Emerson, William

, a very eminent mathematician, was born May 14, 1701, at Hurvvorth, a village about three miles south of Darlington, on the borders of the county of Durham, at least it is certain he resided here from his childhood. His father, Dutlly Emerson, taught a school, and was a tolerable proficient in the mathematics; and without his books and instructions perhaps his son’s genius might might never have been unfolded. Besides his father’s instructions, our author was assisted in the learned languages by a young clergyman, then curate of Hurworth, who was boarded at his father’s house. In the early part of his life, he attempted to teach a few scholars; but whether from his concise method (for he was not happy in expressing his ideas), or the warmth of his natural temper, he made no progress in his school; he therefore Sood left it oft', and satisfied with a small paternal estate of about 60l. or 70l. a year, devoted himself to study, which he closely pursued in his native place through the course of a long life, being mostly very healthy, till towards the latter part of his days, when he was much afflicted with the stone: towards the close of the year 1781, being sensible of his approaching dissolution, he disposed of the whole of his mathematical library to a bookseller at York, and on May the 26th, 1782, his lingering and painful disorder put an end to his life at his native village, in the eighty-first year of his age. In his person he was rather short, but strong and well-made, with an open countenance and ruddy complexion. He was never known to ask a favour, or seek the acquaintance of a rich man, unless he possessed some eminent qualities of the mind. He was a very good classical scholar, and a tolerable physician, so far as it could be combined with mathematical principles, according to the plan of Keil and Morton. The latter he esteemed above all others as a physician the former as the best anatomist. He was very singular in his behaviour, dress, and conversation. His manners and appearance | were that of a rude and rather boorish countryman, he wasof very plain conversation, and indeed seemingly rude, commonly mixing oaths in his sentences. He had strong natural parts, and could discourse sensibly on any subject; but was always positive and impatient of any contradiction. He spent his whole life in close study and writing books; with the profits of which he redeemed his little patrimony from some original incumbrance. He had but one coat, which he always wore open before, except the lower button no waistcoat; his shirt quite the reverse of one in. common use, no opening before, but buttoned close at the collar behind; a kind of flaxen wig which had not a crooked hair in it; and probably had never been tortured with a comb from the time of its being made. This was his dress when he went into company. One hat he made to last him the best part of his lifetime, gradually lessening the flaps, bit by bit, as it lost its elasticity and hung down, till little or nothing but the crown remained. He never rode although he kept a horse, but was frequently seen to lead the horse, with a kind of wallet stuffed with the provisions he had bought at the market. He always walked up to London when he had any thing to publish, revising sheet by sheet himself; trusting no eyes but his own, which was always a favourite maxim with him. He never advanced any mathematical proposition that he had not first tried in practice, constantly making all the different parts himself on a small scale, so that his house was filled with all kinds of mechanical instruments together or disjointed. He would frequently stand up to his middle in water while fishing; a diversion he was remarkably fond of. He used to study incessantly for some time, and then for relaxation take a ramble to any pot ale-house where he could get any body to drink with and talk to. The duke of Manchester was highly pleased with his company, and used often to come to him in the fields and accompany him home, but could never persuade him to get into a carriage. When he wrote his sinall treatise on navigation, he and some of his scholars took a small vessel from Hurworth, and the whole crew soon gotswampt; when Emerson, smiling and alluding to his treatise, said “They must not do as I do, but as I say.” He was a married man; and his wife used to spin on an old-fashioned wheel, of which a very accurate drawing is given in his mechanics. He was deeply skilled in the science of music, the theory of sounds, and the various | scales both ancient and modern, but was a very poor performer. He carried that singularity which marked all his actions even into this science. He had, if we may be allowed the expression, two first strings to his violin, which, he said, made the E more melodious when they were drawn up to a perfect unison. His virginal, which is a species of instrument like the modern spinnet, he had cut and twisted into various shapes in the keys, by adding some occasional half-tones in order to regulate the present scale, and to rectify some fraction of discord that will always remain in the tuning. He never could get this regulated to his fancy, and generally concluded by saying, 4< It was a bad instrument, and a foolish thing to be vexed with."

The following is a list of Mr. Emerson’s works: 1. “The Doctrine of Fluxions,” 8vo. about 1743. 2. “The Projection of the Sphere, orthographic, stereograph ic, and gnomonical; both demonstrating the principles, and explaining the practice of these several sorts of projections,1749, 8vo. 3. “The elements of Trigonometry,1749, 8vo. 4. “The principles of Mechanics,1754, 8vo. 5. Navigation, or the art of sailing upon the sea, 1755, 12mo. 6. “A treatise of Algebra, in two books,1765, 8vo. 7. “The arithmetic of infinites, and the differential method, illustrated by examples. The elements of the conic sections, demonstrated in three books,1767, 8vo. 8. “Mechanics, or the doctrine of motion,” &c. 1769, 8vo. 9. “The elements of Optics, in four books,1768, 8vo. Jo. “A system of Astronomy; containing the investigation and demonstration of the elements of that science, 1769, 8vo. 11.” The laws of centripetal and centrifugal force,“1769, 8vo. 12.” The mathematical principles of Geography,“1770, 8vo. 13.” Tracts,“1770, 8vo. 14.” Cyclomathcsis; or an easy introduction to the several branches of the Mathematics,“1770, 10 vols. 8vo. 15.A short comment on sir Isaac Newton’s Principia, containing notes upon some difficult places of that excellent book. To which is added, a Defence of sir Isaac against the objections that have been made to several parts of the Principia and Optics, by Leibnitz, Bernoulli, Euler, &c. and a Confutation of the objections made by Drs. Rutherford and Bedford against his Chronology,“1770, 8vo. 16.” Miscellanies or, a miscellaneous treatise, containing several mathematical subjects," 1776, 8vo. | These are all good treatises, although the style and manner of some of them is rough and unpolished. But Emerson was not remarkable for genius, or discoveries of his own, as his works show hardly any traces of original invention. 1


Preceding ediiion of this Dictionary. Some Account of Emerson’s Life by the rev. W. Bowe, 1793, 8vo. —Hutton’s Dict.