The Reverend George Salmon
(25 September 1819 – 22 January 1904) was an Irish
Irish may refer to:*Irish cuisine* Ireland, an island in north-western Europe, on which are located:** Northern Ireland, a constituent country of the United Kingdom** Republic of Ireland, a sovereign state...
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....
and theologian. His publications in algebraic geometry
Algebraic geometry is a branch of mathematics which combines techniques of abstract algebra, especially commutative algebra, with the language and the problems of geometry. It occupies a central place in modern mathematics and has multiple conceptual connections with such diverse fields as complex...
were widely read in the second half of the 19th century, but he devoted himself mostly to theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...
for the last forty years of his life. His publications in theology were widely read, too.
George Salmon was born in Dublin
, but he spent his boyhood in Cork City, Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...
, where his father was a linen merchant. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1839 with very high honors in mathematics. In 1841 at the age of 21 he attained a paid fellowship and teaching position in mathematics at Trinity. In 1845 he was concurrently appointed to a position in theology at Trinity, after having been ordained a priest in the Church of Ireland
The Church of Ireland is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The church operates in all parts of Ireland and is the second largest religious body on the island after the Roman Catholic Church...
He remained at Trinity College Dublin for the rest of his career. He married in 1844 Frances Anne, daughter of Rev J L Salvador of Staunton, Herefordshire with whom he had six children, of whom only two survived him. He died at Trinity college and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery
Mount Jerome Cemetery is situated in Harold's Cross on the south side of Dublin, Ireland. Since its foundation in 1836, it has witnessed over 300,000 burials...
In the late 1840s and the 1850s Salmon was in regular and frequent communication with Arthur Cayley
Arthur Cayley F.R.S. was a British mathematician. He helped found the modern British school of pure mathematics....
and J.J. Sylvester
James Joseph Sylvester was an English mathematician. He made fundamental contributions to matrix theory, invariant theory, number theory, partition theory and combinatorics...
. The three of them together with a small number of other mathematicians (including Charles Hermite
Charles Hermite was a French mathematician who did research on number theory, quadratic forms, invariant theory, orthogonal polynomials, elliptic functions, and algebra....
) were developing a system for dealing with n-dimensional algebra and geometry. During this period Salmon published about 36 papers in journals. In these papers for the most part he solved narrowly defined, concrete problems in algebraic geometry, as opposed to more broadly systematic or foundational questions. But he was an early adopter of the foundational innovations of Cayley and the others. In 1859 he published the book Lessons Introductory to the Modern Higher Algebra
(where the word "higher" means n-dimensional). This was for a while simultaneously the state-of-the-art and the standard presentation of the subject, and went through updated and expanded editions in 1866, 1876 and 1885, and was translated into German and French.
Meanwhile back in 1848 Salmon had published an undergraduate textbook entitled A Treatise on Conic Sections
. This text remained in print for over fifty years, going though five updated editions in English, and was translated into German, French and Italian. Salmon himself did not participate in the expansions and updates of the more later editions. The German version, which was a "free adaptation" by Wilhelm Fiedler, was popular as an undergraduate text in Germany. Salmon also published two other mathematics texts, A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves
(1852) and A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions
(1862). These too were in print for a long time and went though a number of later editions, with Salmon delegating the work of the later editions to others.
In June 1863 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1868 was awarded their Royal Medal
The Royal Medal, also known as The Queen's Medal, is a silver-gilt medal awarded each year by the Royal Society, two for "the most important contributions to the advancement of natural knowledge" and one for "distinguished contributions in the applied sciences" made within the Commonwealth of...
"For his researches in analytical geometry and the theory of surfaces
". In 1889 Salmon received the Copley Medal
The Copley Medal is an award given by the Royal Society of London for "outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science, and alternates between the physical sciences and the biological sciences"...
of the society, the highest honorary award in British science, but by 1889 had long ago quit mathematics and science.
From the early 1860s onward Salmon was primarily occupied with theology. In 1866 he was appointed to a prestigious professorship in Divinity
Divinity and divine are broadly applied but loosely defined terms, used variously within different faiths and belief systems — and even by different individuals within a given faith — to refer to some transcendent or transcendental power or deity, or its attributes or manifestations in...
at Trinity College Dublin, at which point he resigned from his position in the mathematics department at Trinity. In 1871 he accepted an additional post of chancellor of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
Saint Patrick's Cathedral , or more formally, the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Patrick is a cathedral of the Church of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland which was founded in 1191. The Church has designated it as The National Cathedral of Ireland...
One of his early publications in theology was in 1853 as a contributor to a book of rebuttals to the Tracts for the Times
The Tracts for the Times were a series of 90 theological publications, varying in length from a few pages to book-length, produced by members of the English Oxford Movement, an Anglo-Catholic revival group, from 1833 to 1841...
. Arguments against Roman Catholicism were a recurring theme in Salmon's theology and culminated in his widely-read 1888 book Infallibility of the Church
in which he argued that certain beliefs of the Roman church were absurd, especially the beliefs in the infallibility of the church
The Infallibility of the Church is the belief that the Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to err in its belief or teaching under certain circumstances...
and the infallibility of the pope
Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic Church which states that, by action of the Holy Spirit, the Pope is preserved from even the possibility of error when in his official capacity he solemnly declares or promulgates to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals...
. Salmon also wrote books about eternal punishment, miracles, and interpretation of the New Testament. His book An Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament
, which was widely read, is an account of the reception and interpretation of the gospels in the early centuries of Christianity as seen through the writings of leaders such as Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...
George Salmon was a keen chess player, he was a patron to the University Chess Club, and was also the President of Dublin Chess Club from 1890–1903. He participated in the second British Chess Congress and had the honour of playing the great chess grandmaster Paul Morphy
Paul Charles Morphy was an American chess player. He is considered to have been the greatest chess master of his era and an unofficial World Chess Champion. He was a chess prodigy...
in Birmingham, England, on 27 August 1858. He beat Daniel Harrwitz
Daniel Harrwitz was a Jewish German chess master.Harrwitz was born in Breslau in the Prussian Province of Silesia. He established his reputation in Paris, particularly as a player of blindfold games...
in an interesting game.
Even in his famous book Infallibility of the Church
, Salmon mentions chess a few times:
- He argues that the doctrine of papal infallibility is vitally important for opponents of Catholicism to refute; otherwise all other arguments would be of little importance, as when a chessplayer wins lots of pieces but his king is checkmate
Checkmate is a situation in chess in which one player's king is threatened with capture and there is no way to meet that threat. Or, simply put, the king is under direct attack and cannot avoid being captured...
- In another chess reference Salmon said that if one met someone who says that he has never been beaten, this player could be given rook odds. Thus "the delusion of infallibility can never grow up in the mind of anyone except one who has never met a strong antagonist."
- Salmon said that if one played someone who would normally receive queen odds, then one would go easy and not be too strict, e.g. allowing take-backs. Thus he is so convinced that the Popes have erred that he is not threatened by acknowledging when they have been right.
Provost of Trinity College
George Salmon was Provost of Trinity College Dublin from 1888 until his death in 1904, and a high point was when in 1892 he presided over the great celebrations marking the tercentenary of the College, which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth I. His deep conservatism led him to strongly oppose women receiving degrees from the University. He eventually agreed to dropping his veto in 1901 when the Board voted in favour of allowing women to enter the university, it was one of his last acts as Provost. Symbolically in January 1904, just after he died, the first women undergraduates were admitted.