(source) 
James Joseph Sylvester
(3 Sep 1814  15 Mar 1897)

Science Quotes by James Joseph Sylvester (29 quotes)
As lightning clears the air of impalpable vapours, so an incisive paradox frees the human intelligence from the lethargic influence of latent and unsuspected assumptions. Paradox is the slayer of Prejudice.
— James Joseph Sylvester
As the prerogative of Natural Science is to cultivate a taste for observation, so that of Mathematics is, almost from the starting point, to stimulate the faculty of invention.
— James Joseph Sylvester
But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our textbook, my brain took fire, I plunged with requickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Chemistry has the same quickening and suggestive influence upon the algebraist as a visit to the Royal Academy, or the old masters may be supposed to have on a Browning or a Tennyson. Indeed it seems to me that an exact homology exists between painting and poetry on the one hand and modern chemistry and modern algebra on the other. In poetry and algebra we have the pure idea elaborated and expressed through the vehicle of language, in painting and chemistry the idea enveloped in matter, depending in part on manual processes and the resources of art for its due manifestation.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Does it not seem as if Algebra had attained to the dignity of a fine art, in which the workman has a free hand to develop his conceptions, as in a musical theme or a subject for a painting? It has reached a point where every properly developed algebraical composition, like a skillful landscape, is expected to suggest the notion of an infinite distance lying beyond the limits of the canvas.
— James Joseph Sylvester
He who would know what geometry is, must venture boldly into its depths and learn to think and feel as a geometer. I believe that it is impossible to do this, and to study geometry as it admits of being studied and am conscious it can be taught, without finding the reason invigorated, the invention quickened, the sentiment of the orderly and beautiful awakened and enhanced, and reverence for truth, the foundation of all integrity of character, converted into a fixed principle of the mental and moral constitution, according to the old and expressive adage “abeunt studia in mores”.
— James Joseph Sylvester
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.
— James Joseph Sylvester
I should rejoice to see... Euclid honourably shelved or buried ‘deeper than did ever plummet sound’ out of the schoolboys’ reach; morphology introduced into the elements of algebra; projection, correlation, and motion accepted as aids to geometry; the mind of the student quickened and elevated and his faith awakened by early initiation into the ruling ideas of polarity, continuity, infinity, and familiarization with the doctrines of the imaginary and inconceivable.
— James Joseph Sylvester
I think it would be desirable that this form of word [mathematics] should be reserved for the applications of the science, and that we should use mathematic in the singular to denote the science itself, in the same way as we speak of logic, rhetoric, or (own sister to algebra) music.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Induction and analogy are the special characteristics of modern mathematics, in which theorems have given place to theories and no truth is regarded otherwise than as a link in an infinite chain. “Omne exit in infinitum” is their favorite motto and accepted axiom.
— James Joseph Sylvester
It is said of Jacobi, that he attracted the particular attention and friendship of Böckh, the director of the philological seminary at Berlin, by the great talent he displayed for philology, and only at the end of two years’ study at the University, and after a severe mental struggle, was able to make his final choice in favor of mathematics.
— James Joseph Sylvester
It is the constant aim of the mathematician to reduce all his expressions to their lowest terms, to retrench every superfluous word and phrase, and to condense the Maximum of meaning into the Minimum of language.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Let him [the author] be permitted also in all humility to add … that in consequence of the large arrears of algebraical and arithmetical speculations waiting in his mind their turn to be called into outward existence, he is driven to the alternative of leaving the fruits of his meditations to perish (as has been the fate of too many foregone theories, the stillborn progeny of his brain, now forever resolved back again into the primordial matter of thought), or venturing to produce from time to time such imperfect sketches as the present, calculated to evoke the mental cooperation of his readers, in whom the algebraical instinct has been to some extent developed, rather than to satisfy the strict demands of rigorously systematic exposition.