Barrow, Isaac

, an eminent mathematician and divine of the seventeenth century, was descended from an ancient family of that name in Suffolk. His father was Mr. Thomas Barrow, a reputable citizen of London and linen-draper to king Charles I.; and his mother, Anne, daughter of William Buggin of North-Cray in Kent, esq. whose tender care he did not long experience, she dying when he was about four years old. He was born at London in October 1630, and was placed first in the Charterhouse school for two or three years, where his behaviour afforded but little hopes of success in the profession of a scholar, for which his father designed him, being quarrelsome, riotous, and negligent. But when removed to Felstead school in Essex, his disposition took a more happy turn, and he quickly made so great a progress in learning, that his master appointed him a kind of tutor to the lord viscount Fairfax of Emely in Ireland, who was then his scholar. During his stay at Felstead, he was admitted, December the 1643, being fourteen years of age, a pensioner of Peter-house in Cambridge, under his uncle Mr. Isaac Barrow, then fellow of that college. But when he was qualified for the university, he was entered a pensioner in Trinity-college, the 5th of February 1645; his uncle having been ejected, together with Seth Ward, Peter Gunning, and John Barwick, who had written against the covenant. His father having suffered greatly in his estate by his attachment to the royal cause, our young student was obliged at first for his chief support to the generosity of the learned Dr. Hammond, to whose memory he paid his thanks, in an excellent epitaph on the doctor. In 1647, he was chosen a scholar of the house; and, though he always continued a staunch royalist, and | never would take the covenant, yet, by his great merit and prudent behaviour he preserved the esteem and goodwill of his superiors. Of this we have an instance in Dr. Hill, master of the college, who had been put in by the parliament in the room of Dr. Comber, ejected for adhering to the king. One day, laying his hand upon our young sflident’s head, he said, “Thou art a good lad, ‘tis pity thou art a cavalier;’ 7 and when, in an oration on the Gunpowder-treason, Mr. Barrow had so celebrated the former times, as to reflect much on the present, some fellows were provoked to move for his expulsion but the master silenced them with this,Barrow is a better man than any of us.“Afterwards when the engagement was imposed, he subscribed it; but, upon second thoughts, repenting of what he had done, he applied himself to the commissioners, declared his dissatisfaction, and prevailed to have his name razed out of the list. He applied himself with great diligence to the study of all parts of literature, especially natural philosophy; and though he was yet but a young scholar, his judgment was too great to rest satisfied with the shallow and superficial philosophy, then taught and received in the schools. He applied himself therefore to the reading and considering the writings of the lord Verulam, M. Des Cartes, Galileo, &c. who seemed to offer something more solid and substantial. In 1648, Mr. Barrow took the degree of bachelor of arts. The year following, he was elected fellow of his college, merely out of regard to his merit; for he had no friend to recommend him, as being of the opposite party. And now, finding the times not favourable to men of his opinions in matters of church and state, he turned his thoughts to the profession of physic, and made a considerable progress in anatomy, botany, and chemistry: but afterwards, upon deliberation with himself, and with the advice of his uncle, he applied himself to the study of divinity, to which he was further obliged by his oath on his admission to his fellowship. By reading Scaliger on Eusebius, he perceived the dependance of chronology on astronomy; which put him upon reading Ptolemy’s Almagest: and finding that book and all astronomy to depend on geometry, he made himself master of Euclid’s Elements, and from thence proceeded to the other ancient mathematicians. He made a short essay towards acquiring the Arabic language, but soon deserted it. With these severer | speculations, the largeness of his mind had room for the amusements of poetry, to which he was always strongly addicted. This is sufficiently evident from the many performances he has left us in that art. Mr. Hill, his biographer, tells us, he was particularly pleased with that branch of it, which consists in description, but greatly disliked the hyperboles of some modern poets. As for our plays, he was an enemy to them, as a principal cause of the debauchery of the times; the other causes he thought to be, the French education, and the ill example of great persons. For satires, he wrote none his wit, as Mr. Hill expresses it, was” pure and peaceable."

