Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

was the wife of the very celebrated William Heberden, M. D. F. R. S., and mother to the present physician of that name.

Dr. Hyde Wollaston was the second son (and one of seventeen children) of the first of the three brothers, by Miss Althea Hyde, of Charter-house Square, and was born August 6th, 1766. He received his academical education at Caius College, Cambridge, where he proceeded M. B. 1787, M. D. 1793. So ardent was his application to his studies, that he was, on taking his degree, the senior wrangler of his year; and probably owed to the exertions of that period of his life the pre-eminence in science for which he was subsequently so distinguished.

He first settled at Bury St. Edmunds, where he commenced practising as a physician; but with so little success that he left the place in disgust, and removed to London.

For the interest of science it was fortunate that Dr. Wollaston met with no better encouragement in the metropolis than that which he had found in Suffolk. Soon after his arrival in London, a vacancy happening in St. George's Hospital, he became one of the candidates for the appointment of physician to that foundation. His principal opponent was Dr. Pemberton, who, either by superior interest, or, as is commonly supposed, by his more pleasing and polished manners, obtained the situation. This second defeat in his professional career considerably lessened the ardour with which Dr. Wollaston had set out: he expressed his determination never again to write a prescription, were it even for his own father; and, carrying this resolution into effect, he turned his attention wholly to natural science, forsaking what might then have been supposed a far more likely road to wealth than that in which he amassed his ample fortune.

But, in resigning his prospects as a medical practitioner, this industrious as well as eminent man by no means intended to pursue science in any way but in earnest; and the magnificent discoveries, magnificent in point of real utility, which he made, afford ample proof that it was not till after due deliberation that he thus changed the nature of his studies. Though almost every branch of science at different times engaged the attention of Dr. Wollaston, chemistry was that to which he seems to have been most ardently devoted; and it is by his investigations in this department of natural philosophy that he will enjoy his greatest share of lasting reputation. One trait in his character probably contributed in no small degree to the success he obtained through life, and that is, the extreme candour with which, when engaged in his favourite pursuits, he would acknowledge the difficulties that offered themselves to him, and which this candid avowal to men, his equals in knowledge though not in perseverance, by eliciting useful hints, frequently enabled him to surmount.

The manner in which he was accustomed to pursue his enquiries was almost peculiar to himself. It was always on the smallest specimens of the substance which he wished to analyse that his experiments were made; and his laboratory was, it is said, only in proportion to the magnitude of his materials. Thomson, in his " History of the Royal Society," when speaking of modern British chemistry, says, that "three distinct schools (if we may use the expression) have been established by three gentlemen," — Dr. Wollaston, Mr. (the late Sir Humphry) Davy, and Mr. Dalton. "Dr. Wollaston," he adds, "possesses an uncommon neatness of hand, and has invented a very ingenious method of determining the properties and constituents of very minute quantities of matter. This is attended with several great advantages: it requires but very little apparatus, and therefore the experiments may be performed in almost any situation: it saves a great deal of time and a great deal of expense; while the numerous discoveries of Dr. Wollaston demonstrate the precision of which his method is susceptible."

Among the delicate instruments, which he was accustomed to make in a remarkably neat manner, was a sliding rule of chemical equivalents, which is exceedingly useful to the practical chemist. He also constructed a galvanic battery of such small dimensions, that it was contained in a thimble. By inserting platina wire in silver, and when at a great heat drawing out both together, and afterwards separating them by dissolving away the silver with nitrous acid, he likewise produced some wire of platina of so diminutive a diameter as to be very much finer than any hair, and almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

Small, however, as was Dr. Wollaston's laboratory, and minute as were the means to which he had recourse in making his experiments, they proved exceedingly profitable to his purse. His discovery of the malleability of platinum, it has been asserted, alone produced about 30,000/. He is also said to have derived great pecuniary advantages from several of his other, and even minor discoveries and inventions, which, by being of a nature likely to make them immediately and generally useful, were certain in a short time to produce a considerable return. It has been doubted by some whether this distinguished man, great as he was in science, and possessing many excellent qualities, would not have been greater, had his views been somewhat less directed to the acquisition of a fortune. But if the following story be true (and there is every reason to believe that it is so), it proves how very distinct a thing is the prudence which acquires wealth from the iron-hearted parsimony which buries it. Having been applied to by a gentleman who was involved by unexpected difficulties, to procure him some government situation, Dr. Wollaston's reply was, "I have lived to sixty without asking a single favour from men in office, and it is not, after that age, that I shall be induced to do so, even were it to serve a brother: if the enclosed can be of use to you in your present difficulties, pray accept it, for it is much at your service." The enclosed was a cheque for ten thousand pounds.

