Buxton, Jedidiah (DNB00)

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BUXTON, JEDIDIAH (1707–1772), an untaught arithmetical genius, was born at Elmton, Derbyshire, on 20 March 1707. His grandfather was vicar of Elmton, and his father schoolmaster of the same parish. Notwithstanding his father's profession, Jedidiah never learned to write, and continued throughout his life to be employed as a farm-labourer. His inability to acquire the rudiments of education seems to have been caused by his absorbing passion for mental calculations, which occupied his mind to the exclusion of all other objects of attention, and in which he attained a degree of skill that made him the wonder of the neighbourhood. He was first brought into more general notice by a letter in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for February 1751, signed G. Saxe (probably a pseudonym), which was shortly followed by two further communications from a Mr. Holliday, of Haughton Park, Nottinghamshire, who seems to have been the writer of the first letter. Among the many examples of Buxton's arithmetical feats which are given in these letters may be mentioned his calculation of the product of a farthing doubled 139 times. The result, expressed in pounds, extends to thirty-nine figures, and is correct so far as it can be readily verified by the use of logarithms. Buxton afterwards multiplied this enormous number by itself. It appears that he had invented an original nomenclature for large numbers, a ‘tribe’ being the cube of a million, and a ‘cramp’ (if Mr. Holliday's statement can be trusted) a thousand ‘tribes of tribes.’ In the spring of 1754 he walked to London, where he was entertained by ‘Sylvanus Urban’ at St. John's Gate. He was introduced to the Royal Society, before whom he gave some illustrations of his calculating powers. He was also taken to see Garrick in ‘Richard III,’ but paid no attention to the performance except to count the words spoken by the actors. In the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for June 1754 is a memoir of Buxton, accompanied by a portrait. His age is there given as forty-nine, which does not agree with the date of his birth as above stated on the authority of Lysons's ‘Magna Britannia.’ After spending some weeks in London he returned contentedly to his native village, where he was buried on 5 March 1772.

[Gent. Mag. xxi. 61, 347, xxiii. 557, xxiv. 251; Lysons's Magna Britannia, v. (Derbyshire), 157.]

H. B.