# 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Spottiswoode, William

**SPOTTISWOODE, WILLIAM** (1825–1883), English mathematician
and physicist, was born in London on the 11th of January
1825. His father, Andrew Spottiswoode, who was descended
from an ancient Scottish family, represented Colchester in parliament
for some years, and in 1831 became junior partner in the
firm of Eyre & Spottiswoode, printers. William was educated
at Laleham, Eton, Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford. His
bent for science showed itself while he was still a schoolboy, and
indeed his removal from Eton to Harrow is said to have been
occasioned by an accidental explosion which occurred whilst he
was performing an experiment for his own amusement. At
Harrow he obtained in 1842 a Lyon scholarship, and at Oxford
in 1845 a first-class in mathematics, in 1846 the junior and in
1847 the senior university mathematical scholarship. In 1846
he left Oxford to take his father's place in the business, in which
he was engaged until his death. In 1847 he issued five pamphlets
entitled *Meditationes analyticae*. This was his first publication
of original mathematical work; and from this time scarcely a
year passed in which he did not give to the world further mathematical
researches. In 1856 Spottiswoode travelled in eastern
Russia, and in 1860 in Croatia and Hungary; of the former
expedition he has left an interesting record entitled *A Tarantasse*
*Journey through Eastern Russia in the Autumn of 1856*
(London, 1857). In 1870 he was elected president of the London
Mathematical Society. In 1871 he began to turn his attention
to experimental physics, his earlier researches bearing upon the
polarization of light and his later work upon the electrical
discharge in rarefied gases. He wrote a popular treatise upon
the former subject for the " Nature " Series (1874). In 1878
he was elected president of the British Association, and in the
same year president of the Royal Society, of which he had been
a fellow since 1853. He died in London of typhoid fever on the
27th of June 1883, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

symbols, and with the application of analysis to geometry and
mechanics. The following brief review of his mathematical work
is quoted from the obituary notice which appeared in the *Proceedings* *of the Royal Society* (xxxviii. 34): " The interesting series of communications on the contact of curves and surfaces which are contained in the Philosophical Transactions of 1862 and subsequent years would alone account for the high rank he obtained as a mathematician. . . . The mastery which he had obtained over the
mathematical symbols was so complete that he never shrank from the use of expressions, however complicated—nay, the more complicated
they were the more he seemed to revel in them—provided
they did not sin against the ruling spirit of all his work—symmetry.
To a mind imbued with the love of mathematical symmetry the
study of determinants had naturally every attraction. In 1851
Mr Spottiswoode published in the form of a pamphlet an account of
some elementary theorems on the subject. This having fallen out
of print, permission was sought by the editor of *Crelle* to reproduce it in the pages of that journal. Mr Spottiswoode granted the request and undertook to revise his work. The subject had, however, been so extensively developed in the interim that it proved necessary
not merely to revise it but entirely to rewrite the work, which
became a memoir of 116 pages. To this, the first elementary treatise
on determinants, much of the rapid development of the subject is
due. The effect of the study on Mr Spottiswoode's own methods
was most pronounced; there is scarcely a page of his mathematical
writings that does not bristle with determinants." His papers,
numbering over 100, were published principally in the *Philosophical*

*Transactions*,

*Proceedings of the Royal Society*,

*Quarterly Journal of*

*Mathematics*,

*Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society*and

*Crelle*, and one or two in the

*Comptes rendus*of the Paris Academy; a list of them, arranged according to the several journals in which they originally appeared, with short notes upon the less familiar memoirs, is given in

*Nature*, xxvii. 599.