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John Napier  

John Napier (1550–1617)


Born  1550 Merchiston Tower, Edinburgh 
Died  4 April 1617 (aged 66–67) Edinburgh 
Citizenship  Kingdom of Scotland 
Nationality  Scottish 
Fields  Mathematician 
Alma mater  University of St Andrews 
Known for  Logarithms Napier's bones Decimal notation 
Influences  Henry Briggs 
John Napier of Merchiston (1550 – 4 April 1617) – also signed as Neper, Nepair – named Marvellous Merchiston, was a Scottish mathematician, physicist, astronomer & astrologer, and also the 8th Laird of Merchistoun. He was the son of Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston. John Napier is most renowned as the inventor of the logarithm, and of an invention called "Napier's bones". Napier also made common the use of the decimal point in arithmetic and mathematics. Napier's birthplace, the Merchiston Tower in Edinburgh, Scotland, is now part of facilities of Edinburgh Napier University. After he died primarily of the disease of gout, Napier's remains were buried in St Cuthbert's Church, Edinburgh.
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Napier's father was Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston Castle, and his mother was Janet Bothwell, the daughter of a member of the Estates of Parliament, and a sister of the clergyman Adam Bothwell, who became the Bishop of Orkney. Archibald Napier was only 16 years old when John Napier was born.
As was the common practice for members of the nobility at that time, John Napier did not enter schools until he was 13. He did not stay in school very long, however. It is believed that he dropped out of school in Scotland and perhaps traveled in mainland Europe to better continue his studies. Little is known about those years, where, when, or with whom he might have studied, although his uncle Adam Bothwell had written a letter to his father on December 5, 1560, saying "I pray you, sir, to send John to the schools either to France or Flanders, for he can learn no good at home", and it is believed that this advice was followed.
In 1571, Napier turned 21 years old, and he also returned to Scotland. In 1572, he married Elizabeth Stirling, the daughter of James Stirling, the 4th Laird of Keir and of Cadder. Napier then bought a castle at Gartness in 1574. The two Napiers had two children before Elizabeth died in 1579. John Napier later married Agnes Chisholm, with whom he had ten more children. Upon the death of his father in 1608, Napier and his family moved into Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh, where he resided the remainder of his life.
His work, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (1614) contained fiftyseven pages of explanatory matter and ninety pages of tables of natural logarithms. The book also has an excellent discussion of theorems in Spherical Trigonometry, usually known as Napier's Rules of Circular Parts. His invention of logarithms was quickly taken up at Gresham College, and the leading English mathematician Henry Briggs arranged to visit Napier in 1615. Among the matters they discussed was a rescaling of Napier's logarithms, in which the presence of the mathematical constant e (more accurately, the integer part of e times a large power of 10) was a practical difficulty. Napier delegated to Briggs the computation of a revised table. The computational advance available via logarithms, the converse of powered numbers or exponential notation, was such that it made calculations by hand much quicker.^{[1]} The way was opened to later scientific advances, in astronomy, dynamics, physics; and also in astrology.
Napier made further contributions. He improved Simon Stevin's decimal notation. Arab lattice multiplication, used by Fibonacci, was made more convenient by his introduction of Napier's bones, a multiplication tool using a set of numbered rods. He may have worked largely in isolation, but he had contact with Tycho Brahe who corresponded with his friend John Craig. Craig certainly announced the discovery of logarithms to Brahe in the 1590s (the name itself came later); there is a story from Anthony à Wood, perhaps not well substantiated, that Napier had a hint from Craig that Longomontanus, a follower of Brahe, was working in a similar direction.^{[2]}
Napier had a strong interest in the Book of Revelation, from his student days at St Salvator's College, St Andrews. Under the influence of the sermons of Christopher Goodman, he developed a strongly antipapal reading.^{[1]} He further used the Book of Revelation for chronography, to predict the Apocalypse, in A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John, which he regarded as his most important work. Napier believed that the end of the world would occur in 1688 or 1700.
In his dedication of the Plaine Discovery to James VI, dated 29 Jan. 1593–4, Napier urged the king to see "that justice be done against the enemies of God's church," and counselled him "to reform the universal enormities of his country, and first to begin at his own house, family, and court." The volume includes nine pages of English verse by himself. It met with success at home and abroad. In 1600 Michiel Panneel produced a Dutch translation, and this reached a second edition in 1607. In 1602 the work appeared at La Rochelle in a French version, by Georges Thomson, revised by Napier, and that also went through several editions (1603, 1605, and 1607). A new edition of the English original was called for in 1611, when it was revised and corrected by the author, and enlarged by the addition of A Resolution of certain Doubts proponed by wellaffected brethren; this appeared simultaneously at Edinburgh and London. The author stated that he still intended to publish a Latin edition, but it never appeared. A German translation, by Leo de Dromna, of the first part of Napier's work appeared at Gera in 1611, and of the whole by Wolfgang Meyer at FrankfurtamMain, in 1615.^{[1]}
In addition to his mathematical and religious interests, Napier was commonly believed to be a magician, and is thought to have dabbled in alchemy and necromancy. It was said that he would travel about with a black spider in a small box, and that his black rooster was his familiar spirit.^{[3]}^{[4]}
Napier used this rooster to find out which of his servants had been stealing from his home. He would shut the suspects one at a time in a room with the bird, telling them to stroke it. The rooster would then tell Napier which of them was guilty. Actually, what would happen is that he would secretly coat the rooster with soot. Servants who were innocent would have no qualms about stroking it but the guilty one would only pretend he had, and when Napier examined their hands, the one with the clean hands was guilty.^{[5]}
Another occasion which may have contributed to his reputation as a sorcerer involved a neighbour whose pigeons were found to be eating Napier's grain. Napier warned him that from now on he intended to keep any pigeons found on his property. The next day, it is said, Napier was witnessed surrounded by unusually passive pigeons which he was scooping up and putting in a sack. The previous night he had soaked some peas in brandy, and then sown them. Come morning, the pigeons had gobbled them up, rendering themselves incapable of flight.^{[6]}
A contract still exists for a treasure hunt, made between John Napier and one Robert Logan of Restalrig. Napier was to search Fast Castle for treasure allegedly hidden there, wherein it is stated that Napier should
"...do his utmost diligence to search and seek out, and by all craft and ingine to find out the same, or make it sure that no such thing has been there."^{[1]}
An alternative unit to the decibel used in electrical engineering, the neper, is named after John Napier, as is Edinburgh Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The crater Neper on the Moon is named after him.^{[7]}
This article incorporates text from the entry Napier, John in the Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900), a publication now in the public domain.

JOHN NAPIER (15501617), Scottish mathematician and inventor of logarithms, was born at Merchiston near Edinburgh in 1550, and was the eighth Napier of Merchiston. The first Napier of Merchiston, "Alexander Napare," acquired the Merchiston estate before the year 1438, from James I. of Scotland. He was provost of Edinburgh in 1437, and was otherwise distinguished. His eldest son Alexander, who succeeded him in 1 454, was provost of Edinburgh in 1 455, 1 457 and 1469; he was knighted and held various important court offices under successive monarchs; at the time of his death in 1473 he was master of the household to James III. His son, John Napier of Rusky, the third of Merchiston, belonged to the royal household in the lifetime of his father. He also was provost of Edinburgh at various times, and it is a remarkable instance of the esteem in which the lairds of Merchiston were held that three of them in immediate lineal succession repeatedly filled so important an office during perhaps the most memorable period in the history of the city. He married a greatgranddaughter of Duncan, 8th earl of Levenax (or Lennox), and besides this relationship by marriage the Napiers claimed a lineal male cadency from the ancient family of Levenax. His eldest son, Archibald Napier of Edinbellie, the fourth of Merchiston, belonged to the household of James IV. He fought at Flodden and escaped with his life, but his eldest son Alexander, (fifth of Merchiston) was killed. Alexander's eldest son (Alexander, sixth of Merchiston) was born in 1513, and fell at the battle of Pinkie in 1547. His eldest son was Archibald, seventh of Merchiston, and the father of John Napier, the subject of this article.
In 1549 Archibald Napier, at the early age of about fifteen, married Janet, daughter of Francis Bothwell, and in the following year John Napier was born. In the criminal court of Scotland, the earl of Argyll, hereditary justicegeneral of the kingdom, sometimes presided in person, but more frequently he delegated his functions; and it appears that in 1561 Archibald Napier was appointed one of the justicedeputes. In the register of the court, extending over 1563 and 1564, the justicedeputes named are "Archibald Naper of Merchistoune, Alexander Bannatyne, burgess of Edinburgh, James Stirling of Keir and Mr Thomas Craig." About 1565 he was knighted at the same time as James Stirling, his colleague, whose daughter John Napier subsequently married. In 1582 Sir Archibald was appointed master of the mint in Scotland, with the sole charge of superintending the mines and minerals within the realm, and this office he held till his death in 1608. His first wife died in 1563, and in 1572 he married a cousin, Elizabeth Mowbray, by whom he had three sons, the eldest of whom was named Alexander.' As already stated, John Napier was born in 1550, the year in which the Reformation in Scotland may be said to have commenced. In 1563, the year in which his mother died, he matriculated at St Salvator's College, St Andrews. He early became a Protestant champion, and the one extant anecdote of his youth occurs in his address "to the Godly and Christian reader" prefixed to his Plaine Discovery. He writes: "In my tender yeares, and barneage in SanctAndrois at the Schooles, having, on the one parte, contracted a loving familiaritie with a certaine Gentleman, &c. a Papist; And on the other part, being attentive to the sermons of that worthie man of God, Maister Christopher Goodman, teaching upon the Apocalyps, I was so mooved in admiration, against the blindnes of Papists, that could not most evidently see their seven hilled citie Rome, painted out there so lively by Saint John, as the mother of all spiritual whoredome, that not onely bursted I out in continual reasoning against my said familiar, but also from thenceforth, I determined with my selfe (by the assistance of Gods spirit) to employ my studie and diligence to search out the remanent mysteries of that holy Book: as to this houre (praised be the Lorde) I have bin doing at al such times as conveniently I might have occasion." The names of nearly all Napier's classfellows can be traced as becoming determinantes in 1566 and masters of arts in 1568; but his own name does not appear in the lists. The necessary inference is that his stay at the university was short, and that only the groundwork of his education was laid there. Although there is no direct evidence of the fact, there can be no doubt that he left St Andrews to complete his education abroad, and that he probably studied at the university of Paris, and visited Italy and Germany. He did not, however, as has been supposed, spend the best years of his manhood abroad, for he was certainly at home in 1571, when the preliminaries of his marriage were arranged at Merchiston; and in 1572 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Stirling of Keir. About the end of the year 1579 his wife died, leaving him one son, Archibald (who in 1627 was raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Napier), and one daughter, Jane. A few years afterwards he married again, his second wife being Agnes, daughter of Sir James 1 The descent of the first Napier of Merchiston has been traced to "Johan le Naper del Counte de Dunbretan," who was one of those who swore fealty to Edward I. in 1296 and defended the castle of Stirling against him in 1304; but there is no authority for this genealogy. The legend with regard to the origin of the name Napier was given by Sir Alexander Napier, eldest son of John Napier, in 1625, in these words: "One of the ancient earls of Lennox in Scotland had issue three sons: the eldest, that succeeded him to the earldom of Lennox; the second, whose name was Donald; and the third, named Gilchrist. The then king of Scotland having wars, did convocate his lieges to battle, amongst whom that was commanded was the earl of Lennox, who, keeping his eldest son at home, sent his two sons to serve for him with the forces that were under his command... After the battle, as the manner is, every one drawing and setting forth his own acts, the king said unto them, ye have all done valiantly, but there is one amongst you who hath NaPeer (i.e. no equal); and calling Donald into his presence commanded him, in regard to his worthy service, and in augmentation of his honour, to change his name from Lennox to Napier, and gave him the lands of Gosford, and lands in Fife, and made him his own servant, which discourse is confirmed by evidences of mine, wherein we are called Lennox alias Napier." 'Chisholm of Cromlix, who survived him. By her he had five sons and five daughters.
In 1588 he was chosen by the presbytery of Edinburgh one of its commissioners to the General Assembly.
On the 17th of October 1593 a convention of delegates was held at Edinburgh at which a committee was appointed to follow the king and lay before him in a personal interview certain instructions relating to the punishment of the rebellious Popish earls and the safety of the church. This committee consisted of six members, two barons, two ministers and two burgesses  the two barons selected being John Napier of Merchiston and James Maxwell of Calderwood. The delegates found the king at Jedburgh, and the mission, which was a dangerous one, was successfully accomplished. Shortly afterwards another convention was held at Edinburgh, and it was resolved that the delegates sent to Jedburgh should again meet the king at Linlithgow and repeat their former instructions. This was done accordingly, the number of members of the committee being, however, doubled. These interviews took place in October 15 93, and on the 29th of the following January Napier wrote to the king the letter which forms the dedication of the Plaine Discovery. The full title of this first work of Napier's is given below.' It was written in English instead of Latin in order that "hereby the simple of this Band may be instructed"; and the author apologizes for the language and his own mode of expression in the following sentences: "Whatsoever therfore through hast, is here rudely and in base language set downe, I doubt not to be pardoned thereof by all good men, who, considering the necessitie of this time, will esteem it more meete to make hast to prevent the rising againe of Antichristian darknes within this Iland, then to prolong the time in painting of language"; and "I graunt indeede, and am sure, that in the style of wordes and utterance of language, we shall greatlie differ, for therein I do judge my selfe inferiour to all men: so that scarcely in these high matters could I with long deliberation finde wordes to expresse my minde." 2 Napier's Plaine Discovery is a serious and laborious work, to which he had devoted years of care and thought. In one sense tt may be said to stand to theological literature in Scotland in something of the same position as that occupied by the Canon Mirificus with respect to the scientific literature, for it is the first published original work relating to theological interpretation, and is quite without a predecessor in its own field. Napier lived in the very midst of fiercely contending religious factions; there was but little theological teaching of any kind, and the work related to what were then the leading political and religious questions of the day.
1 A Plaine Discovery of the whole Revelation of Saint Iohn: set downe in two treatises: The one searching and proving the true interpretation thereof: The other applying the same paraphrastically and historically to the text. Set foorth by John Napier L. of Marchistoun younger. Whereunto are annexed certaine Oracles of Sibyila, agreeing with the Revelation and other places of Scripture. Edinburgh, printed by Robert Waldegrave, printer to the King's Majestie, 1 593. Cum privilegio Regali. 2 A Dutch translation was published at Middelburg in 1600 and a second edition in 1607. The work was translated into French by George Thomson, a naturalized Scotsman residing in La Rochelle, and published by him at that town in 1602, under the title Ouverture de tous les secrets de l'Apocalypse.. .. Par Jean Napeir (c. a. d.) Nonpareil, Sieur de Merchiston, reveue par luimesme, et mise en Francois par Georges Thomson, Escossois. Subsequent editions were published in 1603, 1605 and 1607. German translations were published at Gera in 1611 and at Frankfort in 1605 and 1627. The second edition in English appeared at Edinburgh in 1611, and in the preface to it Napier states he intended to have published an edition in Latin soon after the original publication in 1593, but that, as the work had now been made public by the French and Dutch translations, besides the English editions, and as he was "advertised that our papistical adversaries wer to write larglie against the said editions that are alreadie set out," he defers the Latin edition "till having first seene the adversaries objections, I may insert in the Latin edition an apologie of that which is rightly done, and an amends of whatsoever is amisse." No criticism on the work was published, and there was no Latin edition. A third edition appeared at Edinburgh in 1645. Corresponding to the first two Edinburgh editions, copies were issued bearing the London imprint and dates 1594 and 1611.
After the publication of the Plaine Discovery, Napier seems to have occupied himself with the invention of secret instruments of war, for in the Bacon collection at Lambeth Palace there is a document, dated the 7th of. June 1596 and signed by Napier, giving a list of his inventions for the defence of the country against the anticipated invasion by Philip of Spain. The document is entitled "Secrett Inventionis, proffitabill and necessary in theis dayes for defence of this Iland, and withstanding of strangers, enemies of God's truth and religion," a and the inventions consist of (1) a mirror for burning the enemies' ships at any distance, (2) a piece of artillery destroying everything round an arc of a circle, and (3) a round metal chariot, so constructed that its occupants could move it rapidly and easily, while firing out through small holes in it. It has been asserted (by Sir Thomas Urquhart) that the piece of artillery was actually tried upon a plain in Scotland with complete success, a number of sheep and cattle being destroyed.
In 1614 appeared the work which in the history of British science can be placed as second only to Newton's Principia. The full title is as follows: Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis descriptio, Ejusque uses, in utraque Trigonometria; ut etiam in omni Logistica Mathematica, Amplissimi, Facillimi, expeditissimi explicatio. Authore ac Inventore Ioanne Nepero, Barone Merchistonii, &c., Scoto. Edinburgi, ex ofjicina Andreae Hart Bibliopolae, CID.DC.XIV. This is printed on an ornamental titlepage. The work is a smallsized quarto, containing fiftyseven pages of explanatory matter and ninety pages of tables.
The nature of logarithms is explained by reference to the motion of points in a straight line, and the principle upon which they are based is that of the correspondence of a geometrical and an arithmetical series of numbers. The table gives the logarithms of sines for every minute to seven figures. This work contains the first announcement of logarithms to the world, the first table of logarithms and the first use of the name logarithm, which was invented by Napier.
In 1617 Napier published his Rabdologia, 4 a duodecimo of one hundred and fiftyfour pages; there is prefixed to it as preface a dedicatory epistle to the high chancellor of Scotland. The method which Napier terms "Rabdologia" consists in the use of certain numerating rods for the performance of multiplications and divisions. These rods, which were commonly called "Napier's bones," will be described further on. The second method, which he calls the "Promptuarium Multiplicationis" on account of its being the most expeditious of all for the performance of multiplications, involves the use of a number of lamellae or little plates of metal disposed in a box. In an appendix of fortyone pages he gives his third method, "local arithmetic," which is performed on a chessboard, and depends, in principle, on the expression of numbers in the scale of radix 2. In the Rabdologia he gives the chronological order of his inventions. He speaks of the canon of logarithms as "a me longo tempore elaboratum." The other three methods he devised for the sake of those who would prefer to work with natural numbers; and he mentions that the promptuary was his latest invention. In the preface to the appendix containing the local arithmetic he states that, while devoting all his leisure to the invention of these abbreviations of calculation, and to examining by what methods the toil of calculation might be removed, in addition to the logarithms, rabdologia and promptuary, he had hit upon a certain tabular arithmetic, whereby the more troublesome operations of common arithmetic are performed on an abacus or chessboard, and which may be regarded as an amusement A facsimile of this document is given by Mark Napier in his Memoirs of John Napier (1834), p. 248.
4 Rabdologiae, seu Numerationis per virgulas Libei duo: Cum Appendice de expeditissimo Multiplicationis promptuario. Quibus accessit & Arithmeticae Localis Liber unus. Authore & Inventore Ioanne Nepero, Barone Merchistonii, &c., Scoto. Edinburgi, Excudebat Andreas Hart (1617). Foreign editions were published in Italian at Verona in 1623, in Latin at Leiden in 1626 and 1628, and in Dutch at Gouda in 1626. In 1623 Ursinus published Rhabdologia Neperiana at Berlin, and the rods or bones were described in several other works.
rather than a labour, for, by means of it, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and even the extraction of roots are accomplished simply by the motion of counters. He adds that he has appended it to the Rabdologia, in addition to the promptuary, because he did not wish to bury it in silence nor to publish so small a matter by itself. With respect to the calculating rods, he mentions in the dedication that they had already found so much favour as to be almost in common use, and even to have been carried to foreign countries; and that he has been advised to publish his little work relating to their mechanism and use, lest they should be put forth in some one else's name.
John Napier died on the 4th of April 1617, the same year as that in which the Rabdologia was published. His will, which is extant, was signed on the fourth day before his death. No particulars are known of his last illness, but it seems likely that death came upon him rather suddenly at,last. In both the Canonis descriptio and the Rabdologia, however, he makes reference to his illhealth. In the dedication of the former he refers to himself as "mihi jam morbis pene confecto," and in the "Admonitio" at the end he speaks of his "infirma valetudo"; while in the latter he says he has been obliged to leave the calculation of the new canon of logarithms to others "ob infirmam corporis nostri valetudinem." It has been usually supposed that John Napier was buried in St Giles's church, Edinburgh, which was certainly the burialplace of some of the family, but Mark Napier (Memoirs, p. 426) quotes Professor William Wallace, who, writing in 1832, gives strong reasons for believing that he was buried in the old church of St Cuthbert.
Professor Wallace's words are "My authority for this belief is unquestionable. It is a Treatise on Trigonometry, by a Scotsman, James Hume of Godscroft, Berwickshire, a place still in possession of the family of Hume. The work in question, which is rare, was printed at Paris, and has the date 1636 on the titlepage, but the royal privilege which secured it to the author is dated in October 1635, and it may have been written several years earlier. In his treatise (page 116) Hume says, speaking of logarithms, ` L'inuenteur estoit un Seigneur de grande condition, et duquel la posterite est aujourd'huy en possession de grandes dignitez dans le royaume, qui extant sur Wage, et grandement trauaille des gouttes ne pouvait faire autre chose que de s'adonner aux sciences, et principalment aux mathematiques et a la logistique, a quoy it se plaisoit infiniment, et auec estrange peine, a construict ses Tables des Logarymes, imprimees a Edinbourg en l'an 1614... Il mourut l'an 1616, et fut enterre hors la Porte Occidentale d'Edinbourg, dans l'Eglise de Sainct Cudbert.'" There can be no doubt that Napier's devotion to mathematics was not due to old age and the gout, and that he died in 1617 and not in 1616; still these sentences were written within eighteen years of Napier's death, and their author seems to have had some special sources of information. Additional probability is given to Hume's assertion by the fact that Merchiston is situated in St Cuthbert's parish. It is nowhere else recorded that Napier suffered from the gout. It has been stated that Napier's mathematical pursuits led him to dissipate his means. This is not so, for his will (Memoirs, p. 427) shows that besides his large estates he left a considerable amount of personal property.
The Canonis Descriptio on its publication in 1614, at once attracted the attention of Edward Wright, whose name is known in connexion with improvements in navigation, and Henry Briggs, then professor of geometry at Gresham College, London. The former translated the work into English, but he died in 1615, and the translation was published by his son Samuel Wright in 1616. Briggs was greatly excited by Napier's invention and visited him at Merchiston in 1615, staying with him a whole month; he repeated his visit in 1616 and, as he states, "would have been glad to make him a third visit if it had pleased God to spare him so long." The logarithms introduced by Napier in the Descriptio are not the same as those now in common use, nor even the same as those now called Napierian or hyperbolic logarithms. The change from the original logarithms to common or decimal logarithms was made by both Napier and Briggs, and the first tables of decimal logarithms were calculated by Briggs, who published a small table, extending to 1000, in 1617, and a large work, Arithmetica Logarithmica, 1 containing logarithms of numbers to 30,000 and from 90,000 to Ioo,000, in 1624. (See Logarithm.) Napier's Descriptio of 1614 contains no explanation of the manner in which he had calculated his table. This account he kept back, as he himself states, in order to see from tie reception met with by the Descriptio, whether it would be acceptable. Though written before the Descriptio it had not been prepared for press at the time of his death, but was published by his son Robert in 1619 under the title Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Constructio. 2 In this treatise (which was written before Napier had invented the name logarithm) logarithms are called "artificial numbers." The different editions of the Descriptio and Constructio, as well as the reception of logarithms on the continent of Europe, and especially by Kepler, whose admiration of the invention almost equalled that of Briggs, belong to the history of logarithms (q.v.). It may, however, be mentioned here that an English translation of the Constructio of 1619 was published by W. R. Macdonald at Edinburgh in 1889, and that there is appended to this edition a complete catalogue of all Napier's writings, and their various editions and translations, English and foreign, all the works being carefully collated, and references being added to the various public libraries in which they are to be found.
Napier's priority in the publication of the logarithms is unquestioned and only one other contemporary mathematician seems to have conceived the idea on which they depend. There is no anticipation or hint to be found in previous writers, 3 and it is very remarkable that a discovery or invention which was to exert so important and farreaching an influence on astronomy and every science involving calculation was the work of a single mind.
The more one considers the condition of science at the time, and the state of the country in which the discovery took place, the more wonderful does the invention of logarithms appear. When algebra had advanced to the point where exponents were introduced, nothing would be more natural than that their utility as a means of performing multiplications and divisions should be remarked; but it is one of the surprises in the history of science that logarithms were invented as an arithmetical improvement years before their connexion with exponents was known. It is to be noticed also that the invention was not the result of any happy accident. Napier deliberately set himself to abbreviate multiplications and divisions  operations of so fundamental a character that it might well have been thought that they were in rerum natura incapable of abbreviation; and he succeeded in devising, by the help of arithmetic and geometry alone, the one 1 The title runs as follows: Arithmetica Logarithmica, sive Logarithmorum chiliades triginta.... Hos numeros Primus invenit clarissimus vir Iohannes Neperus Baro Merchistonij; eos autem ex eiusdem sententia mutavit, eorumque ortum et usum illustravit Henricus Briggius.. The full title was: Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Constructio; Et eorum ad naturales ipsorum numeros habitudines; una cum A ppendice, de alia edque praestantiore Logarithmorum specie condendd. Quibus accessere Propositiones ad triangula sphaerica faciliore calculo resolvenda: Una cum Annotationibus aliquot doctissimi D. Henrici Briggii, in eas & memoratam appendicem. Authore & Inventore Ioanne Nepero, Barone Merchistonii, &c. Scoto. Edinburgi, Excudebat Andreas Hart, Anne Domini 1619. There is also preceding this titlepage an ornamental titlepage, similar to that of the Descriptio of 1614; the words are different, however, and run  Mir fici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio ... Accesserunt Opera Posthuma: Primb, Mirifici ipsius canonis constructio, & Logarithmorum ad naturales ipsorum numeros habitudines. Secundo, Appendix de alid, edque praestantiore Logarithmorum specie construenda. Tertio, Propositiones quaedam eminentissimae, ad Triangula sphaerica mird facilitate resolvenda.... It would appear that this titlepage was to be substituted for the titlepage of the Descriptio of 1614 by those who bound the two books together.
The work of Justus Byrgius is described in the article Logarithm. In that article it is mentioned that a Scotsman in 1594 in a letter to Tycho Brahe held out some hope of logarithms; it is likely that the person referred to is John Craig, son of Thomas Craig, who has been mentioned as one of the colleagues of John Napier's father as justicedepute.
great simplification of which they were susceptiblea simplification to which nothing essential has since been added.
When Napier published the Canonis Descriptio England had taken no part in the advance of science, and there is no British author of the time except Napier whose name can be placed in the same rank as those of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, or Stevinus. In England, Robert Recorde had indeed published his mathematical treatises, but they were of trifling importance and without influence on the history of science. Scotland had produced nothing, and was perhaps the last country in Europe from which a great mathematical discovery would have been expected. Napier lived, too, not only in a wild country, which was in a lawless and unsettled state during most of his life, but also in a credulous and superstitious age. Like Kepler and all his contemporaries he believed in astrology, and he certainly also had some faith in the power of magic, for there is extant a deed written in his own handwriting containing a contract between himself and Robert Logan of Restalrig, a turbulent baron of desperate character, by which Napier undertakes "to serche and sik out, and be al craft and ingyne that he dow, to tempt, trye, and find out" some buried treasure supposed to be hidden in Logan's fortress at Fastcastle, in consideration of receiving onethird part of the treasure found by his aid. Of this singular contract, which is signed, "Robert Logane of Restalrige" and "Jhone Neper, Fear of Merchiston," and is dated July 1594, a facsimile is given in Mark Napier's Memoirs. As the deed was not destroyed, but is in existence now, it is to be presumed that the terms of it were, riot fulfilled; but the fact that such a contract should have been drawn up by Napier himself affords a singular illustration of the state of society and the kind of events in the midst of which logarithms had their birth. Considering the time in which he lived, Napier is singularly free from superstition: his Plaine Discovery relates to a method of interpretation which belongs to a later age; he shows no trace of the extravagances which occur everywhere in the works of Kepler; and none of his writings contain allusions to astrology or magic.
After Napier's death his manuscripts and notes came into the possession of his second son by his second marriage, Robert, who edited the Constructio; and Colonel Milliken Napier, Robert's lineal male representative, was still in the possession of many of these private papers at the close of the 18th century. On one occasion when Colonel Napier was called from home on foreign service, these papers, together with a portrait of John Napier and a Bible with his autograph, were deposited for safety in a room of the house at Milliken, in Renfrewshire. During the owner's absence the house was burned to the ground, and all the papers and relics were destroyed. The manuscripts had not been arranged or examined, so that the extent of the loss is unknown. Fortunately, however, Robert Napier had transcribed his father's manuscript De Arte Logistica, and the copy escaped the fate of the originals in the manner explained in the following note, written in the volume containing them by Francis, seventh Lord Napier: "John Napier of Merchiston, inventor of the logarithms, left his manuscripts to his son Robert, who appears to have caused the following pages to have been written out fair from his father's notes, for Mr Briggs, professor of geometry at Oxford. They were given to Francis, the fifth Lord Napier, by William Napier of Culcreugh, Esq., heirmale of the abovenamed Robert. Finding them in a neglected state, amongst my family papers, I have bound them together, in order to preserve them entire.Napier, 7th March 1801." An account of the contents of these manuscripts was given by Mark Napier in the appendix to his Memoirs of John Napier, and the manuscripts themselves were edited in their entirety by him in 1839 under the title De Arte Logistica Joannis Naperi Merchistonii Baronis Libri qui supersunt. Impressum Edinburgi M.D000.xxx.Ix., as one of the publications of the Bannatyne Club. The treatise occupies one hundred and sixtytwo pages, and there is an introduction by Mark Napier of ninetyfour pages. The Arithmetic consists of three books, entitled(I) De Computationibus Quantitatum omnibus Logisticae speciebus communium; (2) De Logistica Arithmetica; (3) De Logistica Geometrica. At the end of this book occurs the note"I could find no more of this geometricall pairt amongst all his fragments." The Algebra Joannis Naperi Merchistonii Baronis consists of two books: (I) "De nominata Algebrae parte; (2) De positiva sive cossica Algebrae parte," and concludes with the words, "There is no more of his algebra orderlie sett doun." The transcripts are entirely in the handwriting of Robert Napier himself, and the two notes that have been quoted prove that they were made from Napier's own papers. The title, which is written on the first leaf, and is also in Robert Napier's writing, runs thus: "The Baron of Merchiston his booke of Arithmeticke and Algebra. For Mr Henrie Briggs, Professor of Geometrie at Oxforde." These treatises were probably composed before Napier had invented the logarithms or any of the apparatuses described in the Rabdologia; for they contain no allusion to the principle of logarithms, even where we should expect to find such a reference, and the one solitary sentence where the Rabdologia is mentioned ("sive omnium facillime per ossa Rhabdologiae nostrae") was probably added afterwards. It is worth while to notice that this reference occurs in a chapter "De Multiplicationis et Partitionis compendiis miscellaneis," which, supposing the treatise to have been written in Napier's younger days, may have been his earliest production on a subject over which his subsequent labours were to exert so enormous an influence.
Napier uses abundantes and defectivae for positive and negative, defining them as meaning greater or less than nothing ("Abundantes sunt quantitates majores nihilo: defectivae sunt quantitates minores nihilo"). The same definitions occur also in the Canonis Descriptio (1614), p. 5: "Logarithmos sinuum, qui semper majores. nihilo sunt, abundantes vocamus, et hoc signo {, aut nullo praenotamus. Logarithmos autem minores nihilo defectivos vocamus, praenotantes eis hoc signum  ." Napier may thus have been the first to use the expression "quantity less than nothing." He uses "radicatum" for power (for root, power, exponent, his words are radix, radicatum, index).
Apart from the interest attaching to these manuscripts as the work of Napier, they possess an independent value as affording evidence of the exact state of his algebraical knowledge at the time when logarithms were invented. There is nothing to show whether the transcripts were sent to Briggs as intended and returned by him, or whether they were not sent to him. Among the Merchiston papers is a thin quarto volume in Robert Napier's writing containing a digest of the principles of alchemy; it is addressed to his son, and on the first leaf there are directions that it is to remain in his charterchest and be kept secret except from a few. This treatise and the transcripts seem to be the only manuscripts which have escaped destruction.
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The principle of "Napier's bones" may be easily explained by imagir:ing ten rectangular slips of cardboard, each divided into nine squares. In the top squares of the slips the ten digits are written, and each slip contains in its nine squares the first nine multiples of the digit which appears in the top square. With the exception of the top squares, every square is divided into two parts by a diagonal, the units being written on one side and the tens on the other, so that when a multiple consists of two figures they are separated by the diagonal. Fig. i shows the slips corresponding to the numbers 2, o, 8, 5 placed side by side in contact with one another, and next to them is placed another slip containing, in squares without diagonals, the first nine digits. The slips thus placed in contact give the multiples of the number 2085, the digits in each parallelogram being added together; for example, corresponding to the number 6 on the righthand slip, we have o, 8+3, 0+4, 2, i; whence we find o, I, 5, 2, r as the digits, written backwards, of 6X2085. The use of the slips for the purpose of multiplication is now evident; thus to multiply 2085 by 736 we take out in this manner the multiples corresponding to 6, 3, 7, and set down the digits as they are obtained, from right to left, shifting them back one place and adding up the columns as in ordinary multiplication, viz. the figures as written down are 12510 6255 14595 1534560 Napier's rods or bones consist of ten oblong pieces of wood or other material with square ends. Each of the four faces of each rod contains multiples of one of the nine digits, and is similar to one of the slips just described, the first rod containing the multiples of o, I, 9, 8, the second of o, 2, 9, 7, the third of o, 3, 9, 6, the fourth of 0, 4, 9, 5, the fifth of I, 2, 8, 7, the sixth of I, 3, 8, 6, the seventh of I, 4, 8, 5, the eighth of 2, 3, 7, 6, the ninth of 2, 4, 7, 5, and the tenth of 3, 4, 6, 5. Each rod therefore contains on two of its faces multiples of digits which are complementary to those on the other two faces; and the multiples of a digit and of its complement are reversed in position. The arrangement of the numbers on the rods will be evident from fig. 2, which represents the four faces of the fifth rod. The set of ten rods is thus equivalent to four sets of slips as described above, and by their means we may multiply every number less than II,irr, and also any number (consisting of course FIG. I.
of not more than ten digits) which can be formed by the top digits of the bars when placed side by side. Of course two sets of rods may be used, and by their means we may multiply every number less than 111,111,111 and so on. It will be noticed that the rods only give the multiples of the number which is to be multiplied, or of the divisor when they are used for division, and it is evident that they would be of little use to any one who knew the multiplication table as far as 9 X9. In multiplications or divisions of any length it is generally convenient to begin by forming a table of the first nine multiples of the multiplicand or divisor, and Napier's bones at best merely provide such a table, and in an incomplete form, for the additions of the two figures in the same parallelogram have to be performed each time the rods are used. The Rabdologia attracted more general attention than the logarithms, and as has been mentioned, there were several editions on the Continent. Nothing shows more clearly the rude state of arithmetical knowledge at the beginning of the 17th century than the universal satisfaction with which Napier's invention was welcomed by all classes and regarded as a real aid to calculation. Napier also describes in the Rabdologia two other larger rods to facilitate the extraction of square and cube FIG. 2. roots. In the Rabdologia the rods are called "virgulae," b'ut in the passage quoted above from the manuscript on arithmetic they are referred to as "bones" (ossa).
Besides the logarithms and the calculating rods or bones, Napier's name is attached to certain rules and formulae in spherical trigonometry. "Napier's rules of circular parts," which include the complete system of formulae for the solution of rightangled triangles, may be enunciated as follows. Leaving the right angle out of consideration, the sides including the right angle, the complement of the hypotenuse, and the complements of the other angles are called the circular parts of the triangle. Thus there are five circular parts, a, b, 90°  A, 90°  c, 90°  B, and these are supposed to be arranged in this order (i.e. the order in which they occur in the triangle) round a circle. Selecting any part and calling it the middle part, the two parts next it are called the adjacent parts and the remaining two parts the opposite parts. The rules then are sine of the middle part = product of tangents of adjacent parts = product of cosines of opposite parts. These rules were published in the Canonis Descriptio (1614), and Napier has there given a figure, and indicated.a method, by means of which they may be proved directly. The rules are curious and interesting, but of very doubtful utility, as the formulae are best remembered by the practical calculator in their unconnected form. "Napier's analogies" are the four formulae  tan (A +B) cos = cos l(a  b) cotzC, tan2(A  B)  sin(a  b)cot2C; a (a+b) sine (a+b) tan a(a +b) = cos(A  B) tan1c, tan2(a  b) = s in(A  B) tan2c.
cos z (A+B) sine (A+B) They were first published after his death in the Constructio among the formulae in spherical trigonometry, which were the results of his latest work. Robert Napier says that these results would have been reduced to order and demonstrated consecutively but for his father's death. Only one of the four analogies is actually given by Napier, the other three being added by Briggs in the remarks which are appended to Napier's results. The work left by Napier is, however, rough and unfinished, and it is uncertain whether he knew of the other formulae or not. They are, however, so simply deducible from the results he has.given that all the four analogies may be properly called by his name. An analysis of the formulae contained in the Descriptio and Constructio is given by Delambre in vol. i. of his Histoire de l'Astronomie moderne. To Napier seems to be due the first use of the decimal point in arithmetic. Decimal fractions were first introduced by Stevinus in his tract La Disme, published in 1585, but he used cumbrous exponents (numbers enclosed in circles) to distinguish the different denominations, primes, seconds, thirds, &c. Thus, for example, he would have written 123.456 as 123@4050603. In the Rabdologia Napier gives an "Admonitio pro Decimali Arithmetica," in which he commends the fractions of Stevinus and gives an example of their use, the division of 861094 by 43 2. The quotient is written 1 993, 2 73 in the work, and 1993,2'7°3' in the text. This single instance of the use of the decimal point in the midst of an arithmetical process, if it stood alone, would not suffice to establish a claim for its introduction, as the real introducer of the decimal point is the person who first saw that a point or line as separator was all that was required to distinguish between the integers and fractions, and used it as a permanent notation and not merely in the course of performing an arithmetical operation. The decimal point is, however, used systematically in the Constructio (1619), there being perhaps two hundred decimal points altogether in the book.
The decimal point is defined on p. 6 of the Constructio in the words: "In numeris periodo sic in se distinctis, quicquid post periodum notatur fractio est, cujus denominator est Unitas cum tot cyphris post se, quot sunt figurae post periodum. Ut 10000000.04 valet idem, quod 10000000 T h. Item 25.803, idem quod 25M ,8r, Item 9999998.0005021, idem valet quod 9999998 T O M0  0, o o oo, & sic de caeteris." On p. 8, 10.502 is multiplied by 3.216, and the result found to be 33.77443 2; and on pp. 23 and 24 occur decimals not attached to integers, viz. .4999712 and. 0004950. These examples show that Napier was in possession of all the conventions and attributes that enable the decimal point to complete so symmetrically our system of notation, viz. (1) he saw that a point or separatrix was quite enough to separate integers from decimals, and that no signs to indicate primes, seconds, &c., were required; (2) he used ciphers after the decimal point and preceding the first significant figure; and (3) he had no objection to a decimal standing by itself without any integer. Napier thus had complete command over decimal fractions and the use of the decimal point. Briggs also used decimals, but in a form not quite so convenient as Napier. Thus he prints 63.0957379 as 630957379, viz. he prints a bar under the decimals; this notation first appears without any explanation in his "Lucubrationes" appended to the Constructio. Briggs seems to have used the notation all his life, but in writing it, as appears from manuscripts of his, he added also a small vertical line just high enough to fix distinctly which two figures it was intended to separate: thus he might have written 63 0957379. The vertical line was printed by Oughtred and some of Briggs's successors. It was a long time before decimal arithmetic came into general use, and all through the 17th century exponential marks were in common use. There seems but little doubt that Napier was the first to make use of a decimal separator, and it is curious that the separator which he used, the point, should be that which has been ultimately adopted, and after a long period of partial disuse.
The hereditary office of king's poulterer (Pultrie Regis) was for many generations in the family of Merchiston, and descended to John Napier. The office, Mark Napier states, is repeatedly mentioned in the family charters as appertaining to the "pultre landis" near the village of Dene in the shire of Linlithgow. The duties were to be performed by the possessor or his deputy; and the king was entitled to demand the yearly homage of a present of poultry from the feudal holder. The pultrelands and the office were sold by John Napier in 1610 for 1700 marks. With the exception of the pultrelands all the estates he inherited descended to his posterity.
With regard to the spelling of the name, Mark Napier states that among the family papers there exist a great many documents signed by John Napier. His usual signature was "Jhone Neper," but in a letter written in 1608, and in all deeds signed after that date, he wrote "Jhone Nepair." His letter to the king prefixed to the Flamm Discovery is signed "John Napeir." His own children, who sign deeds along with him, use every mode except Napier, the form now adopted by the family, and which is comparatively modern. In Latin he always wrote his name "Neperus." The form "Neper" is the oldest, as John, third Napier of Merchiston, so spelt it in the 15th century.
Napier frequently signed his name "Jhone Neper, Fear of Merchiston." He was "Fear of Merchiston" because, more majorum, he had been invested with the fee of his paternal barony during the lifetime of his father, who retained the liferent. He has been sometimes erroneously called "Peer of Merchiston," and in the 1645 edition of the Flamm Discovery he is so styled (see Mark Napier's Memoirs, pp. 9 and 173, and Libri qui supersunt, p. xciv.).
The bibliography of Napier's workattached to W. R. Macdonald's translation of the Canonis Constructio (1889) is complete and valuable. Napier's three mathematical works are reprinted by N. L. W. A. Gravelaar in Verhandelingen der Kon. Akad. van Wet to Amsterdam, 1. sectie, deel 6 (1899). (J. W. L. G.)
Categories: NNAT  Astrology  Inventors  British mathematicians  Physicists  British theologians
