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Date On A Mantelpiece in Helmdon

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Extract From The Natural History of Northamptonshire by John Morton


Chap. 9. of NorTHAMPTONSHIR E. 497 Algebra, p.sa. 5 LO 1 Concerning the Antiquity of the Characters or Figures that are us'd in writing down Numbers, there is a remarkable Inſcription upon a Chimney-piece at Helmdon, already noted in the Learned Dr. Wallis's Treatiſe of Algebra both Hiſtorical and Practical, whereof I Thall here tranſcribe Dr. Wallis's Account and his Reaſonings upon it. * There theDr. is diſcourſing of Numeral Figures, and ſhews that " Dr. Wallie's they were in uſe amongſt us more early than theearlieſt Date allow'd Treatiſe of of by Volus, that is, the Year of our Lord 1250. The Dr. gives ſeveral Proofs of their Antiquity, but the higheſt that he carries it is from the Authority of an Inſcription in Northamptonſhire which Thews that the Uſe of theſe Figures in Europe is at leaſt more Anci ent by 117 Years than Vollius thought. His Account is as follows. At the Pariſh of Helmdon in Northamptonſhire, ( in the Houſe of Mr. William Richards now Miniſter there ) on an Anciert Wooden Mantletree of the Chimney in his Parlour ( perfectly black with Smoak and Age ) but firm and hard, there is Carved Work ( well enough for that Age ) from one end to the other ; and about the middle of it in old Carving this Date not yet defac'd , Ao Doi M. 133 . But both the Letters andFigures of an Antick Shape  agreeing with the Age. So that, as Dr. Wallis adds, I do not doubt but they have been in uſe amongſt us in England, at leaſt as long ago , as 1133. Nor, ſayshe, need it appear ſtrange to any, that of this Number 1133 the Thouſand is expreſs’d by M.or the Word Millefimo, and only the latter part in Figures 133. For that was and ſtill is very uſual, as he ſhews by ſeveral Examples. Upon the whole he judges that about the middle of the uth Century theſe Numeral Figures came in uſe amongſt us in Europe together with otherArabic Learn ing, firſt in Aſtronomic Tables and other Mathematic Books ; and then by little into common Practice. In Page 7. he obſerves, that whentheſe Figures came firſt into uſe : they were more liketo the Arabic Figures than thoſe we now uſe ; that they, asother Things, were varied in proceſs of Time: and that as to the Ancienter Way of Notation it was by a few Numeral Letters, wherewith they were often perplex'd in Computation , theyhavingonly oneValue or De nomination. In Pbil. Tranf. N.154. Pag. 401,402. Dr. Wallis has given a yet more particular Account of this Mantletree , and has cauſed it to be exactly delineated there, that upon the whole Mat ter we may ſee how little Reaſon there is to ſuſpect any thing of Forgery or Impofture in it. 64.Mr. Gilbert Clerk's Spot-Dyal as he call'd it,which in many Re gards is preferable unto other Dyals,was invented by him at his Houſe at Lodington in this County, and is therefore to bemention'd here : But there being a Deſcription of it already publiſh'd by him ſelf, there needs not any particular Account of it here. 1 1 1 1 : L11111 C H AP.

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