WRIGHT (Edward)

, a noted English mathematician, who flourished in the latter part of the 16th century, and beginning of the 17th; dying in the year 1615. He was contemporary with Mr. Briggs, and much concerned with him in the business of the logarithms, the short time they were published before his death. He also contributed greatly to the improvement of navigation and astronomy. The following memoirs of him are translated from a Latin paper in the annals of Gonvile and Caius college in Cambridge, viz, “This year (1615) died at London, Edward Wright of Garveston in Norfolk, formerly a fellow of this college; a man respected by all for the integrity and simplicity of his manners, and also famous for his skill in the mathematical sciences: so that he was not undeservedly styled a most excellent mathematician by Richard Hackluyt, the author of an original treatise of our English navigations. What knowledge he had acquired in the science of mechanics; and how usefully he employed that knowledge to the public as well as private advantage, abundantly appear both from the writings he published, and from the many mechanical operations still extant, which are standing monuments of his great industry and ingenuity. He was the first undertaker of that difficult but useful work, by which a little river is brought from the town of Ware in a new canal, to supply the city of London with water; but by the tricks of others he was hindered from completing the work he had begun. He was excellent both in contrivance and execution, nor was he inserior to the most ingenious mechanic in the making of instruments, either of brass or any other matter. To his invention is owing whatever advantage Hondius's geographical charts have above others; for it was Wright who taught Jodocus Hondius the method of constructing them, which was till then unknown; but the ungrateful Hondius concealed the name of the true author, and arrogated the glory of the invention to himself. Of this fraudulent practice the good man could not help complaining, and justly enough, in the preface to his treatise of the Correction of Errors in the Art of Navigation; which he composed with excellent judgment, and after long experience, to the great advancement of naval affairs. For the improvement of this art he was appointed mathematical lecturer by the East-India Company, and read lectures in the house of that worthy knight Sir Thomas Smith, for which he had a yearly salary of 50 pounds. This office he discharged with great reputation, and much to the satisfaction of his hearers. He published in English a book on the doctrine of the sphere, and another concerning the construction of sun dials. He also prefixed an ingenious preface to the learned Gilbert's book on the loadstone. By these and other his writings, he has transmitted his same to latest posterity. While he was yet a fellow of this college, he could not be concealed in his private study, but was called forth to the public business of the nation, by the queen, about the year 1593. [Other accounts say 1589.] He was ordered to attend the earl of Cumberland in | some maritime expeditions. One of these he has given a faithful account of, in the manner of a journal or ephemeris, to which he has prefixed an elegant hydrographical chart of his own contrivance. A little before his death he employed himself about an English translation of the book of logarithms, then lately discovered by lord Napier, a Scotchman, who had a great affection for him. This posthumous work of his was published soon after, by his only son Samuel Wright, who was also a scholar of this college. He had formed many other useful designs, but was hindered by death from bringing them to perfection. Of him it may truly be said, that he studied more to serve the public than himself; and though he was rich in fame, and in the promises of the great, yet he died poor, to the scandal of an ungrateful age.” So far the memoir; other particulars concerning him, are as follow.

Mr. Wright first discovered the true way of dividing the meridian line, according to which the Mercator's charts are constructed, and upon which Mercator's sailing is founded. An account of this he sent from Caius college, Cambridge, where he was then a fellow, to his friend Mr. Blondeville, containing a short table for that purpose, with a specimen of a chart so divided, together with the manner of dividing it. All which Blondeville published, in 1594, among his Exercises. And, in 1597, the reverend Mr. William Barlowe, in his Navigator's Supply, gave a demonstration of this division as communicated by a friend.

At length, in 1599, Mr. Wright himself printed his celebrated treatise, intitled, The Correction of certain Errors in Navigation, which had been written many years before; where he shews the reason of this division of the meridian, the manner of constructing his table, and its uses in navigation, with other improvements. In 1610 a second edition of Mr. Wright's book was published, and dedicated to his royal pupil, prince Henry; in which the author inserted farther improvements; particularly he proposed an excellent way of determining the magnitude of the earth; at the same time recommending very judiciously, the making our common measures in some certain proportion to that of a degree on its surface, that they might not depend on the uncertain length of a barley-corn. Some of his other improvements were; The Table of Latitudes for dividing the meridian, computed as far as to minutes: An instrument, he calls the Sea rings, by which the variation of the compass, the altitude of the sun, and the time of the day, may be readily determined at once in any place, provided the latitude be known: The correcting of the errors arising from the eccentricity of the eye in observing by the cross-staff. A total amendment in the Tables of the declinations and places of the sun and stars, from his own observations, made with a six-foot quadrant, in the years 1594, 95, 96, 97: A sea-quadrant, to take altitudes by a forward or backward observation; having also a contrivance for the ready finding the latitude by the height of the pole-star, when not upon the meridian. And that this book might be the better understood by beginners, to this edition is subjoined a translation of Zamorano's Compendium; and added a large table of the variation of the compass as observed in very different parts of the world, to shew it is not occasioned by any magnetical pole. The work has gone through several other editions since. And, beside the books above mentioned, he wrote another on navigation, intitled, The Haven-finding Art. Other accounts of him say also, that it was in the year 1589 that he first began to attend the earl of Cumberland in his voyages. It is also said that he made, for his pupil, prince Henry, a large sphere with curious movements, which, by the help of spring-work, not only represented the motions of the whole celestial sphere, but shewed likewise the particular systems of the sun and moon, and their circular motions, together with their places and possibilities of eclipsing each other: there is in it a work for a motion of 17100 years, if it should not be stopt, or the materials fail. This sphere, though thus made at a great expence of money and ingenious industry, was afterwards in the time of the civil wars cast aside, among dust and rubbish, where it was found, in the year 1646, by Sir Jonas Moore, who at his own expence restored it to its first state of perfection, and deposited it at his own house in the Tower, among his other mathematical instruments and curiosities.

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

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WREN (Sir Christopher)
* WRIGHT (Edward)