Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stone, Edmund

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STONE, EDMUND (d. 1768), mathematician, was the son of a gardener in the employ of John Campbell, second duke of Argyll [q. v.], at Inverary. In a letter by Andrew Michael Ramsay [q. v.] in the ‘Mémoires de Trévoux’ for 1736, it is stated that Stone was eighteen years old before he learned to read, but that afterwards he made extraordinary progress. The Duke of Argyll, one day seeing a copy of Newton's ‘Principia’ lying upon the grass, supposed it be his own and directed it to be carried to the library. It was, however, claimed by Stone, and a conversation ensued in which the duke learned to his surprise that the young man without teachers had acquired a considerable knowledge of mathematics, besides having mastered the rudiments of the Latin and French languages. The duke, delighted by his ability and knowledge, placed him in a position which afforded him opportunity to pursue his studies.

In 1723 Stone published a work on ‘The Construction and Principal Uses of Mathematical Instruments, translated from the French of M. [Nicolas] Bion, to which are added such instruments as are omitted by Bion, particularly those invented or improved by the English’ (London, fol. 2nd edit. with supplement, 1758), and a translation of de L'Hôpital's ‘Traité Analytique des Sections Coniques’ (1720), entitled ‘An Analytick Treatise of Conic Sections’ (London, 4to). On 22 April 1725 he was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society (Thomson, Hist. of Royal Soc. App. p. xxxvi), and in the same year he published ‘A New Mathematical Dictionary’ (London, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1743). In 1730 he issued a treatise on ‘The Method of Fluxions, both direct and inverse, the former being a translation from … de l'Hôpital's “Analyse des Infinement [sic] petits,” and the latter supply'd by the translator, E. Stone’ (London, 8vo). The latter part, on the integral calculus, was translated into French in 1735 by ‘M. Rondet, Maître de Mathématiques.’ In 1736 Stone communicated to the Royal Society ‘concerning two species of lines of the third order not mentioned by Sir Isaac Newton nor Mr. Sterling’ [see Stirling, James] (Phil. Trans. xli. 318). These two forms complete the seventy-eight different varieties of cubic curves. They had, however, already been discovered—one by Nicole in 1731, and the other by Nicolas Bernoulli about the same time. Stone seems to have suffered by the death of his patron, the second Duke of Argyll, on 4 Oct. 1743, for about that time he withdrew from the Royal Society, and the latter part of his life was spent in poverty. In 1760 a writer in the ‘Critical Review’ describes him as ‘living at an advanced age, unrewarded, except by a mean employment that reflects dishonour on the donors.’ He died in 1768. If his last work, ‘Some Reflections on the Uncertainty of many Astronomical and Geographical Positions’ (London, 1766, 8vo), were intended to be more than an extravaganza, it is a proof that his mind was failing. It consists of a series of propositions attacking the accuracy of the conclusions of astronomers concerning the shape of the earth and other matters of a similar kind.

Besides the works mentioned, Stone was the author of: 1. ‘An Essay on Perspective,’ London, 1724, 8vo, translated from the French of Willem Jacob Storm van Gravesande. 2. ‘Geometrical Lectures,’ London, 1735, 8vo, translated from the Latin of Isaac Barrow [q. v.] 3. ‘The Whole Doctrine of Parallaxes,’ London, 1763, 8vo. He also published two editions of ‘Euclid’ in 1728 and 1752, and revised ‘A New Treatise of the Construction and Use of the Sector by Samuel Cunn,’ London, 1729, 8vo.

[Encycl. Britannica, 8th edit. xx. 708; English Cyclopædia Biogr. v. 739; Georgian Era, i. 834, iii. 131; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. 1816; Rondet's Discours Preliminaire to his translation of Stone's treatise on Fluxions, 1735; Hutton's Phil. and Math. Dict. 1815.]

E. I. C.