Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whewell, William
WHEWELL, WILLIAM (1794–1866), master of Trinity College, Cambridge, born in Brock Street, Lancaster, on 24 May 1794, was eldest of the seven children of John Whewell, master-carpenter, by his wife Elizabeth (Bennison). Of William's three brothers, two died in infancy, while the third lived just long enough (1803–1812) to show promise. He had three sisters: Elizabeth, who died unmarried in 1821; Martha, who married the Rev. James Statter, and died in 1863, when her brother privately printed some of her verses, with a prefatory notice; and Ann, who married William Newton and died in 1879. William was sent very young to the ‘Blue School’ in Lancaster. Joseph Rowley, master of the grammar school, happening to talk to William, was struck by his abilities, and offered to teach him freely at the grammar school. The father, who had intended to apprentice his son to himself, consented after some hesitation. Richard Owen the naturalist was sent to the same school at the age of six (1810), and gave his recollections of Whewell to Mrs. Stair Douglas (Life of Whewell, p. 3). According to this account, Whewell, a ‘tall, ungainly youth,’ was humiliated by being sent to Owen to learn the meaning of the mysterious word ‘viz.’ The two formed, says Owen, a lasting friendship from that time. Whewell, however, made so rapid a bound upwards that his schoolfellows had to take forcible measures to prevent him from raising the standard of lessons. A sense of fair play prevented more than two together from attempting to ‘wallop’ him into decent idleness, and the fate of the first pair did not encourage a second assault. The dates suggest some inaccuracy. In 1809, before Owen came to the school, Whewell had been examined by a Mr. Hudson, tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge, who prophesied that he would be among the first six wranglers. He consequently moved in 1810 to the grammar school at Heversham, where there was an exhibition to Trinity, worth about 50l. a year. No parishioner of Heversham having applied, Whewell obtained the exhibition in 1811 on condition of passing two years at the school. After going to Cambridge in 1811 to be entered, he returned to spend another year at Heversham. He also took charge of the school during a vacancy of the mastership. He had some lessons from John Gough (1757–1825) [q. v.] of Kendal, the famous blind mathematician, reading ‘conic sections, fluxions, and mechanics.’ In October 1812 he went up to Cambridge. His health, which had been delicate, became strong. He set to work vigorously at the studies and amusements of the place. He made friends with John Frederick William Herschel, the senior wrangler of 1813, and other young men of academical distinction. He did well in college examinations, won a ‘declamation prize’ in 1813 by an essay upon Brutus and Cæsar, and in 1814 won the chancellor's English medal by a poem upon Boadicea. His friends expected him to be senior wrangler in 1816, but he was beaten by Edward Jacob [see under Jacob, William]. At that time the candidates were first arranged in brackets, the order within each bracket being decided by a further examination. Jacob was placed by himself in the first and Whewell by himself in the second bracket. Jacob was also first, and Whewell second, Smith's prizeman. Legends were long current in Cambridge as to this defeat; Whewell, it was said, had been thrown off his guard by Jacob's apparent idleness. Whewell, from his letters, seems to have taken the result in good part, complaining only that he could not write fast enough in the examination. He was president of the Union Society in 1817, and in the chair at a famous debate in March of that year when the vice-chancellor sent the proctors to disperse the meeting. Whewell vainly desired the strangers to withdraw while their message was under consideration. He and Connop Thirlwall [q. v.] were permitted to appeal to the vice-chancellor in person, but the debates were for the time suppressed.
Whewell's mother died in 1807, and his father in July 1816. He was now able to support himself by taking private pupils, and for several years took reading parties for the long vacation. Two of his closest friends, Herschel and Richard Jones (1790–1855) [q. v.] the economist, left Cambridge, to his great regret; but he had become strongly attached to the place. Among other friends were Babbage, Richard Sheepshanks [q. v.] the astronomer, and Hugh James Rose [q. v.] With Rose he kept up a long correspondence. Kenelm Henry Digby [q. v.] was a private pupil, and, though differing very widely in tastes, spoke in strong terms of his tutor's generosity and friendliness (Stair Douglas, p. 36). He was elected to a fellowship at his college on 1 Oct. 1817, and appointed assistant tutor in 1818. In 1823 he became tutor of one of the ‘sides,’ having a colleague for the first year. The number of sides was increased at the time of his appointment from two to three. One of the other tutors was George Peacock (1791–1858) [q. v.], afterwards dean of Ely. Among the lecturers during his tutorship were Julius Charles Hare [q. v.], whom he induced to return to Cambridge in 1822, and Connop Thirlwall, afterwards bishop of St. David's, who also returned on giving up the bar in 1827. Whewell was thus one of a group of very able men who were beginning to raise the standard of Cambridge education. In 1818 the Cambridge Philosophical Society was founded, and Whewell was one of the original members. Rose, Hare, and Thirlwall were studying German literature in various departments. Whewell read Kant carefully, and became in some degree a disciple. He learnt German thoroughly. Humboldt complained of having missed him at Potsdam, because orders had been given to admit an English gentleman, and Whewell was taken for a German (Todhunter, i. 411). In later years he translated a novel of Auerbach's and Goethe's ‘Hermann and Dorothea,’ for which he had an enthusiastic admiration. His friends Babbage, Herschel, and Peacock were now introducing the analytical methods of continental mathematicians, still neglected at Cambridge [see under Peacock, George, (1791–1858)]. Whewell supported them (Todhunter, ii. 14, 30), and, when his friends talked of starting a review, suggested that it might be floated at Cambridge by adding some ‘neatly done mathematics’ (ib. p. 21)—an ‘odd expedient,’ as he admits. As the review never started, this mode of increasing circulation was not