Wallace, William (1768-1843) (DNB00)

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WALLACE, WILLIAM (1768–1843), mathematician, son of a leather manufacturer in Dysart, Fifeshire, was born there on 23 Sept. 1768. On his father's removal to Edinburgh, William was apprenticed to a bookbinder, and afterwards became a warehouseman in a printing office. Here, by his own industry, he mastered Latin, French, and mathematics. After being for some time a bookseller's shopman, acting as a private teacher, and attending classes at the university, in 1794 he was appointed assistant mathematical teacher in Perth Academy. During this period he contributed to the ‘Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’ and the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica.’ In 1803 his patron, John Playfair [q. v.], advised him to apply for the office of mathematical master in the Royal Military College at Great Marlow. This post he obtained as the result of competitive examination. He also lectured on astronomy to the students.

In 1819 he succeeded (Sir) John Leslie [q. v.] as professor of mathematics in Edinburgh University, and occupied the chair till 1838, when he retired owing to ill-health, and was accorded a civil-list pension of 300l. a year. He received the degree of LL.D. from the university on 17 Nov. 1838. He died at Edinburgh on 28 April 1843. His portrait, by Andrew Geddes, is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

Wallace was mainly instrumental in the erection of the observatory on the Calton Hill, and of a monument to Napier, the inventor of logarithms.

Wallace was the inventor of the eidograph for copying plans and other drawings, and of the chorograph, for describing on paper any triangle having one side and all its angles given.

Besides many articles contributed to the ‘Transactions’ of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Cambridge Philosophical Society, to Leybourne's ‘Mathematical Repository,’ ‘Gentleman's Mathematical Companion,’ ‘Edinburgh Encyclopædia,’ and ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ Wallace wrote:

  1. ‘A New Book of Interest, containing Aliquot Tables, truly proportioned to any given rate,’ London, 1794, 8vo.
  2. ‘Geometrical Theorems and Analytical Formulæ,’ Edinburgh, 1839, 8vo.

[Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Transactions of Royal Astronomical Society, 9 Feb. 1844; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. v. 279, 6th ser. x. 155.]

G. S-h.