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Significant Scots
Bryce, (the Rev) Alexander


BRYCE, (the Rev.) ALEXANDER, an eminent geometrician, was born in the year 1713, at Boarland in the parish of Kincardine, and received the first rudiments of learning at the school of Downe, Perthshire. He studied afterwards at the university of Edinburgh, where his proficiency in mathematics and practical astronomy, early attracted the notice and secured for him the patronage of professor Maclaurin. At the particular request of that celebrated man, he went to Caithness, in May 1740, as tutor to a gentleman's son, but chiefly to construct a map of the northern coast; the number of shipwrecks rendering this, at the time, an object of considerable national importance. During a residence of three years, and, in defiance of many threats from the peasantry, which made it necessary for him to go always armed, who did not relish so accurate an examination of their coast, from motives of disloyalty, or because they were afraid, it would deprive them of two principal sources of income - smuggling and plunder from the shipwrecks, he accomplished at his own expense, the geometrical survey, and furnished "A Map of the North coast of Britain, from Raw Stoir of Assynt, to Wick in Caithness, with the harbours and rocks, and an account of the tides in the Pentland Firth." This map was afterwards published by the philosophical, now the Royal, Society of Edinburgh in 1744. Mr. Arrowsmith, it may be mentioned, has lately pronounced it to be very accurate, after a minute examination, while preparing materials for his large map of Scotland.

On his return to Edinburgh in 1743, Mr. Bryce gave very efficient aid, with his friend the reverend Mr. Wallace of Haddo's Hole church, in verifying the necessary calculations submitted to them by doctor Webster, previous to the institution, by act of parliament, of the fund for a provision for the widows of the Scottish clergy; the regular increase of which since, and its present flourishing state, form the best encomium of those who laboured for its establishment.

In June, 1744, be was licensed to preach, by the reverend Presbytery of Dunblane; and having received a presentation by James, earl of Morton, to the church and parish of Kirknewton, within the Presbytery of Edinburgh, he was ordained to serve that cure, in August, 1745. From his knowledge of the inland geography of Scotland, and line of the roads, he was enabled, this year, to furnish the quarter-master general of the army of the Duke of Cumberland with important information regarding the march of the forces, in subduing the rebellion. In the winter of 1745, and spring of 1746, he taught the mathematical classes in the university of Edinburgh, at the desire, and during the last illness of Professor Maclaurin, who died in June following. Mr. Bryce expressed his sorrow for the loss of his friend in verse, of which the following is a specimen: -

Yon angel guards that wait his soul,
Amaz'd at aught from earth so bright,
Find nothing new from pole to pole;
To show him in a clearer light.

Joyful he bears glad news * on high,
And tells them through celestial space;
See Newton hastens down the sky,
To meet him with a warm embrace!

The list'ning choirs around them throng,
Their love and wonder fond to show;
On golden harps they tune the song, -
Of Nature's laws in worlds below.

O Forbes, Foulks, loved Morton, mourn;
Edina, London, Paris, sigh;
With tears bedew his costly urn,
And pray - Earth light upon him lie.

In the year 1750, having occasion to visit Stirling, and knowing that, by an act of the Scottish parliament, this borough had the keeping of the Pint Jug, the standard, by special statute, for weight and for liquid and dry measure in Scotland, he requested a sight of it from the magistrates. Having been referred to the council house, a pewter pint jug, which had been kept suspended from the roof of the apartment, was taken down and given to him; after minutely examining it, he was convinced that it could not be the standard. The discovery was in vain communicated to the magistrates, who were ill able to appreciate their loss. It excited very different feelings in the mind of an antiquary and a mathematician; and resolved, if possible, to recover this valuable antique, he immediately instituted a search; which, though conducted with much patient industry during part of this and the following year, proved unavailing. In the spring of 1752, it occurred to him, that this standard might have been borrowed by some of the braziers or coppersmiths, for the purpose of making legal measures for the citizens; and having learned that a person of this description, called Urquhart, had joined the rebel forces in 1745, that his furniture and shop utensils had been brought to public sale on his not returning; and that various articles which had not been sold, were thrown into a garret as useless, he obtained permission to inspect them; and to his great satisfaction, discovered, under a mass of lumber, the precious object of his long research. Thus was recovered the only legal standard of weight and measure in Scotland; after it had been offered, in ignorance, for public sale, and thrown aside unsold as trash, and long after it had been considered by its constitutional guardians as irretrievably lost.

The standard Stirling pint jug is made of brass, in the form of a hollow truncated cone, and weighs 14 pounds, 10 ounces, 1 drop, and 18 grains, Scotch troy. The mean diameter of the mouth is 4.17 inches. The mean diameter of the bottom 5.25 inches, and the mean depth 6 inches English. On the front, near the mouth, in alto relievo, is a shield and lion rampant, the arms of Scotland: and near the bottom another shield, and an ape, passant gardant, with the letter S below, supposed to have been intended as the arms of Stirling. The arms at present are a wolf. The ape must have been put on therefore inadvertently by the maker, or the town must have changed its arms at a period subsequent to the time when the standard was ordered to be made. The handle is fixed with two brass nails; the whole is of rude workmanship, and indicates great antiquity.

