History

Isaac Barrow

History

Isaac Barrow, mathematician, classical scholar and theologian, is buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey with a marble monument against the wall. This includes a bust of him, although it is not thought to be a likeness. The sculptor was possibly John Bushnell. Originally there was a shield of arms but that has now gone. In a guidebook of 1683 the arms are given as "two swords in saltire, the dexter surmounted by the sinister points upwards, between four fleurs de lys". The epitaph is by Dr Mapletoft and can be translated:

"Isaac Barrow, D.D.[Doctor of Divinity], chaplain to King Charles II. A man well nigh divine and truly great, if piety, honesty, sincerity, great learning, and as great, modesty, strictness of life in all respects, and sweetness of temper, have ought of greatness. Geometry Professor of Gresham College in London, and of Greek and Mathematics at Cambridge, and he was an ornament to all his places, his church and country. He adorned Trinity College, while head of it, and much enlarged the Royal Library there. Wealth, honours, and the general pursuits of life, he, born for greater ends, despised not, but resigned to the world. God, whom from his childhood he had served, he in the strictist manner imitated, in wanting little, and doing good to many, and even to posterity, to whom, even dead, he now preaches. What further and more excellent you would know concerning him may be found in his writings. Reader, go thy way and imitate him. He died 4 May 1677 aged 47. His friends erected this monument".

He was born in London in 1630, a son of Thomas Barrow and his wife Anne (Buggin). He was educated at Charter house, at Felsted school in Essex and at Cambridge (where his uncle Isaac was fellow of Peterhouse). During the English Civil War he travelled to Europe and the east. In 1662 he was appointed Gresham professor and was the first Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge. He tutored Isaac Newton in whose favour he resigned his maths professorship. He was in London to examine Westminster School pupils for university entry when he died, possibly in the house of one of the clergymen or masters.

A photo of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

"Isaac Barrow. His life and times" by Percy Osmond, 1944

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.