Tuesday 15 January 2013

He's a Poet and A Preacher,....

Today is the anniversary of the Birth of Henry Aldrich, who can only be described as a man of many talents. He was born January 15 in 1648. Most remembered for a logic textbook that was in use for centuries, he was also a mathematician, poet, musician, and humorist, all this in addition to his "day" job as a cleric.

Reading about his diversity I was reminded of the old Kris Kristofferson song, "He's A Pilgrim".
He's a poet, he's a picker, he's a prophet, he's a pusher
He's a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he's stoned
He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home

The song is here for those who may want to listen. It has been a favorite of mine for years.

Aldrich was educated at Westminster School under the famous, or perhaps infamous, Dr Richard Busby. Busby was renowned as much for his mastery of the cane and strap as for his educational practices. Alexander Pope poked fun at him in his 1743 edition of The Dunciad and decrys his emphasis on rote memorization which he said put a "jingling padlock" on the brain. Whatever his faults, his students included Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, John Dryden, John Locke, and the above mentioned Henry Aldrch. (at one time it is said that sixteen of his former students were bishops)

In 1662 he switched to Christ Church, Oxford, and received his MA in 1669 and took Holy Orders and became a tutor there.

He seems to have been recognized early as an accomplished musician and composer. "The ability of Aldrich as a composer was recognised already, and at the
Encaenia of 1672 he was called upon to set to music certain verses written by
Bishop Fell-In laudem Musices Carmen Sapphicum. " (*Suttle) He was recognized well beyond the walls of Christ Church, for he received a request from Dr.
Huntingdon, the Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, to compose music to present at an "Act ceremony which Trinity College, Dublin proposed to hold in imitation of Oxford. "
To the average person, his most remembered contribution to music may be "Hark, the bonny Christ Church bells.", which is still available on seasonal records such as this one at Amazon.

By 1674 he had published Elementa geometricae. There are very few evidences of his ability as a mathematician in print, but he seems to have been held in high esteem by the mathematical movers and shakers of the period.
Suttle writes, "It was during these early years at Christ Church that Aldrich seems to have acquired a considerable reputation as a mathematician. As early as 1675 a
letter written by Sir Philip Percival to Sir Robert Southwell describes Aldrich
as . a great mathematician of our house."
He adds that he was involved in the foundation of the Philosophical Society in 1683, (which became the London' Royal Society.') and is listed as having been present at the first meetings, and his name is linked with that of Dr. John Wallis,
By 1702 David Gregory would speak highly of him in the preface to his Astronomiae physicae et geometricae elementa, (1702). Gregory describes frequent conversations with Aldrich, who freely imparted his views as to the purpose and profit of mathematics and how it should be taught.

Aldrich is best known as the author of a little book on logic (Artis Logicæ Compendium). There is little original material in the book. Its format closely follows Petrus Hispanus Summulae Logicales but it was used at Oxford for generations.  A revised edition was in use until the middle of the 19th century.

In 1689 he became Dean of Christchurch to succeed the Roman Catholic John Massey, who had fled to the Continent.

"As the head of Christ Church Aldrich gained a reputation which justly
eclipsed that of all his contemporaries. His own scholarship was so comprehensive
and varied that his writings included editions of Greek and Latin texts,
ecclesiastical pamphlets, and books on Logic, Mathematics, Architecture,
Heraldry and Music. He was consulted upon such varied subjects as ancient
memorials and remains, ancient musical notation, architectural schemes, and
books of all kinds" (*Suttle)
Aldrich was also an accomplished architectural designer.  He drew up the plans for All Saints Church on the High Street of Oxford ,now the Lincoln College library, and the Peckwater Quadrangle at Christ's Church.

His associates maintain that he was also both a scholar and a wit.  One sample of his humor is provided in the epigram below about  five reasons for drinking:

Si bene quid memini, causae sunt quinque bibendi;
Hospitis adventus, praesens sitis atque futura,
Aut vini bonitas, aut quaelibet altera causa.

The translation runs:

If on my theme I rightly think,
There are five reasons why men drink:—
Good wine; a friend; because I'm dry;
Or lest I should be by and by;
Or — any other reason why.

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