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The Scottish Nation
Jameson


JAMESON, ROBERT, a distinguished naturalist, styled the father of modern natural history, third son of Thomas Jameson, merchant and soap-manufacturer, Leith, was born in that town on the 11th July, 1774. He early showed a strong desire of becoming acquainted with the history of natural objects, and whilst a boy at the grammar school of his native town, he commenced stuffing birds, and collecting animals and plants, on the beach of Leith and its neighbourhood. In 1788 he entered the humanity class, in the university of Edinburgh, and as a student, he walked in the procession at the laying of the foundation stone of the New college buildings, in one of the class-rooms of which he was destined to be a distinguished lecturer. At first, from his great desire to see the world, he was anxious to be a sailor; but his father objecting, by the advice of his friends, he adopted, instead, the study of medicine, and was appointed assistant to John cheyne, Esq., surgeon, Leith. In 1792 he attended one course of the lectures of Dr. Walker, then professor of natural history in the college of Edinburgh, and another in 1793. He soon became a favourite pupil, and shortly afterwards was appointed keeper of the museum. He also studied botany with great success. In 1793 he visited London, and was introduced to the principal scientific gentlemen of the metropolis, particularly, Sir Joseph Banks, Dr. Shaw, and other leading members of the Linnaean Society.

      On his return to Leith, he seems to have resigned his surgical appointment, and applied all the time he could spare to practical anatomy, under the celebrated lecturer John Bell, with whom he dissected for a long period, to enlarge his views of comparative anatomy. Whilst attending the chemical class, his assiduity attracted the attention of Dr. Rotheram, Dr. Black’s assistant, and afterwards professor of physics in the university of St. Andrews. He now added to his chemical knowledge, mineralogical information generally, and his first essays as a mineralogist were contributed to the 13th volume of the ‘Bee,’ edited by Dr. Anderson. To the Natural History Society, which appears to have been instituted in 1790, but whose proceedings were not published, he read twelve papers on various scientific subjects. In 1794 he visited the Shetland Islands, where he spent three months, exploring their geology, mineralogy, zoology, and botany. In 1797 he also, with a similar purpose, visited the island of Arran, at that time unknown to geologists, and in the following year he published his ‘Mineralogy of the Island of Arran and the Shetland Isles,’ which at once took a high place among scientific publications, for the remarkable phenomena described in it.

      In 1798, in company with his intimate friend, Mr., afterwards Sir Charles Bell, the celebrated anatomist and physiologist, he spent the summer months in examining the geology of the Hebrides and the Western Islands. The following year, he visited and investigated the Orkney islands, and again explored the isle of Arran. The result of his researches was published in 1800, in his ‘Mineralogy of the Scottish Isles,’ in 2 vols. Quarto, illustrated with maps and plates, a work which contained the first sketch of the geology of the Hebrides and Orkneys. The same year, he left Scotland for Freyberg in Germany, where he remained nearly two years, studying mineralogy and geology under the learned and famous Werner. He worked in the mines there under the rules laid down by his master, and underwent the same drudgery and the same kind of work as the common miner, by which means he acquired much valuable information. Mr. Jameson fully acknowledged that it was from Werner that we first derived clear and distinct views of the structure and classification of rocks. Some of his fellow-students under Werner gained a high European reputation, particularly Frederick Mohs, the celebrated mineralogist; T. F. D’Aubisson de Voisins, distinguished for his works on the mines of Freyberg, and the Basalts of Saxony; and Professor Steffens, one of the most elegant of scientific writers.

      In 1804, Mr. Jameson returned to Scotland, and on the death of Dr. Walker the same year, he was appointed regius professor of natural history in the university of Edinburgh. He held that chair, with great celebrity to the university, for the long period of fifty years. In 1808, he founded at Edinburgh, the Wernerian Natural History Society, and was elected its president for life. The following year he published, in one volume octavo, the ‘Elements of Geognosy,’ the professed object of which was to make known Werner’s views respecting the composition and structure of the globe. The result was a division of the northern geologists of Great Britain into the supporters of the Wernerian and the Huttonian doctrines, and the fierce controversy that ensued was ultimately useful, by exciting attention, and diffusing a taste for geology.

