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William Whewell

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Rev. William Whewell (1794-1866)

1837 Rev. William Whewell, Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge and president of the Geological Society, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1870 Obituary [2]

THE REV. WILLIAM WHEWELL, DD., was born at Lancaster, on the 24th of May, 1794.

He received the first rudiments of instruction at the grammar-school in that town ; and having from his earliest years manifested a remarkable fondness for reading, and exhibited general promise of future ability, he was removed to the grammar-school at Heversham, where he obtained an exhibition for admission to Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he became a sub-sizar in the October term of 1812, was subsequently elected as a full, or foundation sizar, and soon after received a scholarship.

In l813 he obtained the Chancellor’s prize for the best English poem on the subject of Boadicea ; and in 1816 he graduated as second wrangler and Smith’s prizeman.

In the year after his graduation as B.A. he was elected a fellow of his college, and he remained closely associated with it up to the date of his death. He was for many years an eminent and sucessful tutor. At the time when he began to assume an active part in University education, the definite study of physics was virtually superseded by mathematics, under the idea that the latter included everything necessary to be known of the former.

Dr. Whewell threw himself into the reform of the university mathematics, with Peacock, Herschel, and Babbage. He wrote an 'Elementary Treatise on Mechanics' (1819), a 'Treatise on Dynamics' (1823), an 'Introduction to Dynamics,' 'First Principles of Mechanics,' and 'Treatise on the Free Motion of a Point for Universal Gravitation' (1832), an 'Elementary Treatise on Mechanics,' and 'Analytical Statics' (l833), and 'Mechanical Euclid' (1837), to which list was attached a section 'On the Logic of Induction.'

By these works, and by the influence which, as moderator, in the years 1820, 1828, and 1829, he was enabled to exercise on the course of the examinations for degrees, he contributed materially to that improvement he so much desired to see established in the mathematics of the university.

It was on the 23rd of May, 1837, that he was elected an Honorary Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

In 1828 he had been appointed Professor of Mineralogy, a post he held for five years.

In 1838 he accepted the Professorship of Moral Philosophy, and he founded prizes for the encouragement of that study, which he himself always pursued with avidity. He retained the chair until 1855, in which year he was elected Vice-Chancellor of the university.

In 1841 he was appointed by the Crown, Master of Trinity, and in this position he took an active part in introducing into Cambridge the new studies which have since been recognized by the institution of the Natural and Moral Sciences Triposes.

In 1819 he assisted in the foundation of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, and to the Transactions of that society he was a frequent contributor.

In l821 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, in the labours of which he took a prominent part, and his fourteen 'Researches on the Tides,' which were printed in the 'Philosophical Transactions' between the years 1833 and 1850, and for which a Royal Medal was awarded in 1857, are regarded as highly interesting and valuable.

In 1827 he became a fellow of the Geological Society, and filled the office of President in 1838 ; and in the Transactions of that body will likewise be found several of his Papers.

He was an early supporter of the British Association for the advancement of Science, over which he presided at Plymouth in 1841, and the reports of that association contain many memoirs from his pen, including Reports on the Tides, and on the Mathematical Theories of Heat, Magnetism and Electricity, which rank among the first of his mathematical productions.

He had previously written, in 1833, the Bridgewater Treatise 'On Astronomy and General Physics,' and it was, perhaps, this which suggested to him the 'History of the Inductive Sciences,' published in 1837, followed in 1840 by 'The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences,' since expanded into 'The History of Scientific Ideas,' the works by which, it is believed, he will be best known in after years.

Besides these, his principal works were 'The Mechanics of Engineering' (1841), 'Architectural Notes on the German Churches' (1842), 'Indications of the Creator' (l845), written in answer to the 'Vestiges of the Creation,' 'Elements of Morality,' 'Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England,' 'Lectures on Systematic Morality' (1846), 'Novum Organum Renovaturn' (1858), 'Chapters Critical and Historical on the Philosophy of Discovery' (1861), and 'The Plurality of Worlds,' which last, however, did not appear under his name. He also translated Goethe’s 'Herman and Dorothea,' Auerbach‘s 'Professor’s Wife,' Grotius on the 'Rights of War and Peace,' and Plato, under the title of 'Platonic Dialogues for English Readers.'

Dr. Whewell was twice married, and twice a widower. His fist wife was the second daughter of John Marshall, Esq., of Patterdale, Cumberland. That lady died in 1854. He married, secondly, in 1858, the widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck, who died on the 1st of April, 1865.

Dr. Whewell’s death occurred on the 6th of March, 1866, from the effects of a fall from his horse, in the seventy-second year of his age, and after a residence of more than half a century in Cambridge, where 'his towering figure was one of those soonest known by the undergraduate, who had heard of his renown long before he came into residence ; and when he quitted the university at the end of his career, the Master of Trinity was the man above all others whom he remembered as the representative of Cambridge learning and Cambridge dignity.'


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