If I may be allowed to speak of myself in connexion with the subject, I might do so in a way which would bring you in, by referring to an ante-quaternionic time, when you were a mere child, but had caught from me the conception of a Vector, as represented by a Triplet: and indeed I happen to be able to put the finger of memory upon the year and month - October, 1843 - when having recently returned from visits to Cork and Parsonstown, connected with a meeting of the British Association, the desire to discover the laws of the multiplication referred to regained with me a certain strength and earnestness, which had for years been dormant, but was then on the point of being gratified, and was occasionally talked of with you. Every morning in the early part of the above-cited month, on my coming down to breakfast, your (then) little brother William Edwin, and yourself, used to ask me, ``Well, Papa, can you multiply triplets''? Whereto I was always obliged to reply, with a sad shake of the head: ``No, I can only add and subtract them.''
But on the 16th day of the same month - which happened to be a Monday, and a Council day of the Royal Irish Academy - I was walking in to attend and preside, and your mother was walking with me, along the Royal Canal, to which she had perhaps driven; and although she talked with me now and then, yet an under-current of thought was going on in my mind, which gave at last a result, whereof it is not too much to say that I felt at once the importance. An electric circuit seemed to close; and a spark flashed forth, the herald (as I foresaw, immediately) of many long years to come of definitely directed thought and work, by myself if spared, and at all events on the part of others, if I should even be allowed to live long enough distinctly to communicate the discovery. Nor could I resist the impulse - unphilosophical as it may have been - to cut with a knife on a stone of Brougham Bridge, as we passed it, the fundamental formula with the symbols, , , ; namely,
which contains the Solution of the Problem, but of course, as an inscription, has long since mouldered away. A more durable notice remains, however, on the Council Books of the Academy for that day (October 16th, 1843), which records the fact, that I then asked for and obtained leave to read a Paper on Quaternions, at the First General Meeting of the session: which reading took place accordingly, on Monday the 13th of the November following.Les travaux de Hamilton sur la multiplication des vecteurs avaient été inspirés par ses discussions avec son ami John Thomas Graves (1806-1870), à qui il s'empressa de faire part de sa découverte. Le 26 décembre 1843, la réponse de Graves contenait une construction à base de couples de quaternions : les octonions. Deux ans plus tard, Cayley publiait essentiellement la même contruction, et donnait le moyen de l'étendre aux dimensions supérieures. Oui, vous avez bien suivi ces compléments, et il n'y a pas d'erreur de date. Les octonions ont été définis avant les réels, et les réels avant les entiers. Ainsi vont l'histoire et la pédagogie des mathématiques : il est rare que les notions aient été découvertes dans l'ordre où elles vous sont présentées.