Online Encyclopedia

BROOK TAYLOR (1685–1731)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 468 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
BROOK TAYLOR (1685–1731), English mathematician, was the son of John Taylor, of Bifrons House, Kent, by Olivia, daughter of Sir Nicholas Tempest, Bart., of Durham, and was born at Edmonton in Middlesex on the 18th of August 1685. He entered St John's College, Cambridge, as a fellow-commoner in 1701, and took degrees of LL.B. and LL.D. respectively in 1709 and 1714. Having studied mathematics under John Machin and John Keill, he obtained in 1708 a remarkable solution of the problem of the " centre of oscillation," which, however, remaining unpublished until May 1714 (Phil. Trans., vol. xxviii. p. I1), his claim to priority was unjustly disputed by John Bernoulli. Taylor's Methodus Incrementorum Directa et Inversa (London, 1715) added a new branch to the higher mathematics, now designated the " calculus of finite differences." Among other ingenious applications, he used it to determine the form of movement of a vibrating string, by him first sue- neighbour and intimate friend of Wordsworth, who introduced cessfully reduced to mechanical principles. The same work him to Wordsworth and Southey. Under these influences he lost his early admiration for Byron, whose school, whatever its merits, he at least was in no way calculated to adorn, and his intellectual powers developed rapidly. In October 1822 he published an article on Moore's Irish Melodies in the Quarterly Review. A year later he went to London to seek his fortune as a man of letters, and met with rapid success, though not precisely in this capacity. He became editor of the London Magazine, to which he had already contributed, and in January 1824 obtained, through the influence of Sir Henry Holland, a good appointment inthe Colonial Office. He was immediately entrusted with the preparation of confidential state papers, and his opinion soon exercised an important influence on the decisions of the secretary of state. He visited Wordsworth and Southey, travelled on the Continent with the latter, and at the same time, mainly through his friend and official colleague, the Hon. Hyde Villiers, became intimate with a very different set, the younger followers of Bentham, without, however, adopting their opinions—" young men," he afterwards reminded Stuart Mill, " who every one said would be ruined by their independence, but who ended by obtaining all their hearts' desires, except one who fell by the way." The reference is to Hyde Villiers, who died prematurely. Taylor actively promoted the emancipation of the slaves in 1833, and became an intimate ally of Sir James Stephen, then counsel to the Colonial Office, afterwards under-secretary, by whom the Act of Emancipation was principally framed. His duties at the Colonial Office were soon afterwards lightened by the appointment of James Sped-ding, with whom he began a friendship that lasted till the end of his life. . His first drama, Isaac Comnenus, Elizabethan in tone, and giving a lively picture of the Byzantine court and people, was published anonymously in 1828. Though highly praised by Southey, it made little impression on the public. Philip van Artevelde, an elaborate poetic drama, the subject of which had been recommended to him by Southey, was begun in 1828, published in 1834, and, aided by a laudatory criticism from Lockhart's pen in the Quarterly, achieved extraordinary success. Its great superiority to Taylor's other works may be explained by its being to a great extent the vehicle of his own ideas and feelings. Artevelde's early love experiences reproduce and transfigure his own. Edwin the Fair (1842) was less warmly received; but his character of Dunstan, the ecclesiastical statesman, is a fine psychological study, and the play is full of historical interest. Meanwhile he had married (1839) Theodosia Spring-Rice, the daughter of his former chief Lord Monteagle, and, in conjunction with Sir James Stephen, had taken a leading part in the abolition of negro apprenticeship in the West Indies. The Statesman, a volume of essays suggested by his official position, had been published in 1836, and about the same time he had written in the Quarterly the friendly notices of Words-worth and Southey which did much to dispel the conventional prejudices of the day, and which were published in 1849 under the somewhat misleading title of Notes from Books. In 1847 he was offered the