George Boole


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George Boole was the son of John Boole, a cobbler whose chief interests lay in mathematics and the making of optical instruments, in which his son learned to assist at an early age. The father was not a good businessman, however, and the decline in his business had a serious effect on his son's future. The boy went to an elementary school and for a short time to a commercial school, but beyond this he educated himself, encouraged in mathematics by his father and helped in learning Latin by William Brooke, the proprietor of a large and scholarly circulating library. He acquired a knowledge of Greek, French, and German by his own efforts, and showed some promise as a c1assical scholar; a translation in verse of Meleager's "Ode to the Spring" was printed in a local paper and drew comments on the precocity of a boy of fourteen. He seems to have thought of taking holy orders, but at the age of fifteen he began teaching, soon setting up a school of his own in Lincoln.

In 1834 the Mechanics Institution was founded in Lincoln, and the president, a local squire, passed Royal Society publications on to the institution's reading room, of which John Boole became curator. George, who now devoted his scanty leisure to the study ofmathematics, had access to the reading room, and grappled, almost unaided, with Newton's Principia and Lagrange's Mecanique analytique, gaining such a local reputation that at the age of nineteen he was asked to give an address on Newton to mark the presentation of a bust of Newton, also a Lincolnshire man, to the Institution. This address, printed in 1835, was Boole's first scientific publication. In 1840 he began to contribute to the recently founded Cambridge Mathematical Journal and also to the Royal Society, which awarded hirn a Royal Medal in 1844 for his papers on operators in analysis; he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1857.

In 1849, Boole, on the advice of friends, applied for the professorship of mathematics in the newly established Queen's College, Cork, and was appointed in spite of his not holding any university degree. At Cork, although his teaching load was heavy, he found more time and facilities for research. In 1855 he married Mary Everest, the niece of a professor of Greek in 'Queen's College and of Sir George Everest, after whom Mount Everest was named.

Boole was a dear and conscientious teacher, as his textbooks show. In 1864 his health began to fail, and his concern for his students may have hastened his death, since he walked through rain to a class and lectured in wet dothes, which led to a fatal illness.

Boole's scientific writings consist of some fifty papers, two textbooks, and two volumes dealing with mathematical logic. The two textbooks, on differential equations (1859) and finite differences (1860), remained in use in the United Kingdom until the end of the century.