Lectures on algebra ascribed to David Gregory, 18th century

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Notes in various hands from lectures on algebra ascribed to David Gregory (1661-1708).

Covering elementary algebra to the solution of quadratic equations.

Administrative / Biographical History

David Gregory (1661-1708), astronomer and mathematician, was a nephew of James Gregory. He studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen between 1671 and 1675. David travelled prior to studying at Edinburgh University, graduating M.A. on 28 November 1683. A month prior to his graduation he was elected to the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. At Edinburgh David Gregory taught Newtonian theories. He was the first university teacher to teach the 'modern' theories at a time when even Cambridge was still teaching Greek natural philosophy. Gregory's lecture notes at Edinburgh were to form the basis of Maclaurin's Treatise of Practical Geometry which was published in 1745. Gregory himself published Exercitatio geometria de dimensione curvarum in 1684 while at Edinburgh in which, with the assistance of his uncle's work, he extended the method of quadratures by infinite series. Gregory also lectured at Edinburgh on mechanics and hydrostatics.

In 1691 he went to London where he was introduced to Newton and recommended to John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first astronomer royal. With the combined influence of Newton and Flamsteed, Gregory was awarded the Savilian Chair of Astronomy at Oxford in 1691. In 1692 he took the degrees of M.A. and M.D. at Oxford, and he became a master commoner of Balliol College. Also in 1692, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1699 he was appointed as mathematical tutor to William, Duke of Gloucester. The substance of his work delivered in Edinburgh, and published there in 1684, was contained in his Catoptricae et dioptricae sphaericae elementa (1695) and was adapted to undergraduates. In this work, Gregory gave the first hint of the achromatic telescope when he referred to the possibility of counteracting colour aberration in lenses by combining in them media of different densities. The work was reprinted in Edinburgh in 1713 and translated into English (from Latin) in 1715.

His principle work however was Astronomiae physicae et geometricae elementa(1702). This was the first text-book on gravitational principles and it remodelled astronomy in conformity with physical theory. His next work, in Greek and Latin, was Euclidis quae supersunt omnia (1703) which was an edition of all the writings attributed to Euclid. In 1704, Gregory was nominated to the committee charged by Prince George with the inspection and printing of the Greenwich observations, and in 1705 he was chosen as honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Gregory died on 10 October 1708 at the Greyhound Inn at Maidenhead, Berkshire, while on his return to London from Bath after taking the cure there for consumption.

The manuscript bears no date and the hands are not that of Gregory (one hand is probably Scottish, 'quh' form of which). The reason for the customary ascription of this volume to Gregory is unclear.


Single item

Conditions Governing Access

By appointment with the Keeper of Manuscripts. Access to records containing confidential information may be restricted.


Call number used to be ms2

Other Finding Aids

Individual Manuscripts and Small Collections database available as part of Manuscripts Database.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Binding, calf with embossed decorated covers.Paper: 15.2x18.6cm

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Maia Sheridan, Archives Hub project archivist, based on material from the Manuscripts Database

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Manuscripts. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.



Related Material

GB 0231 MS 2206 Papers of the Gregory family of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Oxford, 1582-1912.

GB 0237 Dc.1.61; Dk.1.2 Papers of David Gregory (1661-1708), 1507-1706.

GB 0237 Dc.1.4/1/129; Dc.1.61; Dk.1.2/1-2; Gen. 1958 Papers of Professor James Gregory (1638-1675), the Elder, 17th century-18th century.