Martin, Benjamin (DNB00)

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MARTIN, BENJAMIN (1704–1782), mathematician, instrument maker, and general compiler, was born in 1704 at Worplesdon in Surrey, and began life as a ploughboy in the hamlet of Broadstreet. Subsequently he set up as a teacher of reading, writing, and arithmetic in Guildford. His spare time was spent in the study of mathematics and astronomy, and he became an ardent champion of the Newtonian system. A legacy of 600l. left him by a relation enabled him to equip himself with books and philosophical instruments, with which he travelled the country, and gave lectures on natural philosophy. How wide a circle of friends he thus obtained may be gathered from the long list of subscribers, filling twenty-six columns, to his 'Bibliotheca Technologica, or Philological Library of Literary Arts and Sciences,' 1737 ; 2nd edit. 1740; a very skilful and comprehensive compilation, epitomising the current information and ideas of the time under twenty-five headings. When this book appeared he had been settled for at least three years in Chichester, where he kept a school, and began to invent and make optical instruments. In particular he produced and sold for one guinea a pocket reflecting microscope, with a micrometer (see a description by John Williams, Some Account of the Martin Microscope, purchased for the Microscopical Society, 1862 ; Trans. Microscopic. Soc. London, new ser. x. (1862), 31); and he seems to have gained considerable reputation as a maker of spectacles. About 1740 he removed to a house in Fleet Street, three doors below Crane Court, and here became famous as a scientific instrument maker at the sign of 'Hadley's Quadrant and Visual Glasses.' His literary activity continued, and resulted in the publication of a large number of popular scientific books. His principal undertakings were: 1. 'An English Dictionary,' which aimed at being, in the author's words, ' universal, etymological, orthographical, orthoepical, diacritical, philological, mathematical, and philosophical.' The first edition appeared in 1749, and the second in 1754. It was prefaced by a 'Physico-grammatical Essay on the Propriety and Rationale of the English Tongue.' 2. 'Martin's Magazine,' described as a 'New and Comprehensive System of Philosophy, Natural History, Philology, Mathematical Institutions, and Biography,' 1755-64. This work was dedicated to George III. Of fourteen volumes projected only seven appeared, viz. : two volumes of 'Mathematical Institutions,' 1759 and 1764 ; two volumes of 'Philology,' including essays on the different religions of the world and on geography, 1759 and 1704 ; two volumes of the 'Natural History of England,' a description of each particular county in regard to the curious productions of nature and art, illustrated by a map of each county and sculptures of natural curiosities, 1759 and 17G3; and lastly, one volume of 'Biography of Mathematicians and Philosophers,' 1704. The liberty which Martin allowed himself in the work of compilation may be gathered from the fact that the chapters on the theory of equations are taken literatim from Colin Maclaurin s 'Algebra' without acknowledgment.

At the age of seventy-seven, having retired from the active management of his business, he became a bankrupt through the fault of others, and in a moment of desperation attempted suicide. The wound, though not immediately mortal, hastened his death, which occurred on 9 Feb. 1782. His valuable collection of fossils and curiosities was almost given away by public auction. The only discoverable record of his family is the mention of a son, Lovell Martin, in Gill's ‘Technical Repository,’ 1828. There was a portrait of him in Greene's Museum, Lichfield. There is an engraving of his portrait in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1785, pt. ii. facing p. 743.

