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Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

Augustus De Morgan (1806–1871)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

He was a brilliant mathematician: fourth Wrangler at Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1827

He was appointed first Professor of Mathematics at the University of London (later University College London) in 1828, aged twenty-one

Despite his youth, De Morgan was independent-minded from the start; he was one of the early band of professors who had difficulties with the Warden of the University, Leonard Horner

De Morgan was among the most outspoken in his objections to what he saw as Horner’s unwarranted interference

De Morgan and his colleagues objected not only to Horner’s inflated salary, but also to the high tone he adopted with them

Horner thought he had been appointed to take decisions concerning the day-to-day working of the University, when in fact the Council – which through its lack of foresight was largely to blame for the troubles which quickly arose between Horner and the Professors – merely used him as a messenger, usually bearing bad news about their salaries and the university’s dire financial situation (Council Minutes, vols I and II, UCL Records Office)

Horner’s resignation was not sufficient to stop three of the Professors, George Long (Greek), Frederick Rosen (Oriental Languages and Literatures), and De Morgan resigning in protest at Horner’s mishandling of the case of Granville Sharp Pattison (Council Minutes, vol. II, 27 July 1831, 18 August 1831, UCL Records Office)

On 29 July 1831 De Morgan wrote to his friend and later father-in-law William Frend, explaining that to the Council and proprietors of the University of London a Professor “is on the same footing with regard to them as a domestic servant to his master, with, however, the disadvantage of the former not being able to demand a month’s wages or a month’s warning” (Sophia De Morgan, Memoir of Augustus De Morgan, 1882)

De Morgan was one of the leading lights of Henry Brougham’s other great venture in addition to the University, namely the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, writing pamphlets for it and contributing over 800 articles to the Society’s Penny Cyclopaedia (Monica Grobel, ‘The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge 1826-1846’, unpublished MA thesis, University of London, 1933; Augustus De Morgan Library, Special Collections, Senate House Library, University of London)

De Morgan returned to the mathematics chair in October 1836 on the death by drowning of his successor Professor White (H. Hale Bellot, University College London 1826–1926, 1929)

Though undoubtedly one of the most distinguished and long-serving Professors at the University, De Morgan resigned a second time in November 1866, once again on a matter of principle (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

On this occasion the chair of Logic and Mental Philosophy was given to George Croom Robertson, a young scholar from Aberdeen, over the head of the distinguished Unitarian preacher and philosopher James Martineau

The influential Council member George Grote had been furious when the first occupant of the Chair, Rev. John Hoppus, was appointed in 1829, since Grote thought it against the founding principles of the University to appoint a clergyman

Grote argued the same case again, and the expected appointment of Martineau was overturned (H. Hale Bellot, University College London 1826–1926, 1929)

De Morgan’s interpretation of the founding principles was different: in his view a man’s religious position should count neither for nor against him

Though one might think from his two resignations that De Morgan was irredeemably serious, he was in fact a great lover of puns, puzzles, jokes, and caricatures, being himself a gifted cartoonist

Fearless and funny, he made up a comic verse in the early days of the University in response to provocative suggestions in the Tory John Bull that the new University was resorting to grave-robbing in order to find enough bodies for dissection in those days before the Anatomy Act of 1832 (John Bull, 22 September 1828; 5 January 1829)

The subject was topical, given the widespread publicity attaching to the recent Burke and Hare murders in Edinburgh for the purpose of selling bodies to the anatomist Robert Knox

De Morgan’s verse wittily pays homage to the Scottish location of the Burke and Hare scandal by imitating the Scottish song ‘Coming through the Rye’:

Should a body want a body
Anatomy to teach,
Should a body snatch a body,
Need a body peach?

UCL Special Collections have a copy of De Morgan’s book Connexion of Number and Magnitude (1836) with his own sketches inside

Other De Morgan items in the collection include a sketch of himself entitled ‘Professor De Morgan in the pillory’ and another entitled ‘Student’s exercise March 17, 1865’; also a notebook with cod genealogy for himself (MS Add 7, UCL Special Collections)

De Morgan wrote books on maths, on probabilities “and their application to life contingencies and insurance offices” (1838), on almanacs, on paradoxes, and in favour of decimal coinage

His friend and colleague John Thomas Graves, Professor of Jurisprudence since 1835, compiled 2,860 anagrams on the name Augustus De Morgan in several languages (Graves Anagrams, UCL Special Collections)

De Morgan’s wife Sophia became a spiritualist in later life, and De Morgan wrote a neutral, open-minded preface to her book, From Matter to Spirit, 1863

A former pupil remembered De Morgan, describing his appearance in words which corroborate his self-caricatures:

“A stout and tall figure, a stiff rather waddling walk, a high white cravat and stick-up collars in which the square chin is buried, a full but well chiselled face, very short-sighted eyes peering forth through gold-rimmed spectacles; but above all such a superb dome-like forehead, as could only belong to one of the kings of thought: that is my remembrance of De Morgan” (Thomas Hodgkin in 1901, quoted in H. Hale Bellot, University College London 1826–1926, 1929)

De Morgan lived in Bloomsbury from 1828 to 1844, first at 90 Guilford Street with his mother from 1828 to 1832, then at 5 Upper Gower Street from 1832 until his marriage to Sophia Frend in 1837, and from 1837 to 1844 at 69 Gower Street, after which he and his growing family moved to Camden Town (MS Add 7, UCL Special Collections)

Their children were born in Gower Street, including George Campbell De Morgan (1841-1867), who studied at University College School and University College, from which he graduated with a gold medal in 1863

George and a fellow student founded the London Mathematical Society in 1865, with his father as first President

For more general biographical information about Augustus De Morgan, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 7 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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