David Brewster

David Brewster

David Brewster

Birth : 11 December 1781 Canongate,Jedburgh,Roxburghshire

Death : 10 February 1868(1868-02-10)(aged 86) Allerly House,Gattonside, Roxburghshire

Personal Information

Name David Brewster
Birth 11 December 1781 Canongate,Jedburgh,Roxburghshire
Birth Place Canongate,Jedburgh,Roxburghshire
Death (1868-02-10)(aged 86) Allerly House,Gattonside, Roxburghshire
Died At Allerly House,Gattonside, Roxburghshire
Nationality Great Britain
Alma Mater University of Edinburgh
Fields Physics,mathematics,astronomy
Famous Research Physical optics,Brewster's angle,photoelasticity,stereoscope,kaleidoscope

Word Cloud

Events Occured in Scienctist Life


Brewster published a detailed biography of Newton in 1831 and later became the first scientific historian to examine many of the papers in Newton's Nachlass.


Brewster also wrote numerous works of popular science, and was one of the founders of the British Science Association, of which he was elected President in 1849.


He received his MA in 1800, was licensed as a minister of the Church of Scotland, and then preached around Edinburgh on several occasions.


As early as 1807 the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon Brewster by Marischal College, Aberdeen; in 1815 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and received the Copley Medal; in 1818 he received the Rumford Medal of the society; and in 1816 the French Institute awarded him one-half of the prize of three thousand francs for the two most important discoveries in physical science made in Europe during the two preceding years.


In 1821, he was made a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and in 1822 a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Brewster chose renowned achromatic lens developer Philip Carpenter as the sole manufacturer of the kaleidoscope in 1817.


Although Brewster patented the kaleidoscope in 1817 (GB 4136), a copy of the prototype was shown to London opticians and copied before the patent was granted.


An instrument of more significance, the stereoscope, which – though of much later date (1849) – along with the kaleidoscope did more than anything else to popularise his name, was not as has often been asserted the invention of Brewster.


Sir Charles Wheatstone discovered its principle and applied it as early as 1838 to the construction of a cumbersome but effective instrument, in which the binocular pictures were made to combine by means of mirrors.


A dogged rival of Wheatstone's, Brewster was unwilling to credit him with the invention, however, and proposed that the true author of the stereoscope was a Mr. Elliot, a "Teacher of Mathematics" from Edinburgh, who, according to Brewster, had conceived of the principles as early as 1823 and had constructed a lensless and mirrorless prototype in 1839, through which one could view drawn landscape transparencies, since photography had yet to be invented.


Although Fresnel, who had also the satisfaction of being the first to put it into operation, perfected the dioptric apparatus independently, Brewster was active earlier in the field than Fresnel, describing the dioptric apparatus in 1812.


Brewster pressed its adoption on those in authority at least as early as 1820, two years before Fresnel suggested it, and it was finally introduced into lighthouses mainly through Brewster's persistent efforts.


He began writing in 1799 as a regular contributor to the Edinburgh Magazine, of which he acted as editor at the age of twenty.


In 1807, he undertook the editorship of the newly projected Edinburgh Encyclopædia, of which the first part appeared in 1808, and the last not until 1830.


He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1816.In 1819 Brewster undertook further editorial work by establishing, in conjunction with Robert Jameson (1774–1854), the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, which took the place of the Edinburgh Magazine.


After parting company with Jameson, Brewster started the Edinburgh Journal of Science in 1824, 16 volumes of which appeared under his editorship during the years 1824–1832, with very many articles from his own pen.


In 1831 he published the Life of Sir Isaac Newton, a short popular account of the philosopher's life, in Murray's Family Library, followed by an 1832 American edition in Harper's Family Library; but it was not until 1855 that he was able to issue the much fuller Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, a work which embodied the results of more than 20 years' investigation of original manuscripts and other available sources.


Its first meeting was held at York in 1831; and Brewster, along with Babbage and Sir John Herschel, had the chief part in shaping its constitution.


In 1838, he was appointed principal of the united colleges of St Salvator and St Leonard, University of St Andrews.


In 1849, he acted as president of the British Association and was elected one of the eight foreign associates of the Institute of France in succession to J. J. Berzelius; and ten years later, he accepted the office of principal of the University of Edinburgh, the duties of which he discharged until within a few months of his death.


In 1855, the government of France made him an Officier de la Légion d'honneur.


It was Brewster who suggested Talbot only patent his process in England, initiating the development of early photography in Scotland and eventually allowing for the formation of the first photographic society in the world, the Edinburgh Calotype Club, in 1843.


Brewster was a prominent member of the club until its dissolution sometime in the mid-1850s; however, his interest in photography continued, and he was elected the first President of the Photographic Society of Scotland when it was founded in 1856.Of a high-strung and nervous temperament, Brewster was somewhat irritable in matters of controversy; but he was repeatedly subjected to serious provocation.


In addition to the various works of Brewster already mentioned, the following may be added: Notes and Introduction to Carlyle's translation of Legendre's Elements of Geometry (1824); Treatise on Optics (1831); Letters on Natural Magic, addressed to Sir Walter Scott (1832)


Drawn from Authentic Sources of Information; with an Account of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, from Its Institution in 1736, to the Present Time, published in 1804, when he was only 23.


In 1845 he wrote a highly critical review of the evolutionist work Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, in the North British Review.


They married on 31 July 1810 in Edinburgh and had four sons and a daughter:


James (1812–) Charles Macpherson (1813–1828), drowned.


David Edward Brewster (17 August 1815 –) became a military officer (Lieutenant Colonel) serving in India.


Brewster married a second time in Nice, on 26 (or 27) March 1857, to Jane Kirk Purnell (b. 1827), the second daughter of Thomas Purnell of Scarborough.


Lady Brewster famously fainted at the Oxford evolution debate of 30 June 1860.


Brewster died in 1868, and was buried at Melrose Abbey, next to his first wife and second son.


He appears as a minor antagonist in the 2015 video game Assassin's Creed Syndicate as a scientist working for the game's opposing faction.


A street within the Kings Buildings complex (science buildings linked to Edinburgh University) was named in his memory in 2015.


Further reading Brewster, David (1854).


Murray (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00416-9)