Edwin A. Abbott: Author of Flatland

Edwin Abbott Abbott is now best remembered as the author of a small classic book published in 1884 called "Flatland". At the time he wrote this ingenious satire he was a school headmaster at the City of London School. In it he actually anticipates Einstein's relativity theory by presupposing a reality with four dimensions. The book has been influential in the writing and thought of many mathematicians, physicists, and academics since.

Edwin Abbott Abbott portrait

Abbott was born in 1838. His father, Edwin Abbott, was also a headmaster (of the Philological School in Marylebone). His mother was his father's first cousin, Jane Abbott. He was educated first at the City of London School and later at St. John's College in Cambridge. Abbott was awarded honors in several subjects including mathematics, theology, and the classics.

As headmaster of the City of London School, he introduced many innovations in education, including making chemistry a required course. His writings while there included a textbook on How to Write Clearly (1872). As he had taken orders while in Cambridge he was also qualified to preach. It was as a preacher that he participated in a debate with John Henry Newman in which he argued for the modernization of the Anglican Church, while Newman converted to Catholicism to maintain his traditionalist views. Abbott never married.

His work was part of the tradition of British scholars such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien whose works were allegorical or contributed a scholastic sheen to Christian thought in Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world.

Retiring in 1889, he continued to write mainly academic and religious works. Most of his academic works include a Latin Grammar, a Shakespearean Grammar, and an edited version of the essays of Sir Francis Bacon. He wrote several Christian novels anonymously, including Onesimus in 1882.

Edwin A. Abbott died of influenza in 1926 in Hampstead, England. He is buried in Hampstead Cemetery.

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