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Seventy Years Ago

Nature volume 145, page 41 (06 January 1940) | Download Citation



NATURE, VOL I, January 6, 1870 Plea for the Mathematician PROF. J. J. SYLVESTER, F.R.S., in an article based on his presidential address at Exeter to the Mathematical and Physical Section of the British Association said: "Some people have been found to regard all mathematics, after the 47th proposition of Euclid, as a sort of morbid secretion, to be compared only with the pearl said to be generated in the diseased oyster, or, as I have heard it described, 'une excroissance maladive de l'esprit humain'. Others find its justification, its 'raison d'être', in its being either the torch-bearer leading the way, or the handmaiden holding up the train of Physical Science. . . . What is it to us, they say, if the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, or if every even number is, or may be, the sum of two primes, or if every equation of an odd degree must have a real root ? How dull, stale, flat and unprofitable are such and such like announcements ! . . . But this is like judging of architecture from being shown some of the bricks and mortar, or even a quarried stone of a public building—or of a painting from the colours mixed on the palette, or of music by listening to the thin and screechy sounds produced by a bow passed haphazard over the strings of a violin."

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