Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parker, George (1697-1764)

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PARKER, GEORGE, second Earl of Macclesfield (1697–1764), astronomer, was the only son of Thomas Parker, first earl of Macclesfield [q. v.], and was born in 1697. He was instructed in mathematics by Abraham De Moivre [q. v.], and William Jones (1675–1749) [q. v.] His father procured for him in 1719 an appointment for life as one of the tellers of the exchequer, and he bore the title of Lord Parker from 1721 until 1732, when he succeeded his father in the earldom. In March 1720 he set out for Italy in company with Edward Wright, who published in 1730, in two quarto volumes, an account of their travels; and on their return Lord Parker married, 18 Sept. 1722, Mary, eldest daughter of Ralph Lane, an eminent Turkey merchant. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 23 Oct. 1722, and sat in parliament as member for Wallingford from 1722 to 1727. His residence at this time was in Soho Square, London; but he spent much time also at Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire, where he pursued his studies under Jones's guidance, and added largely to the library. There, too, aided by James Bradley, with whom he had early formed a friendship, he erected about 1739 an astronomical observatory. Its instrumental equipment, perhaps the finest then existing, consisted of a 5-ft. transit and a quadrant (both by Sisson), clocks by Tompion and Graham, a 14-ft. refractor fitted with a micrometer, besides, as a later addition, a 3½-ft. achromatic by Dollond. The series of Lord Macclesfield's personal observations, begun on 4 June 1740, was continued nearly to his death. Among the subjects of them was the great comet of December 1743. In 1742 he succeeded by untiring exertions in procuring for Bradley, his frequent guest and occasional assistant, the post of astronomer-royal; and he then trained a stable-boy and a shepherd, named Thomas Phelps [q. v.] and Bartlett respectively, to work under him. A curious engraving of the pair in the act of taking an observation is preserved by the Royal Astronomical Society; it is dated 1776, when Phelps was in his eighty-third year. The Shirburn Castle observing books are now in the Savilian Library, Oxford. Their records extend, for the transit, from 1740 to 1787; for the quadrant,from 1743 to 1793. Macclesfield obtained from the Royal Society in 1748 the loan of two object-glasses by Huygens, of 120 and 210 feet focus, and had one, or both, mounted at Shirburn Castle. Hard by he built a large chemical laboratory, supplied with furnaces and other apparatus.

Macclesfield was mainly instrumental in procuring the change of style in 1752. He communicated to the Royal Society on 10 May 1750 a preparatory paper entitled 'Remarks upon the Solar and the Lunar Years' (Phil. Trans. xlvi. 417); made most of the necessary calculations; and his speech in the House of Peers, 18 March 1751, on the second reading of the 'Bill for regulating the Commencement of the Year,' was by general request separately printed. Lord Chesterfield wrote of him as the virtual author of the bill, and as 'one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers in Europe,' adding that he 'spoke with infinite knowledge and all the clearness that so intricate a matter could admit of; but as his words, his periods, and his utterance, were not near so good as mine, the preference was most unanimously, though most unjustly, given to me' (Letters to his Son, ii. 76, ed. Carey). Macclesfield's action in the matter was highly unpopular (cf. Lecky, i. 268; Stanhope, Hist. lii. 340; Maty, Chesterfield, p. 320; Parl. Hist. xv. 136). When his eldest son, Lord Parker, contested Oxfordshire in 1754, one of the cries of the mob was, 'Give us back the eleven days we have been robbed of;' and a ballad of the day commences:

In seventeen hundred and fifty-three
The style it was changed to Popery.

(Perkins, Political Ballads, ii. 211).

Macclesfield was elected president of the Royal Society in 1762, and discharged the duties of the office with great assiduity during twelve years. An account of his observations while at Shirburn of the earthquake in 1755 appears in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' xlix. 370. An honorary degree of D.C.L. was conferred upon him by the university of Oxford on 8 July 1759. He was a member of the French Academy, a vice-president of the Foundling Hospital, and high steward of Henley-upon-Thames. At the funeral of Frederick, prince of Wales, on 13 April 1751 , he was one of the pall-bearers. He died at Shirburn Castle on 17 March 1764. By his first wife, who died on 4 June 1753, he had two sons: Thomas, lord Parker, M.P. for Rochester, and his successor as third earl of Macclesfield (d. 1795); and George Lane Parker (see below). He married, secondly, in November 1757, Miss Dorothy Nesbit, by whom he had no children. A portrait of him by Hogarth is at Shirburn Castle, as well as one of his first wife by Kneller. A second portrait, painted by T. Hudson in 1753, hangs in the meeting-room of the Royal Society. It was engraved by Faber in 1754.

George Lane Parker (1724–1791), the second son, served many years in the 1st foot guards (lieutenant and captain 1749, captain and lieutenant-colonel in 1755, and second major in 1770); attained the rank of major-general; was appointed in 1773 colonel of the 20th foot, became a lieutenant-general in 1777, and was transferred to the colonelcy of the 12th dragoons in 1782. He was many years M.P. for Tregony, and died in 1791 (Cannon, Hist. Rec. 12th Lancers, p. 79; cf. Parker to George Selwyn in Jesse's Selwyn, i. 277).

[Phil. Trans. Abridged, x. 33 (Hutton); Weld's Hist. of the Royal Soc. i. 518, 525, ii. 1–6; Weld's Descriptive Cat. of Portraits, p. 44; Memoirs prefixed to Bradley's Miscellaneous Works (Rigaud), pp. xlv–xlviii, lxxxi–lxxxiv; Correspondence of Scientific Men (Rigaud), i. 366–71; Thomson's Hist. of the Royal Soc.; Foster's Alumni; Gent. Mag. 1764, p. 147; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 464; Collins's Peerage, 5th ed. iv. 371; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 332; Countess of Macclesfield's Scattered Notices of Shirburn Castle, 1887.]

A. M. C.