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Isaac Milner

Isaac Milner

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Isaac Milner FRS  was a mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

, an inventor, the President of Queens' College, Cambridge
Queens' College, Cambridge
Queens' College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The college was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou , and refounded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville...

 and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.

He was instrumental in the 1785 religious conversion
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 of William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce was a British politician, a philanthropist and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. A native of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, he began his political career in 1780, eventually becoming the independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire...

 and a great supporter of the Abolitionists' campaign against the slave trade, steeling Wilberforce with his assurance before the 1789 Parliamentary debate:
He was also a natural philosopher and the Dean of Carlisle
Dean of Carlisle
The Dean of Carlisle is based in Carlisle, UK and is the head of the Chapter of Carlisle Cathedral. There have been 39 previous incumbents and the current holder of the post is The Very Reverend Mark Boyling.-Deans:...

.

Biography


Milner was born on 11 January 1750 in Mabgate, Leeds. He began his education at a grammar school in Leeds in 1756, but this ended in 1760 with the death of his father. He was apprenticed as a weaver, reading the classics when time permitted, until his elder brother, Joseph Milner
Joseph Milner
Joseph Milner , English evangelical divine, was born at Leeds and educated at Leeds Grammar School and Cambridge.After taking his degree he went to Thorparch, Yorkshire, as curate and assistant schoolmaster. Subsequently he became headmaster of Hull Grammar School, and in 1768 he was chosen...

, provided him with an opportunity. Joseph was offered the mastership at Hull's grammar school and invited Isaac to become the institution's usher.

Through the patronage of his brother, Milner was subsequently freed from his duties in Hull and entered Queens' College, Cambridge
Queens' College, Cambridge
Queens' College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The college was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou , and refounded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville...

, as a sizar
Sizar
At Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Cambridge, a sizar is a student who receives some form of assistance such as meals, lower fees or lodging during his or her period of study, in some cases in return for doing a defined job....

 in 1770. He graduated BA as senior wrangler in 1774, winning the Smith's first prize.

Shortly after he took his bachelor's degree in 1774 he was ordained as deacon; in 1776 Queens' offered him a fellowship; in the following year he became a priest and college tutor; and in 1778 he was presented with the rectory of St Botolph. During these years his career as a natural philosopher began to take off. In 1776 Nevil Maskelyne
Nevil Maskelyne
The Reverend Dr Nevil Maskelyne FRS was the fifth English Astronomer Royal. He held the office from 1765 to 1811.-Biography:...

 hired him as a computer for the board of longitude, and two of his mathematical papers were presented to the Royal Society, of which he was elected fellow in 1780. In these papers Milner displayed three things: proficiency in mathematics, suspicion of French philosophy, and adherence to English Newtonian mechanics.

In 1782 the Jacksonian professorship of natural philosophy was established and the syndicate selected Milner as the inaugural professor, a position he retained until 1792.

Besides lecturing, Milner also developed an important process to fabricate nitrous acid, a key ingredient in the production of gunpowder. His paper describing this process was published in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions in 1789 alongside an article of Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley, FRS was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist who published over 150 works...

's, and the two corresponded on the subject. In later years Milner transferred his elaborate collection of chemical apparatus into the president's lodge at Queens' and performed experiments with E. D. Clarke, William Whewell
William Whewell
William Whewell was an English polymath, scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.-Life and career:Whewell was born in Lancaster...

, and the Wollaston brothers; he also collaborated with Humphry Davy
Humphry Davy
Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet FRS MRIA was a British chemist and inventor. He is probably best remembered today for his discoveries of several alkali and alkaline earth metals, as well as contributions to the discoveries of the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine...

 and Joseph Banks
Joseph Banks
Sir Joseph Banks, 1st Baronet, GCB, PRS was an English naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences. He took part in Captain James Cook's first great voyage . Banks is credited with the introduction to the Western world of eucalyptus, acacia, mimosa and the genus named after him,...

 in an attempt to cure gout.

Over the span of his forty-five-year career, Milner's scientific sentiments came to reflect his religious sentiments strongly. Although he never parted from the Anglican
Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

 fold, he came to embrace the central evangelical doctrines of the late eighteenth century. Milner, with Charles Simeon
Charles Simeon
Charles Simeon , was an English evangelical clergyman.He was born at Reading, Berkshire and educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. In 1782 he became fellow of King's College, and took orders, receiving the living of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, in the following year...

, was largely responsible for the evangelical revival at Cambridge. Indeed, through the years of his tenure at Queens' he dramatically changed the entire complexion of the college. He was also responsible for the conversion of William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce was a British politician, a philanthropist and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. A native of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, he began his political career in 1780, eventually becoming the independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire...

, which occurred during their long continental tour of 1784–5. While the parliamentary act of 1807 to abolish slavery owed much to their partnership, Milner's co-authorship of the seven-volume Ecclesiastical History of the Church of Christ (1818) with his brother Joseph also earned him nationwide renown.

After his death Milner was remembered for his astonishing intellect, his peculiar lifestyle, his tremendous physical bulk and his part in the rise in evangelicalism. Thomas De Quincey
Thomas de Quincey
Thomas Penson de Quincey was an English esssayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater .-Child and student:...

, in his preface to the Confessions, deemed Milner an ‘eloquent and benevolent’ opium user.