Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Description of the Wondrous Canon of Logarithms

Sent in by fellow math history nerd Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf):

"I was reading Napier's Preface to The Wondrous Canon of Logarithms (in Latin, so sue me) in preparation for using ...  Log War cards this coming week, and I just totally fell in love with the sweet and completely nerdy generosity of his introduction.

So I'm providing this translation.

I agree with the better translators on *most* of the translation, but they leave out some of the little endearments that make it so charming -- and that make me forgive him (somewhat) his rather cumbersome ideas (thank the gods for calculators in our day).

I especially love his commiseration with his "dearest fellow mathematicians" and with "most diligent students of mathematics." The guy had class. :-)"

The Description of the Wondrous Canon of Logarithms, and the use of that which, not only in Trigonometry, but also in all mathematical logistics, is most fully, most easily, and most expeditiously explained.

By the author and inventor John Napier, ___

On the Wondrous Canon of Logarithms

Since nothing in mathematical practice, my dearest fellow mathematicians, is more tiresome than the great delays suffered in the tedium of lengthy multiplications and divisions, the finding of ratios, and in the extraction of square and cube roots– and in which not only is there the time delay to be considered, but also the annoyance of the many slippery errors that can arise: I had therefore been turning over in my mind, by what sure and expeditious art, I might be able to improve upon these said difficulties. In the end after much thought, finally I have found an amazing way of shortening the proceedings, and perhaps the manner in which the method arose will be set out elsewhere: truly, concerning all these matters, there could be nothing more useful than the method that I have found. For all the numbers associated with the multiplications, and divisions of numbers, and with the long arduous tasks of extracting square and cube roots are themselves rejected from the work, and in their place other numbers are substituted, which perform the tasks of these rejected by means of addition, subtraction, and division by two or three only. Since indeed the secret is best made common to all, as all good things are, then it is a pleasant task to set out the method for the public use of mathematicians. Thus, most diligent students of mathematics,
please accept and freely enjoy this work that has been produced through my good will.


By which all the sines, tangents, and secants,
are set out for you by means of great labour and prolixity;
And which this little table of Logarithms, gentle reader,
Gives to you all at once, without great labour.