NICHOL, JOHN PRINGLE,
LL.D., an eminent astronomer, the eldest son of a merchant in Brechin,
Forfarshire, was born in that town, January 13, 1804. He was educated at
Brechin academy, and showed so much talent and energy that his friends
were persuaded to send him to college to fit him for the church. He,
accordingly studied at King’s College, Old Aberdeen, where he gained the
highest honours. He was scarcely seventeen years of age when he was
appointed schoolmaster of the parish of Dun, in the neighbourhood of his
native town. He was afterwards parish schoolmaster at Hawick, and
thereafter at Cupar-Fife. Subsequently he became rector of the academy
at Montrose, in which capacity he frequently delivered lectures upon
chemistry, geology, electricity, and astronomy, elucidated with such apt
experiments and illustrations, as made them extremely popular.
Meanwhile, he had, at intervals, attended
the divinity class at college, where he studied for the Established
Church of Scotland, and in due time was licensed to preach the gospel.
His tastes, however, led him to the pursuits of science, and having been
in early life a keen mathematician, he soon abandoned the pulpit, and
devoted himself to the more congenial study of astronomy. Without
having, in his early years, special advantage of encouragement, he was
indebted for the position which he attained in the world of science
solely to his own merit and perseverance. While teaching others, he
continued an ardent student himself. By his writings and by his
lectures, which latter were, in a high degree, popular, fascinating, and
instructive, he soon became generally known, and in 1836, when the
professorship of practical astronomy in the university of Glasgow became
vacant, Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, at once appointed Mr.
Nichol to the chair.
From that period he resided in Glasgow, and
it was owing mainly to his exertions that the magnificent Observatory in
its immediate vicinity was erected. He expended upon it a large amount
of his own private means, and there, by the aid of some of the finest
instruments in Great Britain, he pursued his favourite studies, and,
from time to time, gave to the world the results of his observations in
solar regions. He was the first to make the public familiar with that
which is called the “Nebular Hypothesis.” He delivered frequent courses
of lectures on his favourite science to crowded audiences in the City
Hall of Glasgow, and also in many of the larger and smaller towns
throughout the kingdom; and appeared to take as much delight in
explaining the laws that regulate the heavenly bodies to the
unpretending mechanic as to the carefully educated student. He died at
Rothesay, September 19, 1859. He was twice married, and left a son and a
daughter. His works are:
View of the Architecture of the Heavens. In a series of Letters to a
Lady. Edinb. 1837, 8vo.
The Solar System. Edinburgh, 1842, 8vo.
The Planet Neptune. Edinb. 1848, 8vo.
The Stellar Universe. Edinb. 1848, 16mo.
Thoughts on some Important Points relating to the System of the World.
The Planetary System. Edinburgh, 1851.
The Cyclopaedia of the Physical Sciences. Edinburgh, 1857, 8vo.