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William Wallace

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Professor William Wallace (1768-1843)

1824 William Wallace, FRSE, MA, Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh University, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1844 Obituary [2]

William Wallace, LL.D., Hon. M. Inst. C. E., late Professor of Mathematics in the University of Edinburgh, was born at Dysart, in the county of Fife, in 1768.

From birth, fortune, or education, he derived no advantages whatever, and the eminent station he eventually occupied as a mathematician, was achieved solely by his own industry and love of scientific knowledge, aided by natural talents of a high order.

He was appointed, at the age of twenty-six, assistant teacher of mathematics in the academy of Perth.

In 1803 he obtained a professorship in the Royal Military College at Great Marlow (afterwards removed to Sandhurst); and in 1819, upon the death of Mr. Playfair, and the removal of Mr. Leslie to the chair of Natural Philosophy, he was elected professor of mathematics in the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Wallace’s pursuits and studies were chiefly connected with abstract mathematics, but some of the subjects to which he directed his attention may be here noticed, as having more immediate reference to the objects of this Institution.

The Eidograph, an instrument for making reduced copies of drawings, which he invented about the year 1821, and exhibited at a meeting of the Institution in 1839, is considered superior in many respects to the Pentograph. It possesses greater smoothness and flexibility of motion, and while the copies may be reduced (or enlarged) in any proportion, their similarity to the original is preserved with geometrical precision.

By a particular modification, the instrument is made not only to reduce, but to reverse the copies, whereby it is rendered peculiarly applicable to the purposes of the engraver.

Among the papers which he contributed to the 'Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,' there is one on the subject of curves of equilibration, which is interesting to us on account of its connexion with the theory of suspension bridges. From the development of a certain functional equation, he deduces series for computing the co-ordinates of the catenary, and gives tables of the corresponding values of the co-ordinates so computed; thus furnishing engineers with a ready means of constructing arches having the forms of equilibrated curves.

Professor Wallace obtained a high reputation, as a mathematician, at an early age, and during his whole life he laboured assiduously to extend and facilitate the study of his favourite science. Besides his contributions to the memoirs of scientific societies (chiefly the Royal Society of Edinburgh), he was the author of nearly the whole of the articles on pure mathematics in the fourth and subsequent editions of the Encyclopredia Britannica, and likewise of the greater part of those in Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopedia.

His health having given way so far as to render him unable to discharge his duties in the University, he resigned his chair in 1838.

During the remainder of his life, although an invalid, his scientific ardour suffered no abatement, for while confined to his chamber, he composed the memoir on equilibrated curves, as well as a work entitled 'Geometrical Theorems and Analytical Formulae' which was published in 1839.

His disposition was amiable and benevolent; he was beloved by his friends, and respected by his fellow-citizens; and he died, universally regretted, at Edinburgh, on the 28th of April, 1843, in his seventy-fifth year.

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