      In 1819, Mr. Jameson commenced the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, and for the first six years he conducted it with Sr David Brewster; but, after that period, he was the sole editor. The earlier volumes contain not a few contributions from his pen. He was a corresponding member of the Institute of France, and a member of the French academy, and of many other scientific bodies both at home and abroad. His name was long associated with the museum of the Edinburgh university, of which, from the labour, zeal, and anxiety he displayed in its collection and arrangement, he may almost be considered as the founder, and a marble bust of him, by Steell, stands in the centre of the upper hall. On his appointment to the chair of natural history in 1804, he found the museum very inconsiderable. He placed his own collection of natural history in it, and continued collecting from that period till 1819. There was no regular allowance for the maintenance and increase of the museum, he himself had no salary as keeper, and the only resources he had to look to, for keeping it up, were occasional assistance from the town council and his own private funds. In 1812, he applied to the barons of exchequer for a grant of money for its support, and succeeded in obtaining £100 per annum, for expenses incurred in its preservation, and for the purchase of specimens. In 1820 the museum was for the first time opened to the public, on payment of half-a-crown for each visitor. In July 1834, the admission fee was reduced to one shilling, and on another application to the crown, the grant of £100 per annum was raised to £200. In the meantime various collections had been purchased and added to the museum. In 1852 it had increased so much that the magistrates, and Professor Jameson, as keeper, forwarded memorials to the lords of the treasury, for converting the museum into a national museum for Scotland, and their request was granted.

      During the last two years of his life, he suffered much from repeated attacks of bronchitis, and in the session of 1852-3, he attempted to lecture, but was compelled to forego this and all active duties. He died at Edinburgh, 19th April 1854, in his 80th year, and such was the estimation in which he was held that he received a public funeral. During the long period of his professorship he had the honour of sending forth from his class-room many pupils who subsequently acquired a high name in the world, and not a few of them came to fill distinguished places in the seminaries and scientific institutions of Europe. This sketch has been drawn up from a biographical memoir of him by his nephew, Laurence Jameson, Esq., inserted in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal for July 1854.

      Professor Jameson’s works are:

      Essays on Gems, contributed to Dr. Anderson’s Bee, vol. 13.

      Mineralogy of the Island of Arran and the Shetland Islands, with Dissertations on Peat and Kelp. Edin. 1794, 8vo.

      Mineralogy of the Scottish Isles, 2 vols, 4to, illustrated with maps and plates, the drawings for the latter having been furnished by the professor’s travelling companion, Sir Charles Bell. Edin. 1800.

      Mineralogical Description of Scotland. Vol. i. Part i, 8vo. With map and plates. Edin. 1804. This volume contained an account of the geology of the county of Dumfries. His other labours prevented him from publishing systematic geological accounts, on the same plan, of the other counties of Scotland.

      Treatise on the External Characters of Minerals. Edin. 1805. 8vo. Republished, with additions, in 1816. 3d edit. 1820.

      System of Mineralogy. Edin. 1804-1808, 3 vols, 8vo, with plates. 2d edit. 1816, 3d edit. 1820. In the first edition of this work, which, for the time, was the most complete of its kind, the Wernerian theory is supported in its totality, but in the 3d edition, published in 1820, a number of important modifications were introduced.

      Elements of Geognosy. Edin. 1809, 8vo.

      Manual of Minerals and Mountain Rocks. Edin. 1831; considered the best text-book of its time.

      To the Encyclopedia Britannica, seventh edition, Mr. Jameson contributed the articles Mineralogy, Geology, and Organic Remains; and to the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, various scientific articles bearing the signature (R).

      For a translation of the baron Leopold von Buch’s Travels through Norway and Lapland during 1806, and two succeeding years, published at Edinburgh in one vol. 4to, in 1813, and advised by Mr. Jameson, he wrote an account of its author, and various notes illustrative of the natural history of Norway.

      He also contributed the notes to the translation by Mr. Kerr of Cuvier’s celebrated Discourse on the Theory of the Earth, published the same year. The notes were accompanied by an account of Cuvier’s Geological Discoveries. Mr. Kerr’s translation was only 190 pages, but in the 5th edition Mr. Jameson, completely remodelling the whole work, extended it to 550 pages.

      To accompany Captain Parry’s narrative of his polar expedition, he drew up from the specimens brought home by that enterprising navigator, a sketch of the geology of the different coasts discovered and touched upon by him; which was published, with the botanical observations of Brown and Hooker. 1824. 4to. He also prepared, for the Cabinet Library, an account of the Geology of the Arctic Regions visited by Captain Parry; and to the Edinburgh Cabinet Library he furnished articles on the Physical Geography of Africa and India.

      He edited an edition of Wilson’s American Ornithology, in 4 vols.; the whole being revised and arranged in a scientific manner, and rendered suitable for a text-book.

      Various contributions to Murray’s Encyclopedia of Geography. Edin. 2 vols. 8vo, 1834.

      Mineralogy according to the Natural History Method. Edinburgh, 1837, post 8vo.

      Among his contributions to periodical publications were three to Nicholson’s Journal, in 1802; nine to Thomson’s Annals of Philosophy; thirteen to the Wernerian Transactions; and twenty-three to the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. Of the latter work he became sole editor after the publication of the tenth volume of the old series, which extended to fourteen volumes. The new series, at the time of his death, had reached the forty-fifth volume. Professor Jameson thus edited forty-nine volumes of that popular scientific Journal.


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