Ellis [Sharpe], Alexander J(ohn)
- W.R. Thomas
- and J.J.K. Rhodes
(b Hoxton, London, June 14, 1814; d London, Oct 28, 1890). English philologist and mathematician. His surname was changed in recognition of a legacy from a relative named Ellis, which made possible a life of independent and active scholarship. He was educated at Shrewsbury, Eton and Cambridge, where he read mathematics and classics. At first a mathematician, he became an important philologist who did more than any other scholar to advance the scientific study of English pronunciation. Intrigued by the pitch of vocal sounds, he became a writer on scientific aspects of music. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1864. His musical studies led to an English translation of Helmholtz’s Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen; its second edition (London, 1885) contains an appendix consisting of a summary of Ellis’s own papers on musical scales, theory of harmony, temperament and pitch, added with Helmholtz’s approval. Ellis’s view of harmony and temperament is controversial because it derived from the idea that music has a discoverable scientific basis, but his essay, ‘On the History of Musical Pitch’ (...