Jones, William (1675-1749) (DNB00)

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JONES, WILLIAM (1675–1749), mathematician, was born in 1675 in the parish of Llanfihangel, Anglesey, at the foot of Mount Bodavon. His father, a small farmer, was called John George. Receiving a good education, Jones showed a strong bias towards mathematics. Going to London he entered a merchant's counting-house, and in his service visited the West Indies. He afterwards taught mathematics on board a man-of-war and thus obtained the friendship of Lord Anson. In 1702 he was present at the capture of Vigo. On his return to London he established himself as a teacher of mathematics. In 1702 appeared his ‘New Compendium of the Whole Art of Navigation,’ which, besides showing the application of plane trigonometry to ‘Mercator's and middle latitude sailing,’ with several necessary astronomical problems, supplied practical rules of every kind for sea-going ships. Jones's next work, in 1706, attracted the notice of Sir Isaac Newton and Halley, with both of whom he remained on terms of friendship. It is called ‘Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos, or a New Introduction to the Mathematics;’ and though only a syllabus is really a masterly abstract of all that had been done in mathematical analysis. It shows the application of algebra to the resolution of equations, to infinite series, and to the preparation of logarithmic tables, and discusses conic sections, perspective, the laws of motion, and the theory of ‘gunnery.’ Jones was tutor in mathematics to Philip Yorke, afterwards lord Hardwicke; became his intimate friend; accompanied him, when chief justice, on the circuit; and by his influence was made ‘secretary for peace.’ He also taught Thomas Parker, afterwards earl of Macclesfield and lord chancellor, and his son, George Parker, afterwards second earl of Macclesfield and president of the Royal Society. For many years he lived at Shirburn Castle, Tetsworth, Oxfordshire, as a member of the Parker family. After holding a sinecure office with a salary of 200l., Jones was appointed deputy-teller to the exchequer on the recommendation of Macclesfield. With Newton's assent, Jones edited some important tracts by Newton on the higher mathematics under the title ‘Analysis per Quantitatum Series, Fluxiones ac Differentias cum Enumeratione Linearum Tertii Ordinis,’ London, 1711. In his Latin preface Jones gives notes of the earliest applications of Newton's method, no doubt with some reference to the contest with Leibnitz which was then preparing. Jones was one of the committee appointed (March 1711) by the Royal Society to decide who had invented the infinitesimal calculus [see Keill, John], and when their report had been presented he, with Machin and Dr. Halley, prepared the printed edition. Jones was admitted fellow of the Royal Society 30 Nov. 1712, and was afterwards elected vice-president. On 1 Sept. 1737 Oldys records that he visited Jones's ‘curious library and fine collection of shells, fossils, &c., at his house next the Salt Office in York Buildings’ (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xi. 121).

The principal papers of Jones printed in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ are: ‘On the Disposition of Equations for Exhibiting the Relations of Goniometrical Series,’ xliv. 560; on ‘Logarithms,’ lxi. 455; ‘Properties of the Conic Sections deduced by a Compendious Method,’ lxiii. 340. Baron Maseres in his ‘Scriptores Logarithmici,’ v. 549, &c., quotes a letter from the librarian of the Royal Society dated 13 Dec. 1770, which assigns the full discussion of ‘compound interest’ to Jones with the theorems and rules thence derived, which were afterwards inserted in the quarto edition of Gardiner's ‘Logarithms,’ published 1742.

Jones designed a large work on a scheme similar to his ‘Synopsis,’ which was to serve as an introduction to the Newtonian philosophy. The original specimen of the ‘Principia’ and several letters of Newton's exist among those papers of Jones which are in the Macclesfield collection at Shirburn. Jones had not written much of his projected book, however, before an affection of the heart set in, and he died in London 3 July 1749. Lord Macclesfield, to whom he bequeathed the project, did not carry it out. The manuscripts which Lord Macclesfield inherited from Jones contained many letters from scientific men. Two volumes of these were published under the title of ‘Correspondence of Scientific Men of the Seventeenth Century,’ and were edited by S. J. Rigaud (Oxford, 1841). Those addressed to Jones will be found in i. 256 sqq.; they include two letters from Reyneau and one from Maupertuis. Jones's papers are still at Shirburn. His library, which was then considered the most valuable in mathematical books to be found in England, was also bequeathed to Macclesfield. It was when living at Shirburn that he became acquainted with Maria, daughter of George Nix, a London cabinet-maker, and Chippendale's chief rival, whom he married. He left two sons, George, and William (afterwards Sir William) [q. v.], the oriental scholar, and a daughter, Mary.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 463; Hutton's Phil. and Math. Dict.; Lord Teignmouth's Life of Sir William Jones; Brewster's Life of Sir I. Newton, i. 226, ii. 421.]

R. E. A.