By an act of the Scottish parliament, Edinburgh had the keeping of the standard ell; Perth the reel; Lanark the pound: Linlithgow the firlot, and Stirling the pint jug; an arrangement made by the legislature, in the view of improving the internal commerce of the country, by checking the frauds which the traffickers of a rude age may be supposed to have often attempted, and because the commodities, to which these different standards referred, were known to have been supplied in greater abundance by the districts and towns to whose care they were respectively committed. Hence it may be inferred, that Lanark was then the principal market for wool; Perth for yarn; Edinburgh for cloth; Linlithgow for grain; and Stirling for distilled and fermented liquors. The Stirling jug is mentioned in acts of Parliament as being in the town before the reign of James II. in 1437: and the last mention made of it is in the reign of James VI., in an "Act of Parliament, 19 February, 1618, anent settling the measures and weights of Scotland." No accurate experiments appear to have been afterwards made with it for fixing the legal quantity of these measures and weights, till the following by Mr. Bryce in 1762-3; a period of about one hundred and thirty-five years!

Having been permitted, after recovering the Standard jug, to carry it with him to Edinburgh, his first object was to ascertain precisely, by means of it, the number of cubic inches, and parts of a cubic inch, in the true Scotch pint.

For this purpose the mouth of the jug was made exactly horizontal, by applying to it a spirit level; a minute silver wire of the thickness of a hair, with a plummet attached to each end, was laid across the mouth, and water poured gently in, till, with a magnifying glass, it was seen just to touch the wire: the water was then carefully weighed in a balance, the beam of which would turn with a single grain, when 96 ounces were in each scale. After seventeen trials with clear spring and river water, several of which were made in presence of the magistrates of Edinburgh, the content of the jug was found to weigh, at a medium of the trials, 54 ounces, 8 drops, 20 grains, or 26,180 grains, English troy.

His next object was to determine accurately, how many of these grains were contained in a cubic inch of water. With this view, a cylindrical brass vessel was made with great accuracy, by a scale of Bird, the celebrated mathematical instrument-maker of London, to contain 100 cubic inches. This vessel was filled several times with the same water as in the trials with the jug, and its content was found to weigh 25,318 grains, English troy. This number divided by 100, gives 253 18/100 grains, as the weight of a cubic inch of water: therefore, 26180 divided by 153 18/100=103 404/1000, the exact number of cubic inches, and parts of a cubic inch, in the standard Scotch pint: 51 702/1000 cubic inches in the chopin: 25 851/1000 cubic inches in the mutchkin; and so on, proportionally, in the other smaller Scotch measures.

Mr. Bryce next applied the Standard jug to fix the legal size of the different measures for grain; which he compared with some of the English dry measures. By act of parliament, 19 February, 1618, formerly mentioned, it is ordained, that the wheat and pease firlot - shall contain 21 1/4 pints; and the bear and oat firlot 31 pints of the just Stirling jug. Therefore, since there are 103 404/1000 cubic inches in the standard Scotch pint, there will be 2197 335/1000 cubic inches in the wheat and pease firlot; 549 3337/10000 in the peck; and 137 3334/10000 in the lippie - in the bean and oat firlot, 3205 524/1000 cubic inches; 801 381/1000 in the peck; and 200 345/1000 in the lippie. The excess of a boll of bear above a boll of wheat was found to be precisely 5 pecks bear measure, and 1 mutchkin, without the difference of a single gill: or, a boll of bear is more than a boll of wheat, by 7 pecks 1 1/2 lippie, wheat measure, wanting 1 gill.

The English corn bushel contains 2178 cubic inches, which is less than the Scotch wheat firlot, by 19.335 inches, or three gills; so that 7 firlots of wheat will make 7 English bushels and 1 lippie. The English corn bushel is less than the barley firlot, by 1 peck, 3 1/2 lippies nearly. The legal English bushel, by which gaugers are ordered to make their returns of malt, contains 2150.42 cubic inches, which is less than the wheat firlot, 46.915 cubic inches, or 1 chopin, wanting 1/2 gill; and less than the bear firlot by 1055.104 cubic inches, or 2 bear pecks, wanting 7 gills.

A Scotch barley boll contains 5 bushels, 3 pecks, 2 lippies, and a little more, according to the Winchester gallon.

A Scotch barley boll, according to the legal measure, contains 6 bushels, wanting a little more than 1/2 lippie.

A Scotch chalder, (16 bolls of barley,) is equal to 11 quarters, 6 bushels, and 3 lippies, Winchester measure.

A Scotch chalder of wheat is equal to 8 quarters, 2 pecks, and 1 lippie, Winchester measure.

A wheat firlot made according to the dimensions mentioned in the Scotch act of parliament, 1618, viz., 19 1/6 inches diameter, at top and bottom, and 7 1/3 inches in height, Scotch measure, would be less than the true wheat firlot; (or 2 1/4 pints of the Standard jug) by a Scotch chopin: a chalder of wheat measured with this firlot would fall short of the true quantity, 1 firlot, 2 pecks, or nearly 2 1/4 per cent.

A barley firlot made according to the dimensions in the said act, viz., having the same diameter at top and bottom as the wheat firlot, and 10 1/2 inches in height, Scotch measure, would be less than the true firlot, (or 31 pints of the Standard jug) by 5 mutchkins: and a chalder of bear, measured with such a firlot, would fall short of the just quantity, 2 firlots, 2 pecks, and nearly 2 lippies, or 4 per cent.

These very remarkable mistakes must have proceeded from the ignorance or inaccuracy of the persons authorized by parliament to make the calculations, and to determine the exact dimensions of the firlot measure. For suppose a firlot were made of the following dimensions, viz., 20 inches diameter, English measure, at top and bottom, and 7 inches in depth, it would contain 21 1/2 pints (the true wheat and