Edward Waring - Work


Waring wrote a number of papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, dealing with the resolution of algebraic equations, number theory, series, approximation of roots, interpolation, the geometry of conic sections, and dynamics. The Meditationes Algebraicae (1770), where many of the results published in Miscellanea Analytica were reworked and expanded, was described by Joseph Louis Lagrange as ‘a work full of excellent researches'. In this work Waring published many theorems concerning the solution of algebraic equations which attracted the attention of continental mathematicians, but his best results are in number theory. Included in this work was the so-called Goldbach conjecture (every even integer is the sum of two primes), and also the following conjecture: every odd integer is a prime or the sum of three primes. Leonard Euler had proved that every positive integer is the sum of not more than four squares; Waring suggested that every positive integer is either a cube or the sum of not more than nine cubes. He also advanced the hypothesis that every positive integer is either a biquadrate or the sum of not more than nineteen biquadrates. These hypotheses form what is known as Waring's problem. He also published a theorem, due to his friend John Wilson, concerning prime numbers; it was later proved rigorously by Lagrange.

In Proprietates Algebraicarum Curvarum (1772) Waring reissued in a much revised form the first four chapters of the second part of Miscellanea Analytica. He devoted himself to the classification of higher plane curves, improving results obtained by Isaac Newton, James Stirling, Leonard Euler, and Gabriel Cramer. In 1794 he published a few copies of a philosophical work entitled An Essay on the Principles of Human Knowledge, which were circulated among his friends.

Waring's mathematical style is highly analytical. In fact he criticized those British mathematicians who adhered too strictly to geometry. It is indicative that he was one of the subscribers of John Landen's Residual Analysis (1764), one of the works in which the tradition of the Newtonian fluxional calculus was more severely criticized. In the preface of Meditationes Analyticae Waring showed a good knowledge of continental mathematicians such as Alexis Clairaut, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, and Euler. He lamented the fact that in Great Britain mathematics was cultivated with less interest than on the continent, and clearly desired to be considered as highly as the great names in continental mathematics—there is no doubt that he was reading their work at a level never reached by any other eighteenth-century British mathematician. Most notably, at the end of chapter three of Meditationes analyticae Waring presents some partial fluxional equations (partial differential equations in Leibnizian terminology); such equations are a mathematical instrument of great importance in the study of continuous bodies which was almost completely neglected in Britain before Waring's researches. One of the most interesting results in Meditationes analyticae is a test for the convergence of series generally attributed to d'Alembert (the ‘ratio test’). The theory of convergence of series (the object of which is to establish when the summation of an infinite number of terms can be said to have a finite ‘sum’) was not much advanced in the eighteenth century.

Waring's work was known both in Britain and on the continent, but it is difficult to evaluate his impact on the development of mathematics. His work on algebraic equations contained in Miscellanea Analytica was translated into Italian by Vincenzo Riccati in 1770. Waring's style is not systematic and his exposition is often obscure. It seems that he never lectured and did not habitually correspond with other mathematicians. After Jérôme Lalande in 1796 observed, in Notice sur la vie de Condorcet, that in 1764 there was not a single first-rate analyst in England, Waring's reply, published after his death as ‘Original letter of Dr Waring’ in the Monthly Magazine, stated that he had given ‘somewhere between three and four hundred new propositions of one kind or another’.

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