The Full Wiki

Isaac Barrow: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Isaac Barrow

Isaac Barrow (1630-1677)
Born October 1630
London, England
Died 4 May 1677 (aged 46)
London, England
Nationality English
Fields Mathematics
Institutions University of Cambridge
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Academic advisors James Duport
Notable students Isaac Newton
Known for Fundamental theorem of calculus, Optics
Influences Gilles Personne de Roberval
Vincenzio Viviani
His mentor was James Duport who was a classicist, but Barrow really learned his mathematics by working under Gilles Personne de Roberval in Paris and Vincenzio Viviani in Florence.

Isaac Barrow (October 1630 – 4 May 1677) was an English scholar and mathematician who is generally given credit for his early role in the development of calculus; in particular, for the discovery of the fundamental theorem of calculus. His work centered on the properties of the tangent; Barrow was the first to calculate the tangents of the kappa curve. Isaac Newton was a student of Barrow's, and Newton went on to develop calculus in a modern form. The lunar crater Barrow is named after him.



Barrow was born in London. He went to school first at Charterhouse (where he was so turbulent and pugnacious that his father was heard to pray that if it pleased God to take any of his children he could best spare Isaac), and subsequently to Felsted School, where he settled and learned under the brilliant Puritan Headmaster Martin Holbeach who ten years previously had educated John Wallis.[1] He completed his education at Trinity College, Cambridge; his uncle and namesake, afterwards Bishop of St Asaph, was a Fellow of Peterhouse. He took to hard study, distinguishing himself in classics and mathematics; after taking his degree in 1648, he was elected to a fellowship in 1649.[2] Barrow received an MA from Cambridge in 1652 as a student of James Duport; he then resided for a few years in college, and became candidate for the Greek Professorship at Cambridge, but in 1655 he was driven out by the persecution of the Independents. He spent the next four years travelling across France, Italy and even Constantinople, and after many adventures returned to England in 1659.

He is described as "low in stature, lean, and of a pale complexion," slovenly in his dress, and an inveterate smoker. He was noted for his strength and courage, and once when travelling in the East he saved the ship by his own prowess from capture by pirates. A ready and caustic wit made him a favourite of Charles II, and induced the courtiers to respect even if they did not appreciate him. He wrote with a sustained and somewhat stately eloquence, and with his blameless life and scrupulous conscientiousness was an impressive personage of the time.



In 1660, he was ordained and appointed to the Regius Professorship of Greek at Cambridge. In 1662 he was made professor of geometry at Gresham College, and in 1663 was selected as the first occupier of the Lucasian chair at Cambridge. During his tenure of this chair he published two mathematical works of great learning and elegance, the first on geometry and the second on optics. In 1669 he resigned his professorship in favour of Isaac Newton.[3] About this time, Barrow composed his Expositions of the Creed, The Lord's Prayer, Decalogue, and Sacraments. For the remainder of his life he devoted himself to the study of divinity. He was made a D.D. by royal mandate in 1670, and two years later Master of Trinity College (1672), where he founded the library, and held the post until his death.

Besides the works above mentioned, he wrote other important treatises on mathematics, but in literature his place is chiefly supported by his sermons, which are masterpieces of argumentative eloquence, while his treatise on the Pope's Supremacy is regarded as one of the most perfect specimens of controversy in existence. Barrow's character as a man was in all respects worthy of his great talents, though he had a strong vein of eccentricity. He died unmarried in London at the early age of 47, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Statue of Isaac Barrow in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge

His earliest work was a complete edition of the Elements of Euclid, which he issued in Latin in 1655, and in English in 1660; in 1657 he published an edition of the Data. His lectures, delivered in 1664, 1665, and 1666, were published in 1683 under the title Lectiones Mathematicae; these are mostly on the metaphysical basis for mathematical truths. His lectures for 1667 were published in the same year, and suggest the analysis by which Archimedes was led to his chief results. In 1669 he issued his Lectiones Opticae et Geometricae. It is said in the preface that Newton revised and corrected these lectures, adding matter of his own, but it seems probable from Newton's remarks in the fluxional controversy that the additions were confined to the parts which dealt with optics. This, which is his most important work in mathematics, was republished with a few minor alterations in 1674. In 1675 he published an edition with numerous comments of the first four books of the On Conic Sections of Apollonius of Perga, and of the extant works of Archimedes and Theodosius of Bithynia.

