Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thomas Somerville


September 20 [1826] --… Breakfasted with the Rev. Dr. Somerville. This venerable gentleman is one of the oldest of the literary brotherhood—I suppose about eighty-seven, and except a little deafness quite entire. Living all his life in good society as a gentleman born—and having, besides, professional calls to make among the poor—he must know, of course, much that is curious concerning the momentous changes which have passed under his eyes. He talks of them accordingly, and has written something on the subject, but has scarce the force necessary to seize on the most striking points, "palabras, neighbour Verges," —gifts which God gives. The bowl that rolls easiest along the green goes furthest, and has least clay sticking to it. I have often noticed that a kindly, placid good-humour is the companion of longevity, and, I suspect, frequently the leading cause of it. Quick, keen, sharp observation, with the power of contrast and illustration, disturbs this easy current of thought. My good friend, the venerable Doctor, will not, I think, die of that disease.

The text above is from Scott’s Journal.  Thomas Somerville’s best known work is “History of Great Britain during the Reign of Queen Anne”, but his most important may be “ My Own Life and Times”.  From robertburns.org comes this short bio extract:

Minister at Jedburgh and author of a History of Great Britain during the Reign of Queen Anne (1798). His niece and daughter-in-law was the mathematician and physicist, Mrs Mary Somerville. Burns met Dr Somerville, at Jedburgh on his tour. He recorded in his Journal: 'Mr Somerville, the clergyman of the place, a man, and a gentleman, but sadly addicted to punning.'
It is said that Somerville gave up the punning habit when he read this extract in Dr Currie's memoir of Burns.’

Mary Somerville, in fact, wrote much more about the Doctor Somerville, in her “Recollections of Mary Somerville", and the following discussion is found in the intro, which was written by Mary's daughter Martha:

‘…It was not only in her childhood and youth that my mother's studies encountered disapproval. Not fill she became a widow, had she perfect freedom to pursue them. The first person - indeed the only one in her early days - who encouraged her passion for learning was her uncle by marriage, afterwards her father-in-law, the Rev Dr Somerville, minister of Jedburgh, a man very much in advance of his century in liberality of thought on all subjects. He was one of the first to discern her rare qualities, and valued her as she deserved; while through life she retained the most grateful affection for him, and confided to him many doubts and difficulties on subjects of the highest importance. Nothing can be more erroneous than the statement, repeated in several obituary notices of my mother, that Mr Greig (her first husband) aided her in her mathematical and other pursuits. Nearly the contrary was the case. Mr Greig took no interest in science or literature, and possessed in full the prejudice against learned women which was common at that time. Only on her marriage with my father, my mother at last met with one who entirely sympathised with her, and warmly entered into all her ideas, encouraging her zeal for study to the utmost and affording her every facility for it in his power. His love and admiration for her were unbounded; he frankly and willingly acknowledged her superiority to himself, and many of our friends can bear witness to the honest pride and gratification which he always testified in the fame and honours she attained..’.

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