Briggs, Henry
, one of the greatest mathematicians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was born at Daisy Bank adjoining to Warleywood, near Halifax, in Yorkshire, in 1556, but according to the Halifax register probably sooner, as it is there recorded that he was baptised Feb. 23, 1560. From a grammar-school ‘in that country he was sent to St. John’s college, Cambridge, 1579; where, after taking both degrees in arts, he was chosen fellow of his college in 1588. He applied himself chiefly to the study of the mathematics, in which he greatly excelled; in consequence in 1592 he was made examiner and lecturer in that faculty; and soon after, reader of the physic lecture, founded by Dr. Linacer.
Upon the settlement of Gresham college, in London, he was chosen the first professor of geometry there, in 1596. Soon after this, he constructed a table, for finding the latitude, from the variation of the magnetic needle being given. In 1609 he contracted an acquaintance with the learned Mr. James Usher, afterwards archbishop of Armagh, which continued many years after by letters, two of Mr. Briggs’s being still extant in the collection of Usher’s letters that were published: in the former of these, dated August 1610, he writes among other things, that he was | engaged in the subject of eclipses; and in the latter, dated the 10th of March 1615, that he was wholly taken up and employed about the noble invention of logarithms, which had come out the year before, and in the improvement of which he had afterwards so great a concern. For Briggs immediately set himself to the study and improvement of them; expounding them also to his auditors in his lecturesat Gresham college. In these lectures he proposed the alteration of the scale of logarithms, from the hyperbolic form which Napier had given them, to that in which 1 should be the logarithm of the ratio of 10 to 1; and soon after he wrote to Napier to make the same proposal to himself. In 1616 Briggs made a visit to Na.pier at Edinburgh, to confer with him upon this change; and the next year he did the same also. In these conferences, the alteration was agreed upon accordingly, and upon Briggs’ s return from his second visit, in 1617, he published the first chiliad, or 1000 of his logarithms.
In 1619 he was made the first Savilian professor of geometry; and resigned the professorship of Gresham college the 25th of July, 1620*. At Oxford he settled himself at Merton college, where he continued a most laborious and studious life, employed partly in the duties of his office as geometry lecturer, and partly in the computation of the logarithms, and in other useful works. In 1622 he published, a small tract on the “North-west passage to the South Seas, through the continent of Virginia and Hudson’s Bay;” the reason of which was probably, that he was then a member of the company trading to Virginia. His next performance was his great and elaborate work, the “Arithmetica Logarithmica,” in folio, printed at London in 1624- a stupendous work for so short a time containing the logarithms of 30 thousand natural numbers, to 14 places of figures beside the index. Briggs lived also to complete a table of logarithmic sines and tangents for the 100th part of every degree, to 14 places of figures beside the index; with a table of natural sines for the same 100th parts to 15 places, and the tangents and secants for the
* Jan. 8, Mr. Briggs, at eight sir Henry Saville (his predecessor) had
’clock in the morning, made an ele- left off. He read also arithmetic thrice
gant oration before the university: a week in Merton college refectory to
which being done, read actualiter the the scholars thereof, being all the time
pext Monday and Wednesday, begin- of his abode in Oxford a commoaer
ning from the ninth proposition of the there. Wood’s Oxford, first of the Elements of Euclid, | same to ten places; with the construction of the whole. These tables were printed at Gouda in 1631, under th care of Adrian Vlacq, and published in 1633, with the title of “Trioonometria Britannica.” In the construction of these two works, on the logarithms of numbers, and of sine’s and tangents, our author, beside extreme labour and application, manifests the highest powers of genius and invention; as we here for the first time meet with several of the most important discoveries in the mathematics, and what have hitherto been considered as of much later invention; such as the binomial theorem; the differential method and construction of tables by differences; the interpolation by differences; with angular sections, and several other ingenious compositions: a particular account of which may