Potts, Robert

(1802x4-1885), mathematician

by Charles Platts, rev. Adrian Rice

© Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved

Potts, Robert (1802x4-1885), mathematician, was born at Lambeth, the son of Robert Potts, and grandson of the head of a textile firm specializing in Irish linen. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, on 27 June 1827 as a sizar, and graduated BA as twenty-sixth wrangler in 1832, proceeding MA in 1835. Potts was married soon after taking his degree; his wife's name was Jeannetta. They lived near Parker's Piece, Cambridge, and he became a successful private tutor in the university. A strenuous advocate of attempts to open up the university to groups previously excluded, he actively supported most of the university reforms that were carried out in his time. He acquired a wide reputation as the editor of Euclid's Elements, which he brought out in a large edition in 1845, followed in 1847 by an appendix. His school edition appeared in 1846, and was republished a number of times in the following years. The book had an immense circulation in the British colonies and in America, and the William and Mary College of Virginia conferred the honorary degree of LLD upon Potts 'in appreciation of the excellence of his mathematical works'. The merits of his edition of Euclid consisted in the clear arrangement and division of the component parts of the propositions, and in the admirable collection of notes. He also published Elementary Arithmetic (1876) and Elementary Algebra (1879), both with brief historical notes. His non-mathematical publications can be divided into two categories: those concerning the University of Cambridge and those on theology. Of the former, Liber Cantabrigiensis appeared in two parts between 1855 and 1863, followed in 1866 by A brief account of the scholarships and exhibitions open to competition in the University of Cambridge. In the latter category he edited the 1543 edition of William Turner's Huntyng and Fyndyng out of the Romish Fox (1851), King Edward VI on the Supremacy ... with his Discourse on the Reformation of Abuses (1874), and other theological works, including an edition of William Paley's View of the Evidences of Christianity and the Horae Paulinae, which he published together in 1850 with some specimens of Cambridge exam papers.

Potts had long campaigned for university recognition of residence hostels. In 1884 he received a royal charter to open a hostel, to be called St Paul's Hostel, to house students who were 'natives of India', but did not live to implement his plan. He died at his home, Park Terrace, Parker's Piece, Cambridge, on 4 August 1885 in his eighty-second year. He was survived by his wife.

CHARLES PLATTS, rev. ADRIAN RICE

Sources  
private information (1896)
Venn, Alum. Cant.
The Times (7 Aug 1885), 1b
Boase, Mod. Eng. biog.
Ward, Men of the reign
CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1885)

Archives  
CUL, letters to Hugh Godfrey

Wealth at death  
£8561 16s. 9d.: resworn administration with will, Sept 1886, CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1885)


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