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Cuthbert Tunstall Issues the First Book Published in England Devoted Exclusively to Mathematics

The woodcut border on the title page was by Hans Holbein. This is a British Museum duplicate sold in 1787. It was most recently sold by Sotheby

The woodcut border on the title page was by Hans Holbein. This is a British Museum duplicate sold in 1787. It was most recently sold by Sotheby's in the dispersal of the library of Erwin Tomash.

English Scholastic, church leader, diplomat, administrator and royal adviser, then Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall (Tonstall, Tonstal) published De arte supputandi libri quattuor in London at the press of Richard Pynson. Based on the Summa de arithmetica of Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli, this was the first printed work published in England that was devoted exclusively to mathematics. Its woodcut title was engraved by Hans Holbein the Younger.

"In the dedicatory epistle Tonstall states that in his dealing with certain goldsmiths he suspected that their accounts were incorrect, and he therefore renewed his study of arithmetic so as to check their figures. On his appointment to the See of London he bade farewell to the sciences by printing this book in order that others might have the benefit of work which he had prepared for his own use. The treatise is in Latin, and, although it was written for the purpose of supplying a practical handbook, is very prolix and was not suited to the needs of the mercantile class. It is confessedly based upon Italian models, and it is apparent that Tonstall must have known, from his reidence in Padua and his various visits to Italy, the works of the leading Italian writers. The book includes many business applications of the day, such as partnership, profit and loss, and exchange. It also includes the rule of false, the rule of three, and numerous applications of these and other rules. It is, however, the work of a scholar and a classicist rather than a business man.

"The word 'supputandi,' in the title, was not uncommon at that time. Indeed there was some tendency to use the 'supputation' for arithmetic and to speak of calculations as 'supputations.'

"Tonstall dedicates the work to his friend Sir Thomas More, whose talented daughter Erasmus addressed as 'Margareta Ropera Britanniae tuae decus,' —ornament of thine England. More speaks of Tonstall in the opening lines of his Utopia: 'I was colleague and companion to that incomparable man Cuthbert Tonstal, whom the king with such universal applause latelly made Master of the Rolls; but of whom I will say nothing; not because I fear that the testimony of a friend will be suspected, but rather because his learning and virtues are too great forme to do them justice, and so well known, that they need not by commendation unless I would, according to the prover, 'Show the sun with a lanthorn.' . . . ." (Smith, Rara Arithmetica I [1908] 132-34).

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