per] inventor of logarithms
John Napier was born in
Merchiston near Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1550, and
was the eighth Napier of Merchiston. He graduated
from St. Salvator's College at St. Andrews in
1563, then studied in Paris, Italy and Germany.
In 1593, Napier was a member of
a committee nominated by a convention of
delegates to make representations to the king at
Jedburgh considering the safety of the Church.
That same year he published Plaine Discovery
of the whole Revelation of Saint John: set down
in two treaties, the first important
Scottish work on the interpretation of
Napier spent the next several
years inventing secret instruments of war. The
Bacon Collection at Lambreth Palace includes a
document, dated June 7, 1596, and signed by
Napier, giving a list of his inventions for the
defense of the country against the anticipated
invasion by Philip of Spain.
Napier's most famous
mathematical work, Canonis Descriptio,
appeared in 1614. It was this work that embodied
his invention of logarithms. It contained the
first table of logarithms, as well as the first
use of the word "logarithm." However,
it includes no explanation of the manner in which
he had calculated his table. That explanation was
subsequently published in 1619 by Robert Napier,
son of John Napier, under the title Mirifici
Logarithmorum Canonis Constructio.
In 1617, Napier published Rabdologia.
This work explains how to use a series of
numerating rods for the performance of
multiplications and divisions. These rods are now
commonly known as Napier's
Bones. It also includes
a second method, which he calls the
"Promptuarium Multiplicationis," which
involves the use of little plates of metal in a
box. In an appendix he gives a third method,
"local arithmetic," which is performed
on a chess board. The Rabdologia also
contains a chronological listing of his
inventions and discoveries.
Napier died on April 4, 1617.
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