tested. Meanwhile, as mathematical lecturer at Trinity and moderator (1820 and 1828) he could exercise a more appropriate influence in the cause. He first became an author in the same interest. A text-book upon mechanics, first published in 1819, helped, as Todhunter says (i. 13), to introduce the continental mathematics. It went through many editions, and he followed it up by other books of a similar kind. In 1820 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and early in the same year made the acquaintance of George Biddell Airy (afterwards astronomer royal), then an undergraduate at Trinity, and at a later time one of his warmest friends. He made tours during the long vacations. The first attempt with his friend Sheepshanks in 1819 was ended by the wreck of the packet in which they were crossing the Channel, and the loss of all their baggage. In 1820 they visited Switzerland. These tours led to a new subject of study. Letters from Sheepshanks in 1822 show that Whewell was taking an interest in ecclesiastical architecture (Todhunter, i. 31). In 1823 he made a tour with Kenelm Digby to see the churches of Normandy and Picardy. In 1829, 1830, and 1831 he made later tours for similar purposes in Germany, Cornwall, and Normandy. His various observations enabled him to write a book of ‘Architectural Notes,’ giving his theory of Gothic architecture. A tour in Germany in 1825 had a more strictly scientific purpose. He had already published papers upon crystallography in the ‘Transactions’ of the Royal and the Cambridge Philosophical societies, and he announced himself (June 1825) a candidate for the chair of mineralogy about to be vacated by John Stevens Henslow [q. v.] He visited Germany to obtain instruction in the science from Professor Mohs. Disputes as to the right of election delayed the appointment to the Cambridge professorship till March 1828, when Whewell was elected. He immediately published an essay upon ‘Mineralogical Classification.’ In 1827 he had been elected a fellow of the Geological Society. In 1826, and again in 1828, he made some laborious experiments with Airy at the bottom of Dolcoath mine, near Camborne in Cornwall, with a view to determining the density of the earth. Accidents to the instruments employed were on both occasions fatal to the success of the experiments.
Whewell had been ordained priest on Trinity Sunday 1825 (the date of his ordination as deacon seems to be unknown; Stair Douglas, p. 101; Todhunter, i. 32). His scientific occupations had not diminished his interest in theology, upon which he communicated with his friends H. J. Rose and Julius Hare. In September 1830 he was appointed to write one of the Bridgewater ‘Treatises.’ This, which appeared in 1833, was the first and perhaps the most popular of the series. It was also, as Todhunter thinks, the book which first made Whewell known to general readers. Its subject is astronomy considered with reference to natural theology. The book anticipates the point which he treated at length in the ‘Plurality of Worlds.’ It was criticised with some severity by Brewster in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ of January 1834.
Whewell in 1832 resigned the chair of mineralogy, in which he was succeeded by William Hallowes Miller [q. v.] He presented his collections to the university, with a sum of 100l. towards the provision of a suitable museum. Whewell had already made the acquaintance of many men of scientific eminence on the continent as well as in England. James David Forbes [q. v.], who visited Cambridge in May 1831, became one of his warmest friends. The foundation of the British Association in 1831 widened his circle of acquaintance. He was prevented by college business from attending the first meeting at York, but he was at the Oxford meeting in 1832, and a secretary at the Cambridge meeting of 1833. He then induced Quetelet and (Sir) William Rowan Hamilton [q. v.] to attend, and gave and address expounding his principles of scientific inquiry. He was afterwards a regular attendant at the meetings; was a vice-president at Dublin in 1835—where he took occasion to study Irish architecture and the round towers—and president at Plymouth in 1841. He remarked in his presidential address that there was scarcely ‘any subordinate office of labour or dignity’ in the body which he had not discharged at one or other of its meetings. He suggested at the first meeting the reports upon the state of various sciences, and he himself contributed various memoirs. He seems to have originally taken up the subject of tides with the intention of reporting to the association. He published his fourteen memoirs upon tides in the Royal Society's ‘Transactions’ from 1833 to 1850, and in 1837 received a gold medal from the Royal Society for his investigations. He had many other relations with scientific contemporaries. In 1831 he helped Lyell, whose ‘Principles of Geology’ he had reviewed in the ‘British Critic,’ to construct an appropriate geological nomenclature; and in 1834 he had a similar correspondence with Faraday in regard to a nomenclature for his correspondent's discoveries in electricity. In February 1837 he was made president of the Geological Society in succession to Lyell, the office being tenable for two years. In February 1838 and 1839 he delivered two addresses in this capacity, announcing the award of the Wollaston medal to Owen on the first and to Professor Ehrenberg on the second occasion. Among these various occupations Whewell had found time to complete the first part of his greatest book. He describes the general plan in a letter to Jones on 27 July 1834. The ‘History of the Inductive Sciences’ appeared in three thick octavo volumes in 1837. The sequel, called the ‘Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences,’ in two thick volumes, was published in 1840. Humboldt acknowledged a copy of this book in a letter expressive of warm admiration (given in Todhunter, i. 147–9). The whole went through various modifications in later editions. Lyell had been accustomed to regret (as he had said in a letter to the author) that Whewell had not concentrated himself upon some special department. He had now come round to the belief that Whewell had given a greater impulse to study by becoming ‘a universalist’ (Todhunter, i. 112). Brewster criticised the ‘History’ in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ for October 1837, and the ‘Philosophy’ in the ‘Edinburgh’ for January 1842; besides noticing Whewell unfavourably in