1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/De Morgan, Augustus
|←Demonology||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8
De Morgan, Augustus
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DE MORGAN, AUGUSTUS (1806-1871), English mathematician and logician, was born in June 1806, at Madura, in the Madras presidency. His father, Colonel John De Morgan, was employed in the East India Company’s service, and his grandfather and great-grandfather had served under Warren Hastings. On the mother’s side he was descended from James Dodson, F.R.S., author of the Anti-logarithmic Canon and other mathematical works of merit, and a friend of Abraham Demoivre. Seven months after the birth of Augustus, Colonel De Morgan brought his wife, daughter and infant son to England, where he left them during a subsequent period of service in India, dying in 1816 on his way home.
Augustus De Morgan received his early education in several private schools, and before the age of fourteen years had learned Latin, Greek and some Hebrew, in addition to acquiring much general knowledge. At the age of sixteen years and a half he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, and studied mathematics, partly under the tuition of Sir G. B. Airy. In 1825 he gained a Trinity scholarship. De Morgan’s love of wide reading somewhat interfered with his success in the mathematical tripos, in which he took the fourth place in 1827. He was prevented from taking his M.A. degree, or from obtaining a fellowship, by his conscientious objection to signing the theological tests then required from masters of arts and fellows at Cambridge.
A career in his own university being closed against him, he entered Lincoln’s Inn; but had hardly done so when the establishment, in 1828, of the university of London, in Gower Street, afterwards known as University College, gave him an opportunity of continuing his mathematical pursuits. At the early age of twenty-two he gave his first lecture as professor of mathematics in the college which he served with the utmost zeal and success for a third of a century. His connexion with the college, indeed, was interrupted in 1831, when a disagreement with the governing body caused De Morgan and some other professors to resign their chairs simultaneously. When, in 1836, his successor was accidentally drowned, De Morgan was requested to resume the professorship.
In 1837 he married Sophia Elizabeth, daughter of William Frend, a Unitarian in faith, a mathematician and actuary in occupation, a notice of whose life, written by his son-in-law, will be found in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (vol. v.). They settled in Chelsea (30 Cheyne Row), where in later years Mrs De Morgan had a large circle of intellectual and artistic friends.
As a teacher of mathematics De Morgan was unrivalled. He gave instruction in the form of continuous lectures delivered extempore from brief notes. The most prolonged mathematical reasoning, and the most intricate formulae, were given with almost infallible accuracy from the resources of his extraordinary memory. De Morgan’s writings, however excellent, give little idea of the perspicuity and elegance of his viva voce expositions, which never failed to fix the attention of all who were worthy of hearing him. Many of his pupils have distinguished themselves, and, through Isaac Todhunter and E. J. Routh, he had an important influence on the later Cambridge school. For thirty years he took an active part in the business of the Royal Astronomical Society, editing its publications, supplying obituary notices of members, and for eighteen years acting as one of the honorary secretaries. He was also frequently employed as consulting actuary, a business in which his mathematical powers, combined with sound judgment and business-like habits, fitted him to take the highest place.
De Morgan’s mathematical writings contributed powerfully towards the progress of the science. His memoirs on the “Foundation of Algebra,” in the 7th and 8th volumes of the Cambridge Philosophical Transactions, contain some of the most important contributions which have been made to the philosophy of mathematical method; and Sir W. Rowan Hamilton, in the preface to his Lectures on Quaternions, refers more than once to those papers as having led and encouraged him in the working out of the new system of quaternions. The work on Trigonometry and Double Algebra (1849) contains in the latter part a most luminous and philosophical view of existing and possible systems of symbolic calculus. But De Morgan’s influence on mathematical science in England can only be estimated by a review of his long series of publications, which commence, in 1828, with a translation of part of Bourdon’s Elements of Algebra, prepared for his students. In 1830 appeared the first edition of his well-known Elements of Arithmetic, which did much to raise the character of elementary training. It is distinguished by a simple yet thoroughly philosophical treatment of the ideas of number and magnitude, as well as by the introduction of new abbreviated processes of computation, to which De Morgan always attributed much practical importance. Second and third editions were called for in 1832 and 1835; a sixth edition was issued in 1876. De Morgan’s other principal mathematical works were The Elements of Algebra (1835), a valuable but somewhat dry elementary treatise; the Essay on Probabilities (1838), forming the 107th volume of Lardner’s Cyclopaedia, which forms a valuable introduction to the subject; and The Elements of Trigonometry and Trigonometrical Analysis, preliminary to the Differential Calculus (1837). Several of his mathematical works were published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, of which De Morgan was at one time an active member. Among these may be mentioned the Treatise on the Differential and Integral Calculus (1842); the Elementary Illustrations of the Differential and Integral Calculus, first published in 1832, but often bound up with the larger treatise; the essay, On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1831); and a brief treatise on Spherical Trigonometry (1834). By some accident the work on probability in the same series, written by Sir J. W. Lubbock and J. Drinkwater-Bethune, was attributed to De Morgan, an error which seriously annoyed his nice sense of bibliographical accuracy. For fifteen years he did all in his power to correct the mistake, and finally wrote to The Times to disclaim the authorship. (See Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. xxvi. p. 118.) Two of his most elaborate treatises are to be found in the Encyclopaedia metropolitana, namely the articles on the Calculus of Functions, and the Theory of Probabilities. De Morgan’s minor mathematical writings were scattered over various periodicals. A list of these and other papers will be found in the Royal Society’s Catalogue, which contains forty-two entries under the name of De Morgan.
