Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/310

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
248
[Ch. X.
A Short History of Astronomy

expressed in such a way as to be capable of being interpreted in terms of the original problem, whereas in the analytical treatment the problem is first expressed by means of algebraical symbols; these symbols are manipulated according to certain purely formal rules, no regard being paid to the interpretation of the intermediate steps, and the final algebraical result, if it can be obtained, yields on interpretation the solution of the original problem. The geometrical solution of a problem, if it can be obtained, is frequently shorter, clearer, and more elegant; but, on the other hand, each special problem has to be considered separately, whereas the analytical solution can be conducted to a great extent according to fixed rules applicable in a larger number of cases. In Newton's time modern analysis was only just coming into being, some of the most important parts of it being in fact the creation of Leibniz and himself, and although he sometimes used analysis to solve an astronomical problem, it was his practice to translate the result into geometrical language before publication; in doing so he was probably influenced to a large extent by a personal preference for the elegance of geometrical proofs, partly also by an unwillingness to increase the numerous difficulties contained in the Principia, by using mathematical methods which were comparatively unfamiliar. But though in the hands of a master like Newton geometrical methods were capable of producing astonishing results, the lesser men who followed him were scarcely ever capable of using his methods to obtain results beyond those which he himself had reached. Excessive reverence for Newton and all his ways, combined with the estrangement which long subsisted between British and foreign mathematicians, as the result of the fluxional controversy (chapter ix., § 191), prevented the former from using the analytical methods which were being rapidly perfected by Leibniz's pupils and other Continental mathematicians. Our mathematicians remained, therefore, almost isolated during the whole of the 18th century, and with the exception of some admirable work by Colin Maclaurin (1698–1746), which carried Newton's theory of the figure of the earth a stage further, nothing of importance was done in our country for nearly a century after Newton's death to develop the theory of