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation. Take, for instance, the arithmetical theory of forms, of which the foundation was laid in the diophantine theorems of Fermat, left without proof by their author, which resisted all efforts of the myriadminded Euler to reduce to demonstration, and only yielded up their cause of being when turned over in the blowpipe flame of Gauss’s transcendent genius; or the doctrine of double periodicity, which resulted from the observation of Jacobi of a purely analytical fact of transformation; or Legendre’s law of reciprocity; or Sturm’s theorem about the roots of equations, which, as he informed me with his own lips, stared him in the face in the midst of some mechanical investigations connected (if my memory serves me right) with the motion of compound pendulums; or Huyghen’s method of continued fractions, characterized by Lagrange as one of the principal discoveries of that great mathematician, and to which he appears to have been led by the construction of his Planetary Automaton; or the new algebra, speaking of which one of my predecessors (Mr. Spottiswoode) has said, not without just reason and authority, from this chair, “that it reaches out and indissolubly connects itself each year with fresh branches of mathematics, that the theory of equations has become almost new through it, algebraic geometry transfigured in its light, that the calculus of variations, molecular physics, and mechanics” (he might, if speaking at the present moment, go on to add the theory of elasticity and the development of the integral calculus) “have all felt its influence”.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Mr. Cayley, of whom it may be so truly said, whether the matter he takes in hand be great or small, "nihil tetigit quod non ornavit," …
— James Joseph Sylvester
No mathematician nowadays sets any store on the discovery of isolated theorems, except as affording hints of an unsuspected new sphere of thought, like meteorites detached from some undiscovered planetary orb of speculation.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Number, place, and combination … the three intersecting but distinct spheres of thought to which all mathematical ideas admit of being referred.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Professor Cayley has since informed me that the theorem about whose origin I was in doubt, will be found in Schläfli’s De Eliminatione. This is not the first unconscious plagiarism I have been guilty of towards this eminent man whose friendship I am proud to claim. A more glaring case occurs in a note by me in the Comptes Rendus, on the twentyseven straight lines of cubic surfaces, where I believe I have followed (like one walking in his sleep), down to the very nomenclature and notation, the substance of a portion of a paper inserted by Schlafli in the Mathematical Journal, which bears my name as one of the editors upon the face.
— James Joseph Sylvester
So long as a man remains a gregarious and sociable being, he cannot cut himself off from the gratification of the instinct of imparting what he is learning, of propagating through others the ideas and impressions seething in his own brain, without stunting and atrophying his moral nature and drying up the surest sources of his future intellectual replenishment.
— James Joseph Sylvester
The discovery of the conic sections, attributed to Plato, first threw open the higher species of form to the contemplation of geometers. But for this discovery, which was probably regarded in Plato’s tune and long after him, as the unprofitable amusement of a speculative brain, the whole course of practical philosophy of the present day, of the science of astronomy, of the theory of projectiles, of the art of navigation, might have run in a different channel; and the greatest discovery that has ever been made in the history of the world, the law of universal gravitation, with its innumerable direct and indirect consequences and applications to every department of human research and industry, might never to this hour have been elicited.
— James Joseph Sylvester
The object of pure Physic is the unfolding of the laws of the intelligible world; the object of pure Mathematic that of unfolding the laws of human intelligence.
— James Joseph Sylvester
The theory of ramification is one of pure colligation, for it takes no account of magnitude or position; geometrical lines are used, but these have no more real bearing on the matter than those employed in genealogical tables have in explaining the laws of procreation.
— James Joseph Sylvester
The world of ideas which it [mathematics] discloses or illuminates, the contemplation of divine beauty and order which it induces, the harmonious connexion of its parts, the infinite hierarchy and absolute evidence of the truths with which it is concerned, these, and such like, are the surest grounds of the title of mathematics to human regard, and would remain unimpeached and unimpaired were the plan of the universe unrolled like a map at our feet, and the mind of man qualified to take in the whole scheme of creation at a glance.
— James Joseph Sylvester
There are three ruling ideas, three so to say, spheres of thought, which pervade the whole body of mathematical science, to some one or other of which, or to two or all three of them combined, every mathematical truth admits of being referred; these are the three cardinal notions, of Number, Space and Order.
Arithmetic has for its object the properties of number in the abstract. In algebra, viewed as a science of operations, order is the predominating idea. The business of geometry is with the evolution of the properties of space, or of bodies viewed as existing in space.
Arithmetic has for its object the properties of number in the abstract. In algebra, viewed as a science of operations, order is the predominating idea. The business of geometry is with the evolution of the properties of space, or of bodies viewed as existing in space.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Time was when all the parts of the subject were dissevered, when algebra, geometry, and arithmetic either lived apart or kept up cold relations of acquaintance confined to occasional calls upon one another; but that is now at an end; they are drawn together and are constantly becoming more and more intimately related and connected by a thousand fresh ties, and we may confidently look forward to a time when they shall form but one body with one soul.
