Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simpson, Thomas (1710-1761)

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SIMPSON, THOMAS (1710–1761), mathematician, born on 20 Aug. 1710 at Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, was the son of a weaver. Thomas early evinced an aptitude for study, but, being discouraged by his father, left home and lodged at Nuneaton at the house of a widow named Swinfield, whom he married about 1730. His attention was turned to celestial phenomena by the solar eclipse of 11 May 1724, and the skill he soon acquired in astrology won him the sobriquet of ‘the oracle of Nuneaton, Bosworth, and the environs.’ A report that he had frightened a girl into fits by ‘raising the devil’ compelled him to flee to Derby. In 1735 or 1736 he came to London and worked as a weaver at Spitalfields, teaching mathematics in his spare time. In 1737, with the sole assistance of Edmund Stone's translation of de L'Hôpital's ‘Analyse des infiniement petits,’ Simpson wrote ‘A new Treatise on Fluxions’ (London, 4to, published by subscription), which, although it contained many obscurities and defects due to the author's defective training, was nevertheless a notable contribution to the literature of the subject. He afterwards rewrote the treatise and published it in 1750 under the title, ‘The Doctrine and Application of Fluxions’ (London, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1776).

Other mathematical publications followed and enhanced his reputation, and soon after 1740 he was chosen a member of the Royal Academy of Stockholm. On 25 Aug. 1743, through the interest of William Jones (1675–1749) [q. v.], he was appointed professor of mathematics at the Royal Academy at Woolwich, and on 5 Dec. 1745 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. From 1745 he had been a constant contributor to the magazine called ‘The Ladies' Diary,’ and of it he acted as editor from 1754 to 1760. His health broke down under domestic trials, and he died at Market Bosworth on 14 May 1761. He was buried at Sutton Cheynell in Leicestershire, and a tablet erected on his grave in 1790 by John Throsby [q. v.] He left a son Thomas, afterwards captain in the royal artillery, and a daughter. Mrs. Simpson received a pension from the crown after her husband's death, and died on 14 Dec. 1782, aged 102.

Besides the work mentioned, Simpson was the author of: 1. ‘The Nature and Laws of Chance,’ London, 1740, 4to. 2. ‘Essays on several Subjects in Speculative and Mixed Mathematics,’ London, 1740, 4to, which included a solution of Kepler's problem. 3. ‘The Doctrine of Annuities and Reversions,’ London, 1742, 8vo; new ed. 1791. 4. ‘Mathematical Dissertations on a Variety of Physical and Analytical Subjects,’ London, 1743, 4to. 5. ‘A Treatise of Algebra,’ London, 1745, 8vo; American ed. from 8th London ed., Philadelphia, 1809, 8vo. 6. ‘Elements of Geometry,’ London, 1747, 8vo; 5th ed. 1800. 7. ‘Trigonometry, Plane and Spherical,’ London, 1748, 8vo; 3rd ed. 1779. 8. ‘Select Exercises in Mathematics,’ London, 1752, 8vo; new ed. by J. H. Hearding, 1810. 9. ‘Miscellaneous Tracts on some curious Subjects in Mechanics, Physical Astronomy, and Speculative Mathematics,’ London, 1757, 4to. He also contributed several papers to the ‘Transactions’ of the Royal Society, most of which have been republished. He left an unfinished treatise on the construction of bridges, which he himself rated very highly. It was given to Major Henry Watson of the East India Company's service, on promise of publication, and by him taken to India, where it disappeared.

[Memoir by Charles Hutton [q. v.], prefixed to Select Exercises, ed. 1792; Encyclopædia Britannica, 8th ed. i. 694, iii. 221, xii. 397, xv. 632, xviii. 591, xx. 140, 298, 9th ed. xxii. 87; English Cyclopædia, Biography, v. 517; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. 1816; Georgian Era, iii. 156; Gorton's Biogr. Dict.; Nichols's Hist. and Antiq. of Leicestershire, iv. 510, 545; Hutton's Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary, 1815; Throsby's Excursions in Leicestershire, 1790, pp. 308–10.]

E. I. C.