Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Heath, Robert (d.1779)

HEATH, ROBERT (d. 1779), mathematician, was a captain in the army, and is described late in life as a ‘half-pay captain of invalids’ (Leybourne). For a time he served with his regiment in the Scilly Isles, and while there wrote ‘A History of the Islands of Scilly, with a Tradition of the Land called Lioness, and a General Account of Cornwall.’ The book, published in London in 1750, and dedicated to the Duke of Cumberland, included a new map of the isles, drawn by himself from an actual survey made in 1744; it was reprinted in 1808 in Pinkerton's ‘Voyages and Travels,’ ii. 729–784. Heath is best known as a frequent contributor to the ‘Ladies' Diary.’ His earliest contribution to that periodical is dated in 1737. He rapidly secured a high position on the staff, and proposed the prize essays for 1739, 1740, 1742, 1746, and 1748. When Henry Beighton [q. v.], the editor, died in October 1743, the proprietors, the Stationers' Company, allowed Beighton's widow to conduct the ‘Diary,’ with the aid of Heath as her deputy. In that capacity Heath exercised full editorial control from 1744 to 1753, and continued to write largely for the work, contributing under his own and assumed names. But Heath's violent temper and loose notions of honesty brought him into endless difficulties. A personal quarrel with Thomas Simpson [q. v.] led Heath to abuse virulently in print Simpson's ‘Doctrine of Ultimators’ (1750) and ‘Doctrine of Fluxions’ (1751), while he praised inferior works on the same subject by William Emerson [q. v.] John Taylor, who like Emerson was a contributor to the ‘Diary,’ inserted in his ‘Mathematical Exercises’ (1750–3) an able defence of Simpson signed ‘Honestus’ against Heath's assertions. In 1753 the proprietors, the Stationers' Company, dismissed Heath and installed his rival Simpson in the editorial chair.

One of the chief charges proved against Heath was that while editor of the ‘Ladies' Diary’ he started in 1749 a journal on similar lines on his own account, and appropriated for his own periodical, which he called ‘The Palladium,’ the best contributions sent to him as editor of the ‘Diary.’ On his dismissal from the latter office he concentrated all his energies on this venture of his own, and made it the vehicle of much intemperate abuse directed against Simpson, the Stationers' Company, and the ‘Ladies' Diary.’ The title of his journal was often changed. It was renamed ‘The Gentleman and Lady's Palladium,’ 1750, ‘The Gentleman's and Lady's Palladium and Chronologer,’ 1754, ‘The Gentleman's and Lady's Military Palladium,’ 1759, ‘The Palladium Extraordinary,’ 1763, ‘The Palladium Enlarged,’ 1764, ‘The Palladium of Fame,’ 1765, and ‘The British Palladium,’ 1768. Heath conducted his own paper with greater care than that he had expended on the ‘Diary,’ and suggested some useful schemes, which through lack of subscribers were never carried out. He proposed to reprint the original ‘Ladies' Diaries,’ a project fulfilled subsequently by both Charles Hutton (1775) and Thomas Leybourn (1817). He absurdly tried to establish a Palladium Society, having for its mark a ‘Palladium button,’ to be obtained from him. His journal ceased in 1778. He died in 1779.

According to De Morgan, ‘Heath was a person who made noise in his day, and in so doing established a claim to be considered a worthless vagabond.’ But as editor of mathematical periodicals he did something to popularise the study of mathematics in England. His works include, besides those already mentioned: 1. ‘The Practical Arithmetician,’ 1750. 2. ‘The Ladies' Chronologer,’ No. I. 1754 (amalgamated with the ‘Palladium’ of 1755). 3. ‘The Ladies' Philosopher,’ No. I. 1752, II. 1753, III. 1754. 4. ‘Astronomia Accurata; or the Royal Astronomer and Navigator,’ 1760. 5. ‘General and Particular Account of the Annular Eclipse of the Sun which happened on Sunday, April 1, 1764.’

[T. Leybourn's Ladies' Diary, 1817; A. De Morgan's Arithmetical Books, 1847; C. Hutton's Diarian Miscellany, 1775; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Letters of Eminent Literary Men (Camd. Soc.), p. 304; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub.; works mentioned above.]

G. J. G.