John Wallis

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Kelly Husted
History of Math
Mathematician Paper

John Wallis

1616 – 1703

John Wallis was born November 23, 1616 and lived till the old age of 87 until October 28, 1703 where he passed away in Oxford. He was born of Reverend John Wallis and Joanna Chapman in Ashford, Kent, England (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). He was the third of five children in his English family, unfortunately losing his father at the very young age of 6. Wallis is known for introducing series systematically in his work and paving the way for his great contemporary, Isaac Newton (Eves, 1990, p.392-393). Wallis is most famous for his book, Arithmetica Infinitorum, development of infinitesimal calculus, and introducing the symbol for infinity. John Wallis “was one of the most ablest and most original mathematicians of his day,” (Eves, 1990, p.392). He was “probably the second most important English mathematician during the 17th century,” (Westfall, 1995). John Wallis made many contributions to the mathematical world as well as lived a very fulfilling life.

The first time Wallis showed any sign of becoming a great scholar was in 1625, when his mother switched him to James Movat’s grammar school in Tenterden, Kent. “In 1630, still only 13 years of age, he considered himself ready for university” (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). From 1631 to 1632 Wallis was enrolled in Martin Holbeach’s school in Felsted, Essex. It was here that Wallis truly became fluent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He studied logic as well and unfortunately, learned very little arithmetic in school. During this time period, math was not seen as a necessity in the schools but only for use of tradesmen and the like. Wallis’ first experience with really learning any math and arithmetic was during his Christmas of 1631 when Wallis’ older brother taught him some of the rules of arithmetic (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). In 1632, John Wallis went to the University of Cambridge, studying topics such as: ethics, metaphysics, geography, astronomy, medicine and anatomy (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). By 1637, Wallis earned is BA from the University of Cambridge and by 1640 he earned master’s from UC (Encyclopedia Britannica). During these next few years, John Wallis gained a name for himself in the English society. In 1640, Wallis was ordained by the bishop of Winchester and appointed chaplain and private minister to Sir Richard Darley at Butterworth in Yorkshire. By 1642 he was appointed chaplain and private minister to the widow of Horatio Lord Vere (Westfall, 1995). At this point in history, England was going through a civil war between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. During this time, Royalist cryptic messages fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians. John Wallis played a part during the war by decoding the cryptic messages for the Parliamentarians which would arguably help him attain seats of leadership later on (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). In 1643, he was given charge of the Church of St. Gabriel in Fenchurch St, London. Also during this year, Wallis’ mother passed away “leaving Wallis as a man of independent means inheriting a major estate in Kent,” (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). In 1644, Wallis became secretary to the clergy at Westminster and was given the fellowship at Queen’s College, Cambridge (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). On March 14, 1645 he married Susanna Glyde and thus was no longer able to hold the fellowship. They moved together to London that year and Wallis began attending weekly meetings with a group of scientists that was known as the Royal Society of London (Westfall, 1995). At these meetings, the men only discussed natural and experimental science topics, not allowing themselves to discuss any other outside topics such as politics (O'Connor & Robertson, 2002). Due to these weekly meetings, Wallis read and mastered Oughtred’s Clavis Mathematicae in only a couple of weeks in 1647. “Quickly his love of mathematics, which he had...
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