Dear Dr Borwein, I was interested to read the collection of Mathematical Quotations in your website.

However, the famous anecdote about the meeting between John Napier & Henry Briggs at Edinburgh in 1615 was abridged, and you attributed it to Henry Briggs (1617), the Gresham Professor of Astronomy in London. Immediately after the publication of Napier's Miraculous Canon of Logarithms (Edinburgh 1614), Briggs began teaching logarithms at Gresham College. He convinced the Honorable East India Company that they needed logarithms, to enable their captains to navigate ships to India and return. The Honorable Company paid Edward Wright (Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford) to translate Napier's Latin text into English, and in 1615 Henry Briggs undertook the laborious journey from London to Edinburgh, taking the manuscript translation for checking by Napier.

Briggs was acquainted with John Marr (or Mair), who was compass-maker and dial-maker to the kings James 6th and Charles 1st. Marr witnessed that meeting, and he reported it to the prominent astrologist William Lilly (1602-1681), who was consulted by the Commonwealth Government about an auspicious date on which to execute King Charles 1st. Auckland City Library has a copy of "Mr Lilly's History of His Life and Times" (published 1715), with Marr's report of that meeting:

"I will acquaint you with one memorable story related unto me by Mr John Marr, an excellent mathematician and Geometer whom I conceive you remember. He was servant to King James and Charles.

At first, when the Lord Napier of Merchiston made public his logarithms, Mr Briggs, then Reader of the Astronomy lecture at Gresham College in London, was so surprised with admiration of them, that he could have no quietness in himself, until he had seen that noble person, the Lord Merchiston, whose only invention they were. He acquaints Mr Marr herewith, who went into Scotland before Mr Briggs, purposely to be there when these so learned persons should meet.

Mr Briggs appoints a certain day, when to meet in Edinburgh, but failing thereof, the Lord Napier was doubtful he would not come. It happened one day as John Marr and the Lord Napier were speaking of Mr Briggs; "Ah, John," says Merchiston, "Mr Briggs will not come now". At the very instant one knocks on his gate. John Marr hasted down, and it proved Mr Briggs to his great contentment. He brings Mr Briggs up into my Lord's chamber, where almost one quarter of an hour was spent, each beholding other almost with admiration, before one word was spoke.

At last Mr Briggs began; "My Lord, I have undertaken this long journey purposely to see your person, and to know by what engine of wit or ingenuity you came first to think of this most excellent help unto Astronomy, namely logarithms.

But, My Lord, being by you found out (i.e. discovered), I wonder nobody else found it out before, when, now known, it is so easy". He was nobly entertained by the Lord Napier, and every summer after that, during the Lord's being alive, this venerable man Mr Briggs went into Scotland purposely to visit him.

These two persons were worthy men in their time, and yet the one, namely Lord Merchiston, was a great lover of Astrology; but Briggs the most satyrical man against it that was ever known. But the reason hereof I conceive was that Briggs was a severe Presbyterian, and wholly conversant with persons of that judgement; whereas the Lord Merchiston was a general scholar, and deeply read in all divine and human histories.

This is the same Merchiston who made the most serious and learned exposition upon the Revelation of St. John, which is the best that ever yet appeared in the world".

Briggs and Napier independently invented decimal logarithms, and in 1615 Briggs agreed to compute tables of the new form of logarithms. He visited Napier again in 1616 and prepared to visit him again in 1617, but Napier died on 1617 April 4.

Garry J. Tee, Department of Mathematics, University of Auckland, New Zealand.