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baron of Merchiston in Scotland, and the celebrated inventor of the

, baron of Merchiston in Scotland, and the celebrated inventor of the Logarithms, was the eldest son of sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston, and born in 1550. After going through the ordinary course of education at the university of St. Andrew’s, he made the tour of France, Italy, and Germany. On his return he applied himself chiefly to the study of mathematics, to which he joined that of the Scriptures; and in both discovered the most extensive knowledge and profound penetration. His “Essay upon the book of the Apocalypse” indicates the most acute investigation; though time has discovered that his calculations concerning particular events had proceeded upon fallacious data. But what his fame now solely rests upon is his great and fortunate discovery of logarithms in trigonometry, by which the ease and expedition in calculation have so wonderfully assisted the science of astronomy and the arts of practical geometry and navigation. Napier, having much attachment to astronomy and spherical trigonometry, had occasion to make many numeral calculations of such triangles, with sines, tangents, &c. which being expressed in large numbers, occasioned a great deal of labour and trouble: To spare themselves part of this labour, Napier, and other authors about his time, endeavoured to find out certain short modes of calculation, as is evident from many of their writings. To this necessity, and these endeavours it is, that we owe several ingenious contrivances; particularly the computation by Napier’s Rods, or Bones, as they are called, and several other curious and short methods that are given in his “Rabdologia” and at length, after trials of many other means, the most complete one of logarithms, in the actual construction of a large table of numbers in arithmetical progression, adapted to a set of as many others in geometrical progression. The property of such numbers had been long known, viz. that the addition of the former answered to the multiplication of the latter, &c. but it wanted the necessity of such very troublesome calculations as those abovementioned, joined to an ardent disposition, to make such a use of that property. Perhaps also this disposition was urged into action by certain attempts of this kind which it seems were made elsewhere; such as the following, related by Wood 'in his “Athenae Oxonienses,” under the article Briggs, on the authority of Oughtred and Wingate, viz. “That one Dr. Craig, a Scotchman, coming out of Denmark into his own country, called upon John Neper baron of Marcheston near Edinburgh, and told him, among other discourses, of a new invention in Denmark, (by Longomontanus as ‘tis said) to save the tedious multiplication and division in astronomical calculations. Neper being solicitous to know farther of him concerning this matter, he could give no other account of it, than that it was by proportionable numbers. Which hint Neper taking, he desired him at his return to call upon him again. Craig, after some weeks had passed, did so, and Neper then shewed him a rude draught of that he called ’ Canon Mirabilis Logarithmorum.' Which draught, with some alterations, he printed in 1614; it came forthwith into the hands of our authorBriggs, and into thoseof William Oughtred, from whom the relation of this matter came.