In the optical lectures many problems connected with the reflection and refraction of light are treated with ingenuity. The geometrical focus of a point seen by reflection or refraction is defined; and it is explained that the image of an object is the locus of the geometrical foci of every point on it. Barrow also worked out a few of the easier properties of thin lenses, and considerably simplified the Cartesian explanation of the rainbow.

Calculating tangents

The geometrical lectures contain some new ways of determining the areas and tangents of curves. The most celebrated of these is the method given for the determination of tangents to curves, and this is sufficiently important to require a detailed notice, because it illustrates the way in which Barrow, Hudde and Sluze were working on the lines suggested by Fermat towards the methods of the differential calculus.

Fermat had observed that the tangent at a point P on a curve was determined if one other point besides P on it were known; hence, if the length of the subtangent MT could be found (thus determining the point T), then the line TP would be the required tangent. Now Barrow remarked that if the abscissa and ordinate at a point Q adjacent to P were drawn, he got a small triangle PQR (which he called the differential triangle, because its sides PR and PQ were the differences of the abscissae and ordinates of P and Q), so that

TM : MP = QR : RP.

To find QR : RP he supposed that x, y were the co-ordinates of P, and x - e, y - a those of Q (Barrow actually used p for x and m for y, but this article uses the standard modern notation). Substituting the co-ordinates of Q in the equation of the curve, and neglecting the squares and higher powers of e and a as compared with their first powers, he obtained e : a. The ratio a/e was subsequently (in accordance with a suggestion made by Sluze) termed the angular coefficient of the tangent at the point.

Barrow applied this method to the curves

  1. x² (x² + y²) = r²y²;
  2. x³ + y³ = r³;
  3. x³ + y³ = rxy, called la galande;
  4. y = (r - x) tan πx/2r, the quadratrix; and
  5. y = r tan πx/2r.

It will be sufficient here to take as an illustration the simpler case of the parabola y² = px. Using the notation given above, we have for the point P, y² = px; and for the point Q:

(y - a)² = p(x - e).

Subtracting we get

2ay - a² = pe.

But, if a be an infinitesimal quantity, a² must be infinitely smaller and therefore may be neglected when compared with the quantities 2ay and pe. Hence

2ay = pe, that is, e : a = 2y : p.


TM : y = e : a = 2y : p.


TM = 2y²/p = 2x.

This is exactly the procedure of the differential calculus, except that there we have a rule by which we can get the ratio a/e or dy/dx directly without the labour of going through a calculation similar to the above for every separate case.

See also


  1. ^ M R Craze A History of Felsted School, 1564-1947 Cowell 1955
  2. ^ Barrow, Isaac in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  3. ^ For a summary of the Barrow-Newton relationship, see Gjersten, Derek (1986). The Newton Handbook. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 54 – 55.  

Further reading

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
John Pearson
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
John North

