James Whitbread Lee Glaisher

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James Whitbread Lee Glaisher.

James Whitbread Lee Glaisher FRS FRAS (5 November 1848, Lewisham[1] – 7 December 1928, Cambridge) was a prolific English mathematician and astronomer.


  • The invention of logarithms and the calculation of the earlier tables form a very striking episode in the history of exact science, and, with the exception of the Principia of Newton, there is no mathematical work published in the country which has produced such important consequences, or to which so much interest attaches as to Napier’s Descriptio.
    • In: Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition; Article “Logarithms.”; Reported in Robert Edouard Moritz. Memorabilia mathematica; or, The philomath's quotation-book, (1914) : On the invention of logarithms

"Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science," 1890[edit]

"Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A," (1890); Nature, Vol. 42, p. 467; Reported in Robert Edouard Moritz. Memorabilia mathematica; or, The philomath's quotation-book, (1914)

  • It would seem at first sight as if the rapid expansion of the region of mathematics must be a source of danger to its future progress. Not only does the area widen but the subjects of study increase rapidly in number, and the work of the mathematician tends to become more and more specialized. It is, of course, merely a brilliant exaggeration to say that no mathematician is able to understand the work of any other mathematician, but it is certainly true that it is daily becoming more and more difficult for a mathematician to keep himself acquainted, even in a general way, with the progress of any of the branches of mathematics except those which form the field of his own labours. I believe, however, that the increasing extent of the territory of mathematics will always be counteracted by increased facilities in the means of communication. Additional knowledge opens to us new principles and methods which may conduct us with the greatest ease to results which previously were most difficult of access; and improvements in notation may exercise the most powerful effects both in the simplification and accessibility of a subject. It rests with the worker in mathematics not only to explore new truths, but to devise the language by which they may be discovered and expressed; and the genius of a great mathematician displays itself no less in the notation he invents for deciphering his subject than in the results attained.... I have great faith in the power of well-chosen notation to simplify complicated theories and to bring remote ones near and I think it is safe to predict that the increased knowledge of principles and the resulting improvements in the symbolic language of mathematics will always enable us to grapple satisfactorily with the difficulties arising from the mere extent of the subject
    • p. 466 : On the expansion of the field of mathematics, and on the importance of a well-chosen notation
  • Quite distinct from the theoretical question of the manner in which mathematics will rescue itself from the perils to which it is exposed by its own prolific nature is the practical problem of finding means of rendering available for the student the results which have been already accumulated, and making it possible for the learner to obtain some idea of the present state of the various departments of mathematics.... The great mass of mathematical literature will be always contained in Journals and Transactions, but there is no reason why it should not be rendered far more useful and accessible than at present by means of treatises or higher text-books. The whole science suffers from want of avenues of approach, and many beautiful branches of mathematics are regarded as difficult and technical merely because they are not easily accessible.... I feel very strongly that any introduction to a new subject written by a competent person confers a real benefit on the whole science. The number of excellent text-books of an elementary kind that are published in this country makes it all the more to be regretted that we have so few that are intended for the advanced student. As an example of the higher kind of text-book, the want of which is so badly felt in many subjects, I may mention the second part of Prof. Chrystal’s “Algebra” published last year, which in a small compass gives a great mass of valuable and fundamental knowledge that has hitherto been beyond the reach of an ordinary student, though in reality lying so close at hand. I may add that in any treatise or higher text-book it is always desirable that references to the original memoirs should be given, and, if possible, short historic notices also. I am sure that no subject loses more than mathematics by any attempt to dissociate it from its history.
    • p. 466 : On the need of text-books on higher mathematics
  • The mathematician requires tact and good taste at every step of his work, and he has to learn to trust to his own instinct to distinguish between what is really worthy of his efforts and what is not; he must take care not to be the slave of his symbols, but always to have before his mind the realities which they merely serve to express. For these and other reasons it seems to me of the highest importance that a mathematician should be trained in no narrow school; a wide course of reading in the first few years of his mathematical study cannot fail to influence for good the character of the whole of his subsequent work
    • p. 467 : On the importance of broad training
  • In other branches of science, where quick publication seems to be so much desired, there may possibly be some excuse for giving to the world slovenly or ill-digested work, but there is no such excuse in mathematics. The form ought to be as 102 perfect as the substance, and the demonstrations as rigorous as those of Euclid. The mathematician has to deal with the most exact facts of Nature, and he should spare no effort to render his interpretation worthy of his subject, and to give to his work its highest degree of perfection. “Pauca sed matura” was Gauss’s motto.
    • p. 467 : On the perfection of math. productions
  • Many of the greatest masters of the mathematical sciences were first attracted to mathematical inquiry by problems relating to numbers, and no one can glance at the periodicals of the present day which contain questions for solution without noticing how singular a charm such problems still continue to exert. The interest in numbers seems implanted in the human mind, and it is a pity that it should not have freer scope in this country. The methods of the theory of numbers 271 are peculiar to itself, and are not readily acquired by a student whose mind has for years been familiarized with the very different treatment which is appropriate to the theory of continuous magnitude; it is therefore extremely desirable that some portion of the theory should be included in the ordinary course of mathematical instruction at our University. From the moment that Gauss, in his wonderful treatise of 1801, laid down the true lines of the theory, it entered upon a new day, and no one is likely to be able to do useful work in any part of the subject who is unacquainted with the principles and conceptions with which he endowed it.
    • p. 467 : On the theory of numbers

Quotes about J.W.L. Glaisher[edit]

  • Bertrand, Darboux, and Glaisher have compared Cayley to Euler, alike for his range, his analytical power, and, not least, for his prolific production of new views and fertile theories. There is hardly a subject in the whole of pure mathematics at which he has not worked.
    • Andrew Forsyth. Proceedings London Royal Society, Vol. 58 (1895), p. 21 Reported in Robert Edouard Moritz. Memorabilia mathematica; or, The philomath's quotation-book, (1914)

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