Monday, July 18, 2022

Napier Finds


Since my first sabbatical in 2016, I have been to Edinburgh an astonishing (to me) five times.  John Napier has become a major focus for me, and as I've traveled back again and again I've been able to extend the range of my search for Napier-related items and places.  Although this was my fifth trip, I found additional things that were new to me in Edinburgh itself.  One of these items is something I'd been aware of before but hadn't been able to find easily.  It is the sculpted head of one of Napier's ancestors that adorns one of the pillars in St. Giles Cathedral.  I'm kind of surprised I hadn't seen it before since I am familiar with the Napier family coat of arms, but I guess the east window, which it is directly next to, usually commands my attention when I am in this end of the cathedral.

Napier Pillar, St. Giles Cathedral

Napier Pillar, St. Giles Cathedral

According to author Lynne Gladstone-Millar in the book John Napier: Logarithm John, this sculpture is of John Napier's ancestor Sir Alexander Napier who had "donated generously to the embellishment of St. Giles' Cathedral in 1460" and had commissioned this.
St. Giles Cathedral from the southwest

This time, rather than just wandering around and looking at all the pillars, I asked a guide if he knew were to find the sculpture.  This ended up being more beneficial than I had expected, as he also told me about a stained glass window that featured a Napier.  This window is in a side chapel in which James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose is buried, and I believe the window honors those who supported him.
Tomb of Montrose

The poem on the tomb was written by Montrose himself.

Napier is in the top right-hand corner.  This is either the son or grandson of John Napier.  I need to do a little more digging to find that information.  There is no date or first name here.  The dates for Montrose are 1612-1650, which seems to me would fit best with a grandson in terms of dates and age  .  .  .  whether son or grandson, the name would have been Archibald Napier.

Heading back out, I visited the Napier memorial plaque on the exterior of the cathedral.  I'd seen this before.  I think I've posted it already as well, but I'm not sure in which post, so I'll include it here as well.  This is on the northeast of the cathedral.


Because of this inscription, many think that John Napier is buried at St. Giles, but the more reliable information points to him being buried at St. Cuthbert's Parish Church, the church at which he served in the position of elder.

From here I headed out to Merchiston Tower on the campus of Edinburgh Napier University, Merchiston Campus in order to find the remains of a 16th-century gate that I had not noticed on previous visits but have since learned of.  I'm always looking for things that given me a better view of the lives of the mathematicians I'm studying, no matter how small a glimpse it may be.
Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

Merchiston Tower Gate

 I realize now that I added some of these photos to an earlier post, a post on Merchiston Tower from when I had a guided tour inside.  That post with pictures of the interior and a map to where the gate is can be found at this link.  I did pop inside while I was here and revisited the Napier bust and the Napier display.

Napier's Rods - Modern Replica
I've explored and seen so many "Napier things" since I began studying his life and work 6 years ago that I know it's a repeat to share Napier's Rods (Napier's Bones), but on this recent trip I did see displays that I had not seen before that contain Napier's Rods.  The fact that nearly every science museum I have ever visited throughout the UK and also in Paris contain sets of these rods that are hundreds of years old serve as testimony to me of their widespread and long-term use.  One place on this trip where I saw rod displays was at the History of Science Museum in Oxford.
Sometimes the rods are flat and single-sided.  Sometimes the rods are four-sided rectangular prisms.  They can be made of any number of materials, such as wood, ivory, or silver, and are generally held in a specially made carrying case.
The large rod on the right below is used for taking cube roots.  On the back are the necessary markings for taking square roots.

Of course, Napier's invention of logarithms was also used to create a device to speed up calculations, a device known as a slide rule.  Napier published his logarithms in 1614, and by the 1620s these were already being put into the physical form of a slide rule.  These were widely used for calculation from the time of their invention until pocket calculators became widely available in about 1974.  A 350-year-long run seems like a goodly span of time for a calculating device!
I'm realizing as I create this post that I have not posted about my time in St. Andrews in August 2021.  Here too I found a museum display (Wardlaw Museum) featuring Napier and Napier's Bones.

I visited St. Andrews because Napier was a student at the university there (though briefly).  As I continue to document Napier items and Napier places I'll have to be sure to write a post about that visit, but for today it's time to wrap up the writing!

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Mary Somerville: Burntisland Parish Church


In March of 2016 I paid my first visit to Burntisland, Scotland, home of Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780-1872).  This was part of my initial sabbatical, and one of my posts about that is at this link.  Since that time I have read her memoirs and have found her life story compelling and relatable.  The picture above is of her home, and the picture below is of her church (or "kirk") through the gate.  Because the religious life of her childhood impacted her strongly and because it reminds me a bit of my own strict Calvinist upbringing, I made it a goal on this trip to get inside her childhood church: Burntisland Parish Church, which was built in 1592.  It took some doing, but eventually connections were made, and a mid-week visit was possible.  As it turned out I had basically three guides with me while there, so it was a VERY informative time!

Burntisland is right on the Firth of Forth, so it has always had a close relationship with sailing and shipbuilding and other seafaring ventures, hence the ship on the gates of the kirk. The kirk itself is directly north of the outer harbor.

Above the door is 1592, the date the church was built.  I might not have noticed the upside-down anchor if it hadn't been pointed out to me.  Hebrews 6:19 calls hope the anchor of the soul, so an anchor is a Christian symbol of hope.  The fact that this anchor is upside-down represents that the place of our hope is in Heaven.

I had known from Mary's memoirs about the paintings on the panels in the church.  These have recently been restored, but they remain the dates and images she would have seen in her time.
This church is one of the first built after the Scottish Reformation.  It is in the shape of a square, which is unique in Scotland.  In the video below this picture you'll hear the man who was telling me about the church say that there may be a few like this in France and perhaps one in the Netherlands but that it is pretty rare in general.  The square shape is intended to model a family sitting around a table listening to the word of the Lord. 

