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Gregory [Gregorie], David

1. Dates
Born: Aberdeen, 3 June 1659
Died: Maidenhead, Berkshire, 10 Oct. 1708. Seriously ill with consumption, Gregory collapsed while travelling from Bath to London and died in an inn in Maidenhead.
Dateinfo: cb Lifespan 49
Lifespan: N/A
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
David Gregorie became heir to the considerable family estate, and a member of the gentry, upon the murder of his elder brother. By two wives David Gregorie had twenty-nine children. Our David was the third son by the first wife, but the oldest surviving one, and ultimately the oldest surviving child.
It seems clear from the accounts that the family was wealthy after the inheritance, which came while our David was still an infant.
3. Nationality
Birth: Scottish
Career: Scottish & English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Aberdeen
Marischal College, Aberdeen, 1671-5. He left without taking a degree.
Gregory was then at home, with an interlude of travel on the continent for an extended period of about eight years.
In 1683, as he assumed his appointment at Edinburgh, the university conferred an M.A. on him. He never studied in Edinburgh, and I do not list this degree.
M.A. & M.D. at Oxford, 1692. Both of these came soon after Gregory assumed the chair in Oxford. It appears that Gregory did have some knowledge of the iatromechanical theories of his friend Pitcairne, but I am not listing the medical degree, or the other for that matter.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
The Gregories were staunch episcopalians in Scotland. His mother, David Gregorie's first wife, was especially so and reared her children in this faith. Gregory's grandfather had been proscribed during the 40s for his religious views, and the problems of Gregory himself in Edinburgh in 1690 appear to have been related in part to this issue.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Subordinate: Astronomy, Optics, Mechanics
Gregory is known primarily as a mathematician, a decent but not a great one. Exercitatio geometria de dimensione curvarum, 1684. In 1703 a complete edition of Euclid that remained the standard one for nearly two centuries. He worked with Halley on an edition of Apollonius' Conics, which appeared posthumously, 1710.
In 1745, from Gregory's lecture notes at Edinburgh, Maclaurin published Treatise of Practical Geometry.
Catoptricae & dioptricae sphericae elementa, 1695, with special attention to telescopes.
Astronomiae physicae & geometricae elementa, 1702, an effort in the popularization of Newtonian science.
Gregory left a manuscript on mechanics and hydrostatics, lectures, I believe, at Edinburgh.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Academia
Secondary: Schoolmastering, Medicine
In 1690 the family estate at Kinnairdie, where Gregory was reared, was made over to him.
Professor of mathematics at Edingburgh University, 1683- 1691. Gregory was caught up in the political turmoil in Scotland in 1690, which appears to have been partly, but only partly, an issue between presbyterians and episcopalians. Though he was not forced out, he found the atmosphere inhospitable, and he actively pursued an alternative, which he found south of the border.
Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, 1691-1708.
Gregory was appointed to be mathematical tutor to the young Duke of Gloucester in 1699. The Duke died before he could assume the position.
There is documentary evidence that in Edinburgh at least he gave private lessons.
In the 1580s Gregory became seriously interested in medicine. He received an M.D. degree, and he practiced medicine, though I do not have details.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Court Official, Eccesiastic Official, Scientist
It appears that Pitcairne was responsible for Gregory's appointment at Edinburgh. Gregory was much the wealthier of the two, though Pitcairne at that time had more influence. It is unclear how the two met.
In the visitation crisis in Edinburgh in 1690, Gregory was supported and defended by Lord Tarbat, a governmental official.
Through the influence of Bishop Burnet, he was appointed mathematical tutor to the young Duke of Gloucester in 1699.
He dedicated his principal work, the Astronomia, to Prince George of Denmark. Earlier he had been appointed mathematical tutor to the Prince's son, the Duke of Gloucester, who died.
Gregory owed the professorship at Oxford to Newton's strong recommedation and Flamsteed's support.
Newton secured his appointment to a temporary and well paid position with the Edinburgh Mint at the time of union.
Gregory dedicated the edition of Euclid to Dr. Aldrich, Dean of Christ Church, and received twenty guineas (for his son) in return.
It strikes me that Gregory offers an excellent example of patronage. He certainly could have lived on his inherited means. However, he was ambitious, and to fulfill his ambitions he required patrons. He pursued them relentlessly his entire life.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Cartography, Medical Practice
Worked on an achromatic telescope.
In Edinburgh Gregory lectured, inter alia, on surveying (in his Treatise of Practical Geometry). There was nothing original in the lectures, but they offered a good practical exposition of the methods and instruments of surveying.
Gregory held an M.D. and was admitted to the College of Physicians in Edinburgh. Guerrini states explicitly that he practiced medicine.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Medical College
Informal Connections: He played the role of custodian of certain precious papers of James Gregory passed to him through the family and of verbal communications from Newton, which I recroded. Friendship with Archibald Pitcairne from undergraduate days. Friendship with Arbuthnot, Huygens, Wallis. Collaboration with Halley.
Royal Society, 1691.
Royal College of Physicians at Edinburgh, 1705--purely honorary.
Sources
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 8, 536-7. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 4, 2365-72.
  2. P.D. Lawrence and A.G. Mollond, "David Gregory's Inaugural Lecture at Oxford," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 25 (1970), 159-65.
  3. Agnes Grainger Stewart, The Academic Gregories, (Edinburgh, 1901).
  4. Christina M. Eagles, "David Gregory and Newtonian Science," British Journal for the History of Science, 10 (1977), 216-25.
  5. _____, The Mathematical Work of David Gregory, unpublished Ph.D.
  6. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1977.
  7. Anita Guerrini, "The Tory Newtonians: Gregory, Pitcairne, and their Circle," Journal of British Studies, 25 (1986), 288-311.
  8. Not avilable and not consulted: W.G. Hiscock, David Gregory, Isaac Newton, and Their Circle, (Oxford, 1937).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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