Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Weld, Charles Richard

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WELD, CHARLES RICHARD (1813–1869), historian of the Royal Society, born at Windsor in August 1813, was the son of Isaac Weld (d. 1824) of Dublin, by his second marriage, contracted in 1812, to Lucy, only daughter of Eyre Powell of Great Connell, Kildare. He was thus half-brother to Isaac Weld [q. v.] In 1820 he accompanied his parents to France, where they occupied a château near Dijon. After his father's death he returned to Dublin and attended classes at Trinity College, but took no degree there. In 1839 he proceeded to London and took up an appointment as secretary to the Statistical Society. Three years later he married Anne, daughter of Henry Selwood and niece of Sir John Franklin; her elder sister, Emily, married Alfred Tennyson, and her youngest sister, Louisa, married Charles Tennyson. Weld studied at the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar on 22 Nov. 1844; but science was his true vocation, and, under the friendly advice of Sir John Barrow, he became in 1845 assistant secretary and librarian to the Royal Society, a post which he held for sixteen years. The senior secretary at the time was Dr. Peter Mark Roget [q. v.] With Roget's warm encouragement Weld commenced at once upon the work by which he is remembered, and which appeared in two volumes in 1848 as ‘A History of the Royal Society with Memoirs of the Presidents, compiled from Authentic Documents’ (London, 8vo). The book was illustrated by drawings made by Mrs. Weld, and proved a well-written and much-needed supplement to the histories of Birch and Thomson. An interesting appendix to the volumes is the ‘Descriptive Catalogue of the Portraits in the possession of the Royal Society,’ which Weld compiled by order of the council in 1860.

In 1850 Weld commenced his agreeably written series of ‘Vacation Tours,’ with ‘Auvergne, Piedmont, and Savoy; a Summer Ramble,’ followed in 1854 by ‘A Vacation Tour in the United States and Canada,’ dedicated to Isaac Weld, whose own ‘Travels in North America’ had excited much attention in 1799. Next came ‘A Vacation in Brittany’ (1856), ‘A Vacation in Ireland’ (1857), ‘The Pyrenees, West and East’ (1859), ‘Two Months in the Highlands, Orcadia and Skye’ (1860), ‘Last Winter in Rome’ (1865), ‘Florence the New Capital of Italy’ (1867), and ‘Notes on Burgundy,’ edited by Mrs. Weld after her husband's death in 1869. Many of these were illustrated by the author's own sketches.

Weld was the chief helper of Sir John Franklin in the home work connected with his Arctic explorations, and was an authority on every matter connected with the polar circle. He issued in 1850 a well-timed lecture on ‘Arctic Expeditions,’ originally delivered at the London Institution on 6 Feb. 1850, and this was followed by pamphlets upon the search for Franklin during 1851.

In 1861 he resigned his post at the Royal Society, and he shortly afterwards became a partner in the publishing business with Lovell Reeve. In 1862 he was entrusted with the preparation and management of the philosophical department of the International Exhibition, and he was also appointed a ‘district superintendent’ of the exhibition. He represented Great Britain at the Paris Exhibition of 1867, as one of the assistant commissioners, and his able report on the ‘Philosophical Instruments and Apparatus for Teaching Science’ was printed, and afterwards abridged for the ‘Illustrated London News’ (5 Oct. 1867). In the autumn of 1868 he went on a tour in Burgundy, and during the winter season he delivered several papers at the ‘Bath Literary and Philosophical Association,’ in the welfare of which he took a warm interest. He died suddenly at his residence (since 1865), Bellevue, New Bridge Hill, near Bath, on 15 Jan. 1869. He was survived by a widow and a daughter, Miss Agnes Grace Weld. A portrait of Charles Richard Weld is prefixed to the posthumous ‘Notes on Burgundy’ which he was preparing for the press at the time of his death.

[Register and Magazine of Biography, 1869, i. 222; Times, 19 Jan. 1869; Men of the Reign, 5th edit.; Allibone's Dictionary of English Literature; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

T. S.