Some curious anecdotes are told respecting the resolute manner in which Dr. Wollaston uniformly resisted the intrusion of either friend or stranger into his workshop. Among others, it is related, that a gentleman of his acquaintance, having been left by the servant to ramble from one room to another, till he should be ready to see him, penetrated into the laboratory. The Doctor, on coming in, discovered the intrusion; but not suffering himself to express all lie felt on the occasion, took his friend by the arm, and having led him to the most sacred spot in the room, said, "Mr. P., do you see that furnace ?"—" I do." —" Then make a profound bow to it, for as this is the first, it will also be the last time of your

[ocr errors]

Dr. Wollaston was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1793, and was elected Second Secretary Nov. 30th, 1806. His communications to the Philosophical Transactions commenced in 1797, and amount to the following numerous list:—

Inl797, "OntheGout, and Urinary Concretions; " inlSOO, "On Double Images caused by Atmospherical Refraction ;" in 1801, "Experiments on the Chemical Production and Agency of Electricity;" in 1802, "A Method of examining Refractive and Dispersive Powers by Prismatic Reflection," and a paper "On the Oblique Refraction of Iceland Crystal;" in 1803, the Bakerian Lecture, consisting of " Observations on the Quantity of Horizontal Refraction; with a Method of measuring the Dip at Sea;" in 1804, a paper "On a new Metal found in crude Plate;" in 1805 another, "On the Discovery of Palladium, with Observations on other Substances found with Platina;" in 1806, the Bakerian Lecture, "On the Force of Percussion;" in 1807, an "Essay on Fairyrings;" in 1808, three "On Platina and Native Palladium from Brazil," "On the Identity of Columbium and Tantalum," and a "Description of a Reflective Goniometer;" in 1810, the Croonian Lecture, "On Muscular Action, Sea Sickness, and the salutary Effects of Exercise on Gestation;" and an essay "On Cystic Oxide, a new Species of Urinary Calculus;" in 1811, "On the Non-existence of Sugar in the Blood of Persons labouring under Diabetes Mellitus;" in 1812, two papers "On the Primitive Crystals of Carbonate of Lime, Bitter Spar, and Iron Spar," and "On a Periscopic Camera Obscura and Microscope;" in 1813, the Bakerian Lecture, "On the Elementary Particles of certain Crystals;" the explanation of "A Method of drawing extremely fine Wires," and "A Description of a Single

ens Microscope;" in 1820, articles "On the Methods of Cutting Rock Crystal for Micrometers," and "On Sounds inaudible by certain Ears."

Dr. Wollaston communicated, in 1815, to Thomson's Annals of Philosophy, "A Description of an Elementary Galvanic Battery;" and to the Philosophical Magazine, in 1816, "Observations and Experiments on the Mass of Native Iron found in Brazil."

Within the last session only, in the midst of which his decease occurred, five essays by Dr. Wollaston were read before the Royal Society. The first was the Bakerian Lecture, "On a Method of rendering Platina Malleable;" for which, on their last anniversary, November 30. 1828, the Royal Society awarded to the inventor one of the royal medals. The subjects of the remainder were, "On a Microscopic Double;" "On a Differential Barometer;" "On a Method of comparing the Light of the Sun with that of the Fixed Stars;" and, "On the Water of the Mediterranean."

The following honourable eulogy on Dr. Wollaston was pronounced by the President of the Royal Society, on the anniversary meeting upon the 1st of December, 1828. Having announced that the Council of the Royal Society had awarded one of the royal medals of the year to Mr. Encke, "for his researches and calculations respecting the heavenly body usually distinguished by his name," Mr. Gilbert thus proceeded: —

"The other royal medal has been awarded by your Council for a communication made under circumstances the most interesting and most afflicting. An individual, of whom not this Society alone, but all England, is justly proud, whose merits have been appreciated and distinguished by each of the eminently scientific establishments of Europe, has recently been assailed by a malady, one of the most severe to which human nature is exposed. But the energies of his mind soaring beyond bodily infirmities, he has employed them in a manner (I will presume to say) most acceptable to the Divinity, because most usefully to mankind, by imparting, through

« ElőzőTovább »