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This report is taken from PN Review 69, Volume 16 Number 1, September - October 1989.

A Case of Anastomosis Roy Fuller
James Newman's The World of Mathematics, surely one of the finest of anthologies, came out in this country in 1960. Until I bought its four volumes I don't believe I had ever heard of James Joseph Sylvester. C.P. Snow would have seen such ignorance as prime evidence for his theory of the Two Cultures - the lack of anastomosis between science and humanism, at least as regards the humanist. For Sylvester was undoubtedly one of the great Victorians, a mathematician, notable most for work in the abstruse field of invariants and matrices. There is a brilliantly lucid indication of the nature and effect of this work in E.T. Bell's book, Men of Mathematics, but I have no mathematics worth speaking of, and shall forbear to flannel by paraphrasing what may be found there. Sufficient to say that Sylvester's mathematical inventions looked forward to the amazing discoveries of the ensuing, 'modern' period. However, there are other reasons why my interest in Sylvester was aroused, as will appear.

Sylvester was born in 1814 in London. He was a precocious mathematician. When he was thirteen he spent some months at London University, and at fifteen went to the Royal Institution at Liverpool, where he was put in a special class by himself. At seventeen he went to Cambridge, and was eventually placed second in the mathematical tripos, despite his career there having been interrupted by illness. At twenty-four he became Professor of Natural Philosophy at University College, London.

But then ...


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