be seen in the Introduction to Dr. Mutton’s Mathematical Tables. This truly great man terminated his useful life the 26th of January, 1630, and was buried in the choir of the chapel of Merton college, near to the high altar, and under the monument of sir Henry Savile, on which occasion, a sermon, by Mr. William Sellar, and an oration by Mr. Hugh Cressy, fellows of that college, were delivered before the principal members of the university. As to his character, he was not less esteemed for his great probity and other eminent virtues, than for his excellent skill in mathematics. Dr. Smith gives him the character of a man of great probity; easy of access to all; free from arrogance, moroseness, envy, ambition, and avarice; a contemner of riches, and contented in his own situation; preferring a studious retirement to all the splendid circumstances of life. The learned Mr. Thomas Gataker, who attended his lectures when he was reader of mathematics at Cambridge, represents him as highly esteemed by all persons skilled in mathematics, both at home and abroad; and says, that desiring him once to give his judgment concerning judicial astrology, his answer was, “that he conceived it to be a mere system of groundless conceits.” Oughtred calls him the mirror of the age, for his excellent skill in geometry. And one of his successors at Gresham college, the learned Dr. Isaac Barrow, in his oration there upon his admission, has drawn his character more fully; celebrating his great abilities, skill, and industry, particularly in perfecting the invention of logarithms, which, without his care and pains, might have continued an imperfect and useless design. His writings were more | important than numerous some of them were published by other persons the list of the principal part of them as follows. 1. “A Table tft find the Height of the Pole the magnetical declination being given.” This was published in Mr. Thomas Blundevile’s Theoriques of the Seven Planets, London, 1602, 4to. 2. “Tables for the improvement of Navigation.” These consist of a table of declination of every minute of the ecliptic, in degrees, minutes, and seconds; a table of the sun’s prosthaphaereses; a table of equations of the sun’s ephemerides; a table of the sun’s declination; tables to find the height of the pole in any latitude, from the height of the pole star. These tables are printed in the second edition of Edward Wright’s treatise, entitled Certain Errors in Navigation detected and corrected, London^ 1610, 4to. 3. “A description of an Instrumental Table to find the part proportional, devised by Mr. Edward Wright.” This is subjoined to Napier’s table of logarithms, translated into English by Mr. Wright, and after his death published by Briggs, with a preface of his own, London, 1616 and 1618, 12mo. 4. “Logarithmorum chilias prima,” London, 1617, 8vo. 5. “Lucubrationes & Annotationes in opera posthuma J. Neperi,” Edinb. 1619, 4to. 6. “Euclidis Elementorum VI libri priores, &c.” London, 1620, folio. This was printed without his name to it. 7. “A treatise of the North-west passage to the South Sea, &c.” By H. B. Lond. 1622, 4to. This was reprinted in Purchas’s Pilgrims, vol. III. p. 852.
8. “Arithmetica Logarithmica, &c.” Lond. 1624, t folio.
9. “Trigonometria Britannica, &c.” Goudse, 1633, folio.
10. “Two letters to archbishop Usher.” 11. “* Mathematica ab antiquis minus cognita.” This is a summary account of the most observable inventions of modern mathematicians, conrtnunicated by Mr. Briggs to Dr. George Hakewill, and published by him in his Apologie, London, folio. Besides these publications, Briggs wrote some other pieces that have not been printed: as, 1. “Commentaries on the Geometry of Peter Ramus.”. 2. “Duae Epistolae ad celeberrimum virutn Chr. Sever. Longomon-tanuiii.” One of these letters contained some remarks on a treatise of Longomontanus, about squaring the circle; ani the other a defence of arithmetical geometry, 3. “Animadversiones Geometricas, 4to. 4.” De eodem Argumento,“4to. These two were in the possession of the late Mr. Jones. They both contain a great variety of | geometrical propositions, concerning the properties of many figures, with several arithmetical computations relating to the circle, angular sections, &c. Mr. Jones also had, 5.” A treatise of common arithmetic,“folio; and 6.” A letter to Mr. Clarke of Gravesend," dated Feb. 25, 1606, containing the description of a ruler, called Bedwell’s ruler. ^{1}
Hutton’s Dictionary. Biog. Brit. Life in Smith’s Vitee Eruditissimorum. Ward’s Gresham Professors. Martin’s Lives of the Philosophers. —Ath. Ox. Vol. 1. -—Lilly’s Life and Times, p. 154. Watson’s Halifax.