Quotation for the week: Sylvester

No, not the cartoon cat. James Joseph Sylvester was one of the great and eccentric figures of nineteenth-century mathematics. Here he is explaining — in the course of a public speech — why mathematicians are generally so bad at public speaking:

I know, indeed, and can conceive of no pursuit so antagonistic to the cultivation of the oratorical faculty… as the study of Mathematics. An eloquent mathematician must, from the nature of things, ever remain as rare a phenomenon as a talking fish, and it is certain that the more anyone gives himself up to the study of oratorical effect the less will he find himself in a fit state to mathematicize.

(Address on Commemoration Day, 1877; quoted in K. H. Parshall, “James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish mathematician in a Victorian world”, 2006)

Eloquently put…


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