Portrait of Thomas Hariot, Mathematician
Thomas Hariot, 1602.
Notes on the Portrait.


Life of Thomas Hariot


THOMAS HARIOT, (or Harriot), an eminent mathematician and astronomer, was born at Oxford in the year 1560. He took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1579, and in 1584 he accompanied Sir Walter Ralegh in his expedition to Virginia, where he was employed in surveying and mapping the country, and upon his return to England in 1588 he published his ' Report of the New found land of Virginia, the commodities there found to be raised, &c.'

Hariot was introduced by Sir Walter Ralegh to the earl of Northumberland, whose zeal for the promotion of science had led him to maintain several learned men od the day, such as Robert Hues, Walter Warner, and Nathaniel Tarporley. This enlightened nobleman received Hariot into his house, and settled on him an annual salary of 300l., which he enjoyed to the time of his death, in July 1621. His body was interred in St. Christopher's Church, London, and a monument erected to his memory, which, with the church itself, was destroyed by the great fire of 1666.

During his lifetime Hariot was known to the world merely as an eminent algebraist; but from a paper by Zach in the 'Astronomical Ephemerish' of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin for the year 1788, it appears he was equally deserving of eminence as an astronomer. The paper referred to contains an account of the manuscripts found by Zach at the seat of the earl of Egremont, to whom they had descended from the earl of Northumberland. From it we learn that Hariot carried on a correspondence with Kepler concerning the rainbow; that he had discovered the solar spots prior to any mention having been made of them by Galileo, Scheiner, or Phrysius: also that the satellites of Jupiter were observed by him January 16, 1610, although their first discovery is generally attributed to Galileo, who states that he had observed them on the 7th of that month. A correspondence with Kepler on various optical and other subjects is printed among the letters of Kepler.

Ten years after Hariot's death his algebra, entitled 'Artis Analyticæ Praxis, ad Æquationes Algebraicas nova, epedita, et Generali Methoda, resolvendas,' was published by his friend Walter Warner. It is with reference to this particular work that Descartes was accused of plagiarism by Wallis, whose admiration of its author was so high, that he could not even see the discoveries of Vieta anywhere but in the 'Praxis' of Hariot. This charge however has sunk with time, though the French writers still continue to answer it. The geometry of Descartes appeared in 1637, six years after the publication of Hariot's algebra.





      Excerpted from:

      The Penny Cyclopædia. Vol XII.
      London: Charles Knight & Co., 1838. 56.


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