ALEXANDER
MACFARLANE, one of the most distinguished citizens of Ontario, a leader in
scientific thought and author of the highest merit, and a savant in whom
both his native land and his adopted country take pride, was born at
Blairgowrie, Scotland, April 21, 1851. His education was obtained in the
public school and his selection as a pupil-teacher as early as the age of
thirteen years gives testimony to the quick ripening of his powers. His
ambition was to reach the University of Edinburgh, and in 1869 he entered
that great educational institution. Mr. Macfarlane first entered the
Junior classes in Latin and Greek, and at the end of the session stood
fourth in the former and fifth in the latter, in classes of 200, largely
composed of high school graduates. At the beginning of his second year he
won the Miller scholarship, worth $400, in open competition, and at the
beginning of the third year he won, in open competition, the Spence
scholarship, worth $1,000. His third year of study was given to Senior
Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Logic. It was the custom of Prof.
Kelland to introduce Quaternions to his Senior students. The addition of
vectors was intelligible, but the product of vectors seemed to be a
universal difficulty, and to assist in his understanding young Macfarlane
purchased a copy of Tait’s “Treatise on Quaternions”. This was the
beginning of his special work as a mathematician. Prior to entering the
class of Logic Mr. Macfarlane had already become familiar with the works
of Hamilton and Mill, and while a member of the class he read, at the
invitation of the professor, a paper which criticized the statement of the
law of Excluded Middle, given by Jevons in his “Lessons on Logic”, a paper
which displayed unusual merit for so young a mind., It was his first
intention to study for honours in Logic and Philosophy, but perceiving how
much they depended upon the principles of science, he took up the advanced
classes in Mathematics and Physics, and in Mathematical Physics he not
only gained the highest honours but also the appreciation and the personal
friendship of Prof. Tait, the head of the Physical Department of the
University. In 1874 he was appointed Neil Arnott instructor in Physics,
and in 1875 finished an unusually extensive course of undergraduate study
by taking the degree of M.A. with honours in Mathematics and Physics.
Having
after graduation, won in competitive examination the Maclaren fellowship,
worth $1,500., he proceeded to study for the recently instituted degree of
Doctor of Science, and, after one year spent on Chemistry, Botany and
Natural History, and two years on Mathematics and Physics, he obtained the
doctorate in 1878. His remarkable thesis was an experimental research on
the conditions governing the electric spark, and it was subsequently
published in the “Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh”. It
also brought him under the notice of the celebrated electrician and
philosopher, Clerk Maxwell., In 1878 Dr. Macfarlane was elected a Fellow
of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the first contribution which he
read personally was a memoir on the Algebra of Logic. In 1879 he enlarged
its scope and published it under the title of “Principles of the Algebra
of Logic”. This volume was received with favour and brought the author
into correspondence with many of the leading scientists and savants of the
world. In 1879 he was able to meet many of them at the meeting of the
British Association at Sheffield. During 1880 Dr. Macfarlane was interim
Professor of Physics at the University of St Andrews, and in 1881 he was
appointed, for the usual period of three years, Examiner in Mathematics in
the University of Edinburgh. During these years he contributed to the
Royal Society a series of valuable papers on “Analysis of the
Relationships of Consanguinity and Affinity”.. A paper on this subject,
read before the Anthropological Institute of London, contains as perfect a
notation for relationship as is the Arabic notation for numbers. His
notable paper on “Plane Algebra” and his “Physical Arithmetic” were
prepared during his tenure of office as Examiner.
In 1885
Dr. Macfarlane was called to the Chair of Physics at the University of
Texas, where he became a colleague of his fellow logician, Dr. Halsted,
and during that same year he met many American men of letters and science
at the Ann Arbor meeting of the association. In 1887 he received the
honourary degree of LL.D. from the university of Michigan. His first year
at the University of Texas was wholly taken up with the organization of
the department, but in 1889 appeared a sequel to “Physical Arithmetic”,
namely, a volume of “Elementary Mathematical Tables”. During this year he
visited Paris, and at the meeting of the French Association became
acquatined with many continental savants. On his return from Europe he
began to publish the results of his study of the algebra of space, and a
few of the notable papers read and prepared were the following, showing a
mass of learning and an exactness of reasoning quite beyond the ordinary
intelligence: “Principles of the Algebra of Physics”; “On the Imaginary
of Algebra”; “The Fundamental Theorems of Analysis Generalized for Space”;
“On the Definitions of the Trigonometric Functions”; “The Principles of
Elliptic and Hyperbolic Analysis”; “The Analytical Treatment of
Alternating Currents”; “On the Fundamental Principles of Exact Analysis”;
and “The Principles of Differentiation in Space Analysis”. In 1891 Dr.
Macfarlane took an active part in organizing the Texas Academy of Science,
and for two years acted as its Honourary Secretary. He contributed many
papers, among which may be mentioned: “An Account of the Rainmaking
Experiments in San Antonio” and “Exact Analysis as the Basis of
Language”. For nine years Prof. Macfarlane remained at the University of
Texas, resigning in 1894. The benefits accruing to the institution
through his connection with it placed it far ahead of competitors. The
course in mathematical physics which he arranged called forth a special
approving article from a mathematical journal published at Turin, Italy.
Since 1885 he has been a member of the Canadian Institute, Toronto, and in
addition to belonging to a number of American and British societies he
also holds membership with several of the leading ones of the European
continent. He is prominently mentioned in the issue of “Who’s Who”, in
America.
Since
coming to reside in Ontario Prof. Macfarlane has continued to write many
papers on the algebra of space and has carried on the work of secretary of
an International Society organized for promoting that branch of
mathematics, and which includes in its membership many of the most active
mathematicians of the several countries of the world.
Dr.
Macfarlane is a grandson of Alexander and Jeanette (Steele) Macfarlane,
honoured old residents of Perthshire, Scotland. Their sons were: James,
Peter, Alexander and Daniel, the last of whom was the Doctor’s father.
The only member of this family who came to Canada was the late James
Macfarlane.
Dr.
Macfarlane married Miss Helen Swearingen, daughter of Patrick and Mary E.
(Toland) Swearingen, of Texas. The former, descended from one of the
Dutch founders of New York, was an attorney of prominence and held the
rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Confederate army during the Civil war in
the States. To Dr. and Mrs. Macfarlane have been born three sons,
Alexander S., Robert H.K., and Henry S. In politics Dr. Macfarlane
favours the Liberal party; in religion he is a Presbyterian. He occupies
his beautiful farm of 400 acres, on Lots 16 and 17, 6^{th}
Concession, during the summer season, his residence occupying its
center. It is probably the most valuable, as it certainly is the most
highly cultivated and improved, estate of the county, and everything is
arranged in geometrical order. |