an article upon Comte in the same review for July 1838 (see M. Napier's Correspondence, pp. 193, 371, 374, 377–81). Outsiders considered that the severity was due to personal malignity, and the general opinion of the books was highly favourable. Whewell henceforth held a recognised position of high authority among the scientific writers of the day. The publication of these treatises was at least a remarkable proof of Whewell's extraordinary powers of accumulating knowledge. The tutorship in a leading college is generally found enough to occupy a man's whole energy. Although the duties were probably less absorbing at that than at a later time, Whewell had plenty of work as a tutor, and it is not surprising that he found some of the duties irksome. In 1833 he had handed over to Charles Perry (1807–1891) [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Melbourne, the financial duties of his office; and moved into rooms in the New Court, looking down the lime-tree avenue (Todhunter, ii. 170, 173). This arrangement, as he says, would enable him to finish his book. Thirlwall also took part of his friend's duties. Thirlwall next year got into difficulties by a pamphlet advocating the admission of dissenters and speaking unfavourably of compulsory attendance at chapel. Whewell wrote two pamphlets in answer to Thirlwall—mainly on the chapel question. He protested, however, urgently against the dismissal of Thirlwall by the master; and Thirlwall acknowledged his good offices in cordial terms (see Mrs. Stair Douglas, pp. 165–70, for letters). Their common friend Hare had left Cambridge in 1832. In 1836 Whewell was a candidate for the Lowndean professorship, to which, however, Peacock was appointed through the influence of his personal friend, Thomas Spring Rice (afterwards Lord Monteagle) [q. v.] (ib. p. 184). In the same year Whewell wrote a pamphlet upon the ‘Study of Mathematics’ which brought him into a controversy with Sir William Hamilton. Whewell's first pamphlet and a reply to Hamilton are embodied in a book upon the ‘Principles of an English University Education’ (1837). He here defended principles which were more fully explained in a later book (of 1845) upon the same topic, and which guided his action in regard to university reform. In 1838 he finally retired from the tutorship, and in June of that year was elected to the Knightbridge professorship of moral philosophy. He considered the election to be due to the encouragement of one of his intimate friends, Thomas Worsley, master of Downing. The professorship was of small value, and for a century had been treated as a sinecure. Whewell afterwards endeavoured, without success, to have a stall at Ely annexed to it. He took up the duties vigorously. His mind was now turning towards the topics appropriate to the chair. In 1835 he had witten a preface to Mackintosh's ‘Dissertation,’ and in November 1837 he had preached four sermons before the university on the ‘Foundation of Morals.’ During his tenure of the professorship he published various lectures and other works upon allied topics. From this time it seems that scientific investigation ceased to possess its old interest for him, and it may perhaps be said that he had taken to a line of thought less congenial to his real abilities.
After giving up his tutorship Whewell began to tire, like most ‘dons,’ of a college life. In a letter to Hare of 13 Dec. 1840 he asks advice. He has done what he could to improve the mathematical studies of the place; he has introduced philosophy into the Trinity fellowship examination (the only examination in philosophy at Cambridge), and he has finished the great book for which a college life was desirable. Many friends had left Cambridge; he could not easily make new intimacies; and ‘college rooms are no home for declining years.’ He wished to prepare for an ‘improved system of ethics,’ but that might be done if he took a college living and resided at Cambridge for a term to give lectures. If he stayed he might be forced to take the uncomfortable office of vice-master, involving responsibility without sufficient power. He and his friend both doubted (apparently with good reason) his fitness for a country cure. A visit to Masham, a college living then vacant, decided him to stay at Cambridge. Soon afterwards his prospects were completely changed. He was engaged in June 1841 to Cordelia, daughter of John Marshall of Leeds and Hallsteads on Ulleswater. The marriage was at Watermillock church, Cumberland, on 12 Oct. 1841. The ceremony was performed by Frederic Myers [q. v.], who afterwards married Susan, a sister of Cordelia Marshall, and became Whewell's warm friend. On the day of the marriage Christopher Wordsworth, the master of Trinity, wrote to Whewell to announce his resignation of the mastership. He had held on so long in order that his successor might be appointed by a conservative minister. Peel had formed his ministry in September. Hare, to whom the news was sent by Worsley and Herschel, instantly made applications on behalf of Whewell to influential persons; but before they could be received Peel had announced to Whewell (17 Oct.) that the queen had approved of his appointment to the mastership. The political controversy of the day was one of the few subjects in which Whewell seems to have taken no particular interest. His sympathies, however, were conservative; and the whigs might probably have given the appointment to Adam Sedgwick [q. v.] Whewell wrote to Sedgwick expressing his ‘alarm’ at being placed above his senior, and hoping that their goodwill would not be affected. Sedgwick replied that ‘common consent’ admitted Whewell to be the worthiest man for the place, and far better qualified than himself. In fact, Whewell's claims were undeniable. During his tenure of the mastership he was incomparably superior to any of the other heads of colleges, very few of whom had any reputation outside of Cambridge, while none showed any intellectual power of at all the same order. Whewell's force of character, as well as his knowledge and abilities, soon gave him the most prominent position in the university; and no master since Bentley had been so worthy to preside over the greatest of English colleges. Happily too, though masterful and rejoicing in argument, he was thoroughly magnanimous and free from the litigious propensities which made Bentley's rule a period of intestine warfare. From Dean Milman's letter of congratulation it appears that he had also been elected a member of ‘The Club.’
