Lecture given by Professor John Fauvel at the University of Virginia on April 15, 1999. Professor Fauvel, who died in 2001, was a Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England. A former president of the British Society for the History of Mathematics, he was a noted authority on the history of mathematics.
It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr Wm. Small of Scotland was then professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication correct and gentlemanly manners, & an enlarged & liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed.
Jefferson's mathematics teacher, William Small (1734-1775), was indeed a remarkable man. A graduate of Marischal College, Aberdeen, Small taught at William and Mary College for six years, from 1758 to 1764, and left a great impression on its teaching system, its curricula and in the memories of the students. On returning to England, Small practised medicine in Birmingham, where he was the centre of a celebrated group of intellectuals and engineers called the Lunar Society. It was he who introduced Boulton to Watt and thus set in train Birmingham's best-known engineering partnership. When he died at the age of only 41, in 1775, his friends were devastated: his friend Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin's grandfather) wrote of him in even more glowing terms than Jefferson, speaking of Small as a man
whose strength of reasoning, quickness of invention, learning in the discoveries of other men, and integrity of heart (which is worth them all), had no equal.