DICK, THOMAS, LL.D.,
author of The Christian Philosopher, and other works devoted to the
literature of religion and science, was born in the Hilltown of Dundee,
24th November 1774. He was the son of Mungo Dick, a linen manufacturer
there, and a member of the Secession church. He was taught his letters
at home, chiefly by his mother, and could read the New Testament before
he went to any school. He first had his attention drawn, and the whole
after-bent of his mind directed to astronomical studies, and the
investigation of the arcane of nature, by the following circumstance:
About nine oclock in the evening of the 18th of August, 1783, a meteor
appeared in the heavens, which at the period created an extraordinary
amount of wonder and alarm among all who saw it. At that very time,
Thomas Dick, then a boy of nine years of age, was in his fathers garden
with a female servant, who was folding linen. On the first flash of the
meteor, the girl looking towards the north whence it came, exclaimed,
You have never seen lightning before. See! Theres lightning. Overcome
by the remarkable phenomenon, they both fell to the ground, and it was
some time before they could recover themselves. From that day, anxious
to penetrate the mysteries of astronomy and meteorology, he eagerly
inquired for all books that treated of such difficult and abstruse
subjects, preferring them to every other.
His father intended him
for his own business, and accordingly set him to the loom. In
consequence, he received but a limited education. A severe attack of
small-pox, followed by measles, greatly weakened his constitution, and,
with his desire to pursue mental investigations, gave him a decided
distaste to any mere mechanical employment. In his 13th year he was
enabled, by saving his pocket money, to purchase a small work on
astronomy, entitled Martins Gentlemens and Ladies Philosophy, and
it became his constant study, even while plying the shuttle.
To enable him to have an
accurate knowledge of the planets described in the book, he contrived a
machine for grinding a series of lenses of different foci, for simple
and compound microscopes; and, purchasing from the old women in the
neighbourhood of his fathers house, all their spectacle glasses for
which they had no use, by the help of pasteboard tubes, he constructed
for himself telescopes, and began to make observations on the heavenly
bodies. His parents thought his pursuits very foolish, and frequently
expressed their belief that he would never make his bread by gazing at
the stars. His mother, in particular, compared him to the folk o whilk
the prophet speaks, wha weary themselves in the fire for very vanity.
They had the wisdom, however, to allow the youth to follow his own
inclination, and at the age of sixteen he became assistant teacher in
one of the schools at Dundee. With the view of going to college, he now
began the study of Latin.
In 1794, being then
twenty, he became a student in the university of Edinburgh, supporting
himself by private teaching. In the spring of 1795 he was appointed
teacher to the Orphans Hospital, Edinburgh, and in that situation he
continued for two years, devoting himself, in his leisure hours, to the
study of the scriptures, and to the perusal of books upon theological
criticism. In November 1797, he was appointed teacher of the school at
Dubbieside, near Leven in Fife. Thence he removed to a school at the
Path of Condie, Perthshire. While in the latter place, he began to
contribute to various publications, essays on the subjects most
congenial to his mind and studies. In November 1800, he was invited to
resume his situation as teacher in the Edinburgh Orphans Hospital, and
in the following year he was licensed to preach in the Secession church.
He officiated for several years as a probationer of that church in
different parts of Scotland, but at last, at the earnest invitation of
the Rev. J. Jamieson and his session, he became teacher of a school in
connexion with the Secession church at Methven. In that place he
instituted classes for teaching the sciences, established a peoples
library, and founded what may be termed the first Mechanics Institute
in Great Britain, having in the London Monthly Magazine proposed the
establishment of these institutions six years before the foundation of
any one of them in the kingdom.
After being ten years
settled in Methven, he removed to an educational establishment at Perth,
where he remained for ten years more. It was while residing in the Fair
City, that he wrote his Christian Philosopher, published in 1827,
which speedily ran through several editions, each of large impression,
and at the time of his death was in its eleventh. The success of this
work induced him, in the 53d year of his age, to resign his position as
a teacher, and to retire to Broughty Ferry, near Dundee, where, on the
high grounds overlooking the Tay, he had built a cottage, in which he
spent the remainder of his days. The little plot of ground around his
dwelling was a barren, irregular spot, where nothing would grow, until
eight thousand wheelbarrow loads of soil had been laid upon its surface
by the learned philosopher himself. A room on the top of his house, with
openings to the four cardinal points, was fitted up as an observatory,
and in this was placed his philosophical instruments, which were both
valuable and numerous.
His taking up his abode
in such an elevated position excited, at the time, the wonderment of the
country people around, who looked with awe upon his observatory, and
speculated greatly on his reasons for dwelling so much above them. The
only motive that they finally could fix upon to their own satisfaction
was, that he wished to be near the stars. From that period, until a
few years of his death, when the chill of age and the ravages of disease
stayed his energies, his pen was constantly employed in preparing those
numerous works in which, under different forms and by various methods,
he not only, as an American divine has said, brought down philosophy
from heaven to earth, but raised it from earth to heaven.
In 1828 appeared his
Philosophy of a Future State, which also proved a successful work. At
the time of his death it had gone through five editions. In America his
popularity was as great, if not greater than in this country, and the
Senatus Academicus of Union College, Schenectady, state of New York,
voluntarily and unanimously conferred on him the degree of doctor of
laws, the diploma being sent to him, without expense, through the medium
of the Rev. Dr. Sprague of Albany.
In 1837 Dr. Dick visited
London, where he published his Celestial Scenery. He availed himself
of that opportunity to go over to France by way of Boulogne, visiting
Versailles, and other celebrated places in that country. IN Paris he
inspected the observatories and colleges, as he did afterwards, on his
return, those of Cambridge.
In the spring of 1849 he
was reduced to the verge of the grave by a severe illness, from the
effects of which he never altogether recovered. In November of the same
year he was subjected to a severe surgical operation on his breast, from
which a large tumour was extracted. Through careless arrangements with
his publishers he did not always receive that reward for his writing
which was commensurate with their merits and popularity, and in his old
age he was deprived, from the narrowness of his circumstances, of many
comforts, and forced to live with the most rigid economy. Towards the
end of 1849, an appeal was made, through the press, on his behalf, and a
number of gentlemen in Dundee, Inverness, and other places, subscribed a
small fund, from which between £20 and £30 a-year were afterwards paid
him, and at the time of his death about £70 remained in hand. In a
letter, written by Dr. Dick at the time, the following information was
given about some of his works: -- My writings, he says, have not
produced so much pecuniary compensation as some have supposed,
notwithstanding they have had a pretty extensive sale in this country,
and much more so in America. For the entire copyright of the Christian
Philosopher, which has passed through more than ten large editions, I
received only £120; while the publisher must have realized at least
about £2,000 on this volume alone, and I have no claim to any further
compensation. For the copyright of the Philosophy of a Future State,
which has gone through four or five editions, I received only £80, and a
few copies. For the Practical Astronomer, I received fifty guineas,
and so of the rest, some larger and some smaller sums.
An effort had been made
in 1846, when Lord John Russell was first lord of the treasury, to
procure a pension for Dr. Dick, which did not succeed. The memorial
presented to his lordship was drawn up by P.H. Thoms, Esq., afterwards
provost of Dundee, and was subscribed by Lord Duncan, Lord Kinniard, G.
Duncan, Esq., M.P. for Dundee, and about half-a-dozen other official
persons in that neighbourhood. Another memorial was subsequently laid
before Lord John, backed by Hon. Fox Maule (eleventh earl of Dalhousie),
and Mr., afterwards, Sir Francis Peto, M.P. In 1847 the application was
renewed, and this time it was successful, £50 per annum having been then
awarded to him. After his death it was continued to his widow. Dr.
Livingstone, the celebrated traveller and missionary in Africa, in his
interesting narrative, speaks very gratefully of Dicks Philosophy of
Religion, and Philosophy of a Future State, which he read in his
youth, when a factory boy in Glasgow.
Dr. Dick died July 29,
1857, at the age of 83. His principal works are:
The Christian Philosopher, 2 vols, 1827. 10th edition, 1856.
The Philosophy of Religion; or an Illustration of the Moral Laws of the
Universe. Several editions.
The Philosophy of a Future State. 1828.
The Improvement of Society by the diffusion of Knowledge; or an
Illustration of the Advantages which would result from a general
dissemination of rational and scientific knowledge among all ranks; with
The Mental Illumination and Moral Improvement of Mankind; or an Inquiry
into the means by which a general diffusion of knowledge may be
promoted; with engravings. This work illustrates, among other topics, an
outline of moral and intellectual education.
Christian Beneficence contrasted with Covetousness, illustrating the
means by which the world may be regenerated.
Celestial Scenery; or the Wonders of the Planetary System displayed,
illustrating the perfections of Deity and a plurality of worlds. London,
The Sidereal Heavens, and other subjects connected with Astronomy, as
illustrative of the character of the Deity and of an infinity of worlds.
London, 1840, 12mo. 4th edition, London, 1840, 12mo.
The Practical Astronomer, comprising illustrations of Light and Colours
a practical description of all kinds of Telescopes the use of the
Equatorial, Transit, Circular, and other Astronomical Instruments a
particular account of the Earl of Rossies large Telescopes and other
topics connected with Astronomy. 100 cuts, 570 pages. London, 1845,
The Solar System, adapted to beginners.
The Atmosphere, and Atmospherical Phenomena, with cuts, 192 pages.
Besides a variety of communications in literary, philosophical, and
theological journals, which would occupy two moderate-sized volumes; and
two or three lectures, published separately. Most of his works have gone
through several editions.
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