Whewell, after a stay at the lakes, where he occasionally met William Wordsworth, returned to Cambridge in November, and on the 16th took possession of Trinity Lodge. He at once set about improving the building, and proposed to add an oriel in place of one destroyed by Bentley. Alexander James Beresford Hope [q. v.] desired to help, and ultimately gave 1,000l. to the expense, to which Whewell himself contributed 250l. He presented to the college chapel a copy in marble (by Weekes) of the statue of Bacon at St. Albans (erected in 1845). It was upon his suggestion that Byron's statue was admitted to the college library in 1843. He set about a revision of the college statutes with a view mainly of legalising practices which had made some of them obsolete. The new statutes were approved in 1844, but, in view of later alterations, were of little importance. In September 1842 he was entertained at a public dinner at Lancaster along with his schoolfellow Owen. On returning to Cambridge he was chosen vice-chancellor for the year 1842–3. He entered office with the intention of promoting certain improvements, especially desiring to limit the system of private tuition and to give a more important place to professors' lectures. A syndicate, over which he presided, proposed a measure which was rejected at the time, and Whewell had to find that his position, though very distracting, gave little power of introducing reforms. The Duke of Northumberland, who had been installed chancellor of the university during Whewell's vice-chancellorship, died on 12 Feb. 1847, and Whewell at once proposed to elect the prince consort as his successor. A requisition was sent to the prince on 20 Feb., when he expressed his willingness to comply with ‘the unanimous wish’ of the university. As Lord Powis, who was also a candidate, did not withdraw, this reply might be taken for a refusal. The prince's supporters, however, determined to proceed, and at a poll on 25, 26, and 27 Feb. he was elected by a majority of 116. A good deal of feeling was roused. Lord Powis was supported by the high-church party, and the election of the prince was supposed to be a step towards the ‘Germanising’ of the university, that is, to the decay of sound learning, morals, and religion. The prince had accompanied the queen to Cambridge in 1843, and again upon his installation in 1847, and both then and afterwards had some personal communication with Whewell. A chancellor can do little to introduce reforms, good or bad, but the prince approved of Whewell's attempt to widen the Cambridge course. The foundation of the ‘moral sciences’ and ‘natural sciences’ triposes by a grace of 1848 was due to Whewell. The first examination was in 1851. In 1849 Whewell offered two prizes to be won by the candidates for the first of these triposes most distinguished in moral philosophy. The prizes were continued till he resigned the professorship in 1855. The new triposes, however, languished, though Whewell did his best to promote them. They were raised to the level of the old triposes as qualifications for a degree by grace of 24 May 1860, when boards for regulating them were constituted. Whewell served on the moral sciences board, and acted as examiner for two years.
Meanwhile public attention was being roused to more extensive reforms, and royal commissions for Oxford and Cambridge were issued in August 1850, and reported in August 1852. An act for an executive commission for Cambridge was passed after various delays in 1856. Whewell, though a reformer in his own way, took a strong part in opposing many of the changes finally adopted. He held that the university should be allowed to reform itself. He was member of a syndicate appointed in 1849, and again in 1850 and 1851, to revise the university statutes. He replied to the inquiries of the royal commission, but always under protest. He affirmed generally the principles set forth in his books upon education. Whewell especially stood out in the syndicate for maintaining the powers of the ‘caput,’ an old-fashioned body which practically gave to the heads of houses a veto upon all university legislation. A considerable minority objected to this, and the senate threw out a grace embodying the plan. The bill of 1856 transferred the power of the ‘caput’ to an elected council, of which Whewell was a member from its first establishment till his death. The reform of Trinity College produced new difficulties. The whole body of sixty fellows became the governing body of the college under the act. Whewell and the eight seniors who had previously held the authority refrained for some time from summoning the new body and gave offence to the juniors. The discussion of the statutes by the new body began in 1857, when many of the juniors were in favour of changes which Whewell regarded as pernicious. On 1 Jan. 1858 the power of framing new statutes passed to the commissioners, though a vote of two-thirds of the governing body might reject them. Ultimately the commissioners' scheme was accepted with some modifications in 1859. Whewell's main objection was to any regulation which should interfere with the autonomy of the colleges. He declared that such changes would really hinder instead of promoting reform, especially the introduction of new studies. Though he was opposed throughout to the schemes of decided reformers, he loyally accepted the new state of things. He had especially objected to an annual meeting of the masters and fellows, but when it became the law he took care to arrange the meeting so as to make attendance convenient.
In 1851 Whewell gave a successful lecture to inaugurate a course suggested by the prince consort in connection with the Great Exhibition. His last important work appeared during the same period. At the end of 1853 he published (anonymously) his essay ‘Of the Plurality of Worlds.’ His doctrine—that we have no ground for believing in other inhabited worlds than our own—was said by an epigrammatist to be intended to prove that ‘through all infinity, there was nothing so great as the master of Trinity.’ Whewell, rightly or wrongly, supposed the argument to have a certain theological significance. In a literary sense it is probably his best work. He wrote it with unusual care, and consulted literary friends, especially Sir James Stephen, in deference to whose advice he cancelled some seventy pages as too ‘metaphysical.’ The lively treatment of an old topic excited a sharp controversy. He was attacked by his old adversary, Brewster. The ablest hostile review, according to Todhunter, was that by Henry John Stephen Smith [q. v.] in the ‘Oxford Essays’ for 1855. An account of many others is given by Todhunter (Todhunter, i. 184–210), who adds many interesting details.
Whewell's later writings ranged over a wide field, including remodelled versions of his ‘inductive sciences;’ prefaces to the posthumous works of his old friend Jones, who died in 1855; a controversy with Mill upon logic; a translation of the Platonic dialogues; and lectures upon political economy. He produced, however, no original work of importance.
