BARROW (Isaac)

, a very eminent mathematician and divine of the 17th century, was born at London in October, 1630, being the son of Thomas Barrow, then a linen-draper of that city, but descended from an ancient family in Sussolk. He was at first placed at the Charter-house school for two or three years; where his behaviour afforded but little hopes of success in the profession of a scholar, being fond of fighting, and promoting it among his school-sellows: but being removed to Felsted in Essex, his disposition took a different turn; and having soon made a great progress in learning, he was first admitted a pensioner of Peter House in Cambridge; but when he came to join the university, in Feb. 1645, he was entered at Trinity college. He now a<*>plied himself with great diligence to the study of all parts of literature, especially natural philosophy. He afterward turned his attention to the profession of physic, and made a considerable progress in anatomy, botany, and chemistry: he next studied divinity; then chronology, astronomy, geometry, and the other branches of the mathematics; with what success, his writings afterwards most eminently shewed.

When Dr. Duport resigned the chair of Greek professor, he recommended his pupil Mr. Barrow for his successor, who, in his probation exercise, shewed himself equal to the character that had been given him by this gentleman; but being suspected of favouring Arminianism, he was not preferred. This disappointment it seems determined him to quit the college, and visit foreign countries; but his finances were so low, that he was obliged to dispose of his books, to enable him to execute that design.

He left England in June 1655, and visited France, Italy, Turkey, &c. At several places, in the course of this tour, he met with kindness and liberal assistance from the English ambassadors, &c, which enabled him to benefit the more from it, by protracting his stay, and prolonging his journey. He spent more than a year in Turkey, and returned to England by way of Venice, Germany, and Holland, in 1659. At Constantinople he read over the works of St. Chrysostom, once bishop of that see, whom he preferred to all the other fathers.

On his return home Barrow was episcopally ordained by bishop Brownrig; and in 1660, he was chosen to the Greek professorship at Cambridge. In July 1662, he was elected professor of geometry in Gresham college: in which station, he not only discharged his own duty, but supplied likewise the absence of Dr. Pope the astronomy professor. Among his lectures, some were upon the projection of the sphere and perspective, which are lost; but his Latin oration, previous to his lectures, is still extant. About this time Mr. Barrow was offered a good living; but the condition annexed, of teaching the patron's son, made him refuse it, as thinking it too | like a simonial contract. Upon the 20th of May 1663 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, in the first choice made by the council after their charter. The same year the executors of Mr. Lucas having, according to his appointment, founded a mathematical lecture at Cambridge, they selected Mr. Barrow for the first professor; and though his two professorships were not incompatible with each other, he chose to resign that of Gresham-college, which he did May the 20th, 1664. In 1669 he resigned the mathematical chair to his learned friend Mr. Isaac Newton, being now determined to quit the study of mathematics for that of divinity. On quitting his professorship, he had only his fellowship of Trinity-college, till his uncle gave him a small sinecure in Wales, and Dr. Seth Ward bishop of Salisbury conferred upon him a prebend in his church. In the year 1670 he was created doctor in divinity by mandate; and, upon the promotion of Dr. Pearson master of Trinity college to the see of Chester, he was appointed to succeed him by the king's patent bearing date the 13th of February 1672: upon which occasion the king was pleased to say, “he had given it to the best scholar in England.” In this, his majesty did not speak from report, but from his own knowledge; the doctor being then his chaplain, he used often to converse with him, and, in his humourous way, to call him an “unfair preacher,” because he exhausted every subject, and left no room for others to come after him. In 1675 he was chosen vice-chancellor of the university; and he omitted no endeavours for the good of that society, nor in the line of his profession as a divine, for the promotion of piety and virtue; but his useful labours were abruptly terminated by a fever on the 4th of May 1677, in the 47th year of his age. He was interred in Westminster abbey, where a monument, adorned with his bust, was soon after erected, by the contribution of his friends.

Dr. Barrow's works are very numerous, and indeed various, mathematical, theological, poetical, &c, and such as do honour to the English nation. They are principally as follow:

1. Euclidis Elementa. Cantab. 1655, in 8vo.

2. Euclidis Data. Cantab. 1657, in 8vo.

3. Lectiones Opticæ xviii, Lond. 1669, 4to.

4. Lectiones Geometricæ xiii, Lond. 1670, 4to.

5. Arehimedis Opera, Apollonii Conicorum libri iv, Theodosii Sphericorum lib. iii; nova methodo illustrata, et succincte demonstrata. Lond. 1675, in 4to.