In spite, however, of the excellence and extent of his mathematical writings, it is probably as a logical reformer that De Morgan will be best remembered. In this respect he stands alongside of his great contemporaries Sir W. R. Hamilton and George Boole, as one of several independent discoverers of the all-important principle of the quantification of the predicate. Unlike most mathematicians, De Morgan always laid much stress upon the importance of logical training. In his admirable papers upon the modes of teaching arithmetic and geometry, originally published in the Quarterly Journal of Education (reprinted in The Schoolmaster, vol ii.), he remonstrated against the neglect of logical doctrine. In 1839 he produced a small work called First Notions of Logic, giving what he had found by experience to be much wanted by students commencing with Euclid. In October 1846 he completed the first of his investigations, in the form of a paper printed in the Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (vol. viii. No. 29). In this paper the principle of the quantified predicate was referred to, and there immediately ensued a memorable controversy with Sir W. R. Hamilton regarding the independence of De Morgan’s discovery, some communications having passed between them in the autumn of 1846. The details of this dispute will be found in the original pamphlets, in the Athenaeum and in the appendix to De Morgan’s Formal Logic. Suffice it to say that the independence of De Morgan’s discovery was subsequently recognized by Hamilton. The eight forms of proposition adopted by De Morgan as the basis of his system partially differ from those which Hamilton derived from the quantified predicate. The general character of De Morgan’s development of logical forms was wholly peculiar and original on his part.
Late in 1847 De Morgan published his principal logical treatise, called Formal Logic, or the Calculus of Inference, Necessary and Probable. This contains a reprint of the First Notions, an elaborate development of his doctrine of the syllogism, and of the numerical definite syllogism, together with chapters of great interest on probability, induction, old logical terms and fallacies. The severity of the treatise is relieved by characteristic touches of humour, and by quaint anecdotes and allusions furnished from his wide reading and perfect memory. There followed at intervals, in the years 1850, 1858, 1860 and 1863, a series of four elaborate memoirs on the “Syllogism,” printed in volumes ix. and x. of the Cambridge Philosophical Transactions. These papers taken together constitute a great treatise on logic, in which he substituted improved systems of notation, and developed a new logic of relations, and a new onymatic system of logical expression. In 1860 De Morgan endeavoured to render their contents better known by publishing a Syllabus of a Proposed System of Logic, from which may be obtained a good idea of his symbolic system, but the more readable and interesting discussions contained in the memoirs are of necessity omitted. The article “Logic” in the English Cyclopaedia (1860) completes the list of his logical publications.
Throughout his logical writings De Morgan was led by the idea that the followers of the two great branches of exact science, logic and mathematics, had made blunders,—the logicians in neglecting mathematics, and the mathematicians in neglecting logic. He endeavoured to reconcile them, and in the attempt showed how many errors an acute mathematician could detect in logical writings, and how large a field there was for discovery. But it may be doubted whether De Morgan’s own system, “horrent with mysterious spiculae,” as Hamilton aptly described it, is fitted to exhibit the real analogy between quantitative and qualitative reasoning, which is rather to be sought in the logical works of Boole.
Perhaps the largest part, in volume, of De Morgan’s writings remains still to be briefly mentioned; it consists of detached articles contributed to various periodical or composite works. During the years 1833-1843 he contributed very largely to the first edition of the Penny Cyclopaedia, writing chiefly on mathematics, astronomy, physics and biography. His articles of various length cannot be less in number than 850, and they have been estimated to constitute a sixth part of the whole Cyclopaedia, of which they formed perhaps the most valuable portion. He also wrote biographies of Sir Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley for Knight’s British Worthies, various notices of scientific men for the Gallery of Portraits, and for the uncompleted Biographical Dictionary of the Useful Knowledge Society, and at least seven articles in Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography. Some of De Morgan’s most interesting and useful minor writings are to be found in the Companions to the British Almanack, to which he contributed without fail one article each year from 1831 up to 1857 inclusive. In these carefully written papers he treats a great variety of topics relating to astronomy, chronology, decimal coinage, life assurance, bibliography and the history of science. Most of them are as valuable now as when written.