On 18 Dec. 1855 Mrs. Whewell died after long suffering. Whewell printed privately some elegiacs (given in Appendix to Mrs. Stair Douglas), which, if they did not prove him to be a poet, showed very touchingly the strength of his affections. He returned to his work, having in November 1855 been again appointed vice-chancellor for the ensuing year. He gave some offence by rehanging all the pictures in the Fitzwilliam museum upon his own authority. The improvement was admitted, but the regulations for the management of the museum were altered for the future. In the winter of 1856–7 he visited Rome, and came back in much better health and spirits. On 1 July 1858 he married Everina Frances, widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck, fifth baronet (1804–1854), and daughter of Francis Ellis of Bath; since her husband's death she had lived at Trumpington with her brother, Robert Leslie Ellis [q. v.], Whewell's friend. The second marriage was thoroughly happy.
Whewell's last attendance at the British Association was at the meeting at Cambridge in 1862. He took at this time much interest in the American civil war, and was pleased to find that he agreed with his old adversary, J. S. Mill, in sympathising with the northern states.
Whewell had become a rich man through his marriages and the income of his office. He devoted a large sum to new buildings, which were to supply funds for a chair of international law and scholarships on the same subject. He had spoken of the plan in 1849 when he had acquired for 7,000l. the freehold of some houses opposite the great gate of Trinity College. He proposed to erect a new building for students of Trinity, the rents of which should be devoted to the proposed endowment. After various proposals to the college, which was at first asked to pay for the building, he resolved to carry out the plan without help, and the new hostel was finished at his own expense in 1860 and immediately occupied. By the end of 1865 he had bought more land, upon which a new hostel was erected, between the old one and Sidney Street. It was not completed till 1868, after his death; but he had left sufficient directions by his will for carrying out the plans. The value of the endowment was estimated at nearly 100,000l. It supports a professor and eight scholars, receiving between them 1,100l. a year. The first professor (elected in 1869) was the present Sir William Harcourt. The professor has, under Whewell's will, to give twelve lectures annually, and to make it his aim to contribute towards the extinction of war. Mrs. Whewell had given 500l. for a scholarship at Trinity, and left about 10,000l. to be applied according to her husband's directions for the benefit of the college. The income was devoted to the augmentation of small livings.
Whewell's later years were again saddened by the death of his second wife (who continued to be called Lady Affleck) on 1 April 1865. He was especially soothed by the affectionate attentions of his two nieces, Janet and Kate Marshall, who had become Mrs. Stair Douglas and Mrs. Sumner Gibson in 1858. Mrs. Stair Douglas was now a widow, and passed the winter of 1865–6 with him at Trinity Lodge. On 24 Feb. 1866 both ladies went out for a drive to the Gog Magog hills, and Whewell joined them on horseback. He was both a bold and a careless rider, and an old injury from falls in riding hindered his control of his horse. It bolted with him, and he was thrown heavily. He was brought back in the carriage to Trinity, where it soon appeared that the injury had caused paralysis. He died on 6 March 1866. When he was dying the curtains were opened at his request that he might take a last look at the great court of Trinity, familiar to him for nearly fifty-four years. He was buried in the antechapel of the college.
The following portraits of Whewell are all in Trinity College Lodge: a three-quarter length in oil by S. Laurence, about 1850; a full-length in oil of Whewell under thirty, painter unknown; a small oil painting by Mr. Carpenter; a chalk drawing of Whewell, and one of his second wife, by A. M. Solomée. In the college hall is a small portrait in oil of Whewell as a young man by Lonsdale. In the college is a marble bust, by G. H. Bailey, bequeathed by Whewell to the college. In the antechapel is a marble statue, by T. Woolner, erected by the college after Whewell's death, with a Latin inscription by William Hepworth Thompson [q. v.], his successor.
Whewell was a man of splendid physical development. A Cambridge legend told of a prize-fighter who had exclaimed, ‘What a man was lost when they made you a parson!’ His face showed power rather than delicacy, and a massive brow gave special dignity to his appearance. His masculine vigour implied certain unattractive qualities. His friend Hare felt it a duty to remonstrate with him upon his ‘vehemence’ and impatience, and held up as examples the sweetness of William Wilberforce, Bishop Otter, and Manning. Whewell received the advice good-temperedly, and admitted that in so ‘eminent a station’ as the mastership he was especially bound not to be ‘overbearing’ (Stair Douglas, pp. 209, 235, 285–92). He did not, however, quite admit the facts alleged in proof. He loved an argument, and his position as a great man in a small circle tended to make argument onesided. He was popular as a tutor; but for some time he provoked a good deal of hostility as master. In early days he had little chance of acquiring social refinement; and, though he was anxious to be hospitable, his sense of the dignity of his position led to a formality which made the drawing-room of the lodge anything but a place of easy sociability. In later years age and sorrow made him conspicuously milder, and the object not only of the pride but of the warm affection of the university. Though rough at times, he was from the first magnanimous; he never cherished resentment and admitted defeat frankly, and received the opinions of young and insignificant persons with remarkable courtesy. Few men, too, have had more friends or retained their friendships more carefully. He had many controversies, but no personal quarrels. His domestic life was perfect, and he always respected and attracted women.
