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Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index T > Isaac Todhunter Quotes

Isaac Todhunter
(23 Nov 1820 - 1 Mar 1884)

English mathematician who is best known both for his textbooks in various fields of mathematics and also for his writings on the history of a range of mathematical theories. He also published a biography of Whilliam Whewell (1876).

Science Quotes by Isaac Todhunter (13 quotes)

Another great and special excellence of mathematics is that it demands earnest voluntary exertion. It is simply impossible for a person to become a good mathematician by the happy accident of having been sent to a good school; this may give him a preparation and a start, but by his own individual efforts alone can he reach an eminent position.
— Isaac Todhunter
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 2.
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I should like to draw attention to the inexhaustible variety of the problems and exercises which it [mathematics] furnishes; these may be graduated to precisely the amount of attainment which may be possessed, while yet retaining an interest and value. It seems to me that no other branch of study at all compares with mathematics in this. When we propose a deduction to a beginner we give him an exercise in many cases that would have been admired in the vigorous days of Greek geometry. Although grammatical exercises are well suited to insure the great benefits connected with the study of languages, yet these exercises seem to me stiff and artificial in comparison with the problems of mathematics. It is not absurd to maintain that Euclid and Apollonius would have regarded with interest many of the elegant deductions which are invented for the use of our students in geometry; but it seems scarcely conceivable that the great masters in any other line of study could condescend to give a moment’s attention to the elementary books of the beginner.
— Isaac Todhunter
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 10-11.
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It has been said by a distinguished philosopher that England is “usually the last to enter into the general movement of the European mind.” The author of the remark probably meant to assert that a man or a system may have become famous on the continent, while we are almost ignorant of the name of the man and the claims of his system. Perhaps, however, a wider range might be given to the assertion. An exploded theory or a disadvantageous practice, like a rebel or a patriot in distress, seeks refuge on our shores to spend its last days in comfort if not in splendour.
— Isaac Todhunter
Opening from essay, 'Elementary Geometry', included in The Conflict of Studies and Other Essays (1873), 136.
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It must happen that in some cases the author is not understood, or is very imperfectly understood; and the question is what is to be done. After giving a reasonable amount of attention to the passage, let the student pass on, reserving the obscurity for future efforts. … The natural tendency of solitary students, I believe, is not to hurry away prematurely from a hard passage, but to hang far too long over it; the just pride that does not like to acknowledge defeat, and the strong will that cannot endure to be thwarted, both urge to a continuance of effort even when success seems hopeless. It is only by experience we gain the conviction that when the mind is thoroughly fatigued it has neither the power to continue with advantage its course in .an assigned direction, nor elasticity to strike out a new path; but that, on the other hand, after being withdrawn for a time from the pursuit, it may return and gain the desired end.
— Isaac Todhunter
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 68.
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It seems to me that the older subjects, classics and mathematics, are strongly to be recommended on the ground of the accuracy with which we can compare the relative performance of the students. In fact the definiteness of these subjects is obvious, and is commonly admitted. There is however another advantage, which I think belongs in general to these subjects, that the examinations can be brought to bear on what is really most valuable in these subjects.
— Isaac Todhunter
In Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 6-7.
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It would be rash to say that nothing remains for discovery or improvement even in elementary mathematics, but it may be safely asserted that the ground has been so long and so thoroughly explored as to hold out little hope of profitable return for a casual adventurer.
— Isaac Todhunter
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 73.
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It would be rash to say that nothing remains for discovery or improvement even in elementary mathematics, but it may be safely asserted that the ground has been so long and so thoroughly explored as to hold out little hope of profitable return for a casual adventurer.
— Isaac Todhunter
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 73.

No. I have been teaching it all my life, and I do not want to have my ideas upset.
— Isaac Todhunter
Reply when James Clerk Maxwell’s asked if he would like to see an experimental demonstration of conical refraction. As given in James G. Crowther, The Cavendish Laboratory, 1874-1974 (1974), 9.
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Nor do I know any study which can compete with mathematics in general in furnishing matter for severe and continued thought. Metaphysical problems may be even more difficult; but then they are far less definite, and, as they rarely lead to any precise conclusion, we miss the power of checking our own operations, and of discovering whether we are thinking and reasoning or merely fancying and dreaming.
— Isaac Todhunter
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 13.
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One striking peculiarity of mathematics is its unlimited power of evolving examples and problems. A student may read a book of Euclid, or a few chapters of Algebra, and within that limited range of knowledge it is possible to set him exercises as real and as interesting as the propositions themselves which he has studied; deductions which might have pleased the Greek geometers, and algebraic propositions which Pascal and Fermat would not have disdained to investigate.
— Isaac Todhunter
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 82.
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Probably among all the pursuits of the University, mathematics pre-eminently demand self-denial, patience, and perseverance from youth, precisely at that period when they have liberty to act for themselves, and when on account of obvious temptations, habits of restraint and application are peculiarly valuable.
— Isaac Todhunter
In The Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 12.
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The large collection of problems which our modern Cambridge books supply will be found to be almost an exclusive peculiarity of these books; such collections scarcely exist in foreign treatises on mathematics, nor even in English treatises of an earlier date. This fact shows, I think, that a knowledge of mathematics may be gained without the perpetual working of examples. … Do not trouble yourselves with the examples, make it your main business, I might almost say your exclusive business, to understand the text of your author.
— Isaac Todhunter
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 74.
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The student should read his author with the most sustained attention, in order to discover the meaning of every sentence. If the book is well written, it will endure and repay his close attention: the text ought to be fairly intelligible, even without illustrative examples. Often, far too often, a reader hurries over the text without any sincere and vigorous effort to understand it; and rushes to some example to clear up what ought not to have been obscure, if it had been adequately considered. The habit of scrupulously investigating the text seems to me important on several grounds. The close scrutiny of language is a very valuable exercise both for studious and practical life. In the higher departments of mathematics the habit is indispensable: in the long investigations which occur there it would be impossible to interpose illustrative examples at every stage, the student must therefore encounter and master, sentence by sentence, an extensive and complicated argument.
— Isaac Todhunter
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 67.
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Quotes by others about Isaac Todhunter (1)

When it was first proposed to establish laboratories at Cambridge, Todhunter, the mathematician, objected that it was unnecessary for students to see experiments performed, since the results could be vouched for by their teachers, all of them of the highest character, and many of them clergymen of the Church of England.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 49.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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