Colson, John (DNB00)

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COLSON, JOHN (1680–1760), Lucasian professor at Cambridge, was son of Francis Colson of Lichfield, vicar-choral of the cathedral and nephew of John Strype, the ecclesiastical historian. He was educated at Lichfield grammar school and at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculating 26 May 1699), which he left without taking a degree. He was appointed master of the new mathematical school founded at Rochester by Sir Joseph Williamson. There he had a good house, with a salary of 100l. per annum. In 1713 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society (Thomson, List of Fellows of the Royal Soc., p. xxxiii). He was instituted on 10 Sept. 724 to the vicarage of Chalk, near Gravesend (Hasted, Kent, i. 521, fol.)

Cole, the antiquary, who was personally acquainted with him, says : 'I do not know that he was regularly of either university originally. He was a very worthy, honest man; an old bachelor when he was first brought to Cambridge through the interest of Dr. Smith, master of Trinity College, when he had chambers in Sidney College, and read lectures there in the mathematics. He was an humourist and peevish, and afterwards removed to an house in Jesus Lane, where a sister lived with him very uncomfortably, as their tempers did not suit. Before he came to Cambridge he had translated for the booksellers, and he, with Mr. Samuel D'Oyly of Trinity College, fellow and A.M., and vicar of St. Nicholas in Rochester, translated in conjunction. His niece married Alderman Newling, junior, of Cambridge' (Athenæ Cantab. C. 200). Afterwards he became a member of Emmanuel College, and took the degree of M.A. (comitiis regiis) in 1728 (Cantabrigienses Graduati, ed. 1787, p. 92). Colson was appointed Lucasian professor of mathematics in May 1739 in succession to Dr. Nicholas Saunderson (Graduati Cantab, ed. 1846, p. 483; Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 467). Referring to this appointment Cole remarks that 'he was a plain, honest man, of great industry and assiduity, but the university was much disappointed in its expectations of a professor that was to give credit to it by his lectures. He was opposed by old Mr. De Moivre, who was brought down to Cambridge and created M.A. when he was almost as much fit for his coffin; he was a mere skeleton, nothing but skin and bone.' In 1737 Gilbert Walmsley, registrar of Lichfield, wrote to Colson, then at Rochester, recommending Samuel Johnson and David Garrick to his care and encouragement; and Garrick subsequently placed himself under Colson's tuition (Davies, Life of Garrick, ed. 1780, i. 9-15). At the time of his death at Cambridge, 20 Jan. 1760, Colson was rector of Lockington, Yorkshire (Gent. Mag. xxx. 102; London Mag., 1760, p. 108).

His works are : 1. 'Account of Negative-Affirmative Arithmetic,' 1726; in 'Philosophical Transactions Abridged,' vii. 163. 2. Translation (conjointly with the Rev. Samuel D'Oyly) of Father Calmet's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' 3 vols. fol. Lond., 1732. 3. 'The Universal Resolution of Cubic and Biquadratic Equations, as well Analytical as Geometrical and Mechanical,' 1707; in 'Philosophical Transactions Abridged,' v. 334, also printed in Latin with Sir Isaac Newton's 'Arithmetica Universalis,' Leyden, 1732, 4to, p. 258. 4. Sir Isaac Newton's 'Method of Fluxions; translated from the author's Latin original not yet made publick. To which is subjoin'd a Perpetual Comment upon the whole work,' &c., Lond. 1736 and 1737, 4to. 5. 'The Construction and Use of the Spherical Maps,' 1736; in 'Philosophical Transactions Abridged,' viii. 61. 6. 'Dr. Saunderson's Palpable Arithmetic Decypher'd.' Prefixed to the first volume of Saunderson's 'Elements of Algebra,' Cambridge, 1740, 4to. In this curious essay Colson describes the ingenious method by which his predecessor in the Lucasian professorship was able, notwithstanding the loss of his sight, to make long and intricate calculations, both arithmetical and algebraical. 7. 'Lectures in Experimental Philosophy,' translated from the French of the Abbe Nollet, Lond., 1752, 8vo. 8. 'The Plan of the Lady's System of Analytics; 'manuscript in Cambridge University Library, Ee. 2, 36. 9. A translation of 'Analytical Institutions, originally written in Italian by Donna Maria Gaetani Agnesi, professor of the mathematicks and philosophy in the university of Bologna,' 2 vols. Lond. 1801, 4to. Colson when at an advanced age learnt Italian in order that he might make this translation, which was published from his manuscript at the expense of Baron Maseres under the inspection of John Hellins, B.D., F.R.S., vicar of Potterspury, Northamptonshire.

[Authorities p.ited above; MS. Rawl. G. fol. 20, in Bodleian Lib.; also Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.]

T. C.