Augustus de Morgan and Euclid | Guest post by Karen Attar

Guest post by Dr Karen Attar, Curator of Rare Books at Senate House Library and a Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, both of the University of London. She has published widely on library history, and the library of Augustus De Morgan is one of her areas of interest.

Senate House Library, University of London—known until 2004 as the University of London Library—serves students from all the Colleges and schools of the federal University of London as a library for the humanities and social sciences. One might not, therefore, expect mathematics to feature. But its remit used to be larger; and the founding collection was the mathematical library of the mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871), some 4,000 titles purchased shortly after De Morgan’s death by Samuel Loyd, Baron Overstone, for the University, as ‘the first fruits of a Library which shall ere long become such in all respects as the London University ought to possess’.

De Morgan’s Euclids

De Morgan collected as comprehensively as he could on a limited budget on all areas of mathematics: arithmetic (on which he published), geometry, functions, probability, and astronomy, with some related biographies, bibliographies, encyclopaedic works, and works on music thrown in. He had multiple editions of books by various writers. Of these, Euclid stands out. De Morgan’s copies range chronologically from the two productions of the incunable period to Isaac Todhunter’s textbook of 1862, in editions issued throughout Europe, from Venice to Amsterdam and from Basel to Dublin among others. Their format ranges from folio to duodecimo; their languages cover English, French, Italian and German alongside the original Greek and the predominant Latin.

As De Morgan was eminent in his field and a known collector and annotator of mathematical books, his own association with the Euclids bestows cachet upon them. Yet provenance interest does not rest on De Morgan alone.

Annotations on Euclidis Megarensis philosophi acutissimi mathematicorumq[ue] omnium sine controuersia principis op[er]a, ed. Campano da Novara (Venice: Paganino Paganini, 1509), p. 59. SHL classmark: [DeM] L.6 [Euclid - Elementa - Latin] fol. SSR
Annotations on Euclidis Megarensis philosophi acutissimi mathematicorumq[ue] omnium sine controuersia principis op[er]a, ed. Campano da Novara (Venice: Paganino Paganini, 1509), p. 59. SHL classmark: [DeM] L.6 [Euclid – Elementa – Latin] fol. SSR. © Senate House Library
The version published in Venice in 1509 is annotated in Italian; that from Paris in 1527 in Latin, in an early hand.  More tangibly, the astronomer Francis Baily (1744-1844), a prominent member of the Royal Society, annotated his copy (Edinburgh, 1799), both in the margins of the printed text and on interleaved pages.  We have some record of a few other former owners, such as Sir Thomas Knyvett (1539-1618; edition published in Padua in 1560), much of whose library of some 70 manuscripts and 1,400 printed books ended up via John Moore, Bishop of Ely, in Cambridge University Library, and the antiquary and literary scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips (1820-1889), at whose sale of mathematical books in 1840 De Morgan bought extensively.  A Maltese architect, George Grognet, acquired in 1806 the edition published in Basle in 1550. A woman, one Abigail Baruh Lousada (c.1772-1833), a London scholar who translated the mathematical works of Diophantes into English and published some mathematical papers, owned the 1644 Paris edition; De Morgan patronised the sale of her library in 1834.  Most recently, Dionysius Lardner (1793-1859), London University’s first professor of natural philosophy and astronomy, edited his text of Euclid (1828) for the use of students in and preparing for the University of London and inscribed it to Augustus De Morgan.

De Morgan’s annotations are often bibliographical, place the book within its intellectual context, refer to rarity, or concern provenance. That on Lardner’s edition moves bibliography into the realm of the anecdotal:

“This was one of the first copies issued and was sent out before the unfortunate slip in page 244 was cancelled. Of course that slip was very sharply criticized particularly by Peter Nicholson, who foretold the ruin of the University of London from it.”

(Peter Nicholson (1765-1844) was a Scottish mathematician and architect who wrote about architecture, and who spent some of his life in London. De Morgan was connected with University College London (the ‘University of London’ referred to), as its first professor of mathematics.)

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library

An intriguing example of a provenance annotation concerns the inscription ‘Edmond Waller’ on the half-title of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). Was this the seventeenth-century poet and politician Edmund Waller (1606-1687)? De Morgan was at pains to find out, writing both to the British Museum and to the literary critic and antiquary Bolton Corney (1784-1870) in a quest for other examples. He tipped their replies into the book, and summarised their messages in his handwritten notes.

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library
Edmond Waller’s inscription on the half-title of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library

An author search under De Morgan as former owner on Senate House Library’s online catalogue brings up a list of all De Morgan’s books here. To learn more about De Morgan’s interaction with Euclid and other writers, see my article on ‘Augustus De Morgan and his Reading’ in The Edinburgh History of Reading: A World Survey, edited by Mary Hammond and Jonathan Rose (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).

Karen Attar
Curator of Rare Books
Senate House Library, University of London
karen.attar@london.ac.uk

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