Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brande, William Thomas
BRANDE, WILLIAM THOMAS (1788–1866), chemist, and editor of the 'Dictionary of Science and Art,' was born in Arlington Street, St. James's, on 11 Feb. 1788, his father being an apothecary. He was educated in Kensington and at Westminster, It was his father's wish that his son William should enter the church; but the boy expressed so strong an inclination for the medical profession that he was, on 2 Feb. 1802, apprenticed to his brother, who was a licentiate of the Company of Apothecaries.About this period the family removed from Arlington Street to Chiswick. The young Brande here became acquainted with Mr. Charles Hatchett, who was devoting his attention to chemical investigations, and especially to the analysis of minerals. Mr. Hatchett allowed him to assist in his laboratory, and he encouraged him in the study of the classification of ores and rocks, supplying him with duplicates from his own cabinets. This formed the foundation of the minerological series which were in future years used in the lectures and classes of the Royal Institution. Mr. Charles Hatchett, whose daughter Brande subsequently married, sedulously encouraged his love of science.
In 1802 Brande visited his uncle at Hanover, and in 1803 was in Brunswick and Göttingen. The breaking out of the war, and the advance of the French on Hanover, interfered with his linguistic and scientific studies, and he had much difficulty in escaping to Hamburg, where be embarked in a Dutch merchant-vessel for London, which he reached after passing a month at sea. Brande re-entered his brother's employment in 1804. He became a pupil at the Anatomical School in Windmill Street, and studied chemistry under Dr. George Pearson at St. George's Hospital. He also made the acquaintance of Mr. (afterwards Sir Benjamin) Brodie, and formed friendships with Sir Everard Home, Dr. Pemberton, and other men of eminence.
Brande has left us an interesting note of this date. He says: 'I was now full of ardour in the prosecution of chemistry; and although my brother—with whom I still lived, whose apprentice I was, and in whose shop, notwithstanding all other associations, I still worked, and passed a large part of my time—threw every obstacle in the way of my chemical progress that was decently in his power, I found time, however, to read, and often to experiment, in my bedroom late in the evening. I thus collected a series of notes and observations which I fondly hoped might at some future period serve as the basis of a course of lectures, and this in time they actually did. It was at this period that, in imitation of Mr. Hatchett's researches, I made some experiments on benzoin, the results of which were published in "Nicholson's Journal" for February 1805.' This, his first contribution to scientific literature, appeared when be was only a little more than sixteen years of age. In 1805 Brande became a member of the Westminster Medical Society, and in June of that year be read before the members a paper on 'Respiration,' which he contributed afterwards to 'Nicholson's Journal.'
Early in life Brande appears to have been introduced to Davy, and shortly after the return of the latter from Germany he renewed the acquaintance and attended his lectures at the Royal Institution.
In 1805 Mr. Hatcbett presented to the Royal Society a paper by Brande 'On some Experiments on Guaiacum Resin,' which was printed in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1800, Sir Everard Home entrusted Brande with the analysis of calculi selected selected from the collection in the College of Surgeons. The results were communicated to the Royal Society on 19 May 1808, and published—with some observations by Sir Everard Home—in the ‘Transactions.’ Two other important papers by him were published by the Royal Society in 1811 and 1813. These were ‘On the State and Quantity of Alcohol in Fermented Liquids,’ and for them Brande received the Copley medal.
In 1808 Brande commenced lecturing, giving two courses on pharmaceutical chemistry at Dr. Hooper's Medical Theatre in Cork Street, Burlington Gardens. He subsequently lectured at the New Medico-Chemical School in Windmill Street, on physics and chemistry, and gave a course of lectures on ‘Materia Medica’ at the house of Dr. Pearson.
