Wood, James (1760-1839) (DNB00)

WOOD, JAMES (1760–1839), mathematician, was born on 14 Dec. 1760 at Turton in the parish of Bury, Lancashire. His parents were weavers, but afterwards the father opened an evening school, and himself instructed his son in arithmetic and algebra. From Bury grammar school, which he attended for some years, he proceeded on a school scholarship to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he was admitted a sizar on 14 Jan. 1778, and subsequently enjoyed several exhibitions. He was senior wrangler and fellow of his college, graduating B.A. in 1782, M.A. in 1785, B.D. in 1793, and D.D. in 1815. He filled many offices in the university, including that of vice-chancellor (1816). He was admitted master of St. John's College on 11 Feb. 1815, and continued to hold the post till his death. He was appointed dean of Ely in November 1820, and instituted rector of Freshwater, Isle of Wight, in August 1823, but continued to pass the chief part of his time in college, where he resided for about sixty years. He was for many years the most influential man in the university, his high personal character, great natural ability, sound judgment, moderation, forbearance, and other qualities making him a model ruler of a college. He was a considerable benefactor to St. John's, both during his life and by his will, which provided that the college should be residuary legatee. About 50,000l. thus came to its coffers. His library was also left to the college.

Wood died in college on 23 April 1839, and was interred in the college chapel. A statue by Edward Hodges Baily was erected in the ante-chapel, and there are portraits in the hall and in the master's lodge. An engraved portrait was published in 1841. Wood's works, which were for many years standard treatises, are: 1. ‘The Elements of Algebra,’ Cambridge, 1795, 8vo; many subsequent editions appeared, the eleventh to the sixteenth (1841–61) being edited by Thomas Lund, who also wrote a ‘Companion’ and a ‘Key’ to the work. 2. ‘The Principles of Mechanics,’ 1796, 8vo; 7th edit. 1824. J. C. Snowball brought out a new edition in 1841, but in the opinion of Whewell it was spoiled. 3. ‘The Elements of Optics,’ 1798, 8vo; 5th edit. 1823. The above originally formed portions of a series known as the ‘Cambridge Course of Mathematics.’ Wood was F.R.S., and wrote in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1798 on the ‘Roots of Equations.’ He also contributed a paper on ‘Halos’ to the ‘Memoirs’ of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 1790.

[Baker's Hist. of St. John's, ed. Mayor, ii. 1094; Wilson's Miscellanies, ed. Raines, 1857, p. 194; Palatine Notebook, ii. 110; Pryme's Recollections, p. 252.]

C. W. S.