Anniversarial — 2009

1659 — birth of David Gregory

On 3 June 1659, the Scottish mathematician and astronomer David Gregory was born into a family that eventually accounted for fourteen professors of subjects including medicine, chemistry, philosophy, mathematics and history.

Gregory began formal studies at Marischal College, University of Aberdeen, at the age of 12. After travel and study abroad, he spent some time in London, where he attended a meeting of the Royal Society, recording information on Boyle's air-pump and Newton's reflecting telescope. In 1683, aged 24, he was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh and awarded an MA.

Young Gregory had inherited the mathematical papers of his uncle James Gregory (1638–1675), whose work on infinite series constituted a pre-calculus. This led to publication of his first work, Exercitatio geometrica de dimensione figurarum in 1684. Reviewed by John Wallis in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, the Exercitatio is thought to have triggered Newton to write up his own work — Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1686–1687). That publication, in turn, led Gregory to begin a life-long commentary on Newton's work, Notae in Isaaci Newtoni 'Principia', which circulated in manuscript but was never published (the manuscript survives in the University of Aberdeen Library, MS 465).

In 1691, due in large part to the influence of Newton, Gregory was elected to the University of Oxford as Savilian Professor of Geometry (beating out Edmond Halley and succeeding John Wallis) and Savilian Professor of Astronomy (succeeding but one, Sir Christopher Wren). The same year he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Currently, EE has no letters to or from David Gregory, but he and his works are often mentioned in letters and annotations, including those of his nephew Thomas Reid:

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