Among De Morgan’s miscellaneous writings may be mentioned his Explanation of the Gnomonic Projection of the Sphere, 1836, including a description of the maps of the stars, published by the Useful Knowledge Society; his Treatise on the Globes, Celestial and Terrestrial, 1845, and his remarkable Book of Almanacks (2nd edition, 1871), which contains a series of thirty-five almanacs, so arranged with indices of reference, that the almanac for any year, whether in old style or new, from any epoch, ancient or modern, up to A. D. 2000, may be found without difficulty, means being added for verifying the almanac and also for discovering the days of new and full moon from 2000 B. C. up to A. D. 2000. De Morgan expressly draws attention to the fact that the plan of this book was that of L. B. Francoeur and J. Ferguson, but the plan was developed by one who was an unrivalled master of all the intricacies of chronology. The two best tables of logarithms, the small five-figure tables of the Useful Knowledge Society (1839 and 1857), and Shroen’s Seven Figure-Table (5th ed., 1865), were printed under De Morgan’s superintendence. Several works edited by him will be found mentioned in the British Museum Catalogue. He made numerous anonymous contributions through a long series of years to the Athenaeum, and to Notes and Queries, and occasionally to The North British Review, Macmillan’s Magazine, &c.
Considerable labour was spent by De Morgan upon the subject of decimal coinage. He was a great advocate of the pound and mil scheme. His evidence on this subject was sought by the Royal Commission, and, besides constantly supporting the Decimal Association in periodical publications, he published several separate pamphlets on the subject.One marked characteristic of De Morgan was his intense and yet reasonable love of books. He was a true bibliophile and loved to surround himself, as far as his means allowed, with curious and rare books. He revelled in all the mysteries of watermarks, title-pages, colophons, catch-words and the like; yet he treated bibliography as an important science. As he himself wrote, “the most worthless book of a bygone day is a record worthy of preservation; like a telescopic star, its obscurity may render it unavailable for most purposes; but it serves, in hands which know how to use it, to determine the places of more important bodies.” His evidence before the Royal Commission on the British Museum in 1850 (Questions 5704*-5815,* 6481-6513, and 8966-8967), should be studied by all who would comprehend the principles of bibliography or the art of constructing a catalogue, his views on the latter subject corresponding with those carried out by Panizzi in the British Museum Catalogue. A sample of De Morgan’s bibliographical learning is to be found in his account of Arithmetical Books, from the Invention of Printing (1847), and finally in his Budget of Paradoxes. This latter work consists of articles most of which were originally published in the Athenaeum, describing the various attempts which have been made to invent a perpetual motion, to square the circle, or to trisect the angle; but De Morgan took the opportunity to include many curious bits gathered from his extensive reading, so that the Budget, as reprinted by his widow (1872), with much additional matter prepared by himself, forms a remarkable collection of scientific ana. De Morgan’s correspondence with contemporary scientific men was very extensive and full of interest. It remains unpublished, as does also a large mass of mathematical tracts which he prepared for the use of his students, treating all parts of mathematical science, and embodying some of the matter of his lectures. De Morgan’s library was purchased by Lord Overstone, and presented to the university of London.
In 1866 his life became clouded by the circumstances which led him to abandon the institution so long the scene of his labours. The refusal of the council to accept the recommendation of the senate, that they should appoint an eminent Unitarian minister to the professorship of logic and mental philosophy, revived all De Morgan’s sensitiveness on the subject of sectarian freedom; and, though his feelings were doubtless excessive, there is no doubt that gloom was thrown over his life, intensified in 1867 by the loss of his son George Campbell De Morgan, a young man of the highest scientific promise, whose name, as De Morgan expressly wished, will long be connected with the London Mathematical Society, of which he was one of the founders. From this time De Morgan rapidly fell into ill-health, previously almost unknown to him, dying on the 18th of March 1871. An interesting and truthful sketch of his life will be found in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society for the 9th of February 1872, vol. xxii. p. 112, written by A. C. Ranyard, who says, “He was the kindliest, as well as the most learned of men—benignant to every one who approached him, never forgetting the claims which weakness has on strength.”
De Morgan left no published indications of his opinions on religious questions, in regard to which he was extremely reticent. He seldom or never entered a place of worship, and declared that he could not listen to a sermon, a circumstance perhaps due to the extremely strict religious discipline under which he was brought up. Nevertheless there is reason to believe that he was of a deeply religious disposition. Like M. Faraday and Sir I. Newton he entertained a confident belief in Providence, founded not on any tenuous inference, but on personal feeling. His hope of a future life also was vivid to the last.
It is impossible to omit a reference to his witty sayings, some specimens of which are preserved in Dr Sadler’s most interesting Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson (1869), which also contains a humorous account of H. C. R. by De Morgan. It may be added that De Morgan was a great reader and admirer of Dickens; he was also fond of music, and a fair performer on the flute.
- (W. S. J.)
His son, William Frend De Morgan (b. 1839), first became known in artistic circles as a potter, the “De Morgan” tiles being remarkable for his rediscovery of the secret of some beautiful colours and glazes. But later in life he became even better known to the literary world by his novels, Joseph Vance (1906), Alice for Short (1907), Somehow Good (1908) and It Never Can Happen Again (1909), in which the influence of Dickens and of his own earlier family life were conspicuous.