John Hymers (1803–1877)
|Born||20 July 1803
Ormesby, Yorkshire, England
|Died||7 April 1887
Brandesburton, Yorkshire, England
|Institutions||St John's College, Cambridge|
|Alma mater||St John's College, Cambridge|
|Notable students||J. W. Colenso
J. J. Sylvester
John Couch Adams
|Known for||Analytic geometry|
John Hymers (20 July 1803 – 7 April 1887), mathematician, was born at Ormesby, near Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, the son of Thomas Hymers, a tenant farmer under Sir James Pennymon, and his wife, the daughter of John Parrington, rector of Skelton-in-Cleveland, England.
After attending schools at Witton-le-Wear and Sedbergh School, Hymers gained a sizarship at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1822. He graduated as second wrangler in 1826, and was elected fellow of St John's College in 1827.
For some years Hymers was a successful tutor of private pupils, and then became assistant tutor of his college in 1829 and tutor in 1832, and was moderator in the mathematical tripos in 1833–4. Hymers was an esteemed and conscientious tutor, but his most important influence was exerted through his mathematical textbooks. His Treatise on the Analytical Geometry of Three Dimensions (1830) was followed by his Treatise on Conic Sections (1837), which became the standard textbook on analytic geometry at Cambridge. Most of his books reveal a vast acquaintance with the development of mathematics on the continent. For instance, in the second edition of his Integral Calculus (1835) he introduced English students to the topic of elliptic functions, then newly discovered by C. G. J. Jacobi (1804–1851) working in Königsberg. Hymers was quick to appreciate any new mathematical technique; the most outstanding example concerns his use of differential operator methods for the solution of differential equations. In particular, his Differential Equations and the Calculus of Finite Differences (1839) incorporated the new solution of the Laplacian equation for the figure of the earth as given by Thomas Gaskin in symbolic form; it was the elaboration of this original solution by Robert Leslie Ellis in 1841 which led largely to George Boole's masterpiece On a general method in analysis in 1844 (PRS, 5, 1843–50). Boole's novel comprehensive method, which applied now to a wide class of differential equations important in physics, was, in its turn, presented by Hymers in the revised edition of his Differential Equations (1858) in a remarkably clear manner.
Hymers became a deacon in 1833 and was ordained priest in the following year. He received the BD (Bachelor of Divinity) in 1836 and was elected senior fellow of his college and fellow of the Royal Society in 1838. In 1841 he was Lady Margaret preacher, and received the DD (Doctor of Divinity); he was made president of his college in 1848. In 1852 he was presented by his college to the rectory of Brandesburton in Holderness, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where he spent the last thirty-five years of his life. Appointed JP for the East Riding in 1857, his decisions as a magistrate were noted for their precision.
As a textbook writer, Hymers marked an era in the history of St John's College at Cambridge; he was also a good classical scholar. He numbered among his pupils J. W. Colenso and William Cavendish (1808–1891). He presented to the college library some manuscripts of Wordsworth, with whom he was distantly connected, and a portrait of Wordsworth was painted under his care for the college. An active traveller, Hymers enjoyed good health all his life. He died at Brandesburton on 7 April 1887. He was unmarried.
By his will of 24 August 1885, he bequeathed some of his property to the mayor and corporation of Hull, to provide for the foundation of a grammar school, "for the training of intelligence in whatever social rank of life it may be found among the vast and varied population of the Town." An obscurity in the wording of the will rendered the bequest invalid, but his heir, his brother Robert Hymers, voluntarily granted the sum of £50,000 for the establishment of Hymers College, Hull.
- "Hymers, John". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- "Hymers, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- The Eagle, 14 (1887), pp. 398–402
- J. B. Mullinger, St John's College (1901), pp. 278–81
- M. Panteki, Relationships between algebra, logic and differential equations in England, 1800–1860, PhD diss., Middlesex University, 1992, chap. 4