Maseres, Francis (DNB00)

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MASERES, FRANCIS (1731–1824), mathematician, historian, and reformer, born in London 15 Dec. 1731, was descended from a family originally French, which came over to England after the revocation of the edict of Nantes. His father, Peter Abraham Maseres, settled as a physician in Broad Street, Soho, London, and then moved to a house in Rathbone Place; his mother was Magdalene, daughter of Francis du Pratt du Clareau. He was educated at Kingston-upon-Thames by the Rev. Richard Wooddeson, who also trained George Hardinge, Edward Lovibond, George Steevens and Gilbert Wakefield, and on 4 July 1748 he was admitted at Clare College, Cambridge, as pensioner and pupil to Mr. Courtail, his brother, Peter Maseres, being also admitted on the same day. They graduated B.A. in 1752, Peter being first junior optime in the tripos of that year, while Francis obtained the distinction of fourth wrangler in the same list. On the institution in 1752 of chancellor's classical medals by the Duke of Newcastle, Francis won the first medal and received it from the duke in person. On 23 Jan. 1752 he was admitted a scholar of the foundation of Joseph Diggons, and on 24 Sept. 1756—after he had taken the degree of M.A. in 1755—he became a fellow of Lord Exeter's foundation. This fellowship he resigned in August 1759, although he might have kept it a year longer, and this step, as well as the length of time during which he had to wait for these prizes, no doubt arose from the fact that he was not in pecuniary need. In 1750 Maseres was admitted at the Inner Temple, and in 1758 he was called to the bar from that inn, where he afterwards became bencher 1774, reader 1781, and treasurer 1782. It is life was bound up with the Temple; he is introduced by Cnarles Lamb in his 'Essay on the Old Benchers of the Inner Temple' as walking 'in the costume of the reign of George the Second,' and he persevered until the end of his days in wearing the 'three-cornered hat, tye wig, and ruffles.' His rooms were at 5 King s Bench Walk, where he lived in a style described by Lamb in a letter written to Thomas Manning [q. v.] in April 1801, and although out of term he used to dine at his house in Rathbone Place, he always returned to the Temple to sleep. For a time he went the western circuit, but, as he confessed, with little success, and he then became a common pleader in the city of London. From 1766 to 1709 he filled the post of attorney-general of Quebec with such zeal and dignity that on his return to England he was requested by the prote6tant settlers in that city to act as their agent. Thomas Hutchinson called upon him in November 1774 and mentions that he had been appointed one of the judges for India, but that as somebody younger than himself was named before him, he refused the post,' though a most lucrative employ,' whereupon the lord chancellor obtained for him the place of cursitor baron of the exchequer, worth between 300/. and 400l. a year (Diary, i. 273). He filled this position from August 1773 until his death in 1824, a length of tenure without parallel in the records of the law, and he is said to have refused his consent to an augmentation of his salary. The recorder of London appointed him as his deputy on 16 Feb. 1779, but he resigned the post in 1783, and in 1780 the court of common council elected him senior judge of the sheriffs' court in the city of London, an office which he held until 1822. Maseres was a zealous protestant and whig and a warm advocate for reforms in the church of England, but he was not in favour of a wide scheme of electoral reform. He wore his wig and gown on a visit to Cobbett in Newgate, to show his abhorrence of the sentence which had been inflicted on the prisoner; and through sympathy with the sacrifice of position and profit by Theophilus Lindsey, he adopted in later life the principles of unitarianism, and suggested an important variation which was inserted in the Reformed Liturgy in 1793. Bentham designates him 'the public-spirited constitutionalist, and one of the most honest lawyers England ever saw;' and in another passage called him ' an honest fellow who resisted Lord Mansfield's projects for establishing despotism in Canada. There was a sort of simplicity about him which I once quizzed and then repented.' He inherited great wealth, partly from his father and partly from his bachelor brother, and he was very liberal with his money, especially in assisting the publications of others. It was his delight to entertain his friends in his rooms in London or in his country house at Reigate, and his conversation abounded in anecdote and information, particularly in the incidents of English history from 1040 to his own date. He kept up his taste for the classics. Homer he knew by heart, and Horace was at his fingers' ends. Lucan was his favourite next to Homer in ancient literature; among English writers he felt great admiration for Milton, and was thoroughly conversant with the works of Hobbes. He spoke French fluently, but it was the language in idiom and expression which his ancestors had brought over to England. A good chess-player, of such admirable sang-froid as never to exhibit any sign of victory or defeat, he combated Philidor, who was blindfolded, at the chess club in St. James's Street, and it was two hours before he was beaten. After a long and happy life he died at his house, Church Street, Reigate, on 19 May 1824, and his character was recorded in a Latin inscription on a monument placed in the church by the Rev. Robert Fellowes [q. v.] He left 30,000l. to his relatives the Whitakers, and the balance of his fortune to Fellowes. His library came by his will to the Inner Temple, and three of the manuscripts contained in it are described in the Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. pt. vii. v. 304; his unsold works in sheets passed to William Frend [q. v.] He endowed a Sunday-afternoon service at Reigate with funds producing 27l. 6s. per annum. He left nothing to his college, and there is a tradition that his original will included a legacy for it, but that, as he was never asked by its heads to sit for his portrait, he cancelled the bequest. An excellent portrait of him at the age of eighty-three was drawn by Charles Hayter in 1815 and engraved by Philip Audinet. He was elected F.R.S. on 2 May 1771.

