Jones, William

, an eminent mathematician, was born in 1680, in the island of Anglesey, North Wales. His parents were yeomen, or little farmers, in that island, and gave to their son the best education which their circumstances would allow; but he owed his future fame and fortune to the diligent cultivation of the intellectual powers by which he was eminently distinguished. Addicted from early life to the study of mathematics, he commenced his career of advancement in the humble office of a teacher of these sciences on board a man of war. In this situation he attracted the notice, and obtained the friendship of lord Anson. He appeared as an author in his 22d year; when his treatise on the art of navigation was much approved. We may judge of his predominant taste for literature and science by a trivial circumstance which occurred at the capture of Vigo, in 1702. Having joined his comrades in pillaging the town, he selected a bookseller’s shop, in hope of obtaining some valuable plunder; but, disappointed in his expectations, he took up a pair of scissars, which was his only booty, and which he afterwards exhibited‘ to his friends as a trophy of his military success. On his return to England, he established himself as a teacher of mathematics in London; and here, in 1706, he published his “Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos; or, a new Introduction to the Mathematics,” a work which has ever since been held in the highest estimation as a compendious but | comprehensive summary of mathematical science. Mr. Jones was no less esteemed and respected on account of his private character and pleasing manners, than for his natural talents and scientific attainments; so that he reckoned among his friends the most eminent persons of the period in which he lived. Lord Hardwicke selected him as a companion on the circuit, when he was chief justice; and when he afterwards held the great seal, conferred upon him the office of secretary for the peace, as a testimony of his friendship and regard. He was also in habits of intimate acquaintance with lord Parker, president of the royal society, sir Isaac Newton, Halley, Mead, and Samuel Johnson. So highly was his merit appreciated by sir Isaac Newton, that he prepared, with his permission, and very much to his satisfaction, a very elegant edition of small tracts in the higher mathematics. Upon the retirement of lord Mace lesfi eld to Sherborne castle, Mr. Jones resided in his family, and instructed his lordship in the sciences. Whilst he occupied this situation he had the misfortune, by the failure of a banker, to lose the greatest part of that property which he had accumulated Uy the most laudable industry and economy; but the loss was in a great measure repaired to him by the kind attention of his lordship, who procured for him a sinecure place of considerable emolument. He was afterwards offered, by the same nobleman, a more lucrative situation; which, however, he declined, that he might be more at leisure to devote himself to his favourite scientific pursuits. In this retreat he formed an acquaintance with miss Mary Nix, the daughter of a cabinet-maker, who had become eminent in his profession, and whose talents and manners had recommended him to an intimacy with lord Macclesfield. This acquaintance terminated in marriage; and the connection proved a source of personal satisfaction to Mr. Jones himself, and of permanent honour to his name and family. By this lady Mr. Jones had three children two sons and a daughter. One son died in infancy the other will be the subject of the next article and the daughter, who was married to Mr. Rainsford, an opulent merchant retired from business, perished miserably, in 1802, in consequence of her clothes accidentally taking fire. The death of Mr. Jones was occasioned by n polypus in the heart, which, notwithstanding the medical attention and assistance of Dr. Mead, proved incurable. He died in July 1749. | Mr. Jones’s papers in the Philosophical Transactions are: “A compendious disposition of Equations for exhibiting, the relations of Goniometrical Lines,” vol. XLIV. “A Tract on Logarithms,” vol. LXI. “Account of the person killed by lightning in Tottenham-court-chapel, and its effects on the building,” vol. LXII. “Properties of the Conic Sections, deduced by a compendious method,” vol. LXIII. In all these works of Mr. Jones, a remarkable neatness, brevity, and accuracy, everywhere prevails. He seemed to delight in a very^ short and comprehensive mode of expression and arrangement; insomuch that sometimes what he has contrived to express in two or three pages, would occupy a little volume in the ordinary style of writing. Mr. Jones, it is said, possessed the best mathematical library in England; which by will he left to lord Macclesfield. He had collected also a great quantity of manuscript papers and letters of former mathematicians, which have often proved useful to writers of their lives, &c. After his death, these were dispersed, and fell into different persons hands many of them, as well as of Mr. Jones’s own papers, were possessed by the late Mr. John Robertson, librarian and clerk to the royal society at whose death Dr. Hutton purchased a considerable quantity of them. From such collections as these it was that Mr. Jones was enabled to give that first and elegant edition, 1711, in 4to, of several of Newton’s papers, that might otherwise have been lost, entitled “Analysis per quantitatum Series, Fluxiones, ac Differentias: cum Enumeratione Linearum Tertii Ordinis.

We learn from the “Anecdotes of Bowyer,” that the plan of another work was formed by this eminent mathematician, intended to be of the same nature with the “Synopsis,” but far more copious and diffusive, and to serve as a general introduction to the sciences, or, which is the same thing, to the mathematical and philosophical works of Newton. A work of this kind had long been a desideratum in literature, and it required a geometrician of the first class to sustain the weight of so important an undertaking; for which, as M. d’Alembert justly observes, “the combined force of the greatest mathematicians would not have been more than sufficient.” The ingenious author was conscious how arduous a task he had begun; but his very numerous acquaintance, and particularly his friend the earl of Macclesfield, never ceased importuning and | urging him to persist, till he had finished the whole work, the result of all his knowledge and experience through a life of near 7O years, and a standing monument, as he had reason to hope, of his talents and industry. He had scarcely sent the first sheet to the press, when a fatal illness obliged him to discontinue the impression; and a few days before his death, he intrusted the ms. fairly transcribed by an amanuensis, to the care of lord Macclesfield, who promised to publish it, as well for the honour of the author as for the benefit of his family, to whom the property of the book belonged. The earl survived his friend many years but the “Introduction to the Mathetics” was forgotten or neglected and, after his death, the ms. was not to be found whether it was accidentally destroyed, which is hardly credible, or whether, as hath been suggested, it had been lent to some geometrician, unworthy to bear the name either of a philosopher or a man, who has since concealed it, or possibly burned the original for fear of detection. Lord Teignmouth, however, informs us, in his life of Mr. Jones’s illustrious Son, that there is no evidence in his memoranda to confirm or disprove this account. 1

1 Lord Teignmouth’s Life of sir William Jones. —Hutton’s Dictiooary KichoU’ Bowyer.