— James Joseph Sylvester
We are told that “Mathematics is that study which knows nothing of observation, nothing of experiment, nothing of induction, nothing of causation.” I think no statement could have been made more opposite to the facts of the case; that mathematical analysis is constantly invoking the aid of new principles, new ideas, and new methods, not capable of being defined by any form of words, but springing direct from the inherent powers and activities of the human mind, and from continually renewed introspection of that inner world of thought of which the phenomena are as varied and require as close attention to discern as those of the outer physical world (to which the inner one in each individual man may, I think, be conceived to stand somewhat in the same relation of correspondence as a shadow to the object from which it is projected, or as the hollow palm of one hand to the closed fist which it grasps of the other), that it is unceasingly calling forth the faculties of observation and comparison, that one of its principal weapons is induction, that it has frequent recourse to experimental trial and verification, and that it affords a boundless scope for the exercise of the highest efforts of the imagination and invention.
— James Joseph Sylvester
What a glorious title, Nature, a veritable stroke of genius to have hit upon. It is more than a cosmos, more than a universe. It includes the seen as well as the unseen, the possible as well as the actual, Nature and Nature's God, mind and matter. I am lost in admiration of the effulgent blaze of ideas it calls forth.
[Commenting on the title of the journal.]
[Commenting on the title of the journal.]
— James Joseph Sylvester
…there is no study in the world which brings into more harmonious action all the faculties of the mind than [mathematics], … or, like this, seems to raise them, by successive steps of initiation, to higher and higher states of conscious intellectual being.
— James Joseph Sylvester
“Divide et impera” is as true in algebra as in statecraft; but no less true and even more fertile is the maxim “auge et impera”.The more to do or to prove, the easier the doing or the proof.
— James Joseph Sylvester
Quotes by others about James Joseph Sylvester (7)
The analytical geometry of Descartes and the calculus of Newton and Leibniz have expanded into the marvelous mathematical method—more daring than anything that the history of philosophy records—of Lobachevsky and Riemann, Gauss and Sylvester. Indeed, mathematics, the indispensable tool of the sciences, defying the senses to follow its splendid flights, is demonstrating today, as it never has been demonstrated before, the supremacy of the pure reason.
If you enquire about him [J.J. Sylvester], you will hear his genius universally recognized but his power of teaching will probably be said to be quite deficient. Now there is no man living who is more luminary in his language, to those who have the capacity to comprehend him than Sylvester, provided the hearer is in a lucid interval. But as the barn yard fowl cannot understand the flight of the eagle, so it is the eaglet only who will be nourished by his instruction.
Among your pupils, sooner or later, there must be one. who has a genius for geometry. He will be Sylvester’s special pupil—the one pupil who will derive from his master, knowledge and enthusiasm—and that one pupil will give more reputation to your institution than the ten thousand, who will complain of the obscurity of Sylvester, and for whom you will provide another class of teachers.
J. J. Sylvester was an enthusiastic supporter of reform [in the teaching of geometry]. The difference in attitude on this question between the two foremost British mathematicians, J. J. Sylvester, the algebraist, and Arthur Cayley, the algebraist and geometer, was grotesque. Sylvester wished to bury Euclid “deeper than e’er plummet sounded” out of the schoolboy’s reach; Cayley, an ardent admirer of Euclid, desired the retention of Simson’s Euclid. When reminded that this treatise was a mixture of Euclid and Simson, Cayley suggested striking out Simson’s additions and keeping strictly to the original treatise.
Professor Sylvester’s first high class at the new university Johns Hopkins consisted of only one student, G. B. Halsted, who had persisted in urging Sylvester to lecture on the modem algebra. The attempt to lecture on this subject led him into new investigations in quantics.
Sylvester was incapable of reading mathematics in a purely receptive way. Apparently a subject either fired in his brain a train of active and restless thought, or it would not retain his attention at all. To a man of such a temperament, it would have been peculiarly helpful to live in an atmosphere in which his human associations would have supplied the stimulus which he could not find in mere reading. The great modern work in the theory of functions and in allied disciplines, he never became acquainted with …
What would have been the effect if, in the prime of his powers, he had been surrounded by the influences which prevail in Berlin or in Gottingen? It may be confidently taken for granted that he would have done splendid work in those domains of analysis, which have furnished the laurels of the great mathematicians of Germany and France in the second half of the present century.
What would have been the effect if, in the prime of his powers, he had been surrounded by the influences which prevail in Berlin or in Gottingen? It may be confidently taken for granted that he would have done splendid work in those domains of analysis, which have furnished the laurels of the great mathematicians of Germany and France in the second half of the present century.
The flights of the imagination which occur to the pure mathematician are in general so much better described in his formulas than in words, that it is not remarkable to find the subject treated by outsiders as something essentially cold and uninteresting— … the only successful attempt to invest mathematical reasoning with a halo of glory—that made in this section by Prof. Sylvester—is known to a comparative few, …
See also:
 3 Sep  short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Sylvester's birth.