In 1652, he commenced master of arts, and, on the 12th of June the following year, was incorporated in that degree at Oxford. When Dr. Duport resigned the chair of Greek. professor, he recommended his pupil Mr. Barrow to succeed him; who justified his tutor’s opinion of him by an excellent performance of the probation exercise: but being looked upon as a favourer of Arminianism, the choice fell upon another; and this disappointment, it is thought, helped to determine him in his resolution of travelling abroad. In order to execute this design, he was obliged to sell his books. Accordingly, in the year 1655, he went into France; where, at Paris, he found his father attending the English court, and out of his small means made him a seasonable present. The same year his “Euclid” was printed at Cambridge, which he had left behind him for that purpose. He gave his college an account of his journey to Paris in a poem, and some farther observations in a letter. After a few months, he went into Italy, and stayed sometime at Florence, where he had the advantage of perusing several books in the great duke’s library, and of conversing with Mr. Fitton, an Englishman, his librarian. Here his poverty must have put an end to his travels, had he not been generously supplied with money by Mr. James Stock, a young merchant of London, to whom he afterwards dedicated his edition of Euclid’s Data. He was desirous to have seen Rome; but the plague then raging in that city, he took ship at Leghorn, November the 6th 1656, for Smyrna. In this voyage they were attacked by a corsair of Algiers, who, perceiving the stout defence the ship made, sheered off and left her; and upon this occasion Mr. Barrow gave a remarkable instance of his natural courage and intrepidity. At Smyrna, he made himself welcome to Mr. Bretton the consul (upon whose death he | afterwards wrote an elegy), and to the English factory. Front thence he proceeded to Constantinople, where he met with a very friendly reception from sir Thomas Bendish the English ambassador, and sir Jonathan Daws, with whom he afterwards kept up an intimate friendship and correspondence. This voyage, from Leghorn to Constantinople, he has described in a Latin poem. At Constantinople, he read over the works of St. Chrysostom, once bishop of that see, whom he preferred to all the other fathers. Having stayed in Turkey above a year, he returned from thence to Venice, where, soon after they were landed, the ship took fire, and was consumed with all the goods. From thence he came home, in 1659, through Germany and Holland, and has left a description of some parts of those countries in his poems. Soon after his return into England, the time being somewhat elapsed, before which all fellows of Trinity-college are obliged to take orders, or quit the society, Mr. Barrow was episcopally ordained by bishop Brownrig, notwithstanding the unsettled state of the times, and the declining condition of the church of England. Upon the king’s restoration, his friends expected he would have been immediately preferred on account of his having suffered and deserved so much; but it came to nothing, which made him wittily say (which he has not left in his poems),

Te magis optavit rediturum, Carole, nemo,

Et nemo sensit te rediisse minus.

However, he wrote an ode upon that occasion, in which he introduces Britannia congratulating the king upon his return. In 1660, he was chosen, without a competitor, Greek professor of the university of Cambridge. His oration, spoken upon that occasion, is preserved among his Opuscula. When he entered upon this province, he designed to have read upon the tragedies of Sophocles: but, altering his intention, he made choice of Aristotle’s rhetoric. These lectures, having been lent to a person who never returned them, are irrecoverably lost. The year following, which was 1661, he took the degree of bachelor in divinity. July the 16th, 1662, he was elected professor of geometry in Gresham-college, in the room of Mr. Lawrence Rooke, chiefly through the interest and recommendation of Dr. Wilkins, master of Trinity-college, and afterwards bishop of Chester. In this 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 which being borrowed and never returned, are lost but his Latin oration, previous to his lectures, is in his works. The same year, 1662, he wrote an epithalamium on the marriage of king Charles and queen Catherine, in Greek verse. About this time, Mr. Barrow was offered a valuable living, but the condition annexed of teaching the patron’s son, made him refuse it, as too like a simouiacal 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, Mr. Lucas having founded a mathematical lecture at Cambridge, Mr. Barrow was so powerfully recommended, by Dr. Wilkins, to that gentleman’s executors Mr. Raworth and Mr. Buck, that he was appointed the first professor; and the better to secure the end of so noble and useful a foundation, he took care that himself and his successors should be obliged to leave yearly to the university ten written lectures. We have his prefatory oration, spoken in the public mathematical school, March the 14th, 1664. Though his two professorships were not incompatible, he resigned that of Gresham-college, May the 20th, 1664. He had been invited to take the charge of the Cotton library; but, after ;a short trial, he declined it, and resolved to settle in the university. In 1669, he resigned the mathematical chair to his very worthy friend the celebrated Isaac Newton, being now determined to exchange the study of the mathematics for that of divinity, partly from a strong inclination for the latter, and partly because his mathematical works were less favourably received than he thought they deserved. In 1670, he wrote a Latin poem upon the death of the duchess of Orleans, an epicedium upon the duke of Albemarle, and a Latin ode upon the Trinity. He was only a fellow of Trinity-college, when he was collated by his uncle, the bishop of St. Asaph, to a small sinecure in Wales, and by Dr. Seth Ward, bishop of Salisbury, to a prebend in that cathedral; the profits of both which he applied to charitable uses, and afterwards resigned them, when he became master of his college. In the same year he was created doctor in divinity by mandate. In 1672, Dr. Pearson, master of Trinity-college, being, upon the death of bishop Wilkins, removed to the bishopric of Chester, Dr. Barrow was appointed by the | king to succeed him; and his majesty was pleased to say upon that occasion, “he had given it to the best scholar in England.” His patent hears date February the 13th, 1672, with permission to marry, which he caused to be erased, as contrary to the statutes, and he was admitted the 27th of the same month. He gave the highest satisfaction to that society, whose interest he constantly and carefully consulted. In 1675, he was chosen vice-chancellor of the university. This great and learned divine died of a fever, the 4th of May 1677, and was buried in Westminster-abbey, where a monument was erected to him by the contribution of his friends.*