under-secretaryship of state fot the colonies, which he declined. Notes from Life and The Eve of the Conquest appeared in this year; and an experiment in romantic comedy, The Virgin Widow, afterwards entitled A Sicilian Summer, was published in 185o. " The pleasantest play I had written," says the author; " and I never could tell why people would not be pleased with it." His last dramatic work was St Clement's Eve, published in 1862. In 1869 he was made K.C.M.G. He retired from the Colonial Office in 1872, though continuing to be consulted by government. His last days were spent at Bournemouth in the enjoyment of universal respect; and the public, to whom he had hitherto been an almost impersonal existence, became familiarized with the extreme picturesqueness of his appearance in old age, as represented in the photographs of his friend Julia Margaret Cameron. He died on the 27th of March 1886. His Auto- he became acquainted with het cousin, Isabella Fenwick, the \. biography, published a yeas before his death, ,while sinning a contained the celebrated formula known as " Taylor's theorem " (see INFINITESIMAL CALCULUS), the importance of which remained unrecognized until 1772, when J. L. Lagrange realized its powers and termed it " le principal fondement du calcul difjerentiel." In his essay on Linear Perspective (London, 1715) Taylor set forth the true principles of the art in an original and more general form than any of his predecessors; but the work suffered from the brevity and obscurity which affected most of his writings, and needed the elucidation bestowed on it in the treatises of Joshua Kirby (1754) and Daniel Fournier (1761). Taylor was elected a fellow of the Royal Society early in 1712, sat in the same year on the committee for adjudicating the claims of Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, and acted as secretary to the society from the 13th of January 1714 to the 21st of October 1718. From 1715 his studies took a philosophical and religious bent. He corresponded, in that year, with the Comte de Montmort on the subject of Nicolas Malebranche's tenets; and unfinished treatises, " On the Jewish Sacrifices " and " On the Lawfulness of Eating Blood," written on his Teturn from Aix-la-Chapelle in 1719, were after-wards found among his papers. His marriage in 1721 with Miss Brydges of Wallington, Surrey, led to an estrangement from his father, a person of somewhat morose temper, which terminated in 1723 after the death of the lady in giving birth to a son. The ensuing two years were spent by him with his family at Bifrons, and in 1725 he married, with the paternal approbation, Sabetta, daughter of Mr Sawbridge of Olantigh, Kent, who, by a strange fatality, died also in childbed in 1730; in this case, however, the infant, a daughter, survived. Taylor's fragile health gave way; he fell into a decline, died on the 29th of December 1731, at Somerset House, and was buried at St Ann's, Soho. By his father's death in 1729 he had inherited the Bifrons estate. As a mathematician, he was the only Englishman after Sir Isaac Newton and Roger Cotes capable of holding his own with the Bernoullis; but a great part of the effect of his demonstrations was lost through his failure to express his ideas fully and clearly. A posthumous work entitled Contemplatio Philosophica was printed for private circulation in 1793 by his grandson, Sir William Young, Bart., prefaced by a life of the author, and with an appendix containing letters addressed to him by Bolingbroke, Bossuet, &c. Several short papers by him were published in Phil. Trans., vols. xxvii. to xxxii., including accounts of some interesting experiments in magnetism and capillary attraction. He issued in 1719 an improved version of his work on perspective, with the title New Principles of Linear Perspective, revised by Colson in 1749, and printed again, with portrait and life of the author, in 1811. A French translation appeared in 1753 at Lyons. Taylor gave (Methodus Incrementorum, p. 108) the first satisfactory investigation of astronomical refraction. See Watt, Bibliotheca Britannica; Hutton, Phil. and Math. Dictionary; F6tis, Biog. des Musiciens; Th. Thomson, Hist. of the R. Society, p. 302; Grant, Hist. Phys. Astronomy, p. 377; Marie, Hist. des Sciences, vii. p. 231; M. Cantor, Geschichte der Mathematik.
End of Article: BROOK TAYLOR (1685–1731)
[back]
BAYARD TAYLOR (1825–1878)
[next]
ISAAC TAYLOR (1787-1865)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.