M.D., en eminent mathematician, the eldest son of Mr. John Simson of
Kirton Hall, Ayrshire, was born there, October 14, 1687. He was educated
at the university of Glasgow, being at first destined for the church,
and such was his progress in learning, that, at an early age, during the
illness of the professor, he taught the class of oriental languages.
While attending the divinity hall, he took a fancy for mathematics, and
became so much attached to the study, that, abandoning theology, he
determined to make the exact sciences the profession of his life. He
devoted himself chiefly to the ancient method of pure geometry,
preferring it to the modern analytical system. On finishing his
academical course, he visited London; and, in 1711, when a vacancy
occurred in the mathematical chair in the university of Glasgow, he was
unanimously elected, after giving a specimen of his skill in mathematics
and algebra. He discharged the duties of a professor for more than half
a century, always using in his lectures the geometry of Euclid. In 1735
he published a work on ‘conic Sections,’ intended as an introduction to
the study of Apollonius. By the advice of “Dr. Halley, he directed his
efforts to the restoration of the ancient geometers. His first task was
to restore the Porisms of Euclid; his next was the ‘Loci Plani’ of
Apollonius, which he completed in 1738, but after this work was printed,
he was far from satisfied that he had given the identical propositions
of that author, and he did not venture to publish it till 1746. He
afterwards recalled all the copies in the hands of his bookseller, and
kept the impression beside him for several years. He subsequently
revised and corrected this work, which greatly extended his reputation.
The restoration of the Elements of Euclid was the great object of his
care, and along with the data, he published this valuable work in 1750.
He also bestowed great labour and pains on the ‘Sectio Determinata’ of
Apollonius, which, however, did not appear till after his death, when it
was printed, along with the Porisms of Euclid, and published at the
expense of Earl Stanhope. Dr. Simson died, unmarried, December 1, 1768,
leaving to the college of Glasgow his valuable collection of
mathematical books and manuscripts. His Life, by Dr. William Trail, was
published at London in 1822. His works are:
Sectionum Conicarum, Libri v. Edin. 1735, 4to. 2d edit. Edin. 1750, 4to.
Elements of Conic Sections. Edin. 1775, 8vo.
Appollonii Pergaei Locorum Planorum, Lib. ii. restituti. Glasg. 1749,
Euclidis Elementorum, Libri vi. priores; item undecimus et duodecimos,
ex versione Latina Frederici Commandini; sublatis iis, quibus olim libri
a Theone aliisve vitiate sunt, et quibusdam Euclidis Demonstrationibus
restitutes, cum Notis Criticis et Geometricis. Glasg. 1756, 4to. Many
editions in 8vo.
The Elements of Euclid, viz. the first six Books, together with the
eleventh and twelfth. In this edition the errors by which Theon or
others have long ago vitiated these books, are corrected, and some of
Euclid’s Demonstrations are restored, and Notes, critical and
geometrical, are subjoined. Glasg. 1756, 4to. The same, with the Data,
corrected, and Notes. Glasg. 1762, 8vo.
A Treatise concerning Porisms, No. i. Lond. 1777, 8vo.
A Tract on Logarithms. Lond. 1777.
On the Limits of Quantities and Ratios, &c.
Opera quaedam Reliqua post Auctoris Mortem, edita cura Jac. Clow. Glasg.
Two General Propositions of Pappus of Alexandria, in which many of
Euclid’s Porisms are included, restored, &c. Phil. Trans. 1723, Abr. vi
An Explanation of an obscure Passage in Albert Gerard’s Commentary on
Simon Stevin’s Works, p. 169, 170. Ib. 1753, x. 430.
SIMSON, WILLIAM, R.S.A., an eminent artist, born in Dundee in
1800, was the third son of Alexander Simson, a merchant there. His
father dying while he was yet young, he received in consequence but a
limited education. About 1814 the family removed to Edinburgh, where his
elder surviving brother had settled some years previously. William was
first intended to be a sailor, but the skipper under whose charge he was
placed thought him too delicate for the sea, and he soon relinquished
that occupation. His friends then wished him to be an optician or a
grocer, but he liked neither employment. Having amused himself with
cutting out little figures in paper and produced a regiment of soldiers,
the taste and truth with which they were executed, attracted the
attention of a gentleman, who purchased them, and a friend, who saw this
specimen of his talents, succeeded in getting him placed as an
apprentice with a Mr. Stephen Lawrence, a drawer in water colours on
satin. As a branch of fashionable education in Edinburgh at that time,
young ladies employed themselves in covering over the subjects on the
satin, principally scenes from ‘The Lady of the Lake,’ &c., with
needlework in silk and worsted. He commenced his engagement with Mr.
