Poem for Cayley by Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell addressed the following poem to the Committee in charge of the Arthur Cayley Portrait Fund in 1874:


O wretched race of men, to space confined!
What honour can ye pay him whose mind
To that which lies beyond hath penetrated?
The symbols he hath formed shall sound his praise,
And lead him on through unimagined ways
To conquests new, in worlds not yet created.

First ye Determinants, in order row
And massive column ranged, before him go,
To form a phalanx for his safe protection,
Ye powers of the nth root of -1!
Around his head in endless circles run,
As unembodied spirits of direction.

And you, ye undevelopable scrolls!
Above the host wave your emblazoned rolls,
Ruled for the record by his bright inventions.
Ye cubic surfaces! by threes and nines
Draw round his camp your seven and twenty lines
The seal of Solomon in three dimensions.

March on, symbolic host! with step sublime,
Up to the flaming bounds of Space and Time!
There pause, until by Dickenson depicted,
In two dimensions, we the form may trace
Of him whose soul, too large for vulgar space,
In n dimensions flourished unrestricted.

Note: Lowes Cato Dickenson (1819-1908) was the portrait painter who had painted the portrait of Arthur Cayley. You can see the picture at THIS LINK


JOC/EFR May 2013

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