Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/November 1878/Sketch of William Spottiswoode

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WE in the present number of the Monthly offer to our readers a portrait of Mr. William Spottiswoode, F.R.S., D.C.L., LL.D., President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at its late session in Dublin.

William Spottiswoode is the son of Andrew Spottiswoode, M.P., printer to the Crown and the House of Lords, and prominent in the history of printing for his earnest encouragement of every invention tending to perfect that important art. The son was born in London, January 11, 1825. Having studied successively at the famous public schools of Eton and Harrow, winning high honors at the latter institution, he in 1842 entered Balliol College, University of Oxford, and three years later graduated A. B. as a first-class in mathematics. He had already made considerable progress in that particular branch of knowledge, and in 1837 and the following years had printed for circulation among his friends "Meditationes Analyticæ." He has ever since followed with keen interest the progress of mathematical research, and is an active member of the Mathematical Society of London. In 1846 and 1847 he gained mathematical scholarships at Oxford.

But the death of his father, occurring in the latter year, devolved upon Spottiswoode the active superintendence of a great printing establishment, and henceforth he could devote to his mathematical and other studies only his leisure time; nevertheless, in sundry departments of learning and science Mr. Spottiswoode has rendered eminent service, at the same time taking an active part in movements having for their end the promotion of popular education and the social and material improvement of working people.

His favorite studies, besides the mathematics, are, in physical science, light-polarization, to the explanation of which his experimental researches have greatly contributed; languages, both European and Oriental, but especially Sanskrit; and certain departments of philosophy. Of his philosophical power and insight we have abundant evidence in the elaborate discourse addressed to the British Association in Dublin last August. (It is published in the Popular Science Monthly Supplement for October.)Mr. Spottiswoode is Honorary Secretary of the London Royal Institution, and charged with the duty of arranging its winter courses of lectures on science, art, literature, etc. He frequently lectures in these courses himself, taking that means of bringing before the world the results of his scientific studies. His printed works are "Meditationes Analyticæ;" "A Tarantasse Journey" (1857), giving an account of a visit to Eastern Russia; and "Polarization of Light" (1874). He was Treasurer of the British Association from 1861 to 1874, of the Royal Institution from 1865 to 1873, and of the Royal Society from 1871 to 1878, in all these positions happily combining the prudent economy of the man of business with the open-handedness of the lover of science. He has been nominated by the Council of the Royal Society to succeed Sir Joseph D. Hooker in the presidency of that eminent scientific body. Mr. Spottiswoode was elected Corresponding Member of the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1876, and honorary degrees of LL.D. and D. C. L. have been conferred upon him by the Universities of Oxford, Dublin, and Edinburgh. He is a member of nearly all of the great scientific societies of England—the Astronomical, Geographical, Asiatic, and Ethnological, and of the Society of Arts. He was Public Examiner in Mathematics at Oxford in 1857-'58, and has acted as an examiner under the Civil Service Commissioners; also for the Society of Arts and the Middle-Class Schools. He has always been a liberal patron of makers of philosophical instruments, and has thus promoted many an ingenious invention.