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Gregory [Gregorie], James

1. Dates
Born: Drumoak, near Aberdeen, Nov. 1638
Died: Edinburgh, 1675
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 37
2. Father
Occupation: Cleric
The Rev. James Gregorie was a minister. He died in 1650 when James Gregory was twelve.
Partly, but only partly, through his wife's inheritance he amassed a small fortune. All the details indicate wealth.
3. Nationality
Birth: Scottish
Career: Scottish
Death: Scottish
4. Education
Schooling: Aberdeen, Padua
Grammar School at Aberdeen.
Marischal College, Aberdeen Univ. I assume an M.A. The M.A. was the basic degree in a Scottish university; I count it as equivalent to a B.A.
Studied geometry, mechanics and astronomy under Stefano degli Angeli, Torricelli's pupil, at Padua, 1664-8.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
The Rev. John Gregorie had much trouble from the Scottish Presbyterians because of his episcopalian principles. The whole Gregorie family were stubborn episcopalians.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Optics
Subordinate: Astronomy, Mechanics
James Gregory was one of the most important mathematicians of the century, significant especially in the steps that led to the calculus. He pursued what later appeared as a tedious and complex method of infinite series based on polygons to find the area of the circle and the hyperbola. This was published in Vera circuli & hyperbolae quadratura, 1668. In that same year, Geometriae pars universalis, which included also a doctrine of the transmutation of curves. In 1669, Exercitationes geometricae. Gregory also developed a method of drawing tangents to curves (i.e., differentiation).
Before his first mathematical publication, Opticae promota, 1663, in which he first described a reflecting telescope.
In Geometria Gregory included a section that dealt with astronomical phenomena such as comets. Later, as a professor at St. Andrews in 1673, he tried to found the first public observatory in Britain. Oppostion within the university thwarted it. Gregory pointed out the possible use of transits of Venus and Mercury to determine the distance of the sun.
In 1672 Gregory published an important pioneering paper on the motion of bodies through a resisting medium. He composed some other papers on mechanics.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia
Professor of mathematics at St. Andrews, 1668-74.
Professor of mathematics at Edingburgh University, 1674-5.
The DNB says that Gregory was devoid of ambition--i.e, vulgar ambition.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Court Official
His talent was dicoveried and encouraged by his brother, David Gregorie. (I leave the information in, but this it not patronage.)
He probably owed his professorshp at St. Andrews to Robert Moray.
After his death, Charles II granted a pension to his widow and children.
I'm not sure what to do with the following item: there was a church door collection in Aberdeen to provide Gregory with astronomical instruments.
When Huygens thought he was dying in 1668, he suggested Gregory as a replacement in the Académie. This does not quite seem patronage because nothing happened.
Compare James Gregory with his nephew David. James did not have anything like the personal means of David. However, he was apparently not ambitious for higher position. There was very little patronage in his life.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Cartography
The Gregorian telescope. Though there was an effort to realize the concept in fact, in London in 1664 with the instrument maker Reeve, it was unsuccessful because of the problem of polishing a good mirror. Gregory also invented a reflecting burning mirror.
In 1674, by means of a lunar eclipse, observed by him in St. Andrews and also observed in Paris, Gregory was able to establish the longitude of St. Andrews.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Friendship and correspondence with John Collins, 1668-75. Through Collins he received transcripts of letters written by Barrow, Huygens and Newton on a variety of topics, and he made Collins privy to many of his researches. Quite a bit of Gregory's correspondence is published (see especially the Gregory Memorial Volume) but not all in one place. See DSB.
Royal Society, 1668-75.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 8, 541-2. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 4, 1255-65.
  2. Agnes Grainger Stewart, The Academic Gregories, (Edinburgh, 1901).
  3. H.W. Turnbull, "James Gregory," in Turnbull, ed. James Gregory Tercentenary Memorial Volume, (London, 1939).
  4. _____, "Early Scottish Relations with the Royal Society. 1. James Gregory, F.R.S. (1638-1675)," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 3 (1940), 22-38.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. H.W. Turnbull, "James Gregory (1638-1675)," Nature, 142 (1938), 57- 8.
  2. The Gregory family, Chambers Edinburgh Journal, 223 (1846).
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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