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Significant Scots
Alexander Anderson


ANDERSON, ALEXANDER, a very eminent mathematician, born at Aberdeen, near the close of the sixteenth century. How or where he acquired his mathematical education is not known; he probably studied belles lettres and philosophy in his native university. He comes into notice at Paris early in the seventeenth century, as a private teacher or professor of mathematics. In that city, between the years 1612 and 1619, he published or edited various geometrical and algebraical tracts, which are conspicuous for their ingenuity and elegance. It is doubtful whether he was ever acquainted with the famous Vieta, Master of Requests at Paris, who died in 1603; but his pure taste and skill in mathematical investigation pointed him out to the executors of that illustrious man, who had found leisure, in the intervals of a laborious profession, to cultivate and extend the ancient geometry, and by adopting a system of general symbols, to lay the foundation, and begin the superstructure, of algebraical science, as the person most proper for revising and publishing his valuable manuscripts. Anderson, however, did not confine himself to the duty of a mere editor; he enriched the text with learned comments, and gave neat demonstrations of those propositions which had been left imperfect. He afterwards produced a specimen of the application of geometrical analysis, which is distinguished by its clearness and classic elegance.

The works of this eminent person amount to six thin quarto volumes, now very scarce. These are, - l. Supplementum Apollonii Redivivi: sive analysis problematis bactenus desiderati ad Apollonii Pergaei doctrinam a Marino Ghetaldo Patritio Regusino hujusque non ita pridem institutam, &c. Paris, 1612, 4to. This tract refers to the prob1em of inclinations, by which, in certain cases, the application of the curve called the conchoid is superseded.- 2. Pro Zetetico Apolloniani problematis a se jam pridem edito in supplemento Apollonii Redivivi. Being an addition to the former work. Paris, 1615, 4to. - 3. The edition of the works of Vieta. Paris, 1615, 4to.- 4. Ad Angularum Sectionem Analytica Theoremsta &c. Paris, 1615, 4to. - 5. Vindiciae Archimedis, &c. Paris, 1616, 4to. - 6. Alexandri Andersoni Scoti Exercitationum Mathematicarum Decas Prima, &c. Paris, 1619, 4to. All these pieces, of this excellent geometrician, are replete with the finest specimens of pure geometrical exercises that have ever perhaps been produced by any authors, ancient or modern. 

Besides these, literary history is not aware of any other publications by Anderson, though probably there may have been others. Indeed, from the last piece it fully appears that he had at least written, if not published, another, viz. A Treatise on the Mensuration of Solids, perhaps with a reference to gauging; as in several problems, where he critically examines the treatise of Kepler on cask-gauging, he often refers to his own work on stereometry.

This eminent person was cousin-german to Mr David Anderson of Finshaugh, a gentleman who also possessed a singular turn for mathematical knowledge, and who could apply his acquirements to so many useful purposes that he was popularly known at Aberdeen by the name of Davie Do-a'-things. He acquired prodigious local fame by removing a large rock, which had formerly obstructed the entrance to the harbour of Aberdeen. Mathematical genius seems to have been in some degree inherent in the whole family; for through a daughter of Mr David Anderson, it reached the celebrated James Gregory, inventor of the reflecting telescope, who was the son of that lady, and is said to have received, from her, the elements of mathematical knowledge. From the same lady was descended the late Dr Reid of Glasgow, who was not less eminent for his acquaintance with the mathematics, than for his metaphysical writings.


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