Whewell's influence in Cambridge was for many years of great importance. In particular he did more than any one to introduce some interest in philosophy (see Professor Sidgwick's article in Mind for April 1876, quoted by Mrs. Stair Douglas, pp. 411–12). Though a conservative as to the constitution of the colleges, he was aware of many of the weak points of the Cambridge system, and tried to widen the course and raise the aims of the teachers. He tried, as he said, to introduce an ‘anti-Lockean philosophy’ (Stair Douglas, p. 248). His success was limited by the character of his own mind. His books upon the ‘Inductive Sciences’ made a mark; but one result was the impulse, in the opposite direction, which he gave to J. S. Mill (for Mill's acknowledgment of the help derived from Whewell see Mill's Logic, preface, and Autobiography, p. 223). During Whewell's mastership Mill, rather than Whewell, was the accepted guide at Cambridge. The famous remark of Sydney Smith—‘science is his forte and omniscience his foible’—made (Todhunter, i. 410) to Samuel Rogers at a breakfast-party, may partly explain this. Whewell began as a man of science. Todhunter, a very competent judge, testifies to the ‘accuracy and fidelity’ of the first edition of his ‘History’ (Todhunter, i. 103). In later editions he left many errors, partly because his many occupations made the work of correction irksome, but also because ‘he had wandered from science to philosophy,’ and did not keep up with the later progress of discovery. The book necessarily became belated in many parts. Whewell meanwhile scarcely became a philosopher. He had studied Kant, and accepts Kant's theory of space and time. For later German developments he had nothing but contempt, and his friend Hare and others could never induce him even to take an interest in Coleridge. In his controversies with Mill he seems to have the advantage in some points from his greater familiarity with science and from his knowledge of Kant, whom Mill disregarded. But his constructive theory represents the old-fashioned form of ‘intuitionism,’ against which Mill carried on a successful warfare. His theory about ‘ideas’ and ‘facts’ is scarcely coherent, and certainly did not obtain acceptance. His theology is of the variety represented by Paley and the Bridgewater ‘Treatises;’ and, though a man of very strong and sincere religious sentiment, he did not succeed in speaking to his generation. He seems to have stood aside, as a good old-fashioned churchman, from the religious controversies of the time. He was more directly interested in ethical speculations; and his writings became text-books at Cambridge, and were naturally studied by young men reading for Trinity fellowships. They are perfectly fair in intention, but it must be admitted that they are ponderous, and represent a line of thought which has not found favour with later writers. The most curious characteristic is the prominence given to positive law in the deduction of moral principles. A severe criticism by Mill of the ethical writings appeared in the ‘Westminster Review’ for October 1852, and is reprinted in Mill's ‘Dissertations,’ ii. 450–508.
Whewell was rather a critic than an original investigator in science. Upon one subject, however, he seems to have done really good work. Professor Darwin, who has kindly given his opinion, states that Whewell ‘will always rank among the great investigators of the theory of tides. His memoirs fill about 350 quarto pages, generally giving only the result of laborious computations. His most important work was the construction of a map showing the march of the tide-wave round the earth. The data were voluminous and necessarily imperfect. No one has repeated the enormous task of preparing such a chart; and, though it could be only an approximation, it fairly embodies all that is yet known on the point. The data for the seas round the British islands were comparatively plentiful, and Whewell spent enormous labour in constructing a “local cotidal chart,” which probably needs only slight amendments to make it perfectly correct. It has never been reconstructed. Whewell carefully considered the tides at various English ports, and was a pioneer in formulating satisfactory methods of prediction from large masses of observation. He was the first to bestow much attention upon the diurnal inequality of the tides which are conspicuous in most parts of the world. Whewell took such tides to be exceptional, though it is now known that the simplicity of the North Atlantic tides is the true exception. The modern method of treating the tide as composed of a number of constituent waves is of especial value in regard to this problem. Though Whewell's data were scanty and his methods have become obsolete, his treatment of the question was of great service at the time. He endeavoured to form a local diurnal cotidal chart for the British islands, but concluded that the facts could not be presented in this form. His conclusion may be correct, although the errors in his data and the imperfection of his method made his failure inevitable. The problem is now more feasible; but sufficient data are still wanting, and the attempt has not been renewed. Whewell also considered the rise and fall of water during a single tidal oscillation, and gave formulæ for predicting the height of water at any moment from a knowledge of the height and time of high and low water. He received much help from professional computers supplied by the admiralty; but his personal work, considering that he had the whole direction of the computations, must have been very heavy. His success showed a splendid perseverance, which is the more remarkable when we take into account his contemporaneous work upon many other matters.’
The first volume of Todhunter's ‘life’ is in great part devoted to an elaborate account of Whewell's writings, and contains full and minute bibliographical details of the complicated changes due to the frequent remodelling the books in successive editions.
