1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mayer, Julius Robert
MAYER, JULIUS ROBERT (1814–1878), German physicist, was born at Heilbronn on the 25th of November 1814, studied medicine at Tübingen, Munich and Paris, and after a journey to Java in 1840 as surgeon of a Dutch vessel obtained a medical post in his native town. He claims recognition as an independent a priori propounder of the “First Law of Thermodynamics,” but more especially as having early and ably applied that law to the explanation of many remarkable phenomena, both cosmical and terrestrial. His first little paper on the subject, “Bemerkungen über die Kräfte der unbelebten Natur,” appeared in 1842 in Liebig’s Annalen, five years after the republication, in the same journal, of an extract from K. F. Mohr’s paper on the nature of heat, and three years later he published Die organische Bewegung in ihren Zusammenhange mit dem Stoffwechsel.
Mayer’s real merit consists in the fact that, having for himself made out, on inadequate and even questionable grounds, the conservation of energy, and having obtained (though by inaccurate reasoning) a numerical result correct so far as his data permitted, he applied the principle with great power and insight to the explanation of numerous physical phenomena. His papers, which were republished in a single volume with the title Die Mechanik der Wärme (3rd ed., 1893), are of unequal merit. But some, especially those on Celestial Dynamics and Organic Motion, are admirable examples of what really valuable work may be effected by a man of high intellectual powers, in spite of imperfect information and defective logic.Different, and it would appear exaggerated, estimates of Mayer are given in John Tyndall’s papers in the Phil. Mag., 1863–1864 (whose avowed object was “to raise a noble and a suffering man to the position which his labours entitled him to occupy”), and in E. Dühring’s Robert Mayer, der Galilei des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, Chemnitz, 1880. Some of the simpler facts of the case are summarized by Tait in the Phil. Mag., 1864, ii. 289.