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The Government and Prof. Sylvester


PROF. SYLVESTER is one of our best mathematicians, and enjoys a European celebrity. He was, we believe, the first of the Jewish race tp compete for the highest honours in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, setting an example which has since been followed by several distinguished men. Although he was Second Wrangler, his religious opinions disqualified him from obtaining at Cambridge the Fellowship for which he was well fitted, and which was morally his due. He had to leave the University, and after an interval, and in an evil moment for himself, accepted at the age of forty the post of Professor of Mathematics to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. Woolwich Academy, as our readers know, is the training school of officers for the Artillery and Engineers. It is one of those hybrid establishments, half regiment and half college, which are managed by well-paid officers in the Army who do not teach, and taught by ill-paid civilians who have nothing to do with the management. But, inasmuch as mathematics formed the principal of the studies, the Professor of Mathematics was an important personage, and corresponded more nearly than any one else to the character of Head Master. He had a house and a salary of six or seven hundred a year. In 1869 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the condition of Military Education in this country, and much evidence was given by the Professor as to the working of the Academy. He advocated extensive changes in the system, many of which were recommended by the Commissioners, and have since been adopted. But there was one among their many recommendations which was not suggested by the Professor, and which assuredly could not have been intended by the Commission to work retrospectively, and without due consideration, upon the teachers then in office. In altering the government and organisation of the Academy, and proposing a change in the educational staff, it was suggested that “the Professors, Instructors, and other officials, if military men, should be appointed for seven years, at least, with the power of re-appointment. If civilians, their tenure of office should in no case continue after the age of 55, unless an extension be specially recommended by the.Governor and approved by the Secretary of State.” Acting upon the Report of the Royal Commission, the War Office informed Professor Sylvester on or soon after his 55th birthday that his services would be no longer required. They did not even let him stay a few weeks to complete his fifteenth year of servitude, but bundled him off wiih a profusion of compliments, and the Treasury at their instance awarded him a retiring pension of 278l. 1s. a year.

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The Government and Prof. Sylvester . Nature 4, 326 (1871).

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