Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition


(1556-1630), English mathematician, was born at Warley Wood, near Halifax, in Yorkshire. He graduated at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1581, and obtained a fellowship in 1588. In 1592 he was made reader of the physical lecture founded by Dr Thomas Linacre, and in 1596 first professor of geometry in Gresham House (afterwards College), London. In his lectures at Gresham House he proposed the alteration of the scale of logarithms from the hyperbolic form which John Napier had given them, to that in which unity is assumed as the logarithm of the ratio of ten to one; and soon afterwards he wrote to the inventor on the subject. In 1616 he paid a visit to Napier at Edinburgh in order to discuss the suggested change; and next year he repeated his visit for a similar purpose. During these conferences the alteration proposed by Briggs was agreed upon; and on his return from his second visit to Edinburgh in 1617 he accordingly published the first chiliad of his logarithms. (See Napier, John.) In 1619 he was appointed Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford, and resigned his professorship of Gresham College on the 25th of July 1620. Soon after his settlement at Oxford he was incorporated master of arts. In 1622 he published a small tract on the North-West Passage to the South Seas, through the Continent of Virginia and Hudson's Bay; and in 1624 his Arithmetica Logarithmica, in folio, a work containing the logarithms of thirty thousand natural numbers to fourteen places of figures besides the index. He also completed a table of logarithmic sines and tangents for the hundredth part of every degree to fourteen places of figures besides the index, with a table of natural sines to fifteen places, and the tangents and secants for the same to ten places; all of which were printed at Gouda in 1631 and published in 1633 under the title of Trigonometria Britannica (see Table, Mathematical). Briggs died on the 26th of January 1630, and was buried in Merton College chapel, Oxford. Dr Smith, in his Lives of the Gresham Professors, characterizes him as a man of great probity, a contemner of riches, and contented with his own station, preferring a studious retirement to all the splendid circumstances of life.

His works are: A Table to find the Height of the Pole, the Magnetical Declination being given (London, 1602, 4to); "Tables for the Improvement of Navigation," printed in the second edition of Edward Wright's treatise entitled Certain Errors in Navigation detected and corrected (London, 1610, 4to); A Description of an Instrumental Table to find the part proportional, devised by Mr Edward Wright (London, 1616 and 1618, 12mo); Logarithmorum Chilias prima (London, 1617, 8vo); Lucubrationes et Annotationes in opera posthuma J. Neperi (Edinburgh, 1619, 4to); Euclidis Elementorum VI. libri priores (London, 1620. folio); A Treatise on the North-West Passage to the South Sea (London, 1622, 4to), reprinted in Purchas's Pilgrims, vol. iii. p. 852; Arithmetica Logarithmica (London, 1624, folio); Trigonometria Britannica (Goudae, 1663, folio); two Letters to Archbishop Usher; Mathematica ab Antiquis minus cognita. Some other works, as his Commentaries on the Geometry of Peter Ramus, and Remarks on the Treatise of Longomontanus respecting the Quadrature of the Circle, have not been published.

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