Papers of David Gregory (1661-1708)

Scope and Content

The content of the Papers of David Gregory have been indexed within the handlist H33. The majority of the papers deal with mathematical questions, and there are many about astronomy and optics. There is also a provisional index of subjects from acid, agriculture, and archaeology, to the Darien Scheme, law, tide tables, and university. There is a provisional index too of personal names from Queen Anne, Bernoulli, Tycho Brahe, and Cassini, to Euclid, Edmond Halley, James VI, Mercator, Sir Isaac Newton, Ptolemy, Pythagorus, and Torricelli.

Administrative / Biographical History

David Gregory, the astronomer and mathematician, was born at Kinnairdie in Banffshire, north east Scotland on 24 June 1661 (though some references suggest 6 March 1659). From Marischal College, Aberdeen, he entered Edinburgh University, graduating M.A. on 28 November 1683. A month prior to his graduation he was elected to the Chair of Mathematics, at one time occupied by his uncle, the mathematician James Gregory (1638-1675). In 1684, David Gregory published in Edinburgh his Exercitatio geometrica de dimensione figurarum in which, with the assistance of his uncle's work, he extended the method of quadratures by infinite series. As a professor, Gregory was the first to lecture publically on the Newtonian philosophy. His lecture notes show that they covered a broad range of subjects including geodesy, optics, dynamics, and various branches of mathematics. 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 Euclides (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.

Access Information

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Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H33; Another important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987.

Separated Material

A list of books, theses, letters and family records which would assist in the study of the Papers of David Gregory has also been drawn up and is held within the handlist H33. While some of the books and theses are held within Edinburgh University Library, others may be found at the National Library of Scotland; Aberdeen University Library; Edinburgh Public Library (Reference Library); the Scottish Records Office; the Lyon Office; the British Library; and, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester.

Related Material

The Index to Manuscripts shows, at various shelfmarks, references to many additional notes by David Gregory at Dc. 1.62., inscription and annotations by him in a Greek manuscript at Dc. 4.85., and treatises, lectiones, notes and letters at various shelfmarks.