Lawrence, 31st August, 1815, boarding with him through the day, and
returning home at night. His evenings were at first occupied
occasionally in assisting a Mr. Kay, a water colour artist then in
Edinburgh, and afterwards in attendance at the antique academy of the
board of Trustees, a school of design in which Sir David Wilkie, Sir
William Allan, and John Burnet the engraver, were educated. It was then
under the superintendence of Mr. S. Graham, and after his death of Mr.
Andrew Wilson, an eminent landscape painter. After Simson had been about
four years engaged on satin samplers for young ladies, Mr. Wilson
proposed to take him as an assistant teacher in his private classes.
This he gladly agreed to, and in 1824, when that gentleman resigned his
private teaching, he was succeeded by Mr. Simson and his elder brother,
who had attained considerable proficiency as an artist. In 1826, the
brothers were elected masters of the Hill Street Institution, Edinburgh,
where they continued for four years.
Disliking the drudgery of
teaching, William Simson commenced to practice art independently. His
first works were coast pieces, somewhat in the style of Collins,
sketched chiefly on the sands of Leith and the shores of Fife. At these
he worked for nearly ten years, acquiring during that time both patrons
and popularity. Among the earliest purchasers of his coast scenes were
Baron Hume, Lord Abercrombie, the earl of Leven, Lady Jane Stuart, Mr.
W. Tytler, Mr. Donald Smith, and Mr. J. G. Kinnear. His prices at first
were small, and for the first six years the highest price which he
obtained for a single picture was £50.
In 1829 he became a
member of the Royal Scottish Academy, on the junction of that body with
the associates of the Royal Institution. In this year he produced his
picture of ‘The Twelfth of August,’ for which he received one hundred
guineas from Mr. Donald Smith. He also, the same year, painted the
portrait of his steady friend, Mr. William Scrope, the author of several
books on deer-stalking. Mr. Simson was of great assistance to Mr. Scrope
in his sporting works, aiding him, it is said, on more than one occasion
with the palatte and the pencil. In 1830, he received one hundred and
thirty guineas from Mr. J. M. Melville, for his painting of ‘sportsmen
Regaling,’ and the same year the same sum from Mr. J. G. Kinnear for
‘The Highland Deer Stalkers.’ The next three or four years were devoted
to portrait painting, and he soon realized a sufficient sum to enable
him to visit Italy, which he did in 1835, and where he remained for
three years. On his return in 1838, he settled in London. His paintings
subsequently exhibited in the Royal Academy, Trafalgar Square, or the
British Institution, Pall Mall, were the following:
A Camaldolese monk showing the relics of his convent. 1838. This
painting formed the subject of the first engraving issued by the Art
Union of London.
Giotto discovered herding sheep by Cimabue. 1838. Bought by Sir Robert
Peel, the eminent statesman, for 150 guineas.
A Dutch family. 1839. Bought by the marquis of Lansdowne for 150
Columbus asking bread and water for his child at the door of the convent
of Santa Maria du Rabida. 1838. Bought by Sir Willoughby Gordon for 200
Goatherds of the Campagna di Roma. 1839. Bought by Mr. Wells of Redleaf,
for 80 guineas. For the same gentleman he also painted a duplicate of
Gil Blas introducing himself to Laura. 1840. Purchased by Mr.
Sheepshanks for 100 guineas.
The Temptation of St. Anthony. 1841. An old subject, but in this
instance cleverly and delicately treated.
The Chateau of Rubens. 1841.
Mary, Queen of Scots, and her retinue returning from the chase to the
castle of Stirling. 1841.
Portrait of Mr. Burnet, the eminent engraver. 1841. An admirable
The Murder of the two Princes in the Tower. 1842.
Hagar and Ishmael. 1842.
Alfred dividing his last loaf with the Pilgrim. 1842.
Group of Baronial Retainers. 1844.
Salvator Rosa’s first Cartoon on the walls of the Certosa. 1844.
The Arrest of William Tell. A composition containing numerous figures.
A Highland Home. A large picture.
The distinguishing characteristic of Simson’s works consists in their
admirable colour. So carefully did he complete the unfinished pictures
by Wilkie, of the Sultan and Mehemet Ali, that it was impossible to tell
where Wilkie left off, and where Simson began. Many of his portraits are
amongst the best of their class. He died at his residence in Sloane
Street, Chelsea, 29th August, 1847.