Priestley wrote of Maseres that his works in mathematics are 'original and excellent' (Rutt, Life and Corresp. of Priestley, ii. 490). Frend and he set themselves against the rest of the world. They rejected negative quantities and 'made war of extermination on all that distinguishes algebra from arithmetic' (Wordsworth, Schola Acad. pp. 72, 141). Their leading idea seems to have been to calculate more decimal places than any one would want and to reprint the works of all who had done the same thing' (Astronom. Soc. Monthly Notices, v. 148). His mathematical treatises were:

  1. 'Dissertation on the use of the Negative Sign in Algebra,' 1768.
  2. 'Elements of Plane Trigonometry,' 1760.
  3. 'Scriptores Logarithmici,' a collection of tracts on logarithms, vol. i. 1791, ii. 1791, iii. 1796, iv. 1801, v. 1804, vi. 1807.
  4. 'Doctrine of Permutations and Combinations,' 1795.
  5. 'Appendix to Frend's Principles of Algebra,' 1798.
  6. 'Tracts on the Resolution of affected Algebraick Equations by Halley's, Raphson's, and Sir Isaac Newton's Methods of Approximation,' 1800.
  7. 'Tracts on the Resolution of Cubick and Biquadratick Equations,' n.d. [1803].
  8. 'Scriptores Optici,' 1823, a reprint, with the assistance of Babbage, of the writings of James Gregory and others.

Maseres, as intimately connected with North America, wrote:

  1. 'Considerations on the expediency of admitting Representatives from the American Colonies to the House of Commons,' 1770.
  2. 'Collection of Commissions and other Public Instruments relating to Quebec since 1760,' London, 1772.
  3. 'Mémoire à la Défense d'un Plan d'Acte de Parlement pour l'Etablissement des Loix de la Provence de Quebec,' 1773.
  4. 'Account of Proceedings of British and other Protestants of the Province of Quebec to establish a House of Assembly' (anon.), 1775.
  5. 'Additional Papers concerning Quebec, being an Appendix to the "Account of Proceedings,"' &c. (anon.), 1776.
  6. 'The Canadian Freeholder, a Dialogue shewing the sentiments of the bulk of the Freeholders on the late Quebeck Act,' 1776-9, 3 vols.; another issue 1779, 3 vols. A letter from Bishop Watson to him on this work is in the 'Anecdotes of the Life of Watson' (1817), pp. 64-5, and the draft of a long letter which Burke began for him on the same subject is in Burke's 'Correspondence,' ii. 310-12.

His other publications, mainly on social or political questions, were:

  1. 'Proposal for establishing Life Annuities in Parishes' (anon.), 1772.
  2. 'Considerations on the Bill now depending in the Commons for enabling Parishes to grant Life Annuities' (anon.), 1773. The bill passed through the lower house, but was rejected by the lords through the opposition of Lord Camden.
  3. 'Principle of Life Annuities explained in a Familiar Manner,' 1783. 'A voluminous work, useful at epoch of publication,' says McCulloch (Lit. of Political Economy. 243).
  4. 'Questions sur lesquelles on souhaite de 8cavoir les réponses de M. Adhémar et M. de Lisle,' 1784.
  5. 'Enquiry into the extent of the Power of Juries' (anon.), 1785.
  6. 'The Moderate Reformer, a Proposal to correct some Abuses in the Church of England. By a Friend to the Church,' 1791 ; 2nd edit., annexed to a reprint of 'Observations on Tithes by Rev. William Hales,' 1794.
  7. 'Occasional Essays, Political and Historical, from Newspapers of Present Reign and from Old Tracts' (anon.), 1809.

