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The Home Life of Sir David Brewster
By his daughter Mrs. Gordon (1881)


It has been a great pleasure to prepare an edition of “Sir David Brewster’s Home Life” in a cheap, but not abbreviated form, at the time when his Centenary is about to be celebrated.

The request for this edition was a peculiar pleasure and interest to me, for it came from the “Borderers’ Association,” as representative of those lovely Border lands my father loved so well, and where a hundred years ago he first saw that Light, the mysteries of which he delighted throughout his long life to investigate.

Parkhill, Aug. 24, 1851.


In placing before the public the following notes of my father’s life, taken from a home point of view, I am too well aware of the unfavourable criticisms which I almost necessarily incur. I have persevered in the face of many difficulties, however, because a strong wish is known to exist among the unscientific (for whom alone I write) to have a more familiar and accessible record of a useful and brilliant career, than can be expected from the scientific memoirs of Sir David Brewster, which, it is hoped, may soon be undertaken by competent writers. I have not called in his numerous letters, and have principally made use of my own materials, and of what has been placed at my disposal.

The kindness of my father’s distinguished colleague, Professor Tait, in revising the allusions to science, which have necessarily occurred, secures correctness in this part of my volume. To the other kind friends whose notes appear in the work, or who have gathered information for me, I beg also to return my cordial thanks.

Edinburgh, Oct. 1869.


Chapter I. The Birthplace
Roxburghshire—Burns—Description of Jedburgh—Raid of Redeswire —Sir James Douglas—Antiquarian remains—“Jeddart justice”—Castle—Queen Mary’s House—Abbey—Old Bridge—Decay of Jedburgh—Intellectual Renaissance.

Chapter II. The Child
House in Canongate—David Brewster’s birth—His Father—Jedburgh School—His Mother—His Childhood—Proficiency—“Latin Aisle”—Exploits—“Hangie’’—Superstition.

Chapter III. The Companions
Citizens of Jedburgh—Resident families—Dr. Somerville—Inchbonny —Mr. Veitch—His acquirements—His scientific acquaintances—Sir Walter Scott—Hutton’s Precipice—Circuit—Ringan Oliver— Workshop—King of the Wood—Mr. Scott— "Laird Gray’’—Foreign visitors—David’s telescope—“Auld Wood”—First love—Robert Waugh—Soldier—Neighbours.

Chapter IV. The Student
College—Letters—Electrical machine—Observatory—James Scott— Newtonian telescopes—Obligations to Veitch—Galvanic column— James, George, and Patrick Brewster—Theology—Miss Stenhouse—M.A.—First discovery—Edinburgh Magazine—Mr. James Fair—Tutor at Pirn—Forfar—St. Andrews—Threatened invasion—Volunteer practising—Verse-making.

Chapter V. Settling in Life
Established Church—Dr. Andrew Thomson—First sermon—Letters to Veitch—Nervousness—Practising in the West Kirk—Rev. Mr. Ramsay—Murrayfield—Micrometers—Chair of Mathematics—“ Leslie Controversy”—“Calm Observer”—Chair at St. Andrews—Honours —Commencement of Encyclopaedia—Letter to Veitch—Sprouston— Cavendish—Kearsley's Pocket Ledger—Life in Edinburgh—Marriage —Ossian Controversy.

Chapter VI. Notes of Life from 1810 TO 1814
Hard work—Encyclopaedia—Letter to Veitch—Dr. Chalmers—Polyzonal Lens—Letter from Veitch—First Paper to Royal Society of London—First book—First foreign tour—Letters to his Wife—Mr.Watt—Dr. Herschel—Biot—La Place—National Institute—Arago— Humboldt—Personal appearance—Timidity—M. Rochon—Geneva— Description of French savans—Diary.

Chapter VII. Notes of Life from 1814 TO 1824
Return home—Polarisation of light—Medals—Popularity of Kaleidoscope—Mrs. Brewster’s letter—Editorial works—School of Arts—Inchbonny correspondence—Visits in Roxburghshire—Relaxation— Belleville—Marchioness of Huntly—Venlaw—Search for a house— Allerly—His Wife’s dangerous illness.

Chapter VIII. Miss Edgemorth-Junius
Correspondence—Lachlan Maclean—Sir Philip Francis—Quotation— “Taking for granted”—Harry and Lucy—Mother-of-Pearl—Mr. Watt—Lord Bacon—Tabasheer—Sir Walter Scott—Ireland.

Chapter IX. Noyes of Life from 1824 TO 1830
French Institute—Fresh honours—M. Audubon—Dr. Hibbert—M. Alexandre—Edgeworthstown—Letter to his Wife—Residence at Allerly — Roxburghshire Society — Barley-broth Club — Waverley originals—Abbotsford—Loss of his Son—Duddingston Loch—Mr. Veitch’s death.

Chapter X. Notes of Life from 1830 TO 1836
Lord Bacon’s Prophecy—Decline of Science—British Association— Bishopsthorpe—Lord Milton—Mr. Vernon Harcourt—National encouragement of Science—Lord Derby—Evangelical Alliance— Knighthood—First Life of Sir Isaac Newtortr—Natural magic— Explosion—Mr. James Forbes—Embarrassed circumstances—English Church—Chair of Natural Philosophy—Life and society in Badenoch.

Chapter XI. Notes of Life from 1836 TO 1844
British Association at Bristol—Lacock Abbey—Photography—Claudet —Pension—Appointment to St. Andrews—St. Leonard’s—Sir Hugh Playfair—St. Andrews Work — Professor Swan — Dr. Taylor— Neuralgia—Martyrs of Science—Leamington—British Association at Manchester—Dr. Dalton—Colour-blindness—Installation at Cambridge—Deanery of Ely—The Disruption—Presbytery proceedings—Union Question—Dr. Chalmers.

Chapter XII. Notes of Life from 1844 TO 1850
NorthBritish Review—Principal Tulloch—ExeterHall—Wellingtoniana —Test Bill—Marriage of his eldest Son—Society—Rothesay—Dr. Chalmers’s death—British Association at Oxford—Adams and Lever-rier—Hartwell House—M. Guizot—Home Mission work—Rev. Mr. Graham—French Institute—Bereavement.

Chapter XIII. Notes of Life from 1850 TO 1851
Paris—M. Arago—M. de la Rive—An evening with M. Guizot— Electro-chemical telegraph—“ C. M.”—Windermere—President of British Association—Patent-laws—Duke of Argyll—The Kohinoor Diamond—Peace Congress—The Queen’s Ball—Celebrities—Crystal Palace by gaslight—Letter to Mrs. Davenport—Tubular Bridges —Geology.

Chapter XIV. Notes of Life from 1852 TO 1853
Home events—Two Epitaphs—Interview with Prince Albert— Scientific Education—Ireland—Clandeboye—Lord Rosse’s telescope —Dr. Carlisle — Ballylin — Clonmacnoise — Maynooth — Belfast—Legion of Honour—Noted persons— Reformatory School—Letters to Mrs. James Brewster.

Chapter XV. Notes of Life from 1854 TO 1855
Plurality of Worlds—Clifton—Birmingham—Proof-sheets -French argument—Visit to Leamington—Mr. Fairbairn—Mr. Hopkins— Saltaire—Aberdeenshire—The Magnetoscope—Table-turning and Spirit-rapping—Curious experiments.

Chapter XVI. Notes of Life from 1855 TO 1860
Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton—Attack and defence—Study of colour —Mr. Salter Herrick—Paris Exhibition—Arrival of his Son—Card-ross—Cannes—Nice—Second Marriage—Rome—Optical illusions— Cardinal Antonelli—Sienna—Florence—Remains of Galileo—Prince HerMitaire—Paris—Returns to England—Illness—British Association in Aberdeen—Balmoral—Appointment to Edinburgh.

Chapter XVII. Characteristics
Difficulties—St. Andrews—Success in Edinburgh—Superstition—Clairvoyance—Anecdotes—Humility—Sir Isaac Newton—Absorption— Versatility—Correspondence—Love of Scenery—Poetry—Society— Courtesy to Ladies—Kindliness—Order—Letter from Rev. Mr. Cousin.

Chapter XVIII. Religious History
A Sceptic—Orthodoxy—Struggle— “Perfect Peace" - Continued search—Mrs. Barbour—Hill Difficulty—Thoughts in the Exhibition—Christian work — Arndilly — Science and Religion—“Declaration of Students”—General Crawford—Dr. Greville—Michael Faraday— Ritualism—Mrs. Maconochie.

Chapter XIX. Notes of Life from 1860 TO 1864
Uprooting—Lord Brougham—Vice-Chancellor—Returns to Allerly—Interest in Religion—Jedburgh—Social Science Association—Glasgow—Birth of Daughter—Mr. Disraeli—Manchester—Telegrams—M.D. of Berlin University— ataract—Light—Wallington—Professor Fraser —Fairy Stones—Stereoscope—Chimenti Pictures Inventors’ Institute—Professor Pepper—Illness—Levee—Coloured photographs Dr. Sieveking—Edinburgh University Club—Parkhill—Banchory.

Chapter XX. Notes of Life from 1864 TO 1867
Royal Society of Edinburgh—Whooping Cough—Death of his Daughter-in-law—Letter from Mr. Deas—Lighthouse Controversy—M. Fresnel —Disappointment—Opinions—British Association at Dundee— Fainting fit—Professor Balfour—Sir Charles Wheatstone—Pascal and Newton Correspondence—Conclusion of Controversy.

Chapter XXI. The End
Increase of Faith—Recollections of Rev. Dr. Phin—Letter to Professor Balfour—Last week of work—Letter to Lady Coxe—Farewell to Royal Society—Rev. Mr. Cousin—Evening occupations—Rev. Dr. Herdman—Sir James Simpson—Sufferings from weakness—Cheerfulness—Seeing Jesus—Death—Funeral—Rev. Dr. Guthrie’s sermon —Likenesses—Poem.

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