Person: Spence, William
William Spence was a Scottish mathematician who worked on logarithmic functions.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- In the summer, together with his friends, Spence went fishing or looking for birds' nests.
- As he grew up Spence turned from reading adventure stories to reading biography and history.
- Eventually Spence gave up learning business skills and devoted himself entirely to the study of science.
- The essays of William Spence were very astronomical, we thought them profound; they were all about planets and comets, the cosmogony of the earth, the infinite divisibility of matter, and the boundless of nature, premundane space; any thing of this world was too gross to enter into his speculative theories.
- In 1805, in the company of his school friend James Park, Spence visited many places in England, spending some time with Galt, who was at that time living in London.
- In 1808 Spence was again in London, and during the several months that he lived there, he published An Essay on the various Orders of logarithmic Transcendents; with an Inquiry into their Applications to the Integral Calculus, and the Summation of Series.
- Spence gave the results to nine decimal places and we note that he did not round off his tables.
- The first comprehensive detailed study of the function is the essay of Spence (1809), which was generally not referenced on the continent for several decades.
- It is clear that Spence must have read Lagrange's 1770 paper Réflexions sur la résolution algébrique des équations for he tries to make a systematic approach to solving equations of degree 2, 3 and 4 using symmetrical functions of the roots as does Lagrange.
- This makes it sound as if Spence follows Lagrange rather closely but this is certainly not the case for he gives his own approach to solving these equations.
- However Spence was taken ill at Glasgow, and died in the inn in which they had put up for the night.
- After Spence died, John Herschel edited Mathematical Essays by the late William Spence which was published by Oliver and Boyd in Edinburgh in 1819.
- The others were selected from Mr Spence's papers by the editor, J F W Herschel, Esq., who was pre-eminently qualified to judge the respective merits of the several pieces.
- These papers clearly prove, that Mr Spence possessed both genius and industry in a high degree, and a force of intellect of a very superior kind.
- Finally we should record Spence's musical abilities.
- A few years after his death, a Marble Tablet bearing an inscription written by Galt, was erected to Spence's memory by several of his friends in the Middle Parish Church in Greenock.
- The Spence library in Greenock was founded by Spence's widow and contains his books.
Born 31 July 1777, Greenock, Scotland. Died 22 May 1815, Glasgow, Scotland.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Scotland
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive