A Treatise of Algebra: in Two Books

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by William Emerson

A Treatise of Algebra

Title page from A Treatise of Algebra, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author William Emerson
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed for J. Nourse
Date 1764
Edition First
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages viii, 527 pages, XIII leaves of plates
Desc. 8vo (21 cm.)
Location Shelf N-3
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

William Emerson (1701-1782) was a well-known early eighteenth century British mathematician. Emerson was the son of a schoolmaster and, after receiving his education, opened a school of his own in 1730.[1] After his school closed in 1733 due to lack of interest, Emerson devoted himself entirely to the study of mathematics.[2] In 1743 Emerson published the first of his textbooks, The Doctrine of Fluxions,[3] and proceeded to write more textbooks on a wide variety of different mathematical concepts.[4] Many of his books were bestsellers because they were aimed at all people interested in mathematics rather than the narrow niche of researchers or academicians.[5]

Emerson’s works, including A Treatise on Algebra, were very influential during the eighteenth century and continued to have a lasting effect well into the nineteenth century.[6] Because of the relative simplistic style of A Treatise on Algebra, Emerson effectively communicated mathematical ideas and concepts to a more “common” audience. Prior to Emerson’s work, this broad “common” audience was frequently omitted from consideration when textbooks were published.[7]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Emerson's Algebra. 8vo." This was one of the titles kept by Thomas Jefferson and later sold to the Library of Congress in 1815. Millicent Sowerby's entry in Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson does not indicate the specific edition sold by Jefferson, and the copy no longer exists.[8] George Wythe's Library[9] on LibraryThing indicates "Precise edition unknown. Possible editions were published by Nourse in 1764 and 1780." The Brown Bibliography[10] lists the first edition (1764) and this was the edition purchased by the Wolf Law Library.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Backed in contemporary leather with gilt fillets and red label with gilt lettering. Boards speckled.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. Alsager Vian, "Emerson, William (1701–1782)", rev. Niccolò Guicciardini in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed 6 Oct 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. J. O'Conner and E. Robertson, "Emerson biography", in MacTutor History of Mathematics, accessed October 3, 2013 .
  7. Vian, "Emerson, William."
  8. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 4:5 [no.3672].
  9. LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe", accessed on November 11, 2013.
  10. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433