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Pell [Pellius], John

1. Dates
Born: Southwick, Sussex, 1 March 1611
Died: London, 12 Dec. 1685
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 74
2. Father
Occupation: Cleric
John Pell was the Vicar of Southwick. He died when Pell was five. The mother died a year later.
No information on financial status; no single word on how Pell survived. There are vague hints that there was family in the Southwick area. All that is known is that Pell enrolled in Cambridge at age thirteen.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English, Dutch
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A.
Steyning School in Sussex.
Cambridge University; Trinity College, 1624-30. B.A., 1628; M.A., 1630.
D.D., at Lambeth, 1663. I don't list this; it clearly derived from the patronage of Archbishop Sheldon.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist, Anglican
Having been deeply involved with the Commonwealth, Pell conformed at the Restoration.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Subordinate: Astronomy
Pell published Idea of Mathematics, 1638, a general program in the Comenian spirit, not a contribution to mathematics.
In the mid '40s he was involved in a dispute with Longomontanus on Longomontanus' mistaken value for pi. Pell published Controversiae de vera circuli mensura, 1647.
It is likely that Pell was an important influence behind J.H. Rahn's German Algebra, 1659, and if this is correct, Pell was then an innovator in algebraic symbolism.
He published a table of 10,000 square numbers, and he computed the first table of antilogarithms (which was not published).
He translated Lansberg's Tables in 1634 and composed "Eclipse Prognosticator" at about that time.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life, Patronage
Secondary: Schoolmastering, Academia, Government
Assistant master at Collyers School in Horsham, and at Hartlib's Chichester Academy, 1630-8.
In London, 1638-43, apparently teaching mathematics.
Professor of mathematics at the Illustrious Gymnasium, Amsterdam, 1643-6. Professor of mathematics at Breda, 1646-52. I am treating the Illustrious Gymnasium as university level, and Breda definitely was.
When Pell returned to England, Cromwell appointed him to lecture on mathematics (in London, I assume) with a salary of 200.
Commonwealth agent in Zurich, 1654-8.
Rector of Fobbing in Essex, 1661-85.
Vicar of Laindon, 1663-85.
Chaplain to Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury.
He resided for some years at Brereton Hall as the guest of the third lord of Brereton, who had been his pupil in the Netherlands.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Gentry, Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat
Pell was a member of the Commenian group in London. The DSB refers to Haak as his patron. Later Haak apparently introduced Pell to Sheldon.
He owed his professorship in Amsterdam to Sir William Boswell.
He owed his position at Breda to the Prince of Orange.
See above for his relation to Cromwell.
Gilbert Sheldon, Bishop of London and then Archbishop, arranged Pell's two church livings and then appointed Pell as his personal chaplain.
See his relationship to Lord Brereton above.
Pell was twice recommended to Louis XIV for as pension, though nothing came of it.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Applied Mathematics, Instruments
His tables of squares and of antilogarithms were aids to calculations.
Every source mentions an early work, "The Description and Use of the Quadrant." DNB says that it was not published. He left behind a manuscript on sundials.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Close connection with Hartlib and the Comenian Group. Correspondence with Henry Briggs, Charles Cavendish (1641-50), William Petty, Hartlib, Brereton, Brancher. Friendship with Haak. Pell's correspondence with scientific contemporaries is in the Sloane Manuscripts of the British Library. Some of it is publided in Robert Vaughan, The Protectorate of Cromwell, 1838, and in Rigaud's Correspondence of Scientific Men.
Royal Society, 1663.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 15, 706-8. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek, 3, 961-5.
  2. O.L. Dick, ed., Aubrey's Brief Lives, (Ann Arbor, 1957), pp. 229- 33.
  3. T. Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London, 4, (London, 1757), 444-7. E.J. Dijksterhuis, "John Pell in zijn strijd over de rectificatie van den cirkel," Euclides, 8 (1931-2), 286-96.
  4. C. De Waard, "Wiskundige bijdragen tot de pansophie van Comenius," Euclides, 25 (1950), 278-87.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. P.J. Wallis, "An Early Mathematical Manifesto--John Pell's Idea of Mathematics," Durham Research Review, no. l8 (1967), 139-48.
  2. Christoph J. Scriba, "John Pell's English Edition of J.J. Rahn's Teutsche Algebra," in R.S. Cohen et al, ed. For Dirk Struik, (Dordrecht, 1974), pp. 261-74.
  3. Pierre Bayle, General Dictionary.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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