RECORDE, ROBERT (c. 1510-1558), an eminent mathematician of the sixteenth century, was the first native of Great Britain who introduced the study of analytical science into this country. There is no memorial of the exact time of hn birth, though it must have been somewhere about the year 15U0. We know that he was a native of Tenby in Pembrokeshire, that he entered himself a student at IVxford about the year 1525, where he publicly taught rhetoric, rna i hematics, music, and anatomy, and that he was elected a fitlow of All-Souls College in 1531. Making physic bis profession, he repaired to Cambridge, and in 1545 he received the degree of M.D. from that university, and, says Wood, was highly esteemed by all who knew him for his 2re.1t knowledge in several arts and sciences. He afterwinii returned to Oxford, where, as he had done prcviouslv to his visit to Cambridge, he publicly taught arithmetic and other branches of the mathematics with great applause. According to Fuller, he was of the Protestant religion. He afterwards repaired to London, at which place he residid in 1547, and in that year published a medical work on tilled 'The Urinal of Physic,' which passed through several ed»lions. He was also chosen physician to Queen Mary and Edward VI., to both of whom he dedicates some of his works. With the knowledge of this latter fact, it is scarcely possible to account for the circumstances in which he was at the time of his decease, a prisoner in the King's Bench. He died in the year 1558, probably soon after the date of his will (June 28), in which he styles himself ' Robert Recorde, doctor of physicke, though sicke in body yet whole of roynde.' This document is preserved in the Prerogative Office, and furnishes some facts: to Arthur Hilton, underruarshal of the King's Bench, his wife, and the other officers and prisoners, he gave small sums amounting to 6l. 16*. 8rf.; to his servant John, 6/.; to his mother, and his father-inlaw, her husband, 20/.; to Richarde Recorde, his brother, and Robert Recorde, his nephew, his goods and chattels, out of which his debts and the expenses of his funeral were to discharged. This last item leads us to think that debt was not, as commonly stated, the real reason for his imprisonment; although, indeed, the amount of property enumerated does not constitute a large sum even for those days. In a codicil to his will, made on the 29th of June, 1558, he gives directions that his law books should be sold to Nicholas Adams, a fellow-prisoner, for 4/.
The works of Recorde are all written in dialogue between muster and scholar, in the rude English of the time. They are enumerated by the author himself at the end of his work called 'The Castle of Knowledge;' and there is reason to think that two of his works mentioned in.that place are irrecoverably lost, at least no trace of either of them has yet been discovered in print or manuscript. One of them appears to have been entitled 'The Gate of Knowledge," and the other 'The Treasure of Knowledge.' — Recorde's most popular work appeared as early as 1540, under the title of 'The Grounde of Aries, teachinge the worke and practise of Arithmeticke, both in whole numbers and fractions, after a more easier and exacter sort than any lyke hathe hitherto been set forth.' We have taken this title from the edition of 1573, the earliest we have yet met with. 'The Grounde of Artes' was dedicated to Edward VI., and continued to be repeatedly reprinted until the end of the seventeeth century, the latest edition we have seen being that edited by Edward Hatton in the year 1609. This work contains numeration, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, reduction, progression, the golden rule, a treatise on reckoning by counters on a principle much resembling that of the Chinese abacus, a system of representing numbers by the hand like the alphabet of the deaf and dumb, a repetition of all the rules for fractions, with the rules of alligation, fellowship, and false position. On the last rule he remarks that he was in the habit of astonishing his friends by proposing difficult questions, and working the true result by taking the chance answers of ' suche children or ydeotes as happened to be in the place.' 'The Pathway to Knowledge,' a brief compendium of geometry, translated and abridged from the Elements of Euclid, was published at London in 1551.
'The Castle of Knowledge'was published in 1556, dedicated in English to Queen Mary, and in Latin to Cardinal Pole. This work is written in the form of a dialogue between master and scholar on astronomy, and from the preface we gather that Recorde had not altogether abandoned astrology. It begins with an account of the Ptolemaic system, and afterwards proceeds in an apparently concealed passage 1o unfold the elements of the Copernican system of the universe. This passage has already been given in the Companion to the British Almanac/or 1637, and more latterly in the Philosophical Magazine ; we do not therefore consider it necessary to repeat it in this place. Recorde appears to have been one of the earliest persons in this country who adopted the Cipernican system, if not the earliest person who introduced it among us. All that is cited from Euclid and Proclus is in Greek and Latin, usually both, and Linacre's edition of the latter author is referred to; but the edition of Euclid is not mentioned.
In the ' Whetstone of Witte,' which was published in 1557, Recorde has amassed together the researches of foreign writers on the subject of algebra, then in its infancy, anil has also incorporated several improvements of his own. 1 n algebra we recognise Recorde as the inventor of the sign of equality, and of the method of extracting the square root of muliinominal algebraic quantities. In perception of general results connected with the fundamental notation of ulgebia, he shows himself superior to others, and e\en, we may say, to Vieta, although of course immeasurably below the latter in the invention of moans of expression. All his writings considered together, Recorde was an extraordinary genius; and it must be remembered he was a lawyer, a physician, and a Saxonist, as well as the first mathematician of his day.
(Principally taken from a pamphlet by J. O. Halliwell, Esq., on the Connexion of Wales with the early Science of Engla?id, 8vo., 1840, and from an article in the Companion to the British Almanac for 183", by Prof. De Morgan.)
Note - this article incorporates content from The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1840)