Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from American National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 22 February 2020

Sylvester, James Josephlocked

(03 September 1814–15 March 1897)
  • Karen Hunger Parshall


Sylvester, James Joseph (03 September 1814–15 March 1897), mathematician, was born in London, England, the son of Abraham Joseph, a merchant. Following the lead of his eldest brother, who upon emigrating to the United States had been required to have three names, Sylvester added the surname Sylvester to the original family surname of Joseph sometime prior to his matriculation at University College, London, in 1828. Sylvester’s studies at UCL were cut short by his family after only five months, following an incident in the college refectory in which Sylvester allegedly threatened a fellow student with a table knife. Sylvester entered St. John’s College of Cambridge University in 1831 and finished in 1837 after an extended period of illness that lasted from 1833 to 1835. He distinguished himself at Cambridge in his final year when he placed second on the controversial final examination in mathematics known as the Mathematical Tripos. Despite this success, Sylvester was ineligible for prizes and fellowships as well as for the degree he had rightfully earned. As a Jew, he was unable to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, a necessary formality for the degree that dated from the seventeenth century. He did receive in 1841 both the B.A. and M.A. from the University of Dublin and in 1872 his Cambridge B.A. and M.A. (honoris causis) following the repeal of the Test Acts....

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription