Robert Woodhouse

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Robert Woodhouse (April 28, 1773 - December 23, 1827), mathematician. He was born at Norwich and was educated at Caius College, Cambridge, of which society he was subsequently a fellow; was Plumian professor in the university; and continued to live at Cambridge till his death.

Woodhouse's earliest work, entitled the Principles of Analytical Calculation, was published at Cambridge in 1803. In this he explained the differential notation and strongly pressed the employment of it; but he severely criticized the methods used by continental writers, and their constant assumption of non-evident principles. This was followed in 1809 by a trigonometry (plane and spherical), and in 1810 by a historical treatise on the calculus of variations and isoperimetrical problems. He next produced an astronomy; of which the first book (usually bound in two volumes), on practical and descriptive astronomy, was issued in 1812, and the second book, containing an account of the treatment of physical astronomy by Laplace and other continental writers, was issued in 1818.

A man like Woodhouse, of scrupulous honour, universally respected, a trained logician, and with a caustic wit, was well fitted to introduce a new system; and the fact that when he first called attention to the continental analysis he exposed the unsoundness of some of the usual methods of establishing it, more like an opponent than a partisan, was as politic as it was honest. Woodhouse did not exercise much influence on the majority of his contemporaries, and the movement might have died away for the time being if it had not been for the advocacy of Peacock, Babbage, and Herschel, who formed an Analytical Society, with the object of advocating the general use in the university of analytical methods and of the differential notation.

This article is based on a public domain article from Rouse History of Mathematics.


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