Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stirling, James (1692-1770)

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STIRLING, JAMES (1692–1770), mathematician, commonly called ‘The Venetian,’ born at Garden, Stirlingshire, in 1692, was the third son of Archibald Stirling of Garden by his second wife, Anna, daughter of Sir Alexander Hamilton of Hoggs, near Linlithgow. Stirling was educated at Glasgow University and afterwards proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford, whence he matriculated on 18 Jan. 1710–11. In 1715, however, he was expelled from the university for corresponding with members of the Keir and Garden families who were noted Jacobites, and had been accessory to the ‘Gathering of the Brig of Turk’ in 1708. He made his way to Venice and employed himself in the study of mathematics. The vicinity of Padua gave him the opportunity of acquiring the friendship of Nicolas Bernoulli (1687–1759), who was mathematical professor in the university there. In 1717 he published ‘Lineæ Tertii Ordinis Newtonianæ’ (Oxford, 8vo), which was intended to supplement Newton's ‘Enumeratio Linearum Tertii Ordinis;’ it supplied four additional varieties to Newton's seventy-two forms of the cubic curve. In 1718 he communicated to the Royal Society, through Sir Isaac Newton, a paper entitled ‘Methodus Differentialis Newtoniana illustrata’ (Phil. Trans. xxx. 1050). Having discovered the trade secrets of the glass-makers of Venice, he returned home about 1725 from dread of assassination, and with the help of Sir Isaac Newton established himself in London. In December of the year following he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and remained a member until 1754. He lived for ten years in London, corresponding with various mathematicians and enjoying Newton's friendship and hospitality. During the greater part of the time he was connected with an academy in Little Tower Street (cf. a prospectus entitled ‘A Course of Mechanical and Experimental Philosophy,’ by Mr. James Stirling, F.R.S., &c., London, 1727). In 1730 he published his most important work, ‘Methodus Differentialis, sive Tractatus de Summatione et Interpolatione Serierum Infinitarum’ (London, 4to; new ed. 1764; translated into English in 1749, by Francis Holliday). In 1735 he was appointed manager to the Scots Mining Company at Leadhills in Lanarkshire, and proved extremely successful as a practical administrator, the condition of the mining company improving vastly owing to his method of employing labour to work the mines. In 1746 he was suggested as a candidate for the mathematical chair at Edinburgh University, vacant by the death of Colin Maclaurin [q. v.], but his Jacobite principles rendered his appointment impossible. At a later time he surveyed the Clyde with a view to rendering it navigable by a series of locks, thus taking the first step towards making Glasgow the commercial capital of Scotland. The citizens were not ungrateful, and in 1752 presented him with a silver tea-kettle ‘for his service, pains, and trouble.’ He died at Edinburgh on 5 Dec. 1770. By his wife, the daughter of Watson of Thirtyacres, near Stirling, he left one daughter, Christian, who married her cousin, Archibald Stirling of Garden.

Besides the works mentioned Stirling communicated to the Royal Society a paper ‘On the Figure of the Earth, and on the Variation of the Force of Gravity at its Surface’ in 1735, and in 1745 ‘A Description of a Machine to blow Fire by the Fall of Water’ (Phil. Trans. xxxix. 98, xliii. 315). He also left two volumes in manuscript of a treatise on weights and measures and a number of papers and letters, which are preserved at Garden.

[Fraser's Stirlings of Keir, 1858, p. 85, 91–102, 535; Encycl. Britannica, 9th ed. xxii. 555, 8th ed. i. 711, xviii. 617; Thomson's Hist. of Royal Soc. App. p. xxxvi; English Cycl. Biogr. v. 731; Gent. Mag. 1853, i. 590; Brewster's Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton, ii. 411, 516.]

E. I. C.