John Keill

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John Keill
Born (1671-12-01)1 December 1671
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 31 August 1721(1721-08-31) (aged 49)
Oxford, England
Residence England
Nationality Scottish
Fields Mathematician and astronomer
Institutions University of Oxford
Alma mater Edinburgh University
Balliol College, Oxford
Academic advisors David Gregory
Notable students Brook Taylor
John Theophilus Desaguliers[1]
Known for Defending Isaac Newton
He is the brother of physician James Keill.

John Keill (1 December 1671 – 31 August 1721) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was primarily a mathematician and important disciple of Isaac Newton. He studied at Edinburgh University, under David Gregory, and obtained his bachelor's degree in 1692 with a distinction in physics and mathematics. Keill then attended Balliol College, Oxford obtaining an MA on 2 February 1694. He gave innovative lectures at Oxford using experiments to help his audience understand difficult Newtonian concepts. One of his auditors was John Theophilus Desaguliers who took over the lectures at Hart Hall when Keill left Oxford unexpectedly in 1709. Keill became Treasurer to the Palatinates and decipherer to Queen Anne before returning to Oxford as Savilian Professor of Astronomy in 1712.

John's father was Robert Keill who was an Edinburgh lawyer. His mother was Sarah Cockburn. She came from a family with strong associations with the Church. She had an uncle who was bishop of Aberdeen and a brother who was an Episcopal priest who supported the Stuart cause refusing to take an oath of allegiance to William and Mary after James II was deposed in the Revolution of 1688. James Keill who became a physician, was John's younger brother born two years later.

Keill claimed that Leibniz plagiarized Newton's invention of calculus and he served as Newton's chief defender. However, Newton himself eventually grew tired of Keill as he stirred up too much trouble.

In 1717, he married Mary Clements, a woman 25 years his junior. The marriage created great scandal at the time as she was from a lower class.

It was stated in the old Dictionary of National Biography that Keill left no will. His will is referenced in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and is held by The National Archives.[2][3] It was executed on 12 January 1720 and was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in October 1721. He left £500 and his household furniture and plate to his wife and his books, instruments and other money in trust for his son.

Principal publications[edit]

  • An Examination of Dr. Burnet's Theory of the Earth. Oxford: 1698.
  • Introductio ad Veram Physicam seu Lectiones Physicae. Oxford: Thomas Bennet, 1702.
  • Trigonometriae Planae & Sphaericae Elementa. Oxford: Henry Clements, 1715.
  • Item de Natura et Arithmetica Logarithmorum tractatus brevis. Oxford: Henry Clements, 1715.
  • Introductio ad Veram Astronomiam seu Lectiones Astronomicae. Oxford: Henry Clements, 1718.

Keill's publisher at Oxford, Henry Clements, sometimes bound Keill's Trigonometriae and Logarithmorum with Federico Commandino's translation of Euclid's Elements. This volume appeared as: Euclidis Elementorum Libri Priores Sex. Oxford: Henry Clements, 1715.

After Keill's death, the Verbeek brothers collected Keill's work into a single volume. This volume appeared as: Introductiones ad veram Physicam et veram Astronomiam. Leiden: Jan en Hermanus Verbeek, 1725. This book also contained Keill's long papers De Legibus Virium Centripetarum and De Legibus Attractionis, aliisque Physices Principiis.

All of these works were very popular; they appeared in England and the Continent in many editions from many publishers, in Latin, English, and Dutch.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Isis, 2003, 94: 435–455
  2. ^ Henry, John. "Keill, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15256.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ TNA, Will of Doctor John Keill or Keil, Doctor of Physic and Astronomy, Professor in Oxford.