The Pathway to Knowledge (英語) ペーパーバック – 2013/1/27
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The first edition of Robert Recorde's The Pathway to Knowledge was printed in London, at the sign of the Brazen Serpent, by Reynold Wolfe in 1551. This book is the earliest work on geometry in the English language and was used as a standard textbook well into the middle of the seventeenth century. Recorde's prose is delightfully rhythmical and his poetical phrasing perhaps made learning less of a chore than otherwise for his studious readers. That he well knew this book, although modelled after Euclid, was breaking new ground is evidenced by his statement in the preface to the theorems: 'For nother is there anie matter more straunge in the english tongue, than this whereof never booke was written before now, in that tongue, and therefore oughte to delite all them, that desire to understand straunge matters, as most men commonlie doo'. Recorde encountered an unexpected difficulty when setting out to teach Euclidean geometry to English readers. He found that the English language did not (at that time) have a sufficiency of technical terms. But rather than use longstanding Latin or Greek words, he invented his own English equivalents. So for example, obtuse angles are 'blunt corners', an equilateral triangle is a 'threelike' and a square is a 'likeside'. Unfortunately, Recorde's terminology was not taken up and did not survive the passage of time. Hence schoolchildren in geometry lessons today have to wrestle with difficult Latin words like tangent, instead of Recorde's much more homely and easily understood 'touch line'. The mathematical text itself is extremely lucid in both exposition and diagrams, proceeding from a list of definitions through forty-six constructions and seventy-seven theorems. At the start of the definitions is the statement that 'Geometry teacheth the drawyng, measuring and proporcion of figures' and history produced no finer or more eloquent tutor in the subject than Robert Recorde.
Robert Recorde was born circa 1510 in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales. He entered Oxford University in 1525 aged about 15 years. He graduated with a B.A. in 1531 and was elected a Fellow of All Souls College in the same year. At some time he moved from Oxford to Cambridge, where he studied for an M.D. and graduated in 1545 at the age of 35. He then moved to London, where for a few years he practised medicine. In later years he was always to describe himself as 'physician' and was judged as a very learned scholar. A defining moment in his life occurred in 1549 when he was appointed Controller of the Bristol Mint. It was during his time there that he made a very powerful and ruthless enemy. Sir William Herbert was sent by Edward VI to help suppress a revolt by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, in the west country. Herbert demanded that Recorde divert funds from the mint to pay and support his army, but Recorde refused on the grounds that the order did not come from the king. Herbert countered and accused Recorde of treason. He was lucky to incur the mild penalty of confinement to court for 60 days. However, apparently all was later forgiven because in 1551 he was appointed general surveyor of Mines and Monies in Ireland. He was placed in charge of the Wexford silver mines and also became the technical supervisor of the Dublin mint. In the meantime, Sir William Herbert was created Earl of Pembroke for his services to the crown during the rebellion, and there was continued animosity between him and Recorde. Upon the accession to the throne of Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII, Pembroke was made a privy councillor for his support of Mary's claim to the throne. For some strange reason, Recorde chose the moment when Pembroke was strongest to try and get his revenge, charging him with misconduct in gaining his court positions. The allegation was probably true, but Pembroke was in favour with the monarchy and so had almost perfect immunity. He responded by suing Recorde for libel. There was a hearing in January 1557 and Recorde was ordered to pay the huge sum of 1000 compensation. He either could not or would not pay and so was sentenced to imprisonment in the King's Bench Prison in Southwark, for debt. Whilst in prison he made his will, leaving small sums of money to various people, including 20 to his mother. The date of his death is not known with any certainty, but is generally supposed to have been in the later part of 1558, only a short time after making his will.