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68 Through Grosseteste's friend and adviser Adam Marsh (c. 1205–1258), himself Lector to the Franciscans in 1247, Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1292) and John Pecham (1230–1292) also entered the Oxford community. 71 In the fourteenth century the focus shifted to Merton College, which became renowned for mathematical learning. The Merton names noted by Wallis were those of Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1300–1348), Simon Bredon (c. 1315–1372), John Ashenden (fl. 1347–1357)72 and William Rede (c. 73 Bradwardine was at Merton for over twenty years and was distinguished in theology, philosophy and mathematics.

The first few lines set out the numerals and explained the principle of place-value:42 Haec Algorismus ars praesens dicitur, in qua Talibus Indorum fruimur bis quinque figuris. 1. Primoque significat unum: duo vera secunda Tertia significat tria: sic procede sinistra Donec ad extremam venias, qua cifra vocatur; Quae nil significat; dat significare sequenti. 1. The first signifies one: two the second The third signifies three: thus proceed left Until you come to the end, which is called ‘cifra’; Which signifies nothing; it gives significance to what is behind it.

Wallis knew nothing, however, of what from his point of view would have been Robert's most important translation, the first Latin rendering of al-Khwārizmī's Al-jabr wa'lmuqābala (c. 825), the seminal text in the evolution of Arabic and European algebra. As far as we know, no copy of Robert's translation reached England until centuries later,33 and Wallis never knew of this early and important English contribution to the history of algebra. The influence of al-Khwārizmī's Al-jabr was not to be felt in England for many years.

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A Discourse Concerning Algebra - English Algebra Since 1685 by J. Stedall


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