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Mathematical Sailors








Nathaniel Bowditch, the translator of Laplace's Mecanique Celeste,
displayed in very early life a taste for mathematical studies. In the
year 1788, when he was only fifteen years old, he actually made an
almanack for the year 1790, containing all the usual tables, calculations
of the eclipses, and other phenomena, and even the customary predictions
of the weather.

Bowditch was bred to the sea, and in his early voyages taught navigation
to the common sailors about him. Captain Prince, with whom he often
sailed, relates, that one day the supercargo of the vessel said to him,
"Come, Captain, let us go forward and hear what the sailors are talking
about under the lee of the long-boat." They went forward accordingly,
and the captain was surprised to find the sailors, instead of spinning
their long yarns, earnestly engaged with book, slate, and pencil,
discussing the high matters of tangents and secants, altitudes, dip,
and refraction. Two of them, in particular, were very zealously
disputing,--one of them calling out to the other, "Well, Jack, what have
you got?" "I've got the sine," was the answer. "But that ain't right,"
said the other; "I say it is the cosine."

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