Bowditch, Nathaniel

Excellent 1811 LS from the eminent mathematician, founder of modern maritime navigation, preparing to observe a solar eclipse, also of interest to Thomas Jefferson

Price: $225.00

Description:
(1773-1838) Early US mathematician remembered for work on ocean navigation. Credited as founder of modern maritime navigation; his book The New American Practical Navigator, 1st pub. 1802, is still carried aboard every US Navy vessel. Born in Salem, Mass., indentured at 12 for 9 years as bookkeeping apprentice to a ship chandler. At 14 he began to study algebra, taught himself calculus at 16. He taught himself Latin in 1790 and French in 1792 so he could read works such as Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. He found thousands of errors in John Hamilton Moore's The New Practical Navigator; at 18, he copied all the mathematical papers found in the Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Among his many significant scientific contributions would be a translation of Pierre-Simon de Laplace's M谷canique c谷leste, lengthy work on mathematics and theoretical astronomy. In 1795, he went to sea on the 1st of 4 voyages as ship's clerk and captain's writer; his 5th was as master and part owner of a ship. At sea, Bowditch became intensely interested in mathematics involved in celestial navigation. He recomputed all of Moore's tables, rearranged and expanded the work. He contacted US publisher Edmund Blunt who asked him to correct and revise the 3rd edition on his 5th voyage. Bowditch decided to write his own book, and to "put down in the book nothing I can't teach the crew." On that trip, it is said that the entire crew of 12, including the cook, became competent to take and calculate lunar observations and plot the correct position of the ship. In 1802, Blunt published the 1st edition of Bowditch's American Practical Navigator, which became the Western Hemisphere shipping industry standard for the next 150 years. The US Hydrographic Office bought the copyright in 1866, since then in continuous publication with regular revisions to keep it current; to this day mariners refer to it simply as ※Bowditch.§ Returned to Salem 1803, resumed mathematical studies and entered insurance business. Harvard awarded him an honorary Master of Arts degree 1802. In 1804, he became America's 1st insurance actuary as President of Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Company in Salem. His mathematical and astronomical work led to election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1799 and the American Philosophical Society 1809. He declined the chair of mathematics and physics at Harvard 1806, and similar offers from the US Military Academy and the University of Virginia. He wrote on his observations of the moon published 1804 and naval charts of several harbors, including Salem (1806). He published a study of a meteor explosion 1807, 3 papers on the orbits of comets (1815, 1818, 1820) and a study of the Lissajous figures created by motion of a pendulum suspended from two points 1815. He translated 1st 4 volumes of Laplace's Trait谷 de m谷canique c谷leste 1818; publication ws delayed for many years, and he continued to work on it with Benjamin Peirce, adding commentaries that doubled its length. In 1818 Bowditch turned down Jefferson's offer of the professorship of mathematics at the University of Virginia. He was elected to Royal Societies of Edinburgh and London and Royal Irish Academy by 1819. He left Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Co. in 1823 to become actuary for the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Co. in Boston, serving as an investment manager for wealthy individuals who made their fortunes at sea. His move to Boston involved transfer of 2,500+ books, 100 maps & charts, and 29 volumes of his own manuscripts. Both of Bowditch*s highly scientific works, ※On the Eclipse of the Sun of Sept. 17, 1811, with the longitudes of several places in this country, deduced from all the observations of the Eclipses of the Sun and Transits of Mercury and Venus§ and ※On the Motion of a Pendulum Suspended from Two Points,§ are printed in American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Memoirs, vol. 3, pt. 2 (1815): 255每304, 413每36. Bowditch concluded on pp. 268每9 of the former, on the basis of the 1811 solar eclipse that Monticello*s longitude was ※78∼ 47∩ 36∪ W from Greenwich.§ Good content 6 3/4 x 8 LS to Prof. E.(benezer) Adams, Professor of Mathematics, Dartmouth College, Salem, Mass., August 25 1811. Bowditch reports oh his preparations to observe the solar eclipse on Sept. 17 with "...a four foot achromatic telescope & shall regulate my chronometer by equal attitudes of the sum taken with a sextant or circle." He asks Adams if he would make corresponding observations and forward a copy to Bowditch who wishes to collect as many as he can "...in order to determine the differences of the meridians of the places of observation." Addressed on verso to Adams. In an Oct. 14, 1811 letter to Thomas Jefferson, from Salem, Mass. Deputy Customs Director and soldier-statesman Henry A. S. Dearborn (son of Secretary of War Henry Dearborn) he wrote: "A few days ago I spent the afternoon at Salem with my friend Nath. Bowditch to consult him on the observations which he had made on the Comet which now blazes in the northern regions of the sky... Yesterday I received a letter from him, requesting me to forward to you, the enclosed succinct result of his calculations of its orbit [Bowditch's "The Comet: Elements of the Orbit of the Comet, now visible"], with a note thereto attached, desiring that you would do him the favor of furnishing such observations as you may have made, or can procure, on the recent Solar Eclipse. I have known him for a number of years & so far as I ... have no doubt, of his being, by far the ablest astronomical mathematician in this country & equal to any in Europe. He is entirely self educated & who from early youth, discovered a great taste for the mathematics ....He is modest & unassuming〞preeminently distinguished for his amiable virtues & extensive researches & by unceasing study & observation elevated his fame ... to that honorable station, where stand the greatest geniuses of Philosophy. Unattached to any of our seminaries of learning, his mathematical researches & character have not been greatly extended. He has for some years corresponded with the celebrated La Place. The government of Harvard University have offered him the professorship of mathematics & astronomy, but not having received a collegiate education, he did not think himself adequate, thus modesty has deprived our literary institution of an inestimable treasure. In the early part of life he went to sea & was master of a ship, when he was chosen President of an Insurance Office, where he remains. He is not 40 years of age. It is unnecessary to observe that a communication from a gentleman of your distinction, relative to the subjects contained in the enclosed paper, would be received with peculiar pleasure. He is preparing at length two communications for the A. of A. S. [Academy of Arts and Science] of this state, which will contain his calculations on the Comet & Eclipse. When the number is published I shall do myself the pleasure of forwarding it to you...knowing your fondness for scientific discoveries & pleased at the rising fame of the U.S., I hope this particular detail relative to Mr. Bowditch will not be unwelcome." On May 2, 1815, Jefferson wrote to Bowditch from Monticello to thank him for his pamphlet on the motion of the pendulum "...and more particularly for that containing the deductions of longitudes of places in the United States, from the Solar eclipse of 1811. That of Monticello is especially acceptable, having too long lost familiarity with such operations to have undertaken it myself. Mr. Lambert of Washington had also favored me with his calculation which varied minutely only from yours; he having, from the same elements, made the Longitude of Monticello 78∼每50∩每18.877∪ W. from Greenwich. I am happy indeed to find that this most sublime of all sciences is so eminently cultivated by you...Accept the homage due to your science from one who is only a dilettante, and sincere wishes for your health & happiness. Th: Jefferson". Grammatical and spelling errors mostly corrected. EBENEZER ADAMS (1765-1841) Graduated with honors from Dartmouth 1791. He was 1st professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the Phillips Exeter Academy and was professor of Languages Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy at Dartmouth 1809-33. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1812 and elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1813.

Condition: Very good, seal remnant, seal hole neatly repaired; binding tape remnant verso of left edge
Type:Letter






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