Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/December 1872/Sketch of General Sir Edward Sabine

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General Sir Edward Sabine
President of the Royal Society


WE furnish our readers this month with an excellent likeness of the venerable President of the Royal Society, England, who will have a permanent and distinguished place in the history of science through his researches on terrestrial magnetism, of which he may be regarded as the pioneer explorer. He is of Irish extraction, though descended from an ancient Italian family, and was born in October, 1788. He entered the army, and became second-lieutenant at the age of fifteen, captain at twenty-five, colonel at sixty-three, major-general in 1859, at the age of seventy-one, and was created Knight-Commander of the Order of the Bath, in 1869, at the age of eighty-one. During the war with the United States he took part in the campaign of 1814, on the Niagara frontier, when he commanded the batteries at the siege of Fort Erie. He first became known to the public by the part which he took in the Arctic Explorations in 1818-'19. He here made a series of magnetic observations of great value, an account of which was published in two papers, which he communicated to the Royal Society on his return. These and other papers, printed in the Philosophical Transactions, demonstrated several new and important facts relative to the variations of the magnetic needle, and it was the results of the observations in these northern voyages which gave the first great impulse to the systematic study of the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism. The strong desire of continuing the investigation of this and other branches of experimental physics, prompted him to undertake a series of voyages to places between the equator and the north-pole, making at each point observations on the length of the seconds-pendulum, and on the dip and intensity of the magnetic needle. The fruits of these labors were of high importance, and were published, along with other information, in 1825, and from this period his history is that of a studious investigator into the laws of and phenomena of Nature. In 1827 he was chosen secretary of the Royal Society, which office he filled until 1830. In 1836 he communicated to the British Association at Bristol his observations on the declination and intensity of the magnetic force in Scotland, and to the same Association he delivered at Liverpool a report on the variations of magnetic intensity at different parts of the earth's surface. His labors have led to the discovery of the laws of "magnetic storms," of the connection between certain magnetic phenomena and the changes of the solar spots (already referred to), and of the magnetic action of the sun and moon on the earth. General Sabine deserves almost the sole credit of extending the body of known facts in magnetic science, by the establishment of magnetic observatories in all parts of the world, and the collation of the enormous mass of facts thus acquired. He has contributed, to various scientific societies, numerous papers which display great powers of research. He edited Mrs. Sabine's translation of Humboldt's "Cosmos," published in 1849-'58.

Colonel Sabine was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1818, and President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at its Belfast meeting, in 1852. He succeeded Sir Benjamin Brodie, as President of the Royal Society, in 1861, and continues to discharge the duties of this office, at the advanced age of eighty-four.