Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/261

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
Somerville
Somerville
255

several editions. A sentence contained in that of 1842, pointing out that the perturbations of Uranus might disclose the existence of an unseen planet, suggested, as Professor Adams afterwards declared, the calculations from which he deduced the orbit of Neptune.

After 1838, when the illness of Dr. Somerville compelled his family to winter abroad, Mrs. Somerville's life was mainly passed in Italy. The interruptions of travel delayed the preparation of her work on ‘Physical Geography,’ until the appearance of Humboldt's ‘Cosmos’ caused her to meditate its destruction. Reprieved at the intercession of her husband, and submitted to the judgment of Sir John Herschel, the work justified Herschel's decision in favour of its publication (in 1848) by the subsequent sale of six editions. The death of Dr. Somerville in 1860, and that of Woronzow Greig, Mrs. Somerville's only son, which occurred suddenly in 1865, shattered her domestic happiness. She found solace in the preparation of a fresh work, ‘Molecular and Microscopic Science,’ a summary of the most recent discoveries in chemistry and physics. This was published in 1869, when she had attained her eighty-ninth year. She died at Naples, on 29 Nov. 1872, at the age of ninety-two, in full possession of her mental faculties. She was buried in the English cemetery at Naples.

Her grasp of scientific truth in all branches of knowledge, combined with an exceptional power of exposition, made her the most remarkable woman of her generation. Nor did her abstruse studies exclude the cultivation of lighter gifts, and she excelled in music, in painting, and in the use of the needle. Her endowments were enhanced by rare charm and geniality of manner, while the fair hair, delicate complexion, and small proportions which had obtained for her in her girlhood the sobriquet of ‘the rose of Jedburgh,’ formed a piquant contrast to her masculine breadth of intellect. Her contributions to science were recognised by various learned bodies. The Royal Astronomical Society elected her an honorary member, and the Victoria gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society was conferred on her in 1869. A similar distinction was awarded her by the Italian Royal Geographical Society, and her name was commemorated after her death in the foundation of Somerville Hall and in the Mary Somerville scholarship for women in mathematics at Oxford.

As her son left no children, and her surviving daughters, Martha and Mary Somerville, died unmarried, her correspondence and other memorials of her have passed into the hands of her nephew, Sir William Ramsay-Fairfax, bart. He also possesses her bust, by Macdonald, a copy of which he presented to the National Portrait Gallery, Scotland; and her portrait, by Swinton, painted in Rome in 1844. A portrait of her in crayons, by Swinton, was bequeathed by her daughter to the National Portrait Gallery, London, and her bust adorns the rooms of the Royal Institution, as well as those of the Royal Society.

[Personal Recollections of Mary Somerville, by her daughter, Martha Somerville, London, 1873; Quarterly Review, January 1874, p. 74; Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, February 1873, pp. 190–7; information communicated by Sir W. G. H. T. Ramsay-Fairfax, bart.]

E. M. C.

SOMERVILLE, THOMAS (1741–1830), divine and historian, born at Hawick, Roxburghshire, on 15 Feb. 1740–1, was the only son of William Somerville, minister of Hawick, by his first wife, Janet, daughter of John Grierson, minister of Queensferry in Linlithgowshire. The father was descended from the Somervilles of Cambusnethan [see Somerville, Hugh, fifth Lord Somerville].

Thomas was educated at Hawick and afterwards, under the care of his relative, Adam Dickson [q. v.], at Duns in Berwickshire. He entered Edinburgh University in November 1756. His father, dying in the following year, left him and his sisters in narrow circumstances, and he accepted the office of tutor in the family of George Burges of Greslee, Berkshire, commissioner of the excise and father of Sir James Bland Burges [q. v.] He was licensed by the Edinburgh presbytery on 28 Nov. 1764. Shortly after Sir Gilbert Elliot [q. v.] appointed him tutor to his son Gilbert (afterwards first Earl of Minto) [q. v.], and from that time Somerville found in the Elliot family constant friends and patrons. In December 1776 he was presented by Sir Gilbert to the parish of Minto in Roxburghshire, and was ordained on 24 April 1767. In 1769 he visited London in the company of Sir Gilbert, and was introduced by him to many literary men, among others to John Blair, author of ‘The Chronology and History of the World,’ to Dr. Vincent, master of Westminster school, and to Dr. Rose of Chiswick. In the society of William Strahan, the printer, he also met David Hume, Sir John Pringle, Benjamin Franklin, and other well-known men. Subsequently he came to know Sir Walter Scott (Lockhart, Life of Sir Walter Scott, ed. 1845, pp. 71, 636), and befriended many of the younger generation. To John Logan [q. v.], in particular, his friendship was invaluable in support-