Mathematics General Collection

The Augustus De Morgan Collection, Part 2

This second part of The Augustus De Morgan Collection contains 954 titles, totaling 128,750 pages, and is dominated by a large number of papers and articles by 19th-century mathematicians and scientists, many of whom were in touch with De Morgan, including Ampère, Babbage, Boole, Cayley, Cauchy, Gauss, Herschel, Lagrange, Laplace, Legendre, Libri, Poisson, Stokes and Sylvester. Several of these items were complementary offprints sent directly to him by the authors. A geometrical paper published in 1846 represents the first appearance in print of James Clerk Maxwell, then aged just fourteen, while a small pamphlet on trigonometry from 1861 was authored by the Reverend Charles Dodgson, better known to the world as Lewis Carroll. Also present are over 80 works by De Morgan himself, several of which shed further light on other items in the collection.

Although dominated by papers, pamphlets and shorter works from the 19th century, this section of the De Morgan Library also contains the substantial ‘oeuvres’ or collected works of famous mathematicians from the 17th and 18th centuries. The oldest of these is the five-volume Mathematica hypomnemata (1605-8) by the Dutch mathematician Simon Stevin, with Opera mathematica of Francois Viète (1646), Pierre de Fermat (1679) and John Wallis (1693-99), as well as Jakob (1744) and Johann Bernoulli (1742).

But the most significant item in this section of De Morgan’s library is undoubtedly a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (1687), which introduced Newtonian physics to the world, including the three laws of motion and the theory of universal gravitation. This section also contains several other copies of Newton’s masterpiece, including the second and third editions, as well as the first English translation (1729), and a copy of the famous French translation by Émilie du Châtelet from 1759. Also of interest to Newton scholars are De Morgan’s multiple copies of the various editions of the Commercium epistolicum (1712), the infamous Royal Society report compiled anonymously by Newton regarding his priority dispute with Leibniz over the invention of calculus. Another important work related to the early history of calculus is The analyst (1734), a controversial and influential attack on the mathematical and philosophical foundations of the subject by the philosopher George Berkeley.

Despite the bulk of this part of the collection being concerned with mathematics, it also contains a number of non-mathematical items, including The Religion of the Dutch (1680), The Massacre of Glenco [sic] (1703), and The political condition of the English peasantry during the Middle Ages (1844), all reflecting De Morgan’s strong interest in history. His interest in matters concerning weights and measures is also reflected by several items, such as a 24-page abstract of the 1825 Act of Parliament that established the Imperial system of units. But perhaps most tellingly, his fascination with mathematical bibliography is illustrated by an offprint of his own 37-page article on the subject, published in the Dublin Review in 1846, with which is included a contemporaneous letter from fellow bibliophile Anthony Panizzi, initially De Morgan’s professorial colleague at University College London, but by then the Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum Library.

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