Whewell's works are: 1. ‘Boadicea’ (Cambridge prize poem), 1814. 2. ‘An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics,’ 1819, 1 vol. 8vo. A ‘syllabus’ of this treatise appeared in 1821. Later editions appeared in 1824 (almost a new work), 1828, 1833, 1836, 1841 (‘entirely rewritten’), and 1847. A part supposing more mathematical knowledge was omitted in 1833 and published separately as ‘Analytical Statics.’ The work was translated into German in 1841. 3. ‘A Treatise on Dynamics,’ 1823, 8vo, substantially a second volume of the ‘Mechanics’ of 1819. This was replaced by three volumes: (i.) ‘An Introduction to Dynamics,’ &c., an addition intended for students with little mathematical knowledge; (ii.) ‘On the Free Motion of Points … the first part of a Treatise on Dynamics,’ 1832, 8vo, called a ‘second edition’ of the first part of the ‘Dynamics’ (new edition in 1836); and (iii.) ‘On the Motion of Points constrained … and on the Motion of a Rigid Body,’ 1834, 8vo, called ‘second part’ of a new edition of the ‘Dynamics.’ 4. ‘Essay on Mineralogical Classification and Nomenclature,’ 1828, 8vo. 5. ‘Account of Experiments made at Dolcoath Mine …,’ 1828, 16 pp. 8vo (privately printed) 6. ‘Essay on Chemical Elements and Nomenclature,’ 1829, 8vo. 7. ‘Architectural Notes on German Churches, with Remarks on the Origin of Gothic Architecture,’ 1830, 1 vol. 8vo. An enlarged edition, with ‘notes during an architectural tour in Picardy and Normandy,’ appeared in 1835, and a third, with ‘notes on the churches of the Rhine by M. F. de Lassaulx …,’ in 1842 (first edition anonymous). 8. ‘The First Principles of Mechanics, with Historical and Practical Illustrations,’ 1832, 1 vol. 8vo, ‘superseded’ by part of the ‘History of the Inductive Sciences.’ 9. ‘Astronomy and General Physics considered with reference to Natural Theology,’ 1833, 1 vol. 8vo (‘Bridgewater Treatise’), six editions to 1864. 10. ‘Remarks on some Parts of Mr. Thirlwall's Letter on the Admission of Dissenters to Academical Degrees,’ 1834, 8vo. 11. ‘Additional Remarks on some Parts of Mr. Thirlwall's Two Letters,’ &c., 1834, 8vo. 12. ‘Thoughts on the Study of Mathematics as a part of a Liberal Education,’ 1835, 8vo (reprinted in ‘Principles of English University Education’). 13. ‘Newton and Flamsteed …,’ 1836, 19 pp. 8vo (two editions). 14. ‘The Mechanical Euclid, containing the Elements of Mechanics and Hydrostatics demonstrated after the Manner of the Elements of Geometry …,’ 1837, 1 vol. 12mo; later editions in 1837, 1838, 1843, and 1849, with various changes. 15. ‘On the Foundations of Morals,’ 1837, 1 vol. 8vo; 2nd edit. 1839 (four university sermons of November 1837). 16. ‘Letter to Charles Babbage, esq. …,’ 1837, 7 pp. 8vo (defence of ‘Bridgewater Treatise’). 17. ‘On the Principles of English University Education,’ 1837, sm. 8vo. 18. ‘History of the Inductive Sciences from the Earliest to the Present Time,’ 1837, 3 vols. 8vo; 2nd edit., enlarged, in 1847; 3rd, in three small octavo volumes, with additions (also printed in octavo to be bound with second edition), 1857. Whewell replied to some criticisms in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ by a short printed letter, dated 28 Oct. 1837, and in the ‘Medical Gazette’ of 30 Dec. 1837 defended his treatment of Sir Charles Bell and Mayo. 19. ‘The Doctrine of Limits, with its Applications …,’ 1838, 1 vol. 8vo. 20. ‘The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, founded upon their History,’ 1840, 2 vols. 8vo. A second, enlarged edition, appeared in 1847. This was afterwards divided into three books, in small octavo, to range with the third edition of the ‘History’: (i.) ‘History of Scientific Ideas,’ 1858; (ii.) ‘Novum Organon Renovatum,’ 1858; (iii.) ‘Philosophy of Discovery,’ 1860. The last contains considerable additions to the corresponding part of the original book, and includes answers to Herschel (previously printed privately), Lewes, and J. S. Mill. 21. ‘Mechanics of Engineering,’ 1841, 1 vol. 8vo (a sequel to the treatise on mechanics). 22. ‘Two Introductory Lectures to two Courses of Lectures on Moral Philosophy, delivered in 1840 and 1841,’ 1841, 1 vol. 8vo. 23. ‘Indications of the Creator,’ 1845, 1 vol. sm. 8vo; 2nd edit. 1846 (extracts from previous works, with prefaces, in answer to the ‘Vestiges of Creation’). 24. ‘Of a Liberal Education in General, and with particular reference to the Leading Studies in the University of Cambridge,’ 1845, 1 vol. 8vo; to a second edition, 1850, was added a ‘part ii.’ (on recent changes), and in 1852 was published ‘part iii.’ (on the ‘revised statutes’). 25. ‘Elements of Morality, including Polity,’ 1845, 2 vols. 8vo; 2nd edit. 1848, 2 vols. sm. 8vo; 4th, 1864, 1 vol. 8vo. 26. ‘Lectures on Systematic Morality, delivered in Lent Term, 1846,’ 1846, 1 vol. 8vo. 27. ‘Conic Sections, their Principal Properties proved geometrically,’ 1846 (1 vol. 8vo), 1849, 1855. 28. ‘Newton's Principia,’ bk. i. §§ i. ii. iii.; in the original Latin, with explanatory notes and references, 1846, 1 vol. 8vo. 29. ‘Sermons preached in the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge,’ 1847, 1 vol. 8vo (twenty-two sermons). 30. ‘Verse Translations from the German …,’ 1847, 1 vol. 8vo (anonymous; includes Bürger's ‘Lenore’ and Schiller's ‘Song of the Bell.’ The translation from Bürger was republished, with another of uncertain authorship, in 1858 as ‘Two Translations,’ &c.). 31. ‘Sunday Thoughts, and other Verses,’ 1847, 1 vol. 8vo (privately printed and anonymous; includes the ‘Isle of the Sirens,’ some passages in Carlyle's ‘Chartism,’ put into hexameters and privately printed in 1840). 