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A Budget of Paradoxes, Volume I by De Morgan

Montucla was nothing of a bibliographer


Montucla

was nothing of a bibliographer, and his descriptions of books in the first edition were insufficient. The Abbe Rive[349] fell foul of him, and as the phrase is, gave it him. Montucla took it with great good humor, tried to mend, and, in his second edition, wished his critic had lived to see the _vernis de bibliographe_ which he had given himself.

I have seen Montucla set down as an _esprit fort_, more than once: wrongly, I think. When he mentions Barrow's[350] address to the Almighty, he adds, "On voit, au reste, par la, que Barrow etoit un pauvre philosophe; car il croyait en l'immortalite de l'ame, et en une Divinite autre que la nature {161} universelle."[351] This is irony, not an expression of opinion. In the book of mathematical recreations which Montucla constructed upon that of Ozanam,[352] and Ozanam upon that of Van Etten,[353] now best known in England by Hutton's similar treatment of Montucla, there is an amusing chapter on the quadrators. Montucla refers to his own anonymous book of 1754 as a curious book published by Jombert.[354] He seems to have been a little ashamed of writing about circle-squarers: what a slap on the face for an unborn Budgeteer!

Montucla says, speaking of France, that he finds three notions prevalent among the cyclometers: (1) that there is a large reward offered for success; (2) that the longitude problem depends on that success; (3) that the solution is the great end and

object of geometry. The same three {162} notions are equally prevalent among the same class in England. No reward has ever been offered by the government of either country. The longitude problem in no way depends upon perfect solution; existing approximations are sufficient to a point of accuracy far beyond what can be wanted.[355] And geometry, content with what exists, has long passed on to other matters. Sometimes a cyclometer persuades a skipper who has made land in the wrong place that the astronomers are in fault, for using a wrong measure of the circle; and the skipper thinks it a very comfortable solution! And this is the utmost that the problem ever has to do with longitude.

ANTINEWTONIANISMUS.

Antinewtonianismus.[356] By Caelestino Cominale,[357] M.D. Naples, 1754 and 1756, 2 vols. 4to.

The first volume upsets the theory of light; the second vacuum, vis inertiae, gravitation, and attraction. I confess I never attempted these big Latin volumes, numbering 450 closely-printed quarto pages. The man who slays Newton in a pamphlet is the man for me. But I will lend them to anybody who will give security, himself in L500, and two sureties in L250 each, that he will read them through, and give a full abstract; and I will not exact security for their return. I have never seen any mention of this book: it has a printer, but not a publisher, as happens with so many unrecorded books.

{163}

OFFICIAL BLOW TO CIRCLE SQUARERS.

1755. The French Academy of Sciences came to the determination not to examine any more quadratures or kindred problems. This was the consequence, no doubt, of the publication of Montucla's book: the time was well chosen; for that book was a full justification of the resolution. The Royal Society followed the same course, I believe, a few years afterwards. When our Board of Longitude was in existence, most of its time was consumed in listening to schemes, many of which included the quadrature of the circle. It is certain that many quadrators have imagined the longitude problem to be connected with theirs: and no doubt the notion of a reward offered by Government for a true quadrature is a result of the reward offered for the longitude. Let it also be noted that this longitude reward was not a premium upon excogitation of a mysterious difficulty. The legislature was made to know that the rational hopes of the problem were centered in the improvement of the lunar tables and the improvement of chronometers. To these objects alone, and by name, the offer was directed: several persons gained rewards for both; and the offer was finally repealed.


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