Scott, George Lewis (DNB00)

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SCOTT, GEORGE LEWIS (1708–1780), mathematician, born at Hanover in May 1708, was the eldest son of George Scott of Bristo in Scotland, who married Marion Stewart, daughter of Sir James Stewart, bart., of Coltness, lord advocate of Scotland. The father held diplomatic offices at various German courts, and was envoy-extraordinary to Augustus I, king of Poland, in 1712 (Caldwell Papers, Maitland Club, i. 206–52). He was an especial friend of the elector (afterwards George I), whose names were given to the boy at baptism, and the Princess Sophia was his godmother. At the close of 1726, after his father's death, his mother moved to Leyden for the education of her children. George Lewis was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, became F.S.A. on 3 June 1736, and F.R.S. on 5 May 1737, and was a member in 1736 of the Society for Encouragement of Learning. At this date Thomson the poet was one of his friends. In November 1750 Scott was made sub-preceptor to Prince George (afterwards George III) and his younger brothers, on the recommendation of Lord Bolingbroke through Lord Bathurst. Horace Walpole writes, ‘You may add that recommendation to the chapter of our wonderful politics’ (Letters, ii. 232); and as Scott was considered to be a Jacobite, his appointment caused considerable stir through the belief that he would inculcate in his pupils the doctrine of the divine right of kings. By July 1752 the tutors were divided into factions, and the quarrel lasted all the year (ib. ii. 293, 316–317). In February 1758 Scott was made a commissioner of excise, and he held that post until his death.

Scott, who was a pupil of De Moivre, was celebrated for his knowledge of mathematics. On 7 May 1762 he sent a long letter to Gibbon on the books which he should study in that science; and Gibbon, on 19 Oct. 1767, asked him to supply a paper ‘on the present state of the physical and mathematical sciences’ in England, for insertion in the ‘Mémoires Littéraires de la Grande-Bretagne’ of Deyverdun and himself. In December 1775 Gibbon sent for his perusal a part of the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ (Misc. Works, i. 147, ii. 44–51, 68–71). Two letters from Scott to Robert Simson [q. v.], the Scottish mathematician, with those which he received in reply, are given in Trail's ‘Life of Simson’ (pp. 113–128). He was described by Lord Brougham as ‘perhaps the most accomplished of all amateur mathematicians who never gave their works to the world’ (Philosophers temp. George III, 1855 ed. pp. 135–6). Dr. Burney speaks of him as an excellent musician, and as performing on the harpsichord. He was an intimate friend of Dr. Pepusch, whom he assisted in drawing up a paper for the Royal Society on the genera and systems of the ancient Greek music (Dr. Burney, in Rees's Cyclop. 1819, vol. xxxii.). Miss Burney, who met Scott in 1769, described him as ‘very sociable and facetious. He entertained me extremely with droll anecdotes and stories among the Great and about the Court.’ George Rose knew him ‘long and very intimately,’ and praised him as ‘amiable, honorable, temperate, and one of the sweetest dispositions I ever knew.’ He was tall and big. Dr. Johnson was one day giving way to tears, when Scott, who was present, clapped him on the back and said, ‘What's all this, my dear sir? Why, you and I and Hercules, you know, were all troubled with melancholy.’ The doctor was ‘so delighted at his odd sally that he suddenly embraced him’ (Mrs. Piozzi, Anecdotes of Johnson, pp. 50–1).

Scott died on 7 Dec. 1780. His wife, who was separated from him, forms the subject of another article [see Scott, Sarah]. Her friends condemned him for his bad treatment of her, and the rumour spread that he had tried to poison her; but there was no foundation for either charge. The materials which Ephraim Chambers [q. v.] left for a supplement to his dictionary of arts and sciences were committed to Scott's care for selection, revision, and expansion. The two volumes appeared in 1753, and he is said to have received 1,500l. for his services.

[Gent. Mag. 1780 p. 590, 1805 ii. 811–12; Miss Burney's Early Diary, i. 48–9, 155–6; George Rose's Diary, ii. 188; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 93; Caldwell Papers, i. 28, 206, ii. pt. ii. p. 161.]

W. P. C.