Heath, Douglas Denon (DNB01)

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HEATH, DOUGLAS DENON (1811–1897), classical and mathematical scholar, second son of George Heath, serjeant-at-law, by his wife, Anne Raymond (Dunbar), was born in Chancery Lane, London, on 6 Jan. 1811. His father was a son of James Heath [q. v.], the engraver, and half-brother of Charles Heath (1785-1848) [q. v.] Admiral Sir Leopold George Heath is the scholar's younger brother. After schooling at Greenwich, he spent the greater part of 1826-7 with friends of his father's in France; among the latter was his godfather, the savant Denon, master of the mint to Napoleon I. He went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1828, and read for a year with the well-known classical tutor, Henry Malden [q.v.] Among his Cambridge intimates was James Spedding, in whose company he visited Wordsworth and Tennyson. Tennyson read him many scraps of his composition, which he recognised in poems published many years later. Heath obtained a scholarship at Trinity on 23 April 1830, and two years later graduated senior wrangler, and took the first Smith's prize. In the classical tripos of the same year (1832) he was placed ninth in the first class, but the competition (among the first seven being Lushington, Shilleto, Thompson, Venables, and Alford) rendered his classical little inferior to his mathematical degree. He was marked out as the first Trinity man of his year, and was elected first to a fellowship on 2 Oct. 1832. He was strongly attached to Cambridge life, but in deference to his father's wish he entered at the Inner Temple, and was called to the bar in 1835. In 1838 his father succeeded in procuring him the reversion of his own lucrative post as county clerk of Middlesex. In 1846 the courts of the county clerk were abolished, so that he might have retired on full salary, but preferred to take the work of a county court judge in the Bloomsbury district with no further salary, and thus from 1847 to 1865 (when he had to retire through deafness) he saved the country over 1,200l. a year. During these years, at Spedding's request, he edited the legal remains of Bacon for the seventh volume of the great edition of the 'Works of Francis Bacon' (1859, ed. Spedding, Ellis, and Heath). The several manuscripts of Bacon's professional writings were carefully collated, and many passages for the first time made intelligible.

Two elaborate papers on 'Secular Local Changes in the Sea Level' and the 'Dynamical Theory of Deep Sea Tides and the Effects of Tidal Friction' (Philosophical Mag. March 1866 and March 1867) were the first fruits of his emancipation from legal duties in 1865, and in 1874 he published 'An Elementary Exposition of the Doctrine of [the Conservation of] Energy,' which was highly praised by Clerk Maxwell as 'an example of sound reasoning such as few authors deign (or are able) to introduce into text-books.' His most characteristic work, however, was not mathematical (physics, he avowed, 'soared into higher and higher regions, and I ceased to follow them'), but in connection with the Greek prose classics. He concentrated some acute, judicious, and closely reasoned work into his defence of Aristotle against misconception by Grote and others (Journal of Philology ; vols. vii. and viii., concerning Aristotle's and other ancient doctrines of causation) ; scarcely less valuable were his papers ' On the so-called 'Arabicus Mons,' and on Plato's 'Cratylus' (ib. vols. v. vi. and xvii.) Even more vigorous were his papers in defence of the honesty of Herodotus. His views were greatly strengthened by a journey up the Nile as far as Dongola in 1874-5 (ib. 1886, xv. 215). He could not confine himself to defence, but assaulted alleged detractors of his favourite author with the utmost vigour, and projected a detailed study on 'the scepticism of Herodotus.'

On his father's death in 1852 Heath became owner of Kitlands, a small estate near Leith Hill, Surrey. He resided there, and greatly benefited the parish of Coldharhour by his generosity. Tennyson, Spedding, and the master of Trinity (Thompson) were fond of discussing poetry and philosophy in Heath's beautiful garden, in which Marianne North painted for the collection at Kew 'at least one flower she had missed in its native Himalaya.' He was one of the founders and benefactors of the Surrey county school at Cranleigh. Heath was a broad churchman and interested in (non-party) politics. He greatly admired Peel, but 'equally distrusted and disliked the two most famous liberal and conservative leaders of later times.' He died unmarried at Kitlands on 25 Sept. 1897, and was buried in Coldharbour churchyard.

[D. D. Heath, a short private Memoir by H. E. Malden, with contribution by Dr. Jackson of Trinity Coll. Cambridge (privately printed 1898); Times, 27 Sept. 1897; Foster's Men at the Bar; Guardian, 29 Sept. 1895; Graduati Cantub.]

T. S.