Gregory, David, 1659-1708 (professor of mathematics, University of Edinburgh, and Savilian Professor of Astronomy, University of Oxford)
David Gregory (1659-1708), astronomer and mathematician, was the first university professor to teach astronomy in the language of Newtonian gravitation. He is famous for his influential textbook, Astronomiae Physicae et Geometricae Elementa, (1702). Having studied a while at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and without graduating, Gregory took the Mathematics Chair at Edinburgh University in 1683, by unseating the incumbent there in a series of public debates. It helped that the chair had been occupied briefly some years before by his esteemed uncle, James Gregorie (1638-1675). David was awarded a hasty MA for decorum's sake, even though he had never studied in Edinburgh, and taught for seven years. His lecture notes show that he covered a broad range of subjects, some of them not in mathematics. He also taught a little optics, mechanics, hydrostatics, and even anatomy, from Galen. His first significant publication was in 1684, the Exercitatio geometrica de dimensione figurarum , in which he extended his uncle's work on the method of quadratures by infinite series.
In 1689 there sprang bad blood between the university masters and their paymasters, the city council, initially having to do with pay cuts and treacherous electioneering. There quickly developed a web of sleights and grudges, in the course of which Gregory was libelled before the new Hanoverian committee of visitation as it toured all the Scottish educational bodies following the recent change of government. He was said to be a violent, drunken atheist, who kept women in his chambers and once visited a prisoner in the Canongate tollbooth; worse, he was a superficial teacher and a crypto-Cartesian. Surrounded by influential friends, and not holding any demonstrably radical views in politics, science, or deportment, he was finally not dismissed from the faculty as many of his colleagues were, nor even required to swear the oath of allegiance to the Hanoverian monarchy or the religious Confession of Faith either.
Yet by 1691 he saw fit to cadge a fresh appointment comfortably far away, in Oxford. This was the Savilian Chair of Astronomy. In its pursuit he came to know personally the figures with whom he had lately been in professional correspondence, like Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Edmond Halley (1656-1742), and John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first Astronomer Royal. He was given another MA to suit the post, and a desultory MD; he was elected to the Royal Society, and appointed a master commoner of Balliol College. He spent the rest of his life as Savilian Professor, where he became something of an evangelist for Newtonian science among the Cartesians. He even troubled to travel to the continent, to exchange views with prominent colleagues like Jan Hudde (1628-1704) and Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695). He quarrelled occasionally with Newton and Halley over various points of research, and with Flamsteed over tutoring maths in the Duke of Gloucester's household, but generally carried on very productively.
His Edinburgh lectures he retooled by 1695 into the enduringly influential optics textbook, Catoptricae et dioptricae sphaericae elementa, whose special contribution was to propose an achromatic telescope, whose combined lenses ought to counteract colour aberrations. By 1702 his principle work went to press, the remarkable Astronomiae physicae et geometricae elementa. This was the first textbook to cast astronomy completely in the alloy of Newtonian gravitational principles. Newton himself assisted with the work, which at least one publisher immodestly declared would 'last as long as the sun and the moon'. It certainly lasted most of the eighteenth century. His final big publication was a joint edition of Euclid, which appeared in 1703. All through his career he complemented his monographs with a steady flow of journal articles and published correspondence in mathematics and astronomy; his special interests included the catenary curve, eclipses, the contemporary 'parallax problem', and the very famous Cassinian orbital model for heavenly bodies.
Late in his life, in 1707, the Act of Union between Scotland and England effectively ended Gregory's studies, calling him away from his work on an edition of Apollonius (eventually finished by Halley), and setting him to work instead on rationalising the Scottish Mint, even as Newton was doing at the London Mint, and on calculating the enormously complex 'Equivalent', a payment to Scotland to offset new customs and excise duties. His health failed him during his extensive official travelling. David Gregory died in a Maidenhead inn a year later. David Gregory was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1692 and was made honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1705.
Found in 11 Collections and/or Records:
Identifier: Coll-33/Quarto A [56(3)]
Scope and Contents Editorial issues in Gregory's major textbook.
Identifier: Coll-33/Quarto A 
Scope and Contents A transcription of Christiaan Huygen's argument that because stars' observed radii are so insensibly small, the diameter of the earth's orbit relative to the stars' position is also insensible, and thus the parallax measurement, which ought to prove or disprove the Copernican layout of the heavens, is useless.
Dates: June 1693
Series — Box: Dk.1.2
Identifier: Coll-33/Folio B
Scope and Contents The papers of David Gregory consist of: Most of the scientific content of Folio B comes from early in Gregory's career. It includes an index of later letters of John Collins (1625-1683) to James Gregorie (1638-1675), a number of Edinburgh lectures in geometry, mechanics, and optics, and some tables and manuscript pieces of 'Elementa Catoptricae et Dioptricae', the 'Institutes of Astronomy', and the 'Elementa...
Series — Volume: Dc.1.61
Identifier: Coll-33/Folio C
Scope and Contents The papers of David Gregory consist of: These are mostly handwritten items, bound together as a volume, though with some loose insertions of manuscripts which had strayed, some of them with modern annotations concerning their provenance. Their scope and content is as David Gregory indexed them, save for the missing items, which consist of two dozen papers and letters on general physics and maths, and several...
Identifier: Coll-33/Folio C [index]
Scope and Contents An index, in Gregory's hand, to the material he designated as Folio C.
Identifier: Coll-33/Quarto A 
Scope and Contents A short critique of William Whiston's A New Theory of the Earth, from its Original to the Consummation of all Things, (1696) , intended to damn Cartesian astronomy and advance corollaries to Newtonian thought instead. He affirmed the truth of the flood narrative in Genesis, ascribing the deluge to the impact of a comet. Whiston had been converted to Newtonianism by a paper of David Gregory. At the foot of this document is an unrelated note, dated 6 Sept. 1708, to the...
Dates: 3 April 1698
Identifier: Coll-33/Quarto A [62(2)]
Scope and Contents This small page appears to go with item 61(2), Newton's refraction table. 1702 was the year that the Astronomiae came out, by which time Gregory was also well under way with his ancient geometers project.
Dates: November 1702
Observ: Eclipsos Lunaris Oxon 19 Octr 1697 et [Mercury] in [the Sun] 24 Oct 1697, October 1697, with 2 apparently attached documents from 17041693
Identifier: Coll-33/Quarto A 
Scope and Contents Two straightforward records of planetary eclipses, but meant, on palaeographic evidence, to be kept with a draft and a fair copy of a subsequent Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society article [Vol. XXIV, No. 293, for September-October 1704, p1704] about the Cassini curve, a model of how a periodic comet probably orbits. Folding and fading of these documents suggest that they were inserted not long after David Gregory generated his index of Quarto A (which he drew up around 1700)....
Dates: October 1697, with 2 apparently attached documents from 17041693
Series — Box: Dk.1.2
Identifier: Coll-33/Quarto A
Scope and Contents The papers of David Gregory in Quarto A consist of: 107 manuscript papers and an index, relating to: theoretical physics, including optics, especially treatises on refraction and colour, on mechanics, specifically on velocity, gravitation, centrifugal and centripetal force, and the movement of solids through fluid, and an occasional thought on magnetic attraction. Applied physics, considering ships, tides, and...
Identifier: Coll-33/Quarto A [56(2)]
Scope and Contents One-page summary of Gregory's major textbook.