Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 41.djvu/29

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Nicholson
Nicholson
23

with writing materials, which she had asked for. She remained in Bedlam until her death on 14 May 1828 (date kindly supplied by Dr. R. Percy Smith, chief superintendent of Bethlehem Royal Hospital). Early in 1811 Percy Bysshe Shelley [q. v.] and Thomas Jefferson Hogg [q. v.], then undergraduates at Oxford, published a thin volume of burlesque verses, entitled ‘Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, edited by her nephew, John FitzVictor,’ Oxford, 1810, 4to.

[Annual Register, 1786, pp. 233, 234; Smyth's Memoirs of Sir R. M. Keith, ii. 189; Auckland Correspondence, i. 152, 389; Sir N. W. Wraxall's Memoirs, i. 295, iv. 353, ed. 1884; Burney's (Madame d'Arblay's) Memoirs, iii. 45, 47; Jesse's Memoirs of George III, ii. 532–7; Smeeton's Biographia Curiosa, with portrait and drawing of the knife, p. 91; High Treason committed by M. N., fol. sheet (Brit. Mus.)]

W. H.

NICHOLSON, PETER (1765–1844), mathematician and architect, was the son of a stonemason, and was born at Prestonkirk, East Lothian, on 20 July 1765. He was educated at the village school, where he showed considerable talent in mathematics, and studied geometry by himself far in advance of what was taught at the school. At the age of twelve he commenced to assist his father, but, the work proving uncongenial, he was soon after apprenticed to a cabinet-maker at Linton, Haddingtonshire, where he served for four years. His apprenticeship ended, he worked as a journeyman in Edinburgh, at the same time diligently studying mathematics, and at about the age of twenty-four proceeded to London. His fellow workmen, recognising his superior ingenuity, applied to him for instruction, and he accordingly opened an evening school for mechanics in Berwick Street, Soho. Succeeding in his enterprise, he was enabled to produce his first publication, ‘The Carpenter's New Guide,’ for which he engraved his own plates. In it he made known an original method of constructing groins and niches of complex forms. In 1800 he proceeded to Glasgow, where he practised for eight years as an architect. He removed to Carlisle in 1805, and, on the recommendation of Thomas Telford [q. v.], he was appointed architect to the county of Cumberland. He superintended the building of the new court-houses at Carlisle, from designs by Sir Robert Smirke [q. v.] In 1810 he returned to London, and began to give private lessons in mathematics, land surveying, geography, navigation, mechanical drawing, fortification, &c., and produced his ‘Architectural Dictionary.’ He commenced in 1827 a work called ‘The School of Architecture and Engineering,’ designed to be completed in twelve numbers, but the bankruptcy of the publishers prevented more than five numbers appearing. Nicholson lost heavily, and probably on that account went in 1829 to reside at Morpeth, Northumberland, on a small property left to him by a relative. In 1832 he removed to Newcastle-on-Tyne, where he opened a school. But he was apparently not pecuniarily successful, for in July 1834 a subscription was raised in the town and 320l. presented to him. His abilities were also recognised by his election in 1835 as president of the Newcastle Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts, and many other local honours were bestowed on him. He died at Carlisle on 18 June 1844, and was buried in Christ Church graveyard, where a plain headstone marks the spot. A monument to his memory, by Robert William Billings [q. v.], was erected in the Carlisle cemetery in 1856 (cf. Edinburgh Building Chronicle for 1855, p. 175).

Nicholson was twice married. By his first wife who died at Morpeth on 10 Aug. 1832, he had one son, Michael Angelo (noticed below), and by his second wife a son and daughter, who survived him.

Nicholson's life was devoted to the improvement of the mechanical processes in building. His great ability as a mathematician enabled him to simplify and generalise many old methods, besides inventing new ones. He formulated rules for finding sections of prisms, cylinders, or cylindroids, which enabled workmen to execute handrails with greater facility and from less material than previously. For his improvements in the construction of handrailing the Society of Arts voted him their gold medal in April 1814. He was the first author who treated of the methods of forming the joints, and the hingeing and the hanging of doors and shutters, and was also the first to notice that Grecian mouldings were conic sections, and that the volutes of Ionic capitals ought to be composed of logarithmic spirals. He generalised and enlarged the methods of Philibert de L'Orme and Nicholas Goldmann for describing revolutions between any two given points in a given radius, and was the inventor of the application of orthographical projection to solids in general. His invention of the centrolinead for use in drawing perspective views procured for him the sum of twenty guineas from the Society of Arts in May 1814, and of a silver medal for improvements in the same instrument in the following year.

Nicholson was a claimant to the invention of a method for obtaining the rational roots, and of approximating to the irrational roots, of an equation of any order whatsoever. He