Alexander McCall Smith composes poem for memorial service

Date posted

30 March 2017


Leading novelist Alexander McCall Smith has turned to verse for a ceremony to mark the 400th anniversary of the passing of mathematics genius John Napier.

The best-selling author, who writes the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street series of books, has composed a new poem to be read out at a memorial service at the Parish Church of St Cuthbert in Edinburgh on Tuesday.

Leading novelist Alexander McCall Smith

Napier – who lived from 1550 to 1617 – had deep interests in astronomy and religion but is best known as the inventor of logarithms. He also invented ‘Napier’s bones’ and made common the use of the decimal point.

The mathematician’s Merchiston Tower family home now lies at the heart of Edinburgh Napier University’s Merchiston campus, home of the Schools of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment, and Arts and Creative Industries.

The memorial service, at 1.30pm on Tuesday April 4 and open to the public, will take place at St Cuthbert’s at 5 Lothian Road, and will be followed by a reception.

In his poem, entitled A Cosmos of Numbers - to be read out at the service by Edinburgh Napier University’s Principal, Professor Andrea Nolan - McCall Smith describes John Napier as:

“A man who worked by himself

A stranger in a cosmos of numbers,

But guided by the desire

To understand, to make sense

Of the complex mathematics

That lies beneath everything”

Portrait of John Napier

McCall Smith said: “I am delighted to have had the opportunity to write something about John Napier on the 400th anniversary of his death. As an honorary graduate of the university, I am very proud of what it has achieved in the last few decades. As a forward looking university, it is a very appropriate bearer of Napier’s illustrious name.”

The memorial service is a collaboration between Edinburgh Napier University and the Clan Napier Society, which was formed in 1999 for Napiers and Napier descendants.  

It will be conducted by Reverend Charlie Robertson and will include an address by the present Lord Napier and Ettrick, in the presence of other direct descendants of John Napier.

Professor Andrea Nolan said: “This event will be a fine opportunity to pay tribute to an amazing individual, and reflect on his far-reaching achievements in mathematics and science.

“It is the first in a series of events commemorating his 400th anniversary, including a public lecture by Professor Jim Al-Khalili in September and an exhibition at the Central Library in October.”

It also coincides with the publication of the first translation into English of all of John Napier’s published works by Springer International Publishing, “The Life and Works of John Napier”, co-authored by Brian Rice, a direct descendant of John.

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