« ElőzőTovább »
the medium of this Society, further stores of knowledge to the world, which has been so frequently before illuminated by the splendour of his genius. On the first day of our meeting a paper from Dr. Wollaston was read, descriptive of the processes and manipulations by which he has been enabled to supply all men of science with the most important among the recently discovered metals. Platinum, possessed of various qualities useful in an eminent degree to chemists, even on a large scale, withheld them all by resisting fusion in the most intense heat of our wind furnaces. Alloyed, indeed, with arsenic, it became susceptible of receiving ornamental forms; but a continued heat expelled the volatile metal, and left the other in a state wholly unfit for use. Dr. Wollaston, instead of alloying, purified the platinum from every admixture by solution, consolidated its precipitate by pressure, by heating, and by percussion, so as to effect a complete welding of the mass, thus made capable of being rolled into leaf, or drawn into wire of a tenacity intermediate between those of iron and gold. To these scientific and beautiful contrivances we owe the use of a material, not only of high importance to refined chemistry, but now actually employed in the largest manufactories for distilling an article of commerce so abundant and so cheap as sulphuric acid. And above all, we owe to them the material which, in the skilful hands of some members of this Society, has mainly contributed to their producing a new species of glass, which promises to form an epoch in the history of optics. Your Council have, therefore, deemed themselves bound to express their strong approbation of this interesting memoir (independently of all extraneous circumstances), by awarding a royal medal to its author. And they anticipate with confidence a general approbation, in both these instances, of what they have done.” Of the Geological Society, Dr. Wollaston became a member in 1812: he was frequently elected on the Council, and was for some time one of the Vice-Presidents. He made no contributions to the publications of that learned body; but he was well acquainted with the scope of their enquiries, and
always attended to the geological phenomena of the countries which he visited in his excursions. At the annual meeting of the Society, February 20, 1829, Dr. Fitton, the President, remarked, that “ though Dr. Wollaston did not publish any thing on the more immediate subjects of our pursuit, his success in the cultivation of other branches of knowledge has conduced, in no small degree, to the recent advancement of geology. The discovery of two new metals" was but a part of his contributions to chemical science; and his application of chemistry to the examination of very minute quantities, by means of the simplest apparatus, divested chemical enquiry of much of its practical difficulty, and greatly promoted mineralogy. His Camera Lucida is an acquisition of peculiar value to the geologist, as it enables those who are unskilled in drawing to preserve the remembrance of what they see, and gives a fidelity to sketches hardly attainable by other means. The adaptation of measurement by reflection to the purposes of crystallography, by the invention of his goniometer, introduced into that department of science a certainty and precision which the most skilful observers were before unable to attain; and his paper on the distinctions of the carbonates of lime, magnesia, and iron, affords one of the most remarkable instances that can be mentioned, of the advantage arising from the union of crystallography with chemical research. He was, in fact, a mineralogist of the first order, — if the power of investigating accurately the characters and composition of minerals be considered as the standard of skill. “Possessing such variety of knowledge, with the most inventive quickness and sagacity in its application to new purposes, Dr. Wollaston was at all times accessible to those whom he believed to be sincerely occupied in useful enquiry: he seemed, indeed, himself to delight in such communications: and his singular dexterity and neatness in experiment rendered comparatively easy to him the multiplied investigations arising from them, which to others might have been oppres
* Palladium and rhodium,
WOL., XIV. T
sive or impracticable. His penetration and correct judgment, upon subjects apparently the most remote from his own immediate pursuits, made him, during many of the latter years of his life, the universal arbiter on questions of scientific difficulty; and the instruction thus derived from communication with a man of his attainments has had an effect on the progress of knowledge in this country, and on the conduct of various public undertakings, the value of which it would be difficult to estimate, and the loss of which it is at present, and long will be, quite impossible to supply. “ These, gentlemen, are some of the grounds upon which the memory of Dr. Wollaston claims our gratitude and veneration, as cultivators of natural science; but to those who have known him in private life he has left what is still more precious, the example of his personal character. It would be difficult to name a man who so well combined the qualities of an English gentleman and a philosopher; or whose life better deserves the eulogium given by the first of our orators to one of our most distinguished public characters; for it was marked by a constant wish and endeavour to be “useful to mankind.” Towards the latter part of 1828, Doctor Wollaston became dangerously ill of the disorder of which he died, and which resulted, it seems, from an unhealthy state of the brain. His conduct under the heavy dispensation of this malady may well be called “divine,” if that of Socrates merited such an epithet. In the midst of disease and pain, and feeling that the duration of his life was precarious, he devoted his numbered hours to communicate, by dictation, and thereby to preserve all the discoveries and improvements which he had made, and the knowledge of which is calculated to be most beneficial to his fellow-creatures. A nobler example of fortitude and virtue has never been witnessed in any age or country. A short time before his death he gave a fresh proof of his love of science, and of the interest he felt for its advancement. He wrote a letter to the secretary of the Royal Society, in
* Fox's Speech on the death of the Duke of Bedford, 1802.
forming him that he had that day invested in the funds, in the name of the Royal Society, stock to the amount of 1000l., the interest of which he wished to be employed in the encouragement of experiments in natural philosophy. When he was nearly in the last agonies, a circumstance occurred which shows that he still preserved his faculties, and gives an interesting proof of the power of his mind over physical suffering. One of his friends having observed, loud enough for him to hear, that he was not at the time conscious of what was passing around him, he immediately made a sign for a pencil and paper, which were given him; he then wrote down some figures, and, after casting up the sum, returned them. The amount was right. Dr. Wollaston's death occurred on the 22d of December, 1828. A medical enquiry was instituted after his decease, respecting its immediate cause; and from the published report it appears, that an effusion of blood had taken place in the ventricles of the brain, which exhibited a very remarkable appearance. The great body of the optic nerve was converted into a tumour of the size of a hen's egg, was of a greyish colour, and firmer than the brain itself. In the inside it was found to be of a brown colour, soft, and in a half-dissolved state. The nerve contained scarcely any of its proper subStance. At the time of his death, Dr. Wollaston was Senior Fellow of Gonville and Caius College. His remains were interred at Chiselhurst, in Kent. The funeral was, according to his particular request, exceedingly private, as he had desired that it should be attended only by the descendants of his grandfather. Dr. Wollaston was never married. There is a large engraved portrait of him, executed in mezzotinto by W. Ward, from a picture by J. Jackson, R. A., which was introduced into a late exhibition at Somerset House, and which has been recently copied in the Second Number of “The National Portrait Gallery of the Nineteenth Century;” from which work, and from “The Gentleman's Magazine,” the materials of this sketch have been principally derived.
A new edition of Dr. Henry’s “Elements of Experimental Chemistry” contains, in the preface, the following just eulogium on the two eminent philosophers whose loss the country and the world have recently sustained : — “It is impossible to direct our views to the future improvement of this wide field of science, without deeply lamenting the privation which we have lately sustained of two of its most successful cultivators — Sir Humphry Davy and Dr. Wollaston; at a period of life, too, when it seemed reasonable to have expected from each of them, a much longer continuance of his invaluable labours. To those high gifts of nature which are the characteristic of genius, and which constitute its very essence, both those eminent men united an unwearied industry, and zeal in research, and habits of accurate reasoning, without which even the energies of genius are inadequate to the achievement of great scientific designs. With these excellencies, common to both, they were nevertheless distinguishable by marked intellectual peculiarities. Bold, ardent, and enthusiastic, Davy soared to greater heights; he commanded a wider horizon; and his keen vision penetrated to its utmost boundaries. His imagination, in the highest degree fertile and inventive, took a rapid and extensive range in pursuit of conjectural analogies, which he submitted to close and patient comparison with known facts, and tried by an appeal to ingenious and conclusive experiments. He was imbued with the spirit, and was a master in the practice, of the inductive logic; and he has left us some of the noblest examples of the efficacy of that great instrument of human reason in the discovery of truth. He applied it, not only to connect classes of facts of more limited extent and importance, but to develope great and comprehensive laws, which embrace phenomena that are almost universal to the natural world. In explaining those laws, he cast upon them the illumination of his own clear and vivid conceptions;– he felt an intense admiration of the beauty, order, and harmony, which are conspicuous in the perfect chemistry of nature; – and he expressed those feelings with a force of eloquence which could issue only from a