Facts, Figures, and Fancies/The Offer of the Clarendon Trustees

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Facts, Figures, and Fancies  (1874)  by Lewis Carroll
The Offer of the Clarendon Trustees

Letter from Mr. Gladstone to the Vice-Chancellor.

Dear Mr. Vice-Chancellor,

The Clarendon Trustees...... are ready, in concert with the University, to consider of the best mode of applying the funds belonging to them for "adding to the New Museum Physical Laboratories and other accommodation requisite for the department of Experimental Philosophy."


I have the honour to remain,

Dear Mr. Vice-Chancellor,

Very faithfully yours.

May 3, 1867.W. E. Gladstone.

The following passages are quoted from a paper which appeared on the subject.

"As Members of Convocation are called upon to consider the offer of the Clarendon Trustees, to employ the funds at their disposal in the erection of additional buildings to facilitate the study of Physics, they may perhaps find it useful to have a short statement of the circumstances which render additional buildings necessary, and of the nature of the accommodation required."


"Again, it is often impossible to carry on accurate Physical experiments in close contiguity to one another, owing to their mutual interference; and consequently different processes need different rooms, in which these delicate instruments, which are always required in a particular branch of science, have to be carefully and permanently fixed."


"It may be sufficient, in order to give an idea of the number of rooms required, to enumerate the chief branches of Physics which require special accommodation, owing to their mutual interference.

(1) Weighing and measuring.
(2) Heat.
(3) Radiant Heat.
(4) Dispersion of Light. Spectrum Analysis, &c.
(5) General optics.
(6) Statical electricity.
(7) Dynamical electricity.
(8) Magnetism.
(9) Acoustics.

Of these, (5) requires one large room or three smaller rooms, and these, together with those devoted to (3) and (4), should have a south aspect. Besides the fixed instruments, there is a large quantity of moveable apparatus, which is either used with them or employed in illustrating lectures; and this must be carefully preserved from causes of deterioration when not in use; for this purpose a large room fitted with glass cases is required. A store-room for chemicals and other materials used is also necessary."


"As Photography is now very much employed in multiplying results of observation, in constructing diagrams for lectures, &c., and as it is in fact a branch of Physics, a small Photographic room is necessary, both for general use and for studying the subject itself."






Dear Senior Censor,

In a desultory conversation on a point connected with the dinner at our high table, you incidentally remarked to me that lobster-sauce, 'though a necessary adjunct to turbot, was not entirely wholesome.'

It is entirely unwholesome. I never ask for it without reluctance: I never take a second spoonful without a feeling of apprehension on the subject of possible night-mare[1]. This naturally brings me to the subject of Mathematics, and of the accommodation provided by the University for carrying on the calculations necessary in that important branch of Science.

As Members of Convocation are called upon (whether personally, or, as is less exasperating, by letter) to consider the offer of the Clarendon Trustees, as well as every other subject of human, or inhuman, interest, capable of consideration, it has occurred to me to suggest for your consideration how desirable roofed buildings are for carrying on mathematical calculations: in fact, the variable character of the weather in Oxford renders it highly inexpedient to attempt much occupation, of a sedentary nature, in the open air.

Again, it is often impossible for students to carry on accurate mathematical calculations in close contiguity to one another, owing to their mutual interference, and a tendency to general conversation: consequently these processes require different rooms in which irrepressible conversationists, who are found to occur in every branch of Society, might be carefully and permanently fixed.

It may be sufficient for the present to enumerate the following requisites: others might be added as funds permitted.

A. A very large room for calculating Greatest Common Measure. To this a small one might be attached for Least Common Multiple: this, however, might be dispensed with.

B. A piece of open ground for keeping Roots and practising their extraction: it would be advisable to keep Square Roots by themselves, as their corners are apt to damage others.

C. A room for reducing Fractions to their Lowest Terms. This should be provided with a cellar for keeping the Lowest Terms when found, which might also be available to the general body of Undergraduates, for the purpose of 'keeping Terms.'

D. A large room, which might be darkened, and fitted up with a magic lantern, for the purpose of exhibiting Circulating Decimals in the act of circulation. This might also contain cupboards, fitted wuth glass-doors, for keeping the various Scales of Notation.

E. A narrow strip of ground, railed off and carefully levelled, for investigating the properties of Asymptotes, and testing practically whether Parallel Lines meet or not: for this purpose it should reach, to use the expressive language of Euclid, 'ever so far.'

This last process, of 'continually producing the Lines,' may require centuries or more: but such a period, though long in the life of an individual, is as nothing in the life of the University.

As Photography is now very much employed in recording human expressions, and might possibly be adapted to Algebraical Expressions, a small photographic room would be desirable, both for general use and for representing the various phenomena of Gravity, Disturbance of Equilibrium, Resolution, &c., which affect the features during severe mathematical operations.

May I trust that you will give your immediate attention to this most important subject?

Believe me,

Sincerely yours,


Feb. 6, 1868.

  1. See page 10, Notes 1, 2.