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Significant Scots
Edmund Stone


STONE, EDMUND, an ingenious self-taught mathematician, of whom nothing is known, except from a letter written by the chevalier Ramsay to father Castel, published in the Memoirs de Irevoux. It there appears that Stone was the son of a gardener in the employment of John, duke of Argyle, at Inverary, in the early part of the eighteenth century. "He attained the age of eight years before he learnt to read; but, a servant having taught him the letters of the alphabet, he soon made a rapid progress with very little assistance. He applied to the mathematics; and, notwithstanding the peculiar difficulties of his situation, attained a knowledge of the most sublime geometry and analysis, without a master, and without any other guide, it is said, than his own genius. At the age of eighteen, he had advanced thus far, when his abilities and the extent of his acquirements were discovered by the following accident. The duke of Argyle, who to his military talents united a general knowledge of every science that can adorn the mind of a great man, walking one day in his garden, saw lying upon the grass a Latin copy of Newton’s Principia. Having called some one to carry it back to his library, the young gardener told him that it belonged to himself. The duke was surprised, and asked him whether he were sufficiently acquainted with Latin and geometry to understand Newton. Stone replied, with an air of simplicity, that he knew a little of both The duke then entered into conversation with the young mathematician, asked him several questions, and was astonished at the force and accuracy of his answers. The duke’s curiosity being redoubled, he sat down on a bank, and requested to know by what means he acquired such knowledge. ‘I first learnt to read,’ said Stone: ‘the masons were then at work upon your house: I went near them one day, and I saw that the architect used a rule and compass, and that he made calculations. I inquired what might be the meaning and use of these things; and I was informed that there was a science named Arithmetic. I purchased a book of arithmetic, and I learnt it. I was told that there was another science, called Geometry: I bought books, and learnt geometry also. By reading, I found that there were good books on these two sciences in Latin: I bought a dictionary, and learnt Latin. I understood also that there were good books of the same kind in French: I bought a dictionary, and I learnt French. And this, my lord, is what I have done. It seems to me that we may learn anything, when we know the twenty-four letters of the alphabet.’ With this account the duke was delighted, he drew this wonderful young man from his obscurity, and provided him with an employment, which left him plenty of time to apply to his favourite pursuits. He discovered in him also the same genius for music, for painting, for architecture, and for all the sciences that depend upon calculations and proportions."

Stone is said to have been a man of great simplicity; and, though sensible of his own acquirements, neither vain nor conceited. It is to be regretted that no particulars are accessible, respecting the latter part of his career: we are not even informed, whether he spent the remainder of his life in Argyleshire or in London; though it seems probable that the latter was the scene of his chief scientific labours. His works, partly original and partly translations, are as follows: "A New Mathematical Dictionary," first printed in 1726, 8vo; "A Treatise on Fluxions," 1730, 8vo: in this work, the direct method is a translation from the French of the Marquis de l’ Hopital’s "Analysis des Infiniments Petits," and the concise method was supplied by Stone himself: "The Elements of Euclid," 1731, 2 vols. 8vo; a neat and useful edition, with an account of the Life and Writings of Euclid, and a defence of his elements against modern objectors; besides some smaller works. Stone was a fellow of the Royal Society, and communicated to it an "Account of two species of Lines of the Third Order, not mentioned by Sir Isaac Newton or Mr Sterling," which was printed in the Philosophical Transactions, vol. xii.


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