As stated in the video, the church originally had stools or chairs but not pews, which were added somewhat later (1606).  The "box pew" in the picture below, just to the side of the magistrates pew (lined in red to the right), is the pew of the Somerville family.  It is to the left as you enter through the church doors.
The magistrate's pew is pictured below in a painting that hangs in the Burgh Council Chambers.  The people seen in this painting are all real individuals (later than Mary's time, or at least later than her childhood days here) and are named in the picture two below this one.

Below I'm looking from the wall of the church toward the Fairfax pew.  I caught Toby and my other guide unaware, but I was taking video and pictures so quickly while trying to take in all that was said  .  .  .  we really didn't have a lot of time here, but there was much to take in!  The magistrate's pew can be seen as well, lined in red and currently used as a stand for the projector for music during services, which you can see if you look closely.  They've definitely become a lot more casual, and lively, I imagine, since Mary's time.

There was so much to learn about this church beyond what I was interested in relating to Mary Fairfax Somerville.  One of those things is that this is where the General Assembly of Scotland met in 1601, and it is the first time that the idea of an official English translation of the Bible was presented to King James.  About a decade later the result was the King James Version of the Bible!
The church is lined with plaques relaying every aspect of its history.
Another fact I learned is that the organ was donated in 1909 by Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie!  (This was also after Mary's time here, of course.)  He attended this church on one of his visits to Scotland, and he was so taken with it that he asked the pastor if there was anything they needed.  The pastor said that an organ would be nice.  A few days later, there was an organ sitting at the front door (for them to put together, as he believed in the importance of working with one's own hands).

Renovation work was done in the 1990s, which would coincide with the 400th anniversary of the church.  This included painting of the ceiling, which was done by the painter Michelangelo-style -- lying on his back.  When he finished, the roof ended up getting damaged somehow, and he had to start over!
Looking up, I found it hard to believe that this is a flat painting.  The circles surrounding the center seem to me to pop out as spheres.
Here is the organ donated by Carnegie.
We spent time in the kirkyard as well as in the kirk itself.  If I were to have looked over the kirkyard wall in the distance I would have been able to see the outer harbor and the Firth of Forth -- and Edinburgh landmarks, I imagine, such as Arthur's Seat and Castle Rock.  I know I'm able to see those from the beach, so I'm sure I could have seen them from here as well.
Around on the back corner is a second entrance that is specifically for sailors.  Apparently they were promised this when the church was first built, but it was put in somewhat later.

Here too there is the upside-down anchor, reminding us that our hope is in Heaven.

I keep referring to Mary as Mary Fairfax Somerville, because she was part of the Fairfax family of Burntisland.  Her father, Sir William Fairfax was a vice admiral in the navy and is buried here behind the kirk, as is her mother Margaret Charters and her grandfather William Charters.
Below is the northeast corner of the kirkyard.
And then we walked back around to the front - looking funerary art and hearing stories of people buried here.
The tombstone pictured below contains a lot of iconography including a skull on the top right, scales on the left, a backwards 4 with masonic symbols on the right, and a memento mori on the bottom, along with crossbones and an hourglass (tempus fugit).
The story of George Arnot, tombstone pictured below, is quite an interesting one.  (George's life was within Mary's; he was born 15 years after she was, and he died 32 years before she did, but I don't know if she would have known him, as she married and moved to London in 1804 when he was only 9 years old -- although she did return to Scotland in 1807 when her first husband died, so I really don't know.  But his story is definitely worth telling whether she knew him or not.)

Apparently George was a bit odd in a way that 19th century townsfolk wouldn't have had a name for.  He was like the Forrest Gump of his day.  Notice that on his stone he is pictured barefooted; that is because he went barefoot year-round, no matter the weather. He was in some ways cognitively slow, and yet he had a prodigious memory.  For example, if someone was housebound and had to miss church, he would go to their house and share the sermon with them word-for-word and also the hymns!  Just by hearing the sermon he immediately had it memorized.  He worked as some sort of a laborer, and was well-loved but probably a bit ostracized as well.  As a joke, someone put snuff in his beer one night, and it killed him.  The townspeople felt terrible and all chipped in for the tombstone for him, at the bottom of which are the lines:

His Mind was weak his Body strong
His Answer ready with his Song
A Mem'ry like him few could boast
But Suddenly his life he lost

After finishing our brief but full time at the kirk and kirkyard, we headed back to the Burgh Cambers where the Heritage Trust Museum is.  We were treated to a PowerPoint presentation on the life of Mary Somerville by Ian and then given a tour of the Burgh Chambers. Downstairs is a wonderful museum with quite a variety of displays.  One thing that interested me most were the panels discussing the history of crossing the firth.  Mary's family had to board a ferry in order to cross from Burntisland to Edinburgh, which is something that Mary's mother was very fearful of but which they had to do.  
That evening, when I was back in Stockbridge, I walked to Edinburgh to look for the Fairfax family home there, which I did find.  Ian's PowerPoint included the address, but Toby had made the comment that the street may have been renumbered since then.  I knew there was supposed to be a plaque next to the door, and when I went to the address I'd been given I didn't see the plaque, so I walked the length of the whole street and finally found it -- one of many mathematical treasure hunts I've been on in my travels!

She lived at what is now 53 Northumberland Street in Edinburgh's New Town.

There was a beautiful sky that night.  I wish I hadn't waited so long to take pictures of it, but I was too focused on finding and photographing Mary's house to catch this before it lost some of its glory -- still pretty, though!