James Joseph Sylvester Poems

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James Joseph Sylvester
James Joseph Sylvester (September 3, 1814 London March 15, 1897 Oxford) was an English mathematician. He made fundamental contributions to matrix theory, invariant theory, number theory, partition theory and combinatorics. He played a leadership role in American mathematics in the later half of the 19th century as a professor at the Johns Hopkins University and as founder of the American Journal of Mathematics. At his death, he was professor at Oxford. Sylvester was born "James Joseph" but adopted the surname "Sylvester" when his older brother did so. His brother was emigrating to the United States, a country which at that time required all immigrants to have a given name, a middle name, and a surname. At the age of 14, Sylvester started attending the University of London, where he was a student of Augustus De Morgan. He was soon expelled however, for stealing a knife from the refectory, with the purpose of attacking a fellow student. Following this, he attended the Royal Institution in Liverpool. Though he excelled academically, Sylvester was tormented by his fellow students on account of his Jewish origins. Because of the abuse he received, he ran away, taking a boat to Dublin. While there, he was recognized on the street by Richard Keatinge who was Judge of the Prerogative Court of Ireland, and whose wife was a cousin of Sylvester. Keatinge arranged for the boy's return to Liverpool. Sylvester began his study of mathematics at St John's College, Cambridge in 1831. His studies were interrupted for almost two years due to a prolonged illness. He was ranked second in Cambridge's famous mathematical examinations, the tripos, which he eventually sat in 1837. Yet he did not obtain a degree, because graduates at that time were required to state their acceptance of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, and Sylvester declined to do so. For the same reason, he was unable to compete for a Smith's prize. In 1838 Sylvester became professor of natural philosophy at University College London UCL. In 1841, he was awarded a BA and an MA by Trinity College, Dublin. In the same year he moved to the United States to become a professor at the University of Virginia but soon returned to England. On his return to England he studied law, alongside fellow British lawyer/mathematician Arthur Cayley, with whom he made significant contributions to matrix theory while working as an actuary. One of his private pupils was Florence Nightingale. He did not obtain a position teaching university mathematics until 1855, when he was appointed professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he retired in 1869, because the compulsory retirement age was 55. The Woolwich academy initially refused to pay Sylvester his full pension, and only relented after a prolonged public controversy, during which Sylvester took his case to the letters page of The Times. One of Sylvester's lifelong passions was for poetry; he read and translated works from the original French, German, Italian, Latin and Greek, and many of his mathematical papers contain illustrative quotes from classical poetry. In 1870, following his early retirement, Sylvester published a book entitled The Laws of Verse in which he attempted to codify a set of laws for prosody in poetry. In 1877 Sylvester again crossed the Atlantic Ocean to become the inaugural professor of mathematics at the new Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. His salary was $5,000 (quite generous for the time), which he demanded be paid in gold. In 1878 he founded the American Journal of Mathematics. The only other mathematical journal in the U.S. at that time was the Analyst, which eventually became the Annals of Mathematics. In 1883, he returned to England to take up the Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford University. He held this chair until his death, although in 1892 the University appointed a deputy professor to the same chair. Sylvester invented a great number of mathematical terms such as discriminant. He has given a name to Euler's totient function f(n). His collected scientific work fills four volumes. In 1880, the Royal Society of London awarded Sylvester the Copley Medal, its highest award for scientific achievement; in 1901, it instituted the Sylvester Medal in his memory, to encourage mathematical research. Sylvester House, a portion of an undergraduate dormitory at Johns Hopkins, is named in his honor.

the delights of mathematics
 
 
It seems a hundred years or more
Since I, with note-book, ink and pen,
In cap and gown... [read poem]
kepler's apostrophe
 
 
Yes! on the annals of my race,
In characters of flame,
Which time shall dim not nor de... [read poem]
charlie freak
 
 
Charlie Freak had but one thing to call his own.
Three weight ounce pure golden ring, no precio... [read poem]
chain lightning
 
 
Some turnout, a hundred grand
Get with it we'll shake his hand
Don't bother to understand... [read poem]
aien aristeuein
 
 
Ever to be the best. To lead
In whatsoever things are true;
Not stand among the ha... [read poem]
the golf-ball and the loan
 
 
AFTER LONGFELLOW

I drove a golf-ball into the air;
It fell to earth, I knew not whe... [read poem]
the voice that sings
 
 
The voice that sings across the night
Of long forgotten days and things,
Is there an ear t... [read poem]
love's phantom
 
 
Whene'er I try to read a book,
Across the page your face will look,
And then I neither kno... [read poem]
a december day
 
 
Blue, blue is the sea to-day,
Warmly the light
Sleeps on St. Andrews Bay --
B... [read poem]
imitated from wordsworth
 
 
He brought a team from Inversnaid
To play our Third Fifteen,
A man whom none of us had... [read poem]
the m.a. degree
 
 
It was a phantom of delight
When first it gleamed upon my sight,
A scholarly distinction, ... [read poem]
requiem
 
 
For thee the birds shall never sing again,
Nor fresh green leaves come out upon the tree,... [read poem]
trafalgar square
 
 
These verses have I pilfered like a bee
Out of a letter from my C. C. C.
In London, sh... [read poem]
the waster's presentiment
 
 
I shall be spun. There is a voice within
Which tells me plainly I am all undone;
For t... [read poem]
the city of golf
 
 
Would you like to see a city given over,
Soul and body, to a tyrannising game?
If you woul... [read poem]
an interview
 
 
I met him down upon the pier,
His eyes were wild and sad,
And something in them made m... [read poem]
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