- George Salmon
The Reverend George Salmon (
September 25, 1819- January 22, 1904) was, firstly, a mathematicianwhose publications in algebraic geometry were widely read in the second half of the 19th century. But he was also an Anglican theologianwho devoted himself mostly to theologyfor the last forty years of his life. His publications in theology were widely read too.
George Salmon was probably born in
Dublin, but he spent his boyhood in Cork City, Ireland, where his father was a linen merchant. He went to school in Hamblin and Porter's School in Cork. He graduated from Trinity College Dublinin 1839 as First Senior Moderator in Mathematics and Physics. In 1841 at the age of 21 he was elected to a Fellowship in Trinity College and became a Tutor in Mathematics, and in 1845 he also became a lecturer in divinity, having been ordained in the Church of Irelandas was required by the Statutes of the College at the time. He married in 1844 and had six children, only two of whom survived him.
In the late 1840s and the 1850s Salmon was in regular and frequent communication with
Arthur Cayleyand J.J. Sylvester. The three of them together with a small number of other mathematicians (including Charles Hermite) were developing a system for dealing with n-dimensional algebra and geometry. During this period Salmon published about 36 papers in journals. In these papers for the most part he solved narrowly defined, concrete problems in algebraic geometry, as opposed to more broadly systematic or foundational questions. But he was an early adopter of the foundational innovations of Cayley and the others. In 1859 he published the book "Lessons Introductory to the Modern Higher Algebra", which for a while was simultaneously the state-of-the-art and the standard presentation of the subject, and went through updated and expanded editions in 1866, 1876 and 1885, and was translated into German and French.
Meanwhile back in 1848 Salmon had published an undergraduate textbook entitled "A Treatise on Conic Sections". This text remained in print for over fifty years, going though five updated editions in English, and was translated into German, French and Italian. Salmon himself did not participate in the expansions and updates of the more later editions. The German version, which was a "free adaptation" by Wilhelm Fiedler, was popular as an undergraduate text in Germany. Salmon also published two other mathematics texts, "A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves" (1852) and "A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions" (1862). These too were in print for a long time and went though a number of later editions, with Salmon delegating the work of the later editions to others.
In 1889 Salmon received the
Copley Medalof the Royal Society, the highest honorary award in British science, but by 1889 he had long ago quit maths and science.
From the early 1860s onward Salmon was primarily occupied with theology. In 1866 he was appointed to the prestigious Regius Professorship of Divinity at Trinity College Dublin, which required him to resign from his Fellowship. In 1871 he accepted an additional post of chancellor of
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.
One of his early publications in theolgy was in 1853 as a contributor to a book of rebuttals to the Catholic
John Henry Newman's series "Tracts for the Times". Arguments against Roman Catholicism were a recurring theme in Salmon's theology and culminated in his widely-read 1888 book "Infallibility of the Church" in which he argued that certain beliefs of the Roman church were absurd, especially the beliefs in the infallibility of the churchand the infallibility of the pope. Salmon also wrote books about eternal punishment, miracles, and interpretation of the New Testament. His book "An Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament", which was widely read, is an account of the reception and interpretation of the gospels in the early centuries of Christianity as seen through the writings of leaders such as Irenaeusand Eusebius.
George Salmon was a keen chess player, he was a patron to the University Chess Club [ [http://www.chesssoc.org/hist.php History of Dublin University Chess Society] ] , and was also the President of Dublin Chess Club from 1890-1903. [A History of Dublin Chess Club, by A.A. Luce, Irish Printers Ltd, Dublin,(1967).)] He participated in the second
British Chess Congressand had the honour of playing the great chess grandmaster Paul Morphyin Birmingham, England, on 27th August, 1858. [ [http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1227744 Paul Morphy vs George Salmon, Birmingham, Aug. 27, 1858(www.chessgames.com)] ] [Morphy's Games of Chess by Philip W. Sergeant, G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1937.]
Provost of Trinity College
George Salmon was Provost of Trinity College Dublin from 1888 until his death in 1904, and a high point was when in 1892 he presided over the great celebrations marking the tercentenary of the College, which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth I. His deep conservatism led him to strongly oppose women receiving degrees from the University. He eventually agreed to dropping his veto in 1901 when the Board voted in favour of allowing women to enter the university, it was one of his last acts as Provost. [ [http://www.tcd.ie/provost/g_salmon.php The Provost's Office Former Provosts, George Salmon 1888-1904(c. 1819-1904), Trinity College, Dublin website.] ] Symbolically in January 1904, just after he died, the first women undergraduates were admitted. [ [http://www.ria.ie/projects/dib/salmon.html Royal Irish Academy, Dictionary of Irish Biography - George Salmon by Roderick Gow] ]
*A treatise on conic sections (1848)
*A treatise on higher plane curves: Intended as a sequel to a treatise on conic sections (1852)
*Lessons introductory to the modern higher algebra (1859)
*A treatise on the analytic geometry of three dimensions (1862)
*The eternity of future punishment (1864)
*The reign of law (1873)
*Non-miraculous Christianity (1881)
*Introduction to the New Testament (1885)
*The infallibility of the Church (1888)
*Thoughts on the textual criticism of the New Testament (1897)
* [http://turnbull.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Miscellaneous/other_links/Salmon_theology.html George Salmon: from mathematics to theology] — An examination of Salmon's motives for switching from math to theology
* [http://math-doc.ujf-grenoble.fr/LiNuM/TM/Gallica/S099673.html Complete text of Salmon's book A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/analytischegeome028825mbp Complete text of Salmon's book Analytische Geometrie Der Kegelschnitte (in German translation)]
* [http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/george_salmon.htm Many selections from Salmon's theological publications]
* [http://www.maths.ucd.ie/~rodgow/salmonims.pdf A 50-page biography of Salmon written in 1997 by math professor Rod Gow]
Notes and References
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