On the following day Saunderson was appointed to succeed Whiston becoming the fourth Lucasian professor of mathematics.
- These were all mathematicians with whom Saunderson formed strong friendships, and he corresponded with some on mathematical topics.
- One might reasonably ask how Saunderson was able to carry out difficult mathematical calculations without being able to see.
- Having lost one of his senses, Saunderson had to rely on his other senses and he had very acute hearing and touch.
- Much of what Saunderson studied was geometry.
- Geometry requires geometrical figures to be considered and one might again reasonably ask how Saunderson coped with this problem.
- Although he published no original mathematics, Saunderson's reputation as a teacher continued to grow.
- In 1733 Saunderson became ill and his friends realised that the world would lose a great treasure if Saunderson died before writing up his teachings.
- In 1739, with his book close to completion, Saunderson became ill with scurvy.
- By the time Chapter 6 is reached Saunderson is presenting problems in the style of Diophantus mixing geometric and algebraic ideas.
- Saunderson then presents applications of algebra to geometry, in particular studying ratio and proportion from Book 5 of Euclid's Elements.
- In Book 9 Saunderson presents the binomial theorem and the theory of logarithms.
- Although Saunderson never wrote up any of his other courses for publication, he did leave a large amount of material on his teaching of the differential and integral calculus.
- One further work appeared in print in 1761 entitled Select Parts of Professor Saunderson's Elements of Algebra for Students at the Universities.
- Among the honours which Saunderson received, in addition to the honorary LLD referred to above, was his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society on 21 May 1719.
Born January 1682, Thurlstone, Yorkshire, England. Died 19 April 1739, Cambridge, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin England
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive