Search Loci: Convergence:
There are no sects in geometry.
W. H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.), The Viking Book of Aphorisms, New York: Viking Press, 1962.
Mathematics Education at West Point: The First Hundred Years
Charles Hutton (1737 – 1823) was born in Newcastle, England, the youngest son of an overviewer (supervisor) of a coal mine. When he was seven, Hutton was involved in a street-brawl and severely dislocated his left elbow. He hid this injury from his parents and by the time they learned of it, it was too late to treat it properly, so the injury became permanent. Since Hutton was unable to join his older brothers in the mine, he was sent to school to learn to read. After several years the teacher left and Hutton replaced him, thus beginning a habit of teaching by day and learning by night.
One pupil that Hutton attracted was Robert Shafto. He made his private library available to Hutton and then encouraged him to publish. Hutton’s first work, The Schoolmaster’s Guide, or a Complete System of Practical Arithmetic, appeared in 1764 and became the standard school text in England for half a century. During the Christmas holiday of 1666, Hutton advertised that “Any schoolmaster, in town or country, who are desirous of improvement in any branch of the mathematics, by applying to Mr. Hutton, may be instructed.” This in-service training was repeated the next year. That there was ample audience is attested to by the 59 schoolmasters from the Newcastle area who were subscribers to his next book, A Treatise on Mensuration (1767). Besides its mathematical interest, this work is noted for the woodcuts by the young Thomas Bewick, who became one of the great masters of the woodcut. Alas, this just makes the book more expensive for the historian of mathematics to acquire.
In 1760, Hutton opened his own school in Newcastle. This became a success and he became known as an excellent teacher. His patron, Shafto, suggested that he should move to London and apply for a vacancy at the Royal Military Academy in Woolich. The position was to be filled by competitive examination. Bishop Horsley, the editor of Newton’s works, and Nevel Maskelyn, the Astronomer Royal, examined the eleven candidates. Half were judged satisfactory for the post, but Hutton stood out, and he obtained this professorship in 1773. He remained at Woolich for 34 years.
Howson so nicely tells one event in Hutton’s career that we shall quote the passage in its entirety:
Hutton’s most important work was his Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary. This appeared in two volumes in 1795. This work is a comprehensive survey which includes biographical information on mathematicians and a fair amount of mathematics history for its time. Margaret E. Baron writes that the Dictionary:
Hutton is also famous as editor of The Lady’s Diary from 1773 to 1818, a total of 45 years.
His A Course in Mathematics was lauded before it appeared. In its ‘Notices of works in hand’ the Monthly Magazine (August 1798) stated:
It proved to be popular, appearing in numerous editions over fifty years. There were several editions that were published in North America and there was even an Arabic edition. It is not surprising that this text was used in the United States, for the British influence on American education was extremely strong at this time.