In 1809 Brande was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1812 he accepted the appointment of professor of chemistry and superintending chemical operator to the Apothecaries' Company. He soon after became professor of materia medica, and delivered annually a course of lectures on that subject. In the spring of this year Sir Humphry Davy ‘could not pledge himself to continue the lectures which he has been accustomed to deliver to the Royal Institution;’ but he was willing to accept the offices of professor of chemistry and director of the laboratory and mineralogical collection without salary, and on 1 June he was, at a special general meeting, appointed to these offices. Under this arrangement with Sir Humphry Davy, Brande was elected in December of the same year to lecture on ‘Chemical Philosophy.’ In April 1813 Davy ‘begged leave to resign his situation of honorary professor.’ Brande was then elected to the professorship of chemistry. The rooms in the Royal Institution building which had been occupied by Sir Humphry Davy were prepared for him, and a few months later he was appointed superintendent of the house, and was allowed to transfer his chemical class of medical students from Windmill Street to the laboratory of that establishment.
Brande delivered, for Sir Humphry Davy, a course of lectures on ‘Agricultural Chemistry’ before the Board of Agriculture. On the death of Dr. Pearson the chemical lectures were transferred from St. George's Hospital to the Royal Institution, and Brande, now assisted by Faraday, devoted himself entirely to chemical investigations and to lectures on the science. For several years Brande's position was a responsible one. Officially he must be regarded as the leading chemist of the metropolis at the time; his assistant Faraday was travelling with Davy on the continent.
In 1823 the government consulted Brande on the manufacture of iron and steel, the object of the proposed inquiry being to obtain a more coherent metal for the dies used in the coinage. The report, which was of an especially practical character, led to considerable improvement and much economy in the Mint. As soon as it became possible Brande was appointed by the crown as superintendent of the die department. This appointment he held conjointly with his other posts for many years. In 1854 he was appointed the chief officer of the coinage department at the Royal Mint, when he resigned the professorship at the Royal Institution.
On the return of Faraday from the continent in 1825 he was associated with Brande in the lectures delivered in the theatre of the Royal Institution, and in editing the ‘Quarterly Journal of Science and Art,’ which had been published since 1816. From 1816 to 1826 Brande was one of the secretaries of the Royal Society. In 1836 he was named one of the original fellows of the University of London and a member of the senate of that body. In 1846 he became examiner in chemistry, which office he retained until 1858. He died 11 Feb. 1866.
Brande received the honorary degree of doctor of civil law in the university of Oxford. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a member of several foreign societies.
Brande published in the ‘Transactions of the Royal Society,’ and in several scientific journals, twenty-seven papers, all of them the result of close investigation. Among the more important were ‘Chemical Researches on the Blood and some other Animal Fluids,’ in 1811; ‘On some Electrochemical Phenomena,’ which was the subject of the Bakerian lecture for 1813; ‘On Electro-magnetic Clocks,’ in 1817; several papers on the ‘Destructive Distillation of Coal,’ and on ‘Coal Gas as an Illuminant,’ between 1816 and 1819. ‘The Outlines of Geology’ were published in the ‘Quarterly Journal of Science’ in 1825 to 1827. The other papers were connected with his position as chemist to the Apothecaries' Company, and related mainly to pharmaceutical inquiries. The ‘London Pharmacopœia,’ which was an ill-arranged collection of recipes, was greatly improved by Brande, especially in its chemistry. Brande's ‘Manual of Chemistry,’ which went through six editions, was the text-book of the day. His ‘Dictionary of Pharmacy and Materia Medica’ was one of the most useful books ever placed in the hands of a medical student. His ‘Dictionary of Science and Art,’ of which he became the editor in 1842, was a laborious undertaking, supplying a serious want. He was engaged in revising a new edition of this work when death brought his active life to a close.
During forty-six years Brande laboured most industriously in the front ranks of science. Although, unlike his friends Davy and Faraday, he failed to connect his name with any important discovery, he aided in the development of several branches of science, and by his earnest truthfulness—preferring demonstration to speculation—he fitted himself for an important position at a time when science was undergoing remarkable changes.
[Dr. Bence-Jones in Proceedings of Royal Institution; Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. xvi. pt. ii. and Catalogue of Scientific Papers, i. 564; Quarterly Journal of Science, iv. 1818–1822; Nicholson's Journal of Natural Philosophy.]