enlarged in scope, directed by its original chief, but
As years rolled by almost every honour and distinction that could be conferred upon a scientific man was awarded to Sir George Airy. He was, indeed, the recipient of other honours not often awarded for scientific distinction. Among these we may mention that in 1875 he received the freedom of the City of London, "as a recognition of his indefatigable labours in astronomy, and of his eminent services in the advancement of practical science, whereby he has so materially benefited the cause of commerce and civilisation."
Until his eightieth year Airy continued to discharge his labours at Greenwich with unflagging energy. At last, on August 15th, 1881, he resigned the office which he had held so long with such distinction to himself and such benefit to his country. He had married in 1830 the daughter of the Rev. Richard Smith, of Edensor. Lady Airy died in 1875, and three sons and three daughters survived him. One daughter is the wife of Dr. Routh, of Cambridge, and his other daughters were the constant companions of their father during the declining years of his life. Up to the age of ninety he enjoyed perfect physical health, but an accidental fall which then occurred was attended with serious results. He died on Saturday, January 2nd, 1892, and was buried in the churchyard at Playford.
William Rowan Hamilton was born at midnight between the 3rd and 4th of August, 1805, at Dublin, in the house which was then 29, but subsequently 36, Dominick Street. His father, Archibald Hamilton, was a solicitor, and William was the fourth of a family of nine. With reference to his descent, it may be sufficient to notice that his ancestors appear to have been chiefly of gentle Irish families, but that his maternal grandmother was of Scottish birth. When he was about a year old, his father and mother decided to hand over the education of the child to his uncle, James Hamilton, a clergyman of Trim, in County Meath. James Hamilton's sister, Sydney, resided with him, and it was in their home that the days of William's childhood were passed.
In Mr. Graves' "Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton" a series of letters will be found, in which Aunt Sydney details the progress of the boy to his mother in Dublin. Probably there is no record of an infant prodigy more extraordinary than that which these letters contain. At three years old his aunt assured the mother that William is "a hopeful blade," but at that time it was his physical vigour to which she apparently referred; for the proofs of his capacity, which she adduces, related to his prowess in making boys older than himself fly before him. In the second letter, a month later, we hear that William is brought in to read the Bible for the purpose of putting to shame other boys double his age who could not read nearly so well. Uncle James appears to have taken much pains with William's schooling, but his aunt said that "how he picks up everything is astonishing, for he never stops playing and jumping about." When he was four years and three months old, we hear that he went out to dine at the vicar's, and amused the company by reading for them equally well whether the book was turned upside down or held in any other fashion. His aunt assures the mother that "Willie is a most sensible little creature, but at the same time has a great deal of roguery." At four years and five months old he came up to pay his mother a visit in town, and she writes to her sister a description of the boy;-
"His reciting is astonishing, and his clear and accurate knowledge of geography is beyond belief; he even draws the countries with a pencil on paper, and will cut them out, though not perfectly accurate, yet so well that a anybody knowing the countries could not mistake them; but, you will think this nothing when I tell you that he reads Latin, Greek, and Hebrew."
Aunt Sydney recorded that the moment Willie got back to Trim he was desirous of at once resuming his former pursuits. He would not eat his breakfast till his uncle had heard him his Hebrew, and he comments on the importance of proper pronunciation. At five he was taken to see a friend, to whom he repeated long passages from Dryden. A gentleman present, who was not unnaturally sceptical about Willie's attainments, desired to test him in Greek, and took down a copy of Homer which happened to have the contracted type, and to his amazement Willie went on with the greatest ease. At six years and nine months he was translating Homer and Virgil; a year later his uncle tells us that William finds so little difficulty in learning French and Italian, that he wishes to read Homer in French. He is enraptured with the Iliad, and carries it about with him, repeating from it whatever particularly pleases him. At eight years and one month the boy was one of a party who visited the Scalp in the Dublin mountains, and he was so delighted with the scenery that he forthwith delivered an oration in Latin. At nine years and six months he is not satisfied until he learns Sanscrit; three months later his thirst for the Oriental languages is unabated, and at ten years and four months he is studying Arabic and Persian. When nearly twelve he prepared a manuscript ready for publication. It was a "Syriac Grammar," in Syriac letters and characters compiled from that of Buxtorf, by William Hamilton, Esq., of Dublin and Trim. When he was fourteen, the Persian ambassador, Mirza Abul Hassan Khan, paid a visit to Dublin, and, as a practical exercise in his Oriental languages, the young scholar addressed to his Excellency a letter in Persian; a translation of which production is given by Mr. Graves. When William was fourteen he had the misfortune to lose his father; and he had lost his mother two years previously. The boy and his three sisters were kindly provided for by different members of the family on both sides.
It was when William was about fifteen that his attention began to be turned towards scientific subjects. These were at first regarded rather as a relaxation from the linguistic studies with which he had been so largely occupied. On November 22nd, 1820, he notes in his journal that he had begun Newton's "Principia": he commenced also the study of astronomy by observing eclipses, occultations, and similar phenomena. When he was sixteen we learn that he had read conic sections, and that he was engaged in the study of pendulums. After an attack of illness, he was moved for change to Dublin, and in May, 1822, we find him reading the differential calculus and Laplace's "Mecanique Celeste." He criticises an important part of Laplace's work relative to the demonstration of the parallelogram of forces. In this same year appeared the first gushes of those poems which afterwards flowed in torrents.
His somewhat discursive studies had, however, now to give place to a more definite course of reading in preparation for entrance to the University of Dublin. The tutor under whom he entered, Charles Boyton, was himself a distinguished man, but he frankly told the young William that he could be of little use to him as a tutor, for his pupil was quite as fit to be his tutor. Eliza Hamilton, by whom this is recorded, adds, "But there is one thing which Boyton would promise to be to him, and that was a FRIEND; and that one proof he would give of this should be that, if ever he saw William beginning to be UPSET by the sensation he would excite, and the notice he would attract, he would tell him of it." At the beginning of his college career he distanced all his competitors in every intellectual pursuit. At his first term examination in the University he was first in Classics and first in Mathematics, while he received the Chancellor's prize for a poem on the Ionian Islands, and another for his poem on Eustace de St. Pierre.
he website materials are all from the internet. If there are any infringement issues, please contact us and delete them immediately after verification!