City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
John Keill (1671-1721)
John Keill (1 December 1671 – 31 August 1721) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was primarily a mathematician and important disciple of Isaac Newton. He studied at Edinburgh University, under David Gregory, and obtained his bachelor's degree in 1692 with a distinction in physics and mathematics. Keill then attended Balliol College, Oxford obtaining an MA on 2 February 1694. He gave innovative lectures at Oxford using experiments to help his audience understand difficult Newtonian concepts. One of his auditors was John Theophilus Desaguliers who took over the lectures at Hart Hall when Keill left Oxford unexpectedly in 1709. Keill became Treasurer to the Palatinates and decipherer to Queen Anne before returning to Oxford as Savilian Professor of Astronomy in 1712.
John's father was Robert Keill who was an Edinburgh lawyer. His mother was Sarah Cockburn. She came from a family with strong associations with the Church. She had an uncle who was bishop of Aberdeen and a brother who was an Episcopal priest who supported the Stuart cause refusing to take an oath of allegiance to William and Mary after James II was deposed in the Revolution of 1688. James Keill who became a physician, was John's younger brother born two years later.
Keill claimed that Leibniz plagiarized Newton's invention of calculus and he served as Newton's chief defender. However, Newton himself eventually grew tired of Keill as he stirred up too much trouble.
In 1715, Keill published a book on trigonometry and logarithms, Euclides Elementorum Libri Priores Sex. He also wrote on forces between particles and on theories of the origin of the universe. His lectures were published in Leiden, 1725, in a book called Introductio ad Veram Astronomiam.
In 1717, he married Mary Clements, a woman 25 years his junior. The marriage created great scandal at the time as she was from a lower class.
It was stated in the old Dictionary of National Biography that Keill left no will. His will is referenced in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and is held by The National Archives. It was executed on 12 January 1720 and was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in October 1721. He left £500 and his household furniture and plate to his wife and his books, instruments and other money in trust for his son.