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A Letter from Leibniz to James Bernoulli; dated 1703, from Berlin.
I arrived in Paris in the year 1672, I was self-taught as regards
geometry, and indeed had little knowledge of the subject, of which I
had not the patience to read through the long series of proofs.
As a youth I consulted the beginner's Algebra of a certain Lanzius, and
afterward that of Clavius, that of Descartes seemed to be more
intricate. Nevertheless, it seemed to me, I do not know by
what rash confidence in my own ability, that I might become the equal
of these if I so desired. I also had the audacity to look through
even more profound works, such as the geometry of Cavalieri, and the
more pleasant elements of curves of Leotaud, which I happened to come
across in Nuremberg, and other things of the kind; from which it
is clear that I was now ready to get along without help, for I read
them almost as one reads tales of romance.
Meanwhile I was fashioning for myself a kind of geometrical calculus by means of little squares and cubes to express undetermined numbers, being unaware that Descartes and Vieta had worked out the whole matter in a superior manner. In this, I may almost call it, superb ignorance of mathematics, I was then studying history and law; for I decided to devote myself to the latter. From mathematics I, as it were, only sipped those things that were the more pleasant, being especially fond of investigating and inventing machines, for it was at this time that my arithmetical machine was devised. At this time also it happened that Huygens, who I fully believe saw more in me than there really was, with great courtesy brought me a copy recently published of his book on the pendulum. This was for me the beginning or occasion of a more careful study of geometry."
Silvia Mazzone, aka Clara Silvia Roero, Jacob Hermann and the Diffusion of the Leibnizian Claculus in Italy,
published by Olschki, Florence, 1997, pp. 11-14.