Oughtred, William

Oughtred, William, an eminent English divine, noted especially as a mathematician, was born at Eton, Buckinghamshire, in 1573. Being educated at Eton as a foundation- scholar, or "colleger," he was elected thence, in 1592, to King's College, Cambridge, of which in regular course he was admitted perpetual-fellow. He largely cultivated classical learning, as the elegant Latinity of some of his works indicates; but he applied himself chiefly to the study of mathematics. While yet an undergraduate he invented An Easy Method of Geometrical Dialling, which, though not given to the public until 1647, was then immediately translated from English into Latin by Christopher Wren, at that time a gentleman-commoner of Wadham College, Oxford. Oughtred took his degree of B.A. in 1596, and that of M.A. in 1599. In 1600 he projected a horizontal instrument delineating dials upon any kind of plane, and for working most questions which could be performed by the globe. In 1603, or thereabout, Oughtred was ordained priest, and presented to the living of Aldbury, near Guildford, in Surrey, upon which appointment he left the university and resided upon his living. He continued his mathematical purstits, but at the same time distinguished himself by the faithful discharge of his pastoral duties. The mathematical sciences were to him "the more than Elysian fields," and his house was continually filled with young gentlemen who came thither for instruction. He probably wrote his Treatise of Trigonometry about 1614; and in pursuing the same subject he invented, not many years afterwards, an instrument called The Circles of Proportion. 'All such problems in arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and navigation as depended upon simple and compound proportion might be solved by its aid; and it was the first sliding rule that was projected for those uses, as well as that of gauging. In 1628 he was engaged by the earl of Arundel as tutor to his son, lord William Howard whose patronage of science has much to do with the history of its progress during the 17th century. For the use of his pupil Oughtred published, in 1631, Arithmetices in numeris et speciebus inzstitutio, quae turn logisticae tum analytiae, atque totius mathematicae clavis est. This manual contained so many new and excellent theorems, both in algebra and geometry, that it was universally esteemed; and the general plan of it has since been followed by the best authors on the subject. Oughtred was, in 1646, in danger of sequestration by the committee for plundering ministers, and several articles sufficient to have sequestered him were sworn against him. But William Lilly, the celebrated astrologer, appealed to Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke and all his old friends, and they appeared in such numbers in his behalf on the day of hearing that he was cleared by the majority, though the chairman and many other Presbyterian ministers were active against him. He sometimes amused himself with physical sports, and was sprightly at the age of eighty. Fuller (Worthies, 1:145) says that "this aged Simeon had a strong persuasion that before his death he should behold Christ's anointed restored to the throne, which he did to his incredible joy, and then had his 'dimittis' out of this mortal life Jan. 30, 1660." According to Collier (Dictionary), Oughtred died about the beginning of May, 1660, having expired in an ecstasy of joy upon hearing the news of the vote at Westminster which passed for the restoration of Charles II. David Lloyd says that "Oughtred was as facetious in Greek and Latin as solid in arithmetic, geometry, and the sphere of all measures, music, etc.; exact in his style as in his judgment, handling his tube and other instruments at eighty as steadily as others did at thirty — owing this, as he said, to temperance and archery; principling his people with plain and solid truths, as he did the world with great and useful arts; advancing new inventions in all things but religion, which, in its old order and decency, he maintained secure in his privacy, prudence, meekness, simplicity, resolution, patience, and contentment." He had one son, whom he put an apprentice to a watchmaker, and for whose use he wrote a book of instructions in that art. He left besides a great number of papers upon mathematical subjects; and in most of his Greek and Latin mathematical books were found notes in his own handwriting, with an abridgment of almost all the propositions and demonstrations. These books came into the museum of William Jones, F.R.S., and with the manuscripts passed into the hands of Sir Charles Scarborough. Such of the latter as were found suitable for publication were printed at Oxford in 1676, under the title Opuscula Mathematica hactenus inedita. Many of Oughtred's MSS. are in the library of the earl of Macclesfield. See Biog. Dict.; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors; Engl. Cyclop.

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