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The Mathematician in Love

William John Macquorn Rankine 1820 (Edinburgh) – 1872 (Glasgow)



I.

A mathematician fell madly in love
With a lady, young, handsome, and charming:
By angles and ratios harmonic he strove
Her curves and proportions all faultless to prove.
As he scrawled hieroglyphics alarming.

II.

He measured with care, from the ends of a base,
The arcs which her features subtended:
Then he framed transcendental equations, to trace
The flowing outlines of her figure and face,
And thought the result very splendid.

III.

He studied (since music has charms for the fair)
The theory of fiddles and whistles, --
Then composed, by acoustic equations, an air,
Which, when 'twas performed, made the lady's long hair
Stand on end, like a porcupine's bristles.

IV.

The lady loved dancing: -- he therefore applied,
To the polka and waltz, an equation;
But when to rotate on his axis he tried,
His centre of gravity swayed to one side,
And he fell, by the earth's gravitation.

V.

No doubts of the fate of his suit made him pause,
For he proved, to his own satisfaction,
That the fair one returned his affection; -- "because,
"As every one knows, by mechanical laws,
"Re-action is equal to action."

VI.

"Let x denote beauty, -- y, manners well-bred, --
"z, Fortune, -- (this last is essential), --
"Let L stand for love" -- our philosopher said, --
"Then L is a function of x, y, and z,
"Of the kind which is known as potential."

VII.

"Now integrate L with respect to d t,
"(t Standing for time and persuasion);
"Then, between proper limits, 'tis easy to see,
"The definite integral Marriage must be: --
"(A very concise demonstration)."

VIII.

Said he -- "If the wandering course of the moon
"By Algebra can be predicted,
"The female affections must yield to it soon" --
-- But the lady ran off with a dashing dragoon,
And left him amazed and afflicted.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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William John Macquorn Rankine

William John Macquorn Rankine (; 5 July 1820 – 24 December 1872) was a Scottish mechanical engineer who also contributed to civil engineering, physics and mathematics. He was a founding contributor, with Rudolf Clausius and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), to the science of thermodynamics, particularly focusing on the first of the three thermodynamic laws. He developed the Rankine scale, an equivalent to the Kelvin scale of temperature, but in degrees Fahrenheit rather than Celsius. Rankine developed a complete theory of the steam engine and indeed of all heat engines. His manuals of engineering science and practice were used for many decades after their publication in the 1850s and 1860s. He published several hundred papers and notes on science and engineering topics, from 1840 onwards, and his interests were extremely varied, including, in his youth, botany, music theory and number theory, and, in his mature years, most major branches of science, mathematics and engineering. He was an enthusiastic amateur singer, pianist and cellist who composed his own humorous songs.  more…

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