Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tomlinson, Charles

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TOMLINSON, CHARLES (1808–1897), scientific writer, younger son of Charles Tomlinson, was born in North London on 27 Nov. 1808. His father, who belonged to a Shropshire family, finding himself in poor circumstances, enlisted, and, after serving in Holland, died on the way to India. He left a widow and two sons, Lewis and Charles, who from an early age had to depend for support on their own exertions. Charles studied science, chiefly at the London Mechanics' Institute, under George Birkbeck [q. v.], while his elder brother was able to maintain himself as a clerk at Wadham College, Oxford. After graduating B.A. in 1829 Lewis obtained a curacy, and in the following year sent for Charles to assist him in scholastic work. A few years later Lewis obtained a curacy near Salisbury, and with his brother founded a day-school in the city.

During the vacations Charles improved his knowledge of science by attending lectures at University College, London, and elsewhere. He made some attempts at original research, and published papers in Thomson's ‘Records of Science’ and also in ‘The Magazine of Popular Science.’ In 1838 he published the substance of some of these papers under the title ‘The Student's Manual of Natural Philosophy,’ London, 8vo. He also contributed largely to the ‘Saturday Magazine,’ then published by Parker, who found him so useful that he invited him to settle in London. This connection brought him into contact with various scientific men, among others with Sir William Snow Harris [q. v.], William Thomas Brande [q. v.], John Frederick Daniell [q. v.], and William Allen Miller [q. v.] On the sudden death of Daniell in 1845 Miller and Tomlinson collaborated in completing a new edition of Daniell's ‘Meteorology,’ which had been interrupted by the author's death. Tomlinson was soon after appointed lecturer on experimental science in King's College school.

To Tomlinson was due the perception of several important scientific phenomena. Early in his career his attention was attracted by the singular rotation of fragments of camphor on the surface of water. By investigation he ascertained that many other bodies also possess that property, and that liquids, such as creosote, carbolic acid, ether, alcohol, and essential and fused oils, assume definite figures on the surface of oil and other liquids in a state of chemical purity in chemically clean vessels. These researches obtained for Tomlinson the friendship of Professor Van der Mensbrugghe of the university of Ghent, who found Tomlinson's conclusions of much importance in establishing the theory of the surface tension of liquids.

In 1864 Tomlinson was elected on the council of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1867 he became a fellow of the Chemical Society, and in 1872 he was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society. He was also one of the founders of the Physical Society in 1874. Some time before his death he retired from his post at King's College, and the later years of his life were devoted more to literature, and especially to the study of poetry. From 1878 to 1880 he held the Dante lectureship at University College, London. He died at Highgate on 15 Feb. 1897. Before leaving Salisbury he married Miss Sarah Windsor, author of several small manuals and stories.

Besides the works mentioned, Tomlinson was author of:

  1. ‘Amusements in Chess,’ London, 1845, 8vo.
  2. ‘Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy,’ London, 1848, 12mo.
  3. ‘Pneumatics for the Use of Beginners,’ London, 1848, 12mo; 4th edit. 1887, 8vo.
  4. ‘Rudimentary Mechanics,’ London, 1849, 12mo; 9th edit. 1867.
  5. ‘A Rudimentary Treatise on Warming and Ventilating,’ London, 1850, 12mo; App. 1858.
  6. ‘The Natural History of Common Salt,’ London, 1850, 16mo.
  7. ‘Objects in Art Manufacture,’ London, 1854, 8vo.
  8. ‘Illustrations of the Useful Arts,’ London, 1855–64, 12mo.
  9. ‘Illustrations of Trades,’ London, 1860, 4to.
  10. ‘The Useful Arts and Manufactures of Great Britain,’ London, 1861, 12mo.
  11. ‘On the Motion of Camphor towards the Light,’ London, 1862, 8vo.
  12. ‘Experimental Essays,’ London, 1863, 8vo.
  13. ‘On the Motions of Eugenic Acid on the Surface of Water,’ London, 1864, 8vo.
  14. ‘On the Invention of Printing,’ London, 1865, 8vo.
  15. ‘Illustrations of Science,’ London, 1867, 8vo.
  16. ‘The Sonnet: its Origin, Structure, and place in Poetry,’ London, 1874, 8vo.
  17. ‘Experiments on a Lump of Camphor,’ London, 1876, 16mo.
  18. ‘The Literary History of the Divine Comedy,’ London, 1879, 8vo.
  19. ‘Sonnets,’ London, 1881, 16mo.
  20. ‘Essays, Old and New,’ London, 1887, 8vo.
  21. ‘A Critical Examination of Goethe's Sonnets,’ London, 1890, 8vo.
  22. ‘Dante, Beatrice, and the Divine Comedy,’ London, 1894, 8vo.

He also edited several scientific works, including a ‘Cyclopædia of Useful Arts,’ 1852–4, 8vo; new edit. 1866; translated Dante's ‘Inferno,’ London, 1877, 8vo; and contributed to ‘Notes and Queries’ and to the eighth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica.’

[Tomlinson's Works; Biograph, 1881, vi. 265–70; Times, 16 Feb. 1897.]

E. I. C.