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April 19 , 2010

Memorabilia Mathematica (Illustrated)


Every one knows that the fine phrase “God geometrizes” is attributed to Plato, but few know where this famous passage is found, or the exact words in which it was first expressed. Those who, like the author, have spent hours and even days in the search of the exact statements, or the exact references, of similar famous passages, will not question the timeliness and usefulness of a book whose distinct purpose it is to bring together into a single volume exact quotations, with their exact references, bearing on one of the most time-honored, and even today the most active and most fruitful of all the sciences, the queen-mother of all the sciences, that is, mathematics.

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It is hoped that the present volume will prove indispensable to every teacher of mathematics, to every writer on mathematics, and that the student of mathematics and the related sciences will find its perusal not only a source of pleasure but of encouragement and inspiration as well. The layman will find it a repository of useful information covering a field of knowledge which, owing to the unfamiliar and hence repellant character of the language employed by mathematicians, is peculiarly inaccessible to the general reader. No technical processes or technical facility is required to understand and appreciate the wealth of ideas here set forth in the words of the world’s great thinkers.

No labor has been spared to make the present volume worthy of a place among collections of a like kind in other fields. Ten years have been devoted to its preparation, years, which if they could have been more profitably, could scarcely have been more pleasurably employed. As a result there have been brought together over one thousand more or less familiar passages pertaining to mathematics, by poets, philosophers, historians, statesmen, scientists, and mathematicians. These have been gathered from over three hundred authors, and have been vigrouped under twenty heads, and cross indexed under nearly seven hundred topics.

The author’s original plan was to give foreign quotations both in the original and in translation, but with the growth of material this plan was abandoned as infeasible. It was thought to serve the best interest of the greater number of English readers to give translations only, while preserving the references to the original sources, so that the student or critical reader may readily consult the original of any given extract. In cases where the translation is borrowed the translator’s name is inserted in brackets [] immediately after the author’s name. Brackets are also used to indicate inserted words or phrases made necessary to bring out the context.

The absence of similar English works has made the author’s work largely that of the pioneer. Rebière’s “Mathématiques et Mathématiciens” and Ahrens’ “Scherz und Ernst in der Mathematik” have indeed been frequently consulted but rather with a view to avoid overlapping than to receive aid. Thus certain topics as the correspondence of German and French mathematicians, so excellently treated by Ahrens, have purposely been omitted. The repetitions are limited to a small number of famous utterances whose absence from a work of this kind could scarcely be defended on any grounds.

No one can be more keenly aware of the shortcomings of a work than its author, for none can have so intimate an acquaintance with it. Among those of the present work is its incompleteness, but it should be borne in mind that incompleteness is a necessary concomitant of every collection of whatever kind. Much less can completeness be expected in a first collection, made by a single individual, in his leisure hours, and in a field which is already boundless and is yet expanding day by day. A collection of great thoughts, even if complete today, would be incomplete tomorrow. Again, if some authors are quoted more frequently than others of greater fame and authority, the reason may be sought not only in the fact that the writings of some authors peculiarly lent themselves to quotation, a quality singularly absent in other writers of the greatest merit and authority, but also in this, that the greatest freedom has been exercised in the choice of selections. The author has followed viithe bent of his own fancy in collecting whatever seemed to him sufficiently valuable because of its content, its beauty, its originality, or its terseness, to deserve a place in a “Memorabilia.”

Great pains has been taken to furnish exact readings and references. In some cases where a passage could not be traced to its first source, the secondary source has been given rather than the reputed source. For the same reason many references are to later editions rather than to inaccessible first editions.

The author feels confident that this work will be of assistance to his co-workers in the field of mathematics and allied fields. If in addition it should aid in a better appreciation of mathematicians and their work on the part of laymen and students in other fields, the author’s foremost aim in the preparation of this work will have been achieved.

Robert Edouard Moritz,     
September, 1913.



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