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ISAAC BARROW (1630-1677), English mathematician and divine, was the son of Thomas Barrow, a linen-draper in London, belonging to an old Suffolk and Cambridgeshire family. His uncle was Bishop Isaac Barrow of St Asaph (1614-1680). He was at first placed for two or three years at the Charterhouse school. There, however, his conduct gave but little hopes of his ever succeeding as a scholar. But after his removal from this establishment to Felsted school in Essex, where Martin Holbeach was master, his disposition took a happier turn; and having soon made considerable progress in learning, he was in 1643 entered at St Peter's College, and afterwards at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he applied himself to the study of literature and science, especially of natural philosophy. He at first intended to adopt the medical profession, and made some progress in anatomy, botany and chemistry, after which he studied chronology, geometry and astronomy. He then travelled in France and Italy, and in a voyage from Leghorn to Smyrna gave proofs of great personal bravery during an attack made by an Algerine pirate. At Smyrna he met with a kind reception from the English consul, Mr Bretton, upon whose death he afterwards wrote a Latin elegy. From this place he proceeded to Constantinople, where he received similar civilities from Sir Thomas Bendish, the English ambassador, and Sir Jonathan Dawes, with whom he afterwards contracted an intimate friendship. While at Constantinople he read and studied the works of St Chrysostom, whom he preferred to all the other Fathers. He resided in Turkey somewhat more than a year, after which he proceeded to Venice, and thence returned home through Germany and Holland in 1659.

Immediately on his reaching England he received ordination from Bishop Brownrig, and in 1660 he was appointed to the Greek professorship at Cambridge. When he entered upon this office he intended to have prelected upon the tragedies of Sophocles; but he altered his intention and made choice of Aristotle's rhetoric. His lectures on this subject, having been lent to a friend who never returned them, are irrecoverably lost. In July 1662 he was elected professor of geometry in Gresham College, on the recommendation of Dr John Wilkins, master of Trinity College and afterwards bishop of Chester; and in May 1663 he was chosen a fellow of the Royal Society, at the first election made by the council after obtaining their charter. The same year the executors of Henry Lucas, who, according to the terms of his will, had founded a mathematical chair at Cambridge, fixed upon Barrow as the first professor; and although his two professorships were not inconsistent with each other, he chose to resign that of Gresham College, which he did on the 20th of May 1664. In 1669 he resigned his mathematical chair to his pupil, Isaac Newton, having now determined to renounce the study of mathematics for that of divinity. Upon quitting his professorship Barrow was only a fellow of Trinity College; but his uncle gave him a small sinecure in Wtles, and Dr Seth Ward, bishop of Salisbury, conferred upon him a prebend in that church. In the year 1570 he was created doctor in divinity by mandate; and, upon the promotion of Dr Pearson to the see of Chester, he was appointed to succeed him as master of Trinity College by the king's patent, bearing the date of the 13th of February 1672. In 1675 Dr Barrow was chosen vice-chancellor of the university. He died on the 4th of May 1677, and was interred in Westminster Abbey, where a monument, surmounted by his bust, was soon after erected by the contributions of his friends.

By his English contemporaries Barrow was considered a mathematician second only to Newton. Continental writers do not place him so high, and their judgment is probably the more correct one. He was undoubtedly a clear-sighted and able mathematician, who handled admirably the severe geometrical method, and who in his Method of Tangents approximated to the course of reasoning by which Newton was afterwards led to the doctrine of ultimate ratios; but his substantial contributions to the science are of no great importance, and his lectures upon elementary principles do not throw much light on the difficulties surrounding the border-land between mathematics and philosophy. (See Infinitesimal Calculus.) His Sermons have long enjoyed a high reputation; they are weighty pieces of reasoning, elaborate in construction and ponderous in style.

His scientific works are very numerous. The most important are :- Euclid's Elements; Euclid's Data; Optical Lectures, read in the public school of Cambridge; Thirteen Geometrical Lectures; The Works of Archimedes, the Four Books of Apollonius's Conic Sections, and Theodosius's Spherics, explained in a New Method; A Lecture, in which Archimedes' Theorems of the Sphere and Cylinder are investigated and briefly demonstrated; Mathematical Lectures, read in the public schools of the university of Cambridge. The above were all written in Latin. His English works have been collected and published in four volumes folio.

See Ward, Lives of the Gresham Professors, and Whewell's biography prefixed to the 9th volume of Napier's edition of Barrow's Sermons.

<< Camille Hyacinthe Odilon Barrot

Sir John Barrow >>


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address