Maseres also issued:

  1. ' A View of the English Constitution. A translation of Montesquieu's 6th Chapter of 11th Book of "L'Esprit des Loix'" (anon.), 1781.
  2. 'Du Gouvernement des Mceurs et des conditions en France avant la Revolution, by Gabriel Senac de Meiihan, with Remarks of Burke,' 1795.
  3. 'Translation of a Passage in a late Pamphlet of Mallet du Pan, intitled "Correspondance Politique'" (anon.), 1796.

He edited a great number of reprints of historical works, many of which were for private distribution only, including:

  1. 'Emmae, Anglorum Reginae, Richardi I ducis Normannorum filiae encomium. Item Gesta Guilielmi II a Guillelmo Pictavensi scripta,' 1783.
  2. 'Historic Anglicanss seiecta Monumenta excerpta ex volumine, "Historic Normannorum Scriptores Antiqui," 'Andrea Duchesne,' 1807.
  3. 'Curse of Popery and Popish Princes,' 1807; issued originally in 1716.
  4. 'Historv of Long Parliament, by Thomas May,' 1812.
  5. Three tracts published at Amsterdam in 1691 or 1692 under name of Ludlow and Sir Edward Seymour, 1812.
  6. 'History of Irish Rebellion by Sir John Temple,'1813.
  7. 'Select Tracts on Civil Wars in Reign of Charles I,' 1815, 2 vols., containing (ii. 657-671) 'remarks on some erroneous passages in Hobbes's "Behemoth."'
  8. 'History of Britain by John Milton. With reprint of Edward Philips's Life and some of his Prose Tracts,' 1818.
  9. 'Memoirs of most Material Transactions in England, 1588-1688. By James Wellwood,' 1820.

Through the patronage of Maseres John Hellins [q. v.] was enabled to print in two volumes in 1801 a revision of Professor John Colson's translation of Margarita G. A. M. Agnesi's 'Institutione Analytiche,' and he paid the cost of reprinting the 'Analysis fluxionum,' 1800, of the Rev. William Hales. He contributed several papers on mathematical subjects to the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1777, 1778, and 1780, and communicated to the 'Archæologia,' ii. 301-340, a 'View of the Ancient Constitution of the English Parliament,' on which Mr. Charles Mellish made some observations (ib. ii. 341-52). T. B. Howell addressed to him 'Observations on Dr. Sturges's Pamphlet respecting Non-Residence of the Clergy' (anon.), 1802, and reissued, with his name, in 1803; and there appeared in 1784 'An Authentic Narrative of the Dissensions in the Royal Society, with the Speeches of Maseres and others.' His account of the proceedings for perjury against Philip Carteret Webbre Wilkes is in Howell's 'State Trials,' xix. 1171-6; several communications between him and Franklin are in Franklin's 'Works,' x. 187-94; and Lords Lansdowne and Dartmouth own some of his letters (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. pp. 232-3, 6th Rep. p. 240, 11th Rep. App. pt. v. p. 352).

[Gent. Mag. 1775 p. 98, 1779 p. 99, 1824 pt i. pp. 569-73 (reprinted in H. J. Morgan's Canadians, pp. 70-8 and Annual Biog. and Obituary, ix. 383-94). 1825 pt. ii. p. 207; Foss's Judges; Palgrave's Reigate, pp. 71, 175-7; Life of Gilbert Wakefield, i. 43; Agnew's Protestant Exiles, 3rd ed. ii. 326, 471-3; Smith's Cobbett, ii. 135; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, viii. 556-7; Cooke's Inner Temple Benchers, p. 81; Cobbett's Rural Rides, ed. 1853, pp. 277-83; Bentham's Works, x. 59, 183: Belsham's Lindsey, p. 433; information from the Rev. Dr. Atkinson, Clare College, Cambridge.]

W. P. C.