In Defence of the Study of Mathematicks

TGM-Nov-1736Another 18th-century academic rant, this time from a correspondent who signs himself “Philo-Mathematicus”. From The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 6, no. 11, November 1736, pages 665-666.

So contemptible is the name of Arts and Sciences grown (especially those Arts that belong to the Mathematicks) among some Sort of People, whose Fortunes best qualify them to understand ’em, that they speak of them with Derision, and look upon the Mathematicks as a mere whimsical Invention or Jest, which they despise, because they will not take Pains to comprehend. Tell them of a Pack of Cards, or of any such fashionable Arts, whereby they can spend Time in a Laugh, (and so avoid the Trouble of thinking too nicely) and they’ll as zealously join with you, against Books and Study, as they’ll exclaim against Vices they often commit. They insist, that by spending Time over Books, a Man pores himself into Stupidity, and unqualifies himself for Company, and polite Conversation. But what can be said to a multitude of Men, who are above being sway’d by Reason, and are resolved to chuse their Delights according to their own vitiated, habitual, and confin’d Way of thinking? They admit of nothing for an Excellency, but what has Pomp or Fashion attending it, and directly suited to their own deprav’d Palate. There are Cavillers of all Degrees and Capacities, who make it their Business to degrade and find fault with the Performances of other Men; and would, if possible, reduce all Mens Capacities, above theirs, to the Level of their own: But such invidious Dispositions discover themselves by their own Pride and Weakness; and whilst they asperse others for a Vanity, in attempting Things, as they say, not worth the Enquiry, they appear Grovelings, who would suppress all Arts and Knowledge, whereby Men are lifted up above Men, or Nation above Nation. They encourage Flattery and Dissimulation, but hate to be thought Knowing or Wise. It is very hard, Truth and useful Knowledge should suffer so much Disgrace by so many Enemies they both have in the World, and that so little regard is had for them by Mankind in general! It is much to be desir’d, for the Honour of our British Nation and its Inhabitants, that the fashionable Arts of Carding, Drinking, Gaming, Powdering and Cringing, were neglected or more thrown aside; and the brave Scientifical, and noble Grecian and Roman Arts, introduced or revived among us. We should be more the Glory and Delight of ourselves, as well as the Esteem and Dread of our Neighbours, if we would endeavour to flourish in Arts, and grow wise in Knowledge: Whereas, we are now dwindled to a despis’d Race of Mortals, who are vers’d only in Mimickry, Foreignism and Luxury; and the Lord knows when we are to be deliver’d out of our Troubles.

Philo-Mathematicus

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