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For other people with the same name, see John Napier .


John Napier of Merchistoun (1550 – 4 April 1617) - also signed as Neper, Nepair - named Marvellous Merchiston, was a Scottishmarker mathematician, physicist, astronomer/astrologer and 8th Laird of Merchistounmarker, son of Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston. He is most remembered as the inventor of logarithms and Napier's bones, and for popularizing the use of the decimal point. Napier's birth place, Merchiston Towermarker, Edinburghmarker, Scotland, is now part of Edinburgh Napier University. After dying of gout, Napier was buried in St Cuthbert's Churchmarker, Edinburgh.

Advances in mathematics

His work, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (1614) contained fifty-seven pages of explanatory matter and ninety pages of tables of natural logarithms. The book also has an excellent discussion of theorems in Spherical Trigonometry, usually known as Napier's Rules of Circular Parts. His invention of logarithms was quickly taken up at Gresham Collegemarker, and the leading English mathematician Henry Briggs arranged to visit Napier in 1615. Among the matters they discussed was a re-scaling of Napier's logarithms, in which the presence of the mathematical constant e (more accurately, the integer part of e times a large power of 10) was a practical difficulty. Napier delegated to Briggs the computation of a revised table. The computational advance available via logarithms, the converse of powered numbers or exponential notation, was such that it made calculations by hand much quicker. The way was opened to later scientific advances, in astronomy, dynamics, physics; and also in astrology.

Napier made further contributions. He improved Simon Stevin's decimal notation. Arab lattice multiplication, used by Fibonacci, was made more convenient by his introduction of Napier's bones, a multiplication tool using a set of numbered rods. He may have worked largely in isolation, but he had contact with Tycho Brahe who corresponded with his friend John Craig. Craig certainly announced the discovery of logarithms to Brahe in the 1590s (the name itself came later); there is a story from Anthony à Wood, perhaps not well substantiated, that Napier had a hint from Craig that Longomontanus, Brahe's follower, was working in a similar direction.

Theology

Napier had a strong interest in the Book of Revelation, from his student days at St Salvator's College, St Andrews. Under the influence of the sermons of Christopher Goodman, he developed a strongly anti-papal reading. He further used the Book of Revelation for chronography, to predict the Apocalypse, in A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John, which he regarded as his most important work. Napier believed that the end of the world would occur in 1688 or 1700.

In his dedication of the Plaine Discovery to James VI, dated 29 Jan. 1593-4, Napier urged the king to see "that justice be done against the enemies of God's church," and counselled him "to reform the universal enormities of his country, and first to begin at his own house, family, and court." The volume includes nine pages of English verse by himself. It met with success at home and abroad. In 1600 Michiel Panneel produced a Dutch translation, and this reached a second edition in 1607. In 1602 the work appeared at La Rochellemarker in a French version, by Georges Thomson, revised by Napier, and that also went through several editions (1603, 1605, and 1607). A new edition of the English original was called for in 1611, when it was revised and corrected by the author, and enlarged by the addition of A Resolution of certain Doubts proponed by well-affected brethren;'this appeared simultaneously at Edinburgh and London. The author stated that he still intended to publish a Latin edition, but it never appeared. A German translation, by Leo de Dromna, of the first part of Napier's work appeared at Gera in 1611, and of the whole by Wolfgang Meyer at Frankfurt-am-Mainmarker, in 1615.

Personal Life

His father was Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston Castle, and his mother, Janet Bothwell, was the daughter of a member of Parliament. Napier's father was only 16 when his son, John, was born. As was the practice for members of nobility, Napier did not enter school until he was 13. He did not stay in school very long, however. It is believed that he dropped out and traveled in Europe to continue his studies. Little is known about these years, where or when he may have studied.

In 1571, Napier turned 21 and returned to Scotland. The following year he married Elizabeth Stirling, daughter of James Stirling, 4th Laird of Keir and of Cadder , and bought a castle at Gartness in 1574. The couple had two children before Elizabeth died in 1579. Napier later married Agnes Chisholm, with whom he had ten children. On the death of his father in 1608, Napier and his family moved into Merchiston Castle, where he lived the rest of his life.

Astrology and the occult

John Napier
In addition to his mathematical and religious interests, Napier was commonly believed to be a magician, and is thought to have dabbled in alchemy and necromancy. It was said that he would travel about with a black spider in a small box, and that his black rooster was his familiar spirit.

Napier used this rooster to find out which of his servants had been stealing from his home. He would shut the suspects one at a time in a room with the bird, telling them to stroke it. The rooster would then tell Napier which of them was guilty. Actually, what would happen is that he would secretly coat the rooster with soot. Servants who were innocent would have no qualms about stroking it but the guilty one would only pretend he had, and when Napier examined their hands, the one with the clean hands was guilty.

Another occasion which may have contributed to his reputation as a sorcerer involved a neighbour whose pigeons were found to be eating Napier's grain. Napier warned him that from now on he intended to keep any pigeons found on his property. The next day, it is said, Napier was witnessed surrounded by unusually passive pigeons which he was scooping up and putting in a sack. The previous night he had soaked some peas in brandy, and then sown them. Come morning, the pigeons had gobbled them up, rendering themselves incapable of flight.

A contract still exists for a treasure hunt, made between John Napier and one Robert Logan of Restalrig. Napier was to search Fast Castlemarker for treasure allegedly hidden there, wherein it is stated that Napier should
"...do his utmost diligence to search and seek out, and by all craft and ingine to find out the same, or make it sure that no such thing has been there."


Eponyms

An alternative unit to the decibel used in electrical engineering, the neper, is named after John Napier, as is Edinburgh Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The crater Nepermarker on the Moon is named after him.

List of works



See also



Notes

  1. :s:Napier, John
  2. :s:Craig, John
  3. Biography of John Napier from history of computers.com
  4. Scotsman article about John Napier
  5. Scotsman article specifically about Napier's interest in the occult
  6. John Napier and the Devil
  7. A Biography of John Napier
  8. Neper Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature - USGS Astrogeology


References




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