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Mathematical Treasure: Maclaurin’s Treatise of Fluxions

Frank J. Swetz (Pennsylvania State University)

Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746) grew from a child prodigy to being one of Scotland’s greatest mathematicians. He became Professor of Mathematics at the University of Glasgow and became a strong advocate for the work of Isaac Newton. He extended Newton’s work in calculus, geometry and the theories of gravitation. In 1742, he published a major work consisting of two volumes comprising 763 pages: A Treatise of Fluxions. At the time, it received much attention but exerted little influence on the teaching of mathematics. The second edition of this work, titled A Treatise on Fluxions, appeared in 1801 and, as a tribute to its author, contained a biography of his life. The title page of the 1742 edition is shown above, and three more pages are shown below. These materials are presented through the courtesy of The Pennsylvania State University.

Above and below, pages 206 and 207, with their supporting figure in Plate IX, give Maclaurin’s discussion “Of the Fluxions of curve[d] Surfaces.”

See the second edition of this book, titled A Treatise on Fluxions and published in 1801.

Frank J. Swetz (Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Maclaurin’s Treatise of Fluxions," Convergence (August 2015)