Smith (James) Letters

Scope and Content

Letters from Smith to the editor of the 'Athenaeum', William Hepworth Dixon, arguing against Augustus De Morgan on the quadrature of the circle.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Smith was born in Liverpool on 26 March 1805, the son of Joshua Smith. He entered a merchant's office at an early age, and, after remaining there seventeen years, he started his own business, retiring in 1855. He studied geometry and mathematics for practical purposes, and made some mechanical experiments with a view to facilitating mining operations. He became interested in the problem of squaring the circle, and in 1859 he published a work entitled 'The Problem of squaring the Circle solved', which was followed in 1861 by 'The Quadrature of the Circle: Correspondence between an Eminent Mathematician and J. Smith, Esq'. This was ridiculed in the 'Athenaeum', and Smith replied in a letter which was inserted as an advertisement. From this time the establishment of his theory became the central interest of his life, and he bombarded the Royal Society and most of the mathematicians of the day with many letters and pamphlets on the subject. Augustus De Morgan was selected as his peculiar victim on account of certain reflections he had cast on him in the 'Athenaeum'. Smith was not content to claim that he was able graphically to construct a square equal in area to a given circle, but boldly laid down the proposition that the diameter of a circle was to the circumference in the exact proportion of 1 to 3x125. In ordinary business matters, however, he was shrewd and capable. He was nominated by the Board of Trade to a seat on the Liverpool local marine board, and was a member of the Mersey docks and harbour board. He died at his residence, Barkeley House, Seaforth, near Liverpool, in March 1872.

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