Open main menu

VINCE, SAMUEL (1749–1821), mathematician and astronomer, born at Fressingfield in Suffolk on 6 April 1749, was the son of John Vince, a bricklayer. He worked with his father until he was about twelve, when the Rev. Mr. Warnes noticed him sitting reading beside his hod of mortar. He lent him books, and eventually sent him to Mr. Tilney's school at Harleston, Norfolk, where he became usher. In or near 1768 he proposed three questions, and answered one, in the ‘Ladies' Diary;’ and the generosity of the Rev. John Holmes of Gawdy Hall, near Bungay in Suffolk, procured him a university education. He graduated in 1775 as senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman from Caius College, Cambridge, and proceeded M.A. from Sidney-Sussex College in 1778. After vacating, probably by marriage, his fellowship of that body, he resided in the town of Cambridge. Having taken orders, he was presented successively to the rectory of Kirby Bedon in 1784 and the vicarage of South Creak in 1786, both in Norfolk; to the prebend of Melton Ross with Scamblesby in Lincolnshire on 10 Jan. 1803, and on 12 Jan. 1809 to the archdeaconry of Bedford.

For an ‘Investigation of the Principles of Progressive and Rotatory Motion’ (Phil. Trans. lxx. 546), read before the Royal Society on 15 June 1780, he received the Copley medal. Communications regarding the summation of infinite series ensued in 1782 and 1784; with an account, in 1785, of an elaborate course of experiments on friction (ib. lxxii. 389, lxxv. 32, 65). Elected a fellow of the society on 22 June 1786, he discoursed, as Bakerian lecturer for 1794, 1797, and 1799, on ‘The Motion and Resistance of Fluids,’ ‘The Resistance of Bodies moving in Fluids,’ and on the ‘Variations of Refraction in the Earth's Atmosphere’ (ib. lxxxv. 24, lxxxviii. 1, lxxxix. 13).

In 1795 Vince combined with the Rev. James Wood [q. v.] to digest the substance of lectures delivered in the university into a series of four octavo volumes entitled ‘The Principles of Mathematical and Natural Philosophy’ (1793–9). The subjects treated by Vince were fluxions, hydrostatics, and astronomy. His ‘Treatise on Practical Astronomy’ (Cambridge, 1790, 4to), explaining the construction and use of instruments, paved the way for his magnum opus, ‘A Complete System of Astronomy,’ issued in three quarto volumes, 1797–1808, and in a second enlarged edition, 1814–23. This work, although no longer read, retains its monumental reputation; Professor John Playfair [q. v.] asserted in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ (June 1809) that the tables collected in the third volume marked ‘a great epoch in astronomical science.’

In 1796 Vince succeeded Antony Shepherd [q. v.] as Plumian professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy in the university of Cambridge, and held the post till his death at Ramsgate on 28 Nov. 1821. In 1780 he married Mary, daughter of Thomas Paris. By her he had one son, Samuel Berney Vince, who became vicar of Ringwood, Hampshire.

As a mathematician Vince was one of the last representatives of the English synthetical school. His scientific treatises are able, but inelegant. Many of them became university text-books and ran through several editions. Besides those already mentioned his most important works are: 1. ‘Elements of the Conic Sections,’ Cambridge, 1781, 8vo. 2. ‘The Credibility of Christianity Vindicated, in answer to Mr. Hume's Objections,’ Cambridge, 1798, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1809. 3. ‘A Treatise on Plane and Spherical Trigonometry,’ Cambridge, 1800, 8vo; 4th edit. 1821. 4. ‘Observations on the Hypotheses which have been assumed to account for the cause of Gravitation from Mechanical Principles,’ Cambridge, 1806, 8vo. 5. ‘A Confutation of Atheism from the Laws of the Heavenly Bodies,’ Cambridge, 1807, 8vo. 6. ‘Observations on Deism,’ London, 1845, 8vo; collated from his manuscripts by his son.

A portrait of Vince by Wageman was engraved by Cooper.

[Davy's Athenæ Suffolk. in Add. MS. 19167 (Brit. Mus.); Literary Memoirs of Living Authors, 1798; History of Norfolk, i. 36, ii. 1344, 1829; Sexagenarian, i. 38; Gent. Mag. 1821, ii. 643; Ann. Reg. 1821, p. 247; Foster's Index Ecclesiasticus; Allibone's Dictionary of English Lit. Works; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Poggendorff's Biogr.-Lit. Handwörterbuch; Thomson's Hist. Roy. Soc.; Grad. Cantabr.; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 360.]

A. M. C.