32. ‘English Hexameter Translations from Schiller, Goethe, Homer, Callinus, and Meleager,’ 1847, 1 vol. 8vo. Whewell edited this volume, to which Sir J. W. Herschel, J. C. Hare, J. G. Lockhart, and E. C. Hawtrey contributed. It contains Whewell's translation of ‘Hermann and Dorothea’ (also privately printed in 1839) and some other pieces. For full details and references to various magazine articles by Whewell upon English hexameters and reviews of Longfellow's ‘Evangeline’ and Clough's ‘Bothie,’ see Todhunter, i. 283–301. Miss Wentworth's ‘Life and Letters of Niebuhr,’ 1852, vol. iii., includes some English hexameters by Whewell. 33. ‘Of Induction, with special reference to Mr. J. S. Mill's System of Logic,’ 1849, 8vo; reprinted in ‘Philosophy of Discovery.’ 34. ‘Inaugural Lecture, 26 Nov. 1851: the general Bearing of the Great Exhibition on the progress of Art and Science,’ 1851, 16 pp. 8vo; also in a volume with other lectures. 35. ‘A Letter to the Author of “Prolegomena Logica”’ [H. L. Mansel], 1852, 8vo; reproduced in ‘Philosophy of Discovery,’ chap. xxviii. 36. ‘Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England,’ 1852, i vol. 8vo; 2nd edit., with additional lectures (1862, sm. 8vo), including an answer to remarks by Mark Pattison in ‘Essays and Reviews.’ 37. ‘Of the Plurality of Worlds: an Essay,’ 1853, 1 vol. 8vo; other editions, in small octavo, in 1854, 1855, 1859, all anonymous. 38. ‘A Dialogue on the Plurality of Worlds, being a Supplement to the Essay,’ 1854, 1 vol. sm. 8vo; added to second and later editions of the ‘Essay.’ 39. ‘On the Material Aids of Education,’ 1854, 39 pp. 8vo (inaugural lecture at ‘Educational Exhibition,’ 1859). 40. ‘On the Influence of the History of Science upon Intellectual Education,’ included in a volume of lectures on education at the Royal Institution in 1854. 41. ‘Elegiacs’ (on the death of his wife), 31 quarto pp. (privately printed; added to Mrs. Stair Douglas's ‘Life’). 42. ‘Platonic Dialogues for English Readers,’ 1859–61, 3 vols. sm. 8vo (a condensed translation, which embodies some of his lectures on moral philosophy). 43. ‘Six Lectures on Political Economy, delivered … in Michaelmas Term, 1861,’ 1862, 8vo (privately printed. The lectures were given at the request of the prince consort before the Prince of Wales).
Besides the above works, Whewell contributed part ii. of the treatise upon electricity in the ‘Encyclopædia Metropolitana’ (1826), a ‘reproduction’ of a memoir by Poisson (see Todhunter, i. 35). He also wrote for the same an essay called ‘Archimedes—Greek Mathematics,’ which was republished in a volume upon ‘Greek and Roman Philosophy and Science’ in 1853. He edited Mackintosh's ‘Dissertation’ on ethics in 1835 with a preface, often reprinted; Butler's ‘Three Sermons on Human Nature and Dissertation on Virtue’ in 1848, and Butler's ‘Six Sermons on Moral Subjects’ in 1849; Sanderson's ‘Prælectiones Decem’ in 1851; Grotius’ ‘De Jure Belli et Pacis’ in 1853. He contributed a paper upon ‘Barrow and his Academical Times’ to the ninth volume of the Cambridge edition of Barrow in 1859, and a preface to Barrow's ‘Mathematical Works’ (1860). In 1859 he wrote a ‘prefatory notice’ to the ‘Literary Remains’ of Richard Jones. In 1850 he published an anonymous translation of Auerbach's ‘Professor's Wife.’ He also printed for private circulation papers upon various questions of university and college reform.
Among contributions to periodicals are reviews of Lyell's ‘Principles of Geology’ in the ‘British Critic’ (No. 17), of Jones's work upon ‘Rent’ in the ‘British Critic’ (No. 19), of Herschel's ‘Preliminary Discourses’ in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (No. 90), of the second volume of Lyell's ‘Principles’ in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (No. 93), and of Mrs. Somerville's ‘Connexion of the Physical Sciences’ in the ‘Quarterly’ (No. 101), Ruskin's ‘Seven Lamps of Architecture’ in ‘Fraser’ for February 1850, the new edition of Bacon's ‘Works’ in the ‘Edinburgh’ for October 1857, and ‘Comte and Positivism’ in ‘Macmillan's Magazine’ for March 1866. His ‘presidential addresses’ to the Geological Society in 1838 and 1839 are published in their ‘Proceedings,’ and the address to the British Association in the ‘Report’ for 1841.
He published a few separate sermons, and others, still in manuscript, are noticed in Todhunter, chap. xvii. In chap. xviii. Todhunter gives an account, with extracts, of some ‘notes on books’ and other manuscripts. In chap. xix. he publishes some early poems, and in chap. xx. parts of a story of a journey to the earth by an inhabitant of the moon, written after the ‘Plurality of Worlds.’ Whewell contributed a number of memoirs to various scientific journals. The ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers’ gives sixty-four, besides the papers upon tides. An account of these is given in Todhunter, chap. xvi. Some papers in which he applied mathematical symbols to a criticism of Ricardo's ‘Political Economy’ are in the ‘Cambridge Philosophical Transactions,’ iii. 191, iv. 155, x. 125.[The task of writing Whewell's life was unfortunately divided. In 1876 appeared William Whewell: an Account of his Writings, with Selections from his Literary and Scientific Correspondence, by Isaac Todhunter [q. v.], 2 vols. 8vo; and in 1881 the Life and Selections from the Correspondence of William Whewell by Mrs. Stair Douglas, 1 vol. 8vo. Earlier notices are in Macmillan's Magazine for April 1866 by William George Clark [q. v.], in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (vol. xvi.), by Sir J. W. Herschel, and in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (vol. vi.), by Sir D. Brewster. A few references are in De Morgan's Budget of Paradoxes, pp. 415–17; in Sir H. Holland's Recollections of Past Life (1872), p. 270; and in Airy's Autobiography (1896), pp. 117–19, and elsewhere. The present master of Trinity (Dr. H. Montagu Butler) has kindly given information.]