The following is a list of his works, other than those already mentioned: 1. ‘Elements of Geometry,’ 1733. 2. ‘Spelling Book of Arts and Sciences for the Use of Schools.’ 3. ‘Philosophical Grammar, in four parts: I. Somatology. II. Cosmology. III. Ærology. IV. Geology.’ ‘The whole extracted from the writings of the greatest naturalists of the last and present age, treated in the familiar way of dialogue, adapted purposely to the capacities of the youth of both sexes, and adorned and illustrated with variety of copperplates, maps, &c., several of which are entirely new, and all easy to be understood.’ This work appeared in 1735, and had reached a seventh edition in 1769; it was translated into French by Puisieux in 1749, and republished in French in 1764 and 1777. It may be regarded as the most successful of Martin's works. 4. ‘The Young Student's Memorial Book,’ 1735. 5. ‘A new System of Decimal Arithmetic,’ 1735, containing a new set of tables, showing the value of any decimal part of any integer, whether money, weight, measure, motion, time, &c. 6. ‘Trigonometer's Complete Guide,’ 2 vols. 1736. 7. ‘Description and Use of both the Globes,’ 1736. 8. ‘Elements of all Geometry,’ 8 vols. 1739. 9. ‘Description and Use of a newly invented Pocket Microscope,’ 1740. 10. ‘Logarithmologia,’ 1740. 11. ‘Micrographia Nova, or a new Treatise on the Microscope and Microscopic Objects,’ &c., Reading, 1742. 12. ‘Description and Use of a Case of Mathematical Instruments,’ 1745. 13. ‘An Essay on Electricity,’ 1746, ‘being an enquiry into the nature, cause, and properties thereof, on the principles of Sir Isaac Newton's theory of vibrating motion, light, and fire, and the various phenomena of forty-two capital experiments,’ &c. His experiments are popular experiments on electrical induction. The essay contains a dim forecast of modern theories in the statement: ‘This subtle matter or spirit appears to be of an elastic nature, and acts by the reciprocation of its tremors or pulses, which are occasioned by the vibrating motion of the parts of an electric body excited by friction.’ The preface contained some disparaging remarks on an essay on the same subject by John Freke [q.v.] , who replied in an appendix to his second edition, and was answered by Martin in a ‘Supplement containing Remarks on a Rhapsody of Adventures of a Modern Knight-errant in Philosophy,’ 1746. 14. ‘Philosophia Britannica,’ 2 vols. 1747; a new and comprehensive system of the Newtonian philosophy, astronomy, and geography, in a course of twelve lectures, with notes. The first volume is dedicated to Lord-chief-justice Lee; the second to the Earl of Orrery. 15. ‘Panegyric of the Newtonian Philosophy,’ 1749. 16. ‘On the New Construction of the Globes,’ 1755. 17. ‘Essay on Visual Glasses,’ 1756. 18. ‘Essay on the Use of Globes,’ 1758. 19. ‘New Elements of Optics,’ 1759. 20. ‘A sure Guide to Distillers,’ 1759. 21. ‘Venus in the Sun,’ 1761. 22. ‘A plain and familiar Introduction to the Newtonian Philosophy,’ 5th edit. 1765. 23. ‘Institutions of Astronomical Calculations,’ 1765. 24. ‘The Mariner's Mirror, or the Philosophical Principles of Navigation, including a Translation of Maupertuis's Nautical Astronomy,’ 1768. 25. ‘The Mariner's Mirror, Part ii., containing a new Method of finding the Longitude of a Ship at Sea,’ &c., 1769. 26. ‘Description and Use of a Table Clock upon a new Construction,’ 1770. 27. ‘Description and Use of an Orrery,’ 1771. 28. ‘Description … of a graphic Perspective and Microscope,’ 1771. 29. ‘Optical Essays’ [1770]. 30. ‘Logarithmologia Nova,’ London, 1772. 31. ‘The Young Gentleman and Lady's Philosophy,’ in the form of a Dialogue between Cleonicus, an Undergraduate, and Euphrosyne, his Sister; vol. i., ‘The Heavens and Atmosphere;’ vol. ii., ‘The Use of the Celestial and Terrestrial Globes, Light and Colours, Sounds and Music,’ 3rd edit. 1781; vol. iii., ‘Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Kingdoms,’ 1782.

[Works; Gent. Mag. 1785, pt. ii. p. 583; Manning and Bray's Hist. of Surrey, iii. 89; Present State of Republic of Letters, 1735, xvi. 167; information kindly supplied by W. H. Brown, esq., assist. sec. Royal Microscopic Society.]

C. P.