1902 Encyclopedia > Charles Hutten

Charles Hutten
English mathematician
(1737-1834)




CHARLES HUTTON, (1737-1823), the youngest son of Henry and Eleanor Hutton, was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne, August 14, 1737. His father was an underviewer in the coal-works in the neighbourhood, and died in June 1742 ; but his mother's second husband, Francis Fraim, proved kind to the boy, and, in consequence of a slight accident to the elbow-joint of his right arm, sent him to school while his brothers worked in the pits. The most of his education he received in a school at Jesmond, kept by Mr Ivison, a clergyman of the church of England. There is reason to believe, on the evidence of two pay-bills, that for a short time in 1755 and 1756 Hutton worked in Old Long Benton colliery; at any rate, on Ivison's promo-tion to a living, Hutton succeeded to the Jesmond school, whence, in consequence of increasing pupils, he removed to Stote's Hall. While he taught during the day at Stote's Hall, he studied mathematics in the evening at a school in Newcastle. In 1760 he married, and began the work of tuition on a larger scale in Newcastle, where he had among his pupils John Scott, afterwards Lord Eldon, chancellor of England. In 1764 he published his first work, The Schoolmaster's Guide, or a Complete System of Practical Arithmetic, which in 1770 was followed by his Treatise on Mensuration both in Theory and Practice. In 1772 appeared a tract on The Principles of Bridges, suggested by the destruction of Newcastle bridge by a high flood on 17th November 1771. On a vacancy occurring in the professor-ship of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1773, Hutton became a candidate, and after a severe competitive contest was appointed to the post. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1774, and at their request drew up an account of the calculations to determine the mean density and mass of the earth made by him from the measurements taken in 1774-76 at Schiehallion in Perthshire. This account appeared in the Philosophical Transactions for 1778, was afterwards re-printed in the second volume of his Tracts on Mathematical and Philosophical Subjects, and procured for Hutton the degree of LL.D. from the university of Edinburgh. He was elected foreign secretary to the Royal Society in 1779, but his resignation in 1783 was brought about by the president Sir Joseph Banks, whose behaviour to the mathematical section of the society was somewhat high-handed (see Kippis's Observations on the late Contests in the Royal Society, London, 1784). After his Tables of the Products and Powers of Numbers, 1781, and his Mathematical Tables, 1785, he issued, for the use of the Royal Military Academy, in 1787 Elements of Conic Sections, and in 1798 his Course of Mathematics. The last, at the time it appeared, was much superior in mode of treatment to any existing work on the subject, and in succeeding editions the author incor-porated many new discoveries and methods. The two volumes of his Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, a most valuable contribution to scientific biography, were published in 1795, and the four volumes of Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, mostly a translation from the French, in 1803. One of the most laborious of his works was the abridgment, in conjunction with Drs Shaw and Pearson, of the Philosophical Transactions. This undertaking, the mathematical and scientific parts of which fell to Hutton's share, was completed in 1809, and filled eighteen volumes quarto. Hutton's long-continued con-nexion (it extended over fifty-six years) with the mathe-matical periodicals of his time, whether as contributor or editor, deserves a word of notice. His name-first appears in the Ladies' Diary (a poetical and mathematical almanac which was begun in 1704, lasted on till 1871, and which " contributed more to the study and improvement of mathematics than half the books professedly written on the subject") in the year 1764; ten years later he was appointed editor of the almanac, a post which he retained till 1817. Previous to his editorship of the Diary, lie, had begun a small periodical, Miscellanea Mathematica, which extended only to thirteen numbers; subsequently to it, he published in five volumes The Diarian Miscellany, which consisted of all the useful and entertaining parts of the Diary down to 1773, with many additional solutions and improvements. On the resignation, owing to failing health, of his professorship in 1807, he was allowed a pension of £500 a year. He died on 27th January 1823.

All the biographical notices of Hutton are unanimous in describing him as one of the most skilful of teachers, and the most amiable of men. His modesty and sim-plicity were as remarkable as his intellectual gifts. To his friends and pupils he exhibited a warmth of personal affection that attached both to him in a very rare degree. It was also with him a sacred duty to seek out the poor and unbefriended student of science, and promote and otherwise assist him to the best of his power.







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