Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Chace, Arnold Buffum

Arnold Buffum Chace (1845-1932), eleventh chancellor of the University, was born in Valley Falls, Rhode Island, on November 10, 1845. His parents, Samuel B. Chace and Elizabeth Buffum Chace, were Quakers who were active reformers against slavery and intoxicants. He graduated from Brown in 1866. While he was a student at Brown, he was asked to give instruction to a class of four young girls, one of them fourteen-year old Eliza Chace Greene, called Lite, who, he later reminisced, “was not a mathematician, and much preferred drawing pictures of her teacher to solving problems in algebra.” He spent the two years after graduation in scientific study at Harvard and at the École de Médecine in Paris, specializing in chemistry. He was an instructor in chemistry at Brown in 1868-69 while he branched out in his scientific studies by attending lectures in biology at Harvard. At this point he had to give up his academic career, when a death in his family left him responsible for the operation of the Valley Falls Company and he became a cotton manufacturer. He did not, however, relinquish his scientific interests. When he became interested in quaternions, he visited the renowned Benjamin Pierce of Harvard once a week for nearly a year as he pursued this subject. In the 1890s he was a regular visitor of Henry Parker Manning’s classes in higher mathematics at Brown.

In 1910 Chace and his wife (the aforementioned schoolgirl artist Lite) visited Egypt and were much impressed with Egyptian civilization. Two years later in England they purchased British Museum copies of the Book of the Dead and the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus. This was the beginning of Chace’s life-long avocation. With Mrs. Chace he began the study of hieratic and hieroglyphic writing, and Mrs. Chace turned her artistic talent to the work of copying the hieratic from the British Museum copy of the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus and drawing the corresponding hieroglyphic transcription under each sign. A transliteration was written from right to left below the hieroglyphs and on a facing page the transliteration was repeated from left to right with an English translation below. When Chace was 77 years old, he enlisted the aid of Ludlow Bull of the Egyptian department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Professor Henry Parker Manning. The British Museum gave Chace permission to publish a photographic copy, to which was added a mathematical commentary. A Rhode Island School of Design student made 109 plates in black and red. Chace then paid for a fine edition of the work, which was sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America and dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Chace, who had died in 1924. The first volume of his Rhind Mathematical Papyrus was printed in 1927, the second in 1929. Chace was then 87 years old. His study had occupied seventeen years. He replied to congratulations from the faculty, “How useful the work will be, I do not know, but it has interested me, and I think that that life is full in which one uses all of his faculties all the time.” He died in Providence on February 28, 1932.