Pell, John

, an eminent English mathematician, descended from an ancient family in Lincolnshire, was bora at Southwyke in Sussex, March t, 1610; and educated in grammar-learning at the free-school, then newly founded, | at Steyning in that county. At thirteen, he was sent to Trinity college in Cambridge, where he pursued his studies with unusual diligence, but although capable of undergoing any trials, and one of the best classical scholars of his age, he never offered himself a candidate at the election of scholars or fellows of this college. After taking the degree of B. A. in 1628, he drew up the “Description and Use of the Quadrant, written for the use of a friend, in two books;” the original ms. of which is still extant among his papers in the Royal Society; and the same year he held a correspondence with Mr. Henry Briggs on logarithms. In 1630 he wrote “Modus supputatidi Ephemerides Astronomicas (quantum ad motum solis attinet) paradigmate ad an. 1630 accommodate;” and “A Key to unlock the Meaning of Johannes Trithemius, in his Discourse of Ste^anography;” which key Pell the same year imparted to Mr. Samuel Hartlib and Mr. Jacob Homedae. The same year, he took the degree of master of arts at Cambridge, and the year following was incorporated in the university of Oxford. In June he wrote “A Letter to Mr. Edward Win gate on Logarithms;” and, Oct. 5, 1631, “Commentationes in Cosmographiam Alstedii.July 3, 1632', he married Ithamaria, second daughter of IVtr. Henry Reginolles of London, by whom he had four sons and four daughters. In 1633 he finished his “Astronomical History of Observations of heavenly Motions and Appearances;” and his “Eclipticus Prognostica or Foreknower of the Eclipses; teaching how, by calculation, to foreknow and foretell all sorts of Eclipses of the heavenly lights.” In 1634, he translated “The everlasting Tables of Heavenly Motions, grounded upon the observations of all times, and agreeing with them all, by Philip Lansberg, of Ghent in Flanders” and the same year he committed to writing, “The Manner of deducing his Astronomical Tables out of the Tables and axioms of Philip Lansberg.” In March 1635, he wrote “A Letter of Remarks on Gellibrand’s Mathematical Discourse on the Variation of the Magnetic Needle; and, June following, another on the same subject. Such were the employments of the first six years of Mr. Pell’s public life, during which mathematics entirely engrossed his attention. Conceiving this science of the utmost importance, he drew up a scheme for a mathematical school on an extensive scale of utility and emulation*, Which was much approved by Des Cartes^ but so censured | by Mersenne in France, that our author was obliged to write in its defence. The controversy may be seen in Hooke’s Philosophical Collections, and with Pell’s” Idea of the Mathematics."

