George Boole: Academic, Author, Husband and Father

Sepia coloured studio photograph of George Boole in a long-coat suit with dickie-bow tie standing with his hands at his side, his head slightly turned to the left as we look at it.

In 2015 University College Cork and UCC Library celebrated the life and scientific achievements of George Boole, first Professor of Mathematics, Queens College Cork (QCC), with George Boole 200*.

You may wonder why George Boole is the subject of a blog in 2021. UCC Library Archives has recently listed material dating from the 19th and 20th centuries that is now open to researchers as the George Boole Ancillary Collection. It contains Boole-related material that was housed in Special Collections, UCC Library, on permanent loan from the Royal Irish Academy, and original letters by George Boole and related material donated by Emeritus Professor Des MacHale (School of Mathematics, UCC) to UCC library after the main Boole Collection was listed.

The original letters and related material of George Boole (BP/1/A/2) show his dedication to scholarly pursuit and his joy of family.  We learn a little more about his lodgings in Cork close to College when he first arrived in 1849.

Part of a letter written by George Boole in Oct 1849 from Queen's College Cork to his sister, Mary Ann.

“I have got lodgings close by the Colege {sic} in a delightful situation quite indeed like the country”

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Ever dedicated to his classes he closes this letter with his having to attend to the copying out of papers in preparation of an examination.

There are lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society “On a district in the south of Ireland” published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851 (BP/1/A/2/2).

First page of handwritten lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society given by Boole, published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851.

“I have selected this subject partly because it is an interesting, and in some respects a misunderstood subject, but still more, because it is one of the very few subjects…of which I possess any personal knowledge.”

Second page of lecture notes by George Boole given to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society in 1851.

“The lofty Galtee range of mountains protecting the region overlooked by their Southern slopes from the extreme & violence of the north & east winds…the southern & western shores are washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic, which [can] retain some portion of the temperature imparted to them by the Gulf Stream.”

There is an example of student / lecturer difference of opinion on examination results in 1858, the student [Thomas Henry Marmion] and George Boole write to Sir Robert Kane, President of Queens College Cork arguing their case on the matter.

[Marmion] writes “a letter from the Registrar to me intimating that I had received a qualifying mark in Mathematics, Dr. Boole…appears to be under some misconception as he declined to sign my certificate until I should have passed a supplemental examination.”

Extract from a letter from Thomas H. Marmion to President Kane, QCC, questioning the actions of “Dr. Boole” (BP/1/A/2/4)

Boole’s response is fairly matter-of-fact “the value of Mr. [Marmion’s] answering as calculated from the marks which he obtained was 2…as his answering did not appear to me to be sufficiently good to qualify him for passing I added a recommendation for a supplemental examination which I should be ready to give him if [decided] to do so.”

Letter by George Boole in 1858
Extract from a letter from George Boole to President Kane, QCC, on the results of one of his students [Thomas H. Marmion] – (BP/1/A/2/5)

Within a heavily used original copy of Purcell’s Commercial Cork Almanac (1865) is a newspaper cutting in which its author praises Boole’s lecture on Newton to the Lincoln Mechanics’ Institute when Boole was only nineteen years old (BP/1/A/2/6).

I mentioned a little earlier that from this material we also get a deeper insight into George Boole ‘the person’ from a letter addressed to a “dear friend“, who I suspect is Dr. Bury after checking The Papers of George Boole. Boole writes as a proud father and husband, relaying the birth of his eldest daughter, Mary Ellen, in 1856.

First page of a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, announcing that he has become a father for the first time.

“…I am now a father. My little first born – a daughter – came with the [world] two days ago. It is a fine healthy child and its dear mother is wonderfully well”.

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He describes his wife’s health during the pregnancy “…she was able to take an amount of exercise very unusual for person in her situation up to the very day of her confinement. Her step remained as light as ever…” He goes on to describe her labour, how she was afterwards and breastfeeding “the only sypton {sic} she noticed…was a little giddiness at the moment when the child first began to suck.” He is of the mind that;

Excerpt from a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, describing how well his wife and baby are.

“a great deal of suffering, certainly to mother & probably to child, is due to the neglect of natures [plainest] dictates…my wife took no medicine whatever – nor has she taken any since…”

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If you are interested in learning more about these documents, or any other items in the Boole Collections, please contact specialcollectionsarchives@ucc.ie

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