Watts, Henry (DNB00)

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WATTS, HENRY (1815–1884), chemist, was born in London on 20 Jan. 1815. He went to a private school, and was articled at the age of fifteen as an architect and surveyor; but, finding himself unsuited for this profession, supported himself by teaching, chiefly mathematical, privately and at a school. He then went to University College, London. In 1841 he graduated B.A. in the university of London. In 1846 he became assistant to George Fownes [q. v.], then professor of practical chemistry at University College, and occupied this post, after Fownes's death in 1849, until 1857, under Professor Alexander William Williamson. Owing to an incurable impediment in speech he found himself unable to obtain a professorship, and, on this account, was ultimately induced to devote himself entirely to the literature of chemistry. In 1847 he was elected fellow of the Chemical Society. In 1848 he was engaged by the Cavendish Society to translate into English and enlarge Leopold Gmelin's classical ‘Handbuch der Chemie,’ a work which occupied much of his time till 1872, when the last of its eighteen volumes appeared. On 17 Dec. 1849 he was elected editor of the Chemical Society's ‘Journal,’ and about the beginning of 1860 he also became librarian to the society. Early in 1871 it was decided to print in the society's journal abstracts of all papers on chemistry appearing in full elsewhere. In February 1871 a committee was appointed to superintend the publication of the journal and these summaries, but the scheme ‘very soon proved to be unworkable, and the revision of the abstracts was left entirely in the hands of … Watts, with the most satisfactory results.’ The abstracts in the ‘Journal’ may be regarded as models, and the success of this scheme must be attributed to Watts. In 1858 he was engaged by Messrs. Longmans & Co. to prepare a new edition of the ‘Dictionary of Chemistry and Mineralogy’ of Andrew Ure [q. v.]; but, finding this book too much out of date, he transformed it, with the help of a numerous and distinguished staff, into a real encyclopædia of chemical science. The first edition of Watts's ‘Dictionary of Chemistry,’ in five volumes, was completed in 1868; supplements were published in 1872, 1875, and 1879–81. A new edition, revised and entirely rewritten by Professor M. M. Pattison Muir and Dr. H. Forster Morley, was published 1888–94, 4 vols. 8vo. The dictionary contains excellent summaries of the facts and theories of chemistry, presented in an unusually readable and attractive form. In 1866 Watts was elected F.R.S., and in 1879 he was elected fellow of the Physical Society.

Watts died on 30 June 1884. He had married in 1854 Sophie, daughter of M. Henri Hanhart, of Mülhausen in Alsace, by whom he had eight sons and two daughters.

Besides the works mentioned above, Watts edited the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth editions of Fownes's ‘Manual of Chemistry.’ He was an honorary member of the Pharmaceutical Society and life-governor of University College, London.

[Obituaries in Nature, 1884, xxx. 217, Chem. Soc. Journ. 1885, xlvii. 343, including a brief autobiography; Jubilee of the Chemical Society, 1891, pp. 240, 252 passim.]

P. J. H.