28 April 1773|
Norwich, Norfolk, England
|Died||23 December 1827
He was born at Norwich, the son of Robert Woodhouse, linen draper, and educated at Caius College, Cambridge, (BA 1795) of which society he was subsequently a fellow. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in December 1802.
His earliest work, entitled the Principles of Analytical Calculation, was published at Cambridge in 1803. In this he explained the differential notation and strongly pressed the employment of it; but he severely criticized the methods used by continental writers, and their constant assumption of non-evident principles. This was followed in 1809 by a trigonometry (plane and spherical), and in 1810 by a historical treatise on the calculus of variations and isoperimetrical problems. He next produced an astronomy; of which the first book (usually bound in two volumes), on practical and descriptive astronomy, was issued in 1812, and the second book, containing an account of the treatment of physical astronomy by Pierre-Simon Laplace and other continental writers, was issued in 1818.
He became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1820, and subsequently the Plumian professor in the university. As Plumian Professor he was responsible for installing and adjusting the transit instruments and clocks at the Cambridge Observatory. He held that position until his death in 1827.
A man like Woodhouse, of scrupulous honour, universally respected, a trained logician, and with a caustic wit, was well fitted to introduce a new system; and the fact that when he first called attention to the continental analysis he exposed the unsoundness of some of the usual methods of establishing it, more like an opponent than a partisan, was as politic as it was honest. Woodhouse did not exercise much influence on the majority of his contemporaries, and the movement might have died away for the time being if it had not been for the advocacy of George Peacock, Charles Babbage, and John Herschel, who formed the Analytical Society, with the object of advocating the general use in the university of analytical methods and of the differential notation.
On his death in Cambridge he was buried in Caius College Chapel.
- Plane and Spherical Trigonometry (1809; fifth edition, 1827)
- A Treatise on Isoperimetrical Problems and the Calculus of Variations (1810)
- A Treatise on Astronomy (1812)
- Physical Astronomy (1818)
- Principles of Analytical Calculation (1803)
- East Yorkshire Curiosities (2010)
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Robert Woodhouse", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.