The following were published after his decease, viz:

6. Lectio, in qua theoremata Archimedis de sphæra et cylindro per methodum indivisibilium investigata, ac breviter investigata, exhibentur. Lond. 1678, 12mo.

7. Mathematicæ Lectiones habitæ in scholis publicis academiæ Cantabrigiensis, an. 1664, 5, 6, &c. Lond. 1683.

8. All his English works in 3 volumes, Lond. 1683, folio.—These are all theological, and were published by Dr. John Tillotson.

9. Isaaci Barrow Opuscula, viz, Determinationes, Conciones ad Clerum, Orationes, Poemata, &c. volumen quartum. Lond. 1687, folio.

Dr. Barrow left also several curious papers on mathematieal subjects, written in his own hand, which were communicated by Mr. Jones to the author of “The Lives of the Gresham Professors,” a particular account of which may be seen in that book, in the Life of Barrow.

Several of his works have been translated into English, and published; as the Elements and Data of Euclid; the Geometrical Lectures, the Mathematical Lectures. And accounts of some of them were also given in several volumes of the Philos. Trans.

Dr. Barrow must ever be esteemed, in all the subjects which exercised his pen, a person of the clearest perception, the finest fancy, the soundest judgment, the profoundest thought, and the closest and most nervous reasoning. “The name of Dr. Barrow (says the learned Mr. Granger) will ever be illustrious for a strength of mind and a compass of knowledge that did honour to his country. He was unrivalled in mathematical learning, and especially in the sublime geometry; in which he has been excelled only by his successor Newton. The same genius that seemed to be born only to bring hidden truths to light, and to rise to the heights or descend to the depths of science, would sometimes amuse itself in the flowery paths of poetry, and he composed verses both in Greek and Latin. He at length gave himself up entirely to divinity; and particularly to the most useful part of it, that which has a tendency to make men wiser and better.”

Several good anecdotes are told of Barrow, as well of his great integrity, as of his wit, and bold intrepid spirit and strength of body. His early attachment to fighting when a boy is some indication of the latter; to which may be added the two following anecdotes: In his voyage between Leghorn and Smyrna the ship was attacked by an Algerine pirate, which after a stout resistance they compelled to sheer off, Barrow keeping his post at the gun assigned him to the last. And when Dr. Pope in their conversation asked him, “Why he did not go down into the hold, and leave the defence of the ship to those, to whom it did belong? He replied, It concerned no man more than myself: I would rather have lost my life, than to have fallen into the hands of those merciless infidels.”

There is another anecdote told of him, which shewed not only his intrepidity, but an uncommon goodness of disposition, in circumstances where an ordinary share of it would have been probably extinguished. Being once on a visit at a gentleman's house in the country, where the necessary was at the end of a long garden, and consequently at a great distance from the room where he lodged; as he was going to it before day, for he was a very early riser, a fierce mastiff, that used to be chained up all day, and let loose at night for the security of the house, perceiving a strange person in the garden at that unusual time, set upon him with great fury. The doctor caught him by the throat, grappled with him, and, throwing him down, lay upon him: once he had a mind to kill him; but he altered his resolution, on recollecting that this would be unjust, since the dog did only his duty, and he himself was in fault for rambling out of his room before it was light. At length he called out so loud, that he was heard by some of the family, who came presently out, and freed the doctor and the dog from the danger they both had been in. |

Among other instances of his wit and vivacity, they relate the following rencontre between him and that wicked wit lord Rochester. These two meeting one day at the court, while the doctor was king's chaplain in ordinary, Rochester, thinking to banter him, with a flippant air, and a low formal bow, accosted him with, “Doctor, I am yours to my shoe-tie:” Barrow perceiving his drift, and determined upon defending himself, returned the salute, with, “My lord, I am yours to the ground.” Rochester, on this, improving his blow, quickly returned it, with, “Doctor, I am yours to the centre;” which was as smartly followed up by Barrow, with, “My lord, I am yours to the antipodes.” Upon which, Rochester, disdaining to be foiled by a musty old piece of divinity, as he used to call him, exclaimed, “Doctor, I am yours to the lowest pit of hell;” upon which Barrow, turning upon his heel, with a farcastic fmile, archly replied, “There, my lord, I leave you.”

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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* BARROW (Isaac)