Somerville, Mrs Mary
Somerville, Mrs. Mary, a distinguished scientist and mathematician, whose studies tended to the advancement of Christian learning, was born in Jedburgh, Scotland, Dec. 26, 1780, and was the daughter of admiral William Fairfax. In her early childhood she gave no promise of genius, but was apparently beneath mediocrity. Her mind was awakened to higher aspirations and endeavors by a slow and spontaneous process. At the age of eleven, while spending a vacation at Burned Island, she occupied her time gathering sea shells, the beginning of her knowledge of natural history. From her father she inherited a passion for flowers, and turned the garden of her home into a studio, the beginning of her love of botany. Two small globes in the house attracted her attention, and thus began her study in geography and astronomy. She soon learned to play on the piano, and in a little while became an accomplished painter, studying under Nasmyth in Edinburgh. The love of knowledge became an irrepressible passion. She took up Euclid alone, which she soon mastered; studied navigation, and taught herself Latin enough to read Caesar's Commentaries. In 1804 she was married to Samuel Greig, and resided in London. After three years she returned a widow with two children, to Burned Island, where she resumed her studies with more diligence than ever. Prof. Wallace, of Edinburgh University, gives the following catalogue of books which she mastered: Francour's Pure Mathematics, Elements of Mechanics; Lacroix's Algebra, Differential Calculus, Finite Differences and Series; Biot's Analytical Geometry and Astronomy; Poisson's Treatise on Mechanics; La Grange's Theory of Analytical Functions; Euler's Algebra, Isoperimetrical
Problems (in Latin.); Clairault's Figure of the Earth; Monge's Application of Analysis to Geometry; Callet's Logarithms; La Place's Mecanique Celeste, and Analytical Theory of Probabilities. In 1812 she married her cousin, Dr. William Somerville, who deeply sympathized with her in her studies. She soon became a correspondent of such men as Faraday and La Place, and was elected a member of most of the learned societies of Europe. Losing her fortune, she was dependent upon a government pension, first of one thousand, later of fifteen hundred pounds, and lived, for economy, many years in Italy. Mrs. Somerville continued to keep up her studies in her advanced years, working from 8 A.M. till 12 or 1 P.M., even in her ninetieth year. She died Nov. 29, 1872. Her works are, Mechanism of the Heavens (Lond. 1831, 8vo; Phila. 1832, 18mo): — On the Connection of the Physical Sciences (Lond. 1834, 12mo; 8th ed. 1849, 8vo; completely revised, 1859, 8vo; American editions, N.Y. 1846, etc. 12mo): — Physical Geography (Lond. 1848, 2 vols. 12mo; 2d ed. 1849; 3d ed. 1851; 4th ed. 1858, 8vo; 5th ed. 1862, 8vo; American editions, Phila. 1848, 1850, 1853, 1856, 12mo): — On Molecular and Microscopic Science (Lond. 1869, 2 vols. 8vo).