The following circumstances, conoerning Dr. Barrow’s death, are related by Mr. Roger North, in his Life of Dr. John North. “The good Dr. Harrow ended his days in London, in a prebends’ house that had a little stair to it out of the cloisters, which made him call it a Mart’s-nest, and I presume it is so called at this day. The master’s disease was an high fever. It had been his custom, contracted when (upon the fund of a travelling fellowship) he was at Constantinople, in all his mala­ dies, to cure himself with opium. And, being very ill (probably) augmented his dose, and so inflamed his fever, and at the same time obstructed the crisis: for he was as a man knocked down, and had the eyes as of one distracted. Our doctor (Dr. North) seeing him so, was struck with horror; for be, that knew him so well in his best health, could best distinguish; and when he left him, he concluded he should see him no more; and so it proved.

His epitaph was written by his friend Dr. Mapletoft. He left his manuscripts to Dr. Tillotson and Mr. Abraham Hill, with permission to publish what they should think proper. He left little behind him, except books, which were so well chosen, that they sold for more than the prime cost. Though he could never be prevailed to sit for his picture, some of his friends contrived to have it taken without his knowledge, whilst they diverted him with such discourse as engaged his attention. As to his person, he was low of stature, lean, and of a pale complexion, and negligent of his dress to a fault; of extraordinary strength, a thin skin, and very sensible of cold; his eyes grey, clear, and somewhat short-sighted; his hair a light brown, very fine, and curling. He was of a healthy constitution, very fond of tobacco, which he used to call his panpharmacon, or universal medicine, and imagined it helped to compose and regulate his thoughts. If he was guilty of any intemperance, it seemed to be in the love of fruit, which he thought very salutary. He slept little, generally rising in the winter months before day. His conduct and behaviour were truly amiable; he was always ready to assist others, open and communicative in his conversation, in which he | generally spoke to the importance, as well as truth, of any question proposed; facetious in his talk upon fit occasions, and skilful to accommodate his discourse to different capacities; of indefatigable industry in various studies, clear judgment on all arguments, and steady virtue under all difficulties; of a calm temper in factious times, and of large charity in mean estate; he was easy and contented with a scanty fortune, and with the same decency and moderation maintained his character under the temptations of prosperity. In short, he was, perhaps, the greatest scholar of his times and, as an ingenious writer expresses it, “he may be esteemed as having shewn a compass of invention equal, if not superior, to any of the moderns, sir Isaac Newton only excepted.

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: l.“EuclidisElementa,” Cantab. 1655, 8vo. 2.“EuclidisData,” Cantab. 1657,8vo. 3.^ Lectiones Opticaexviii,“Lond. 1669, 4to. 4.” Lectiones Geometric^ xiii,“Lond. 1670, 4to. 5.” Archimedis Opera, Apollonii Conicorum libri iv. Theodosii Sphericoruni lib. iii.; nova methodo illustrata, et succiricte clemonstrata,“Lond. 1675, 4to. The following were published after his decease, viz. 6.” Lectio, in qua theoremata Archimedis de sphcera et cylindro per methodum indivisibilium investigata, ac breviter investigata, exhibentur,“Lond. 1678, 12mo. 7.” Mathematics Lectiones habitrc in scholis publicis academiai 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 mathematical 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 ia 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."

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, already noticed, 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 r” 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 the profligate lord Rochester. These two meeting one day at 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, 1 am yours to my shoe-tie:Barrow perceiving his drift, 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 sarcastic smile, archly replied, “There, my lord, I leave you.

Dr. Barrow’s sermons are yet admired for the style and moral sentiment. Yet in him, says Dr. Blair, one admires more the prodigious fecundity of his invention, and the uncommon strength and force of his conceptions, than the felicity of his execution, or his talent in composition. We see a genius far surpassing the common, peculiar, indeed, almost to himself; but that genius often shooting wild, and unchastised by any discipline or study of eloquence. His style is unequal, incorrect, and redundant, but uncommonly distinguished for force and expressiveness. On every subject, he multiplies words with an overflowing copiousness, but it is always a torrent of strong ideas and significant expressions which he pours forth. 1


Biog. Brit. Pope’s Life of Seth Ward. Ward’s Gresham Professors. Blair’s Lectures. Birch’s Life of Tillotson, p. 53, 105. Granger’s fciog. History, and Granger’s Letttrs, p. 407.