Mr. Pell’s eminence, however, in mathematical knowledge, was now so great, that he was thought worthy of a professor’s chair in that science; and, i.pon the vacancy of one at Amsterdam in 1639, sir William Bos -ell, the English resident with the States-general, used his interest, that he might succeed in that professorship; which was not filled up till above four years after, 1643, when Pell was chosen to it. The year following he published, in two pages 4to, “A Refutation of Longomontamis’s Discourse, De vera circuli mensura,” printed at Amsterdam in 1644. In June 1646, he was invited by the prince of Orange to be professor of philosophy and mathematics at Breda, in the college newly founded there by his highness, with the offer of a salary of 1000 guilders a year. This he accepted, but upon his removal to Breda, he found that he was rt quired to teach mathematics only. His “Idea Matheseos,” which he had addressed to Mr. Hartlib, who in 1639 had sent it to Des Cartes and Mersenne, was printed 1650 at London, 12mo, in English, with the title of “An Idea of Mathematics,” at the end of Mr. John Dury’s “Reformed Library-keeper.” On the death of the prince of Orange, in 1650, and the subsequent war between the English and Dutch, he left Breda, and returned to Eng land, in 1652; and, in 1654, was sent by Cromwell as his agent to the protestant cantons in Switzerland, his instructions being dated March 30th of that year. His first speech in Latin to the deputies of Zurich was on the 13th of June; and he continued in that city during most of his employment in Switzerland, in which he had afterwards the title of resident. Being recalled by Cromwell, he took his leave of the cantons in a Latin speech at Zuricu, the 23d of June, 1658; but returned to England so short a time before the usurper’s death, that he had no opportunity of an audience from him. Why Cromwell employed him does not appear, but it is thought that during his residence abroad, he contributed to the interests of Charles Ji. and the church of England; and it is certain that, after the restoration, he entered into holy orders, although at an unusually advanced period of life. He was ordained deacon March 31, 1661, and priest in June following, by | Sanderson, bishop of Lincoln; and, on the 16th of that month, instituted to the rectory of Fobbing in Essex, given him by the king. On Dec. the 5th following, he brought into the upper house of convocation the calendar reformed by him, assisted by Sancroft, afterwards abp. of Canterbury. In 1663, he was presented by Sheldon, bishop of London, to the rectory of Laingdon in Essex; and, upon the promotion of that bishop to the see of Canterbury in the next month, became one of his grace’s domestic chaplains. He was then doctor of divinity, and expected, as Wood tells us, “to be made a dean; but being not a person of activity, as others who mind not learning are, could never rise higher than a rector.” The truth is, adds Wood, “he was a helpless man as to worldly affairs; and his tenants and relations dealt so unkindly by him, that they defrauded him of the profits of his rectory, and kept him so indigent, that he was in want of necessaries, even ink and paper, to his dying day.” He was for some time confined to the King’s-bench prison for debt; but, in March 1682, was invited by Dr. Whistler to live in the college of physicians. Here he continued till June following, when he was obliged, by his ill state of health, to remove to the house of a grandchild of his in St. Margaret’s church-yard, Westminster. From this too he was again removed, for we find that he died at the house (in Dyot street) of Mr. Cothorne, reader of the church of St. Giles’s in the Fields, Dec. the 12th, 1685, and was intecred by the charity of Busby, master of Westminster school, and Sharp, rector of, St. Giles’s, in the rector’s vault under that church. Besides what have been mentioned, Dr. Pell was the author of, 1. “An Exercitation concerning Easter,1644, in 4to. 2. “A Table of 10,000 square numbers,” &c. 1672, folio. 3. An Inaugural Oration at his entering upon the Professorship at Breda. 4. He made great alterations and additions to “Rhonius’s Algebra,” printed at London 1668, 4to, under the title of “An Introduction to Algebra; translated out of the High Dutch into English by Thomas Branker, much altered and augmented by D. P. (Dr. Pell).” Also a Table of odd numbers, less than 100,000, shewing those that are incomposite, &c. supputated by the same Thomas Branker. 5. His Controversy with Longomontanus concerning the Quadrature of the Circle, Amsterdam, 1646, 4to. He likewise wrote a Demonstration of the 2d and 10th books of Euclid; which | piece was in ms. in the library of lord Brereton in Cheshire: as also’Arrhimedes’s Arenarins, and the greatest part of Diophantus’s six books of Arithmetic; of which author he was preparing, Aug. 1644, a new edition, with 2 corrected translation, and new illustrations. He designed likewise to publish an edition of Apollonius, but laid it aside, in May, 1645, at the desire of Golius, who was engaged in an edition of that author from an Arabic manuscript given him at Aleppo 18 years before. This appears from the letters of Dr. Pell to sir Charles Cavendish, in the Royal Society.

Some of his manuscripts he left at Brereton in Cheshire", where he resided some years, being the seat of William lord Brereton, who had been his pupil at Breda. A great many others came into the hands of Dr. Busby; which Mr. Hook was desired to use his endeavours to obtain for the society. But they continued buried under dust, and mixed with the papers and pamphlets of Dr. Busby, in four large boxes, till 1755; when Dr. Birch, secretary to the Royal Society, procured them for that body, from the trustees of Dfr. Busby. The collection contains not only Pell’s mathematical papers, letters to him, and copies of those from* him, &c. but also several manuscripts of Walter Warner, the mathematician and philosopher, who lived in the reignS of James the First and Charles the First.

Dr. Pell invented the method of ranging the several steps of an algebraical calculus, in a proper order, in so many distinct lines, with the number affixed to each step, and a short description of the operation or process in the line. He also invented some mathematical characters. 1


Ath.Ox. vol. I. Biog, Brit Martin’s Biog. Philos. Hatton’s Dictionary.