GLENIE, or GLENNIE,
eminent mathematician, born in Fifeshire in 1750, was the son of an
officer in the army. At the university of St. Andrews he distinguished
himself by his proficiency in the mathematics; and in 1769 obtained two
prizes. Being originally destined for the ministry, he entered the
divinity class, and soon became a keen polemic and an able theologian.
He afterwards turned his thoughts towards the army; and through the
influence of the professors of St. Andrews, and that of the earl of
Kinnoul, chancellor of the university, he was nominated by Lord Adam
Gordon a cadet of artillery at Woolwich. He obtained a commission; and
at the opening of the war with America in 1775, went out to New York, as
lieutenant of artillery, with the troops ordered to embark for that
country. There he distinguished himself so much under colonel,
afterwards general, St. Leger, that on the arrival of the Marquis
Townshend, he was, without any solicitation on his part, transferred
from the artillery to the engineers, which circumstance, with the
reasons annexed, was duly notified in the London Gazette.
In 1779 Mr.
Glenie was nominated one of the thirty practitioner engineers, and
promoted to be second, and soon after first, lieutenant. Notwithstanding
the harassing duties in which he was engaged, his zeal for science led
him at this time to write a variety of important papers on the most
abstruse subjects, which were transmitted to his friend and
correspondent the Baron Maseres, and read before the Royal Society, when
he was elected a member, like Dr. Franklin, without the payment of the
usual fees. On his return to England, he married Mary Anne Locke, a
daughter of the store-keeper at Portsmouth, by whom he had three
In 1783 the
duke of Richmond succeeded Glenie’s patron, the Marquis Townshend, in
the master-generalship f the ordnance. To prevent such a national
misfortune as had happened in 1779, when the navy of England was obliged
to take refuge in the Bristol Channel from the combined fleets of France
and Spain, which had menaced the dockyard of Plymouth, and insulted the
whole coast, his grace had conceived the romantic idea of fortifying all
our naval arsenals, and strengthening every important maritime station,
instead of increasing the navy, and creating a new nursery for our
seamen. This absurd scheme had met with the approbation of several
officers and engineers; and, from Mr. Glenie’s high scientific
reputation, the duke was desirous of obtaining his sanction to the plan.
He accordingly consulted him on the subject, when he unhesitatingly
declared the scheme extravagant and impracticable, and advised his grace
to abandon it altogether. At the request of Mr. Courtenay, the secretary
fo the Marquis Townshend, at whose house Mr. Glenie was residing for a
few days, the latter was induced to write his famous pamphlet against
it, entitled ‘A Short Essay;’ which was no sooner published than it
occupied exclusively the attention of all parties. In this celebrated
publication, which passed through several editions, he demonstrated that
extended lines produce prolonged weakness, not strength; and that the
troops cooped up within the proposed fortifications would be far more
formidable, as an active and moveable force, against an invading enemy,
than confined in their redoubts. He also showed, by a correct and
careful estimate, that the sum necessary for the execution of the duke’s
scheme, being no less than forty or fifty millions, would exceed the
whole capital required for building a new and complete fleet, superior
to that of any nation on earth. The duke published an unsatisfactory
reply to Mr. Glenie’s pamphlet; and his proposal was soon after
negatived in parliament.
deprived of all hopes of promotion, and treated with neglect by his
superiors, Mr. Glenie, resigning his commission, emigrated with his wife
and children to New Brunswick, where he purchased a large tract of land,
and was elected a representative to the House of Assembly. Soon after he
became a contractor for ship timber and masts for government, but both
he and his partner, who is said to have been possessed of considerable
wealth, were ruined by the speculation. Compelled to return to England,
he obtained an introduction to the earl of Chatham, then master-general
of the Ordnance, who, not being able to employ him, retained him as
engineer extraordinary. By his recommendation, however, Glenie was soon
afterwards appointed by the East India Company instructor of the cadets
at the establishment formed for its young artillery officers, with a
salary and emoluments amounting to about £400 per annum. Unfortunately
for him, he was one of the witnesses summoned in the famous trial in
which the duke of York and Mrs. Clarke were concerned, and his evidence
having given offence to his royal highness, he was soon afterwards
dismissed from his situation.
1812, Mr. Glenie was employed by a gentleman who had been a member of
parliament, to go out to Copenhagen to negociate for him the purchase of
a large plantation in Denmark. But having made no specific agreement
with his employer, he never received any remuneration for his trouble.
After this he endeavoured to support himself by taking a few
mathematical pupils, but did not meet with much success. He died of
apoplexy, November 23, 1817, in his 67th year. Among other
contributions made by Mr. Glenie to the ‘Transactions’ of the Royal
Society, was a demonstration of Dr. Matthew Stewart’s “42d Proposition,
or 39th Theorem,” which had remained without solution, and
puzzled the learned during a period of 65 years; and also his celebrated
paper, sent in 1811, on ‘The Squaring of the Circle,’ in which he
demonstrates the impossibility of it, a question which is supposed to
have engaged the attention, and to have eluded the research of the
He was the
Gunnery; with a new Method of deriving the Theory of Projectiles in
vacuo, from the properties of the Square and Rhombus. Edin. 1776, 8vo.
of Universal Comparison, or General Proportion. Lond. 1789, 4to.
Antecedental Calculus, or a Geometrical Method of Reasoning without any
consideration of motion or velocity, applicable to every purpose to
which Fluxious have been or can be applied; with the Geometrical
Principles of Increments. Lond. 1793, 4to.
on Construction. 1793, 8vo.
on the Duke of Richmond’s extensive Plans of Fortification; and the new
Works he has been carrying on since these were set aside by the House of
Commons, in 1786. Including the short Essay which chiefly occasioned the
famous debate and division in the House of Commons, on his Grace’s
projected Works for Portsmouth and Plymouth, that was determined by the
casting vote of Mr. Speaker Cornwall. London, 1805, 8vo.
on the Defence of Great Britain; and its principal Dock-yards. 1807,
On te Division
of Right Lines, Surfaces, and Solids. Phil. Trans. 1776, Abr. Xiii. 729.
Mathematical Laws which regulate and extend Proportion Universally; or,
a Method of Comparing Magnitudes of any kind together, in all the
possible degrees of Increase and Decrease. Ibid. xiv. 183. 1777.
Principles of the Antecedental Calculus. Trans. Soc. Edin. 1796. vol.
On the Circle.
Ibid. 1812. vol. vi. 21.
On a Boy born
Blind and Deaf. Ibid. 1815, vol. vii. 1.