[Augustus De Morgan]

P 56: Nation 12(13 April 1871):258
and 12(20 April 1871):276

Professor De Morgan was born at Madura, in Southern India, in June, 1806, of a family distinguished in the military service. His mother's grandfather, however, who was a mathematical teacher of some eminence, may be supposed to have predetermined his career. In 1827, he gained at Cambridge the first place in the mathematical tripos of that year, but declined to subscribe to the religious tests necessary to obtain either the degree of M.A., or a college fellowship. In 1828, he accepted the professorship of mathematics in the London University, the principles on which that institution was founded being in accord with his religious independence; and he abandoned this position in 1866 when, as he thought, in violation of those principles, James Martineau was refused a professorship on account of his theological opinions. In the service of the London insurance companies, "he raised the actuary's vocation to the dignity of a profession," and was almost to his last day the confidential adviser of several associations. His Essay on Probabilities, Elements of Algebra, Formal Logic, or the Calculus of Inference Necessary and Probable, and Differential and Integral Calculus, are among the works which made him distinguished, but which show but a small part of his intellectual activity. He was a constant contributor to various periodicals, to the Athenæum from 1840; and by no means on mathematical subjects alone. His contributions to Knight's Penny Cyclopædia are a considerable proportion of the entire work. "He passed for diversion's sake from one arduous study to another"; but found time to acquire a good degree of proficiency as an instrumental performer, and was a habitual and eager reader of novels, especially of humorous novels. As a mathematician he had the rare merit of not overestimating his favorite science, though he proved by his Formal Logic that it was not incompatible for a mathematician to be also a logician; and he was accordingly one of the weightiest adherents that Spiritualism has ever won over. A treatise of his on these manifestations, entitled From Matter to Spirit, was written in 1863. As a writer and a teacher, he was one of the clearest minds that ever gave instruction, while his genial and hearty manners in private and in the school-room strongly attached to him all who came in contact with him. He was a man of full habit, much given to snuff-taking; and those who have seen him at the blackboard, mingling snuff and chalk in equal proportions, will not soon forget the singular appearance he often presented.



We need not apologize for adding to the sketch we gave last week of the late Professor De Morgan a few remarks of a more critical nature. Among mathematicians he was distinguished more for the completeness of his logic than for analytical facility. His pupils speak of him with warm admiration, but it may be presumed that they gained from him even more of general skill in accurate reasoning than of specific mathematical power. His elementary books, which are not enough known, are excellent, especially for students who have no natural turn for mathematics; and his work on the calculus is unusually complete, and its demonstrations particularly instructive. Of his researches, one of the most noticeable is his paper on triple algebra, which traces out the consequences of certain definitions of symbols in a manner much like that of his formal logic; but for this difficult subject De Morgan's analysis was not sufficiently subtle, and he can only be said to have started the enquiry without having arrived at any valuable results. His best contributions were to mathematical logic. In his controversy with Sir William Hamilton, in 1847, both disputants fought in the dark, because Hamilton's system had never been published, and Hamilton had never patiently examined De Morgan's. All the points of Hamilton's attack were, however, completely disproved. Upon the publication of Hamilton's works, De Morgan renewed the controversy with Mr. Thomas Spencer Baynes, who, after an unconditional pledge to produce proof of his position, was compelled to abandon the field. Since that time Hamilton's once celebrated system has fallen into neglect, while De Morgan's commands more and more respect. In point of fact, Hamilton's system, like De Morgan's, is mathematical, but is the work of a mind devoid of mathematical training. It would be premature to try to say what the final judgment of De Morgan's system will be, but it may at least be confidently predicted that the logic of relatives, which he was the first to investigate extensively, will eventually be recognized as a part of logic. The best statement of De Morgan's system is contained in his Syllabus of a Proposed System of Logic, but his fourth and fifth papers on the syllogism are of later date. De Morgan was a deep student of the history of the sciences to which he was devoted. He wrote many biographical notices of mathematicians in the Penny Cyclopædia and the English Cyclopædia, as well as a bibliography of arithmetic. Indeed, the amount of his writing upon various subjects in the two cyclopædias, in the Athenæum, in the Companion to the British Almanac, in seventeen or more separate books, and in various scientific periodicals, including the Journal of the Philological Society, is enormous, and it is all very pleasant reading for its perspicacity, vigor of thought, wit, and a certain peculiar flavor of style. The last qualities are well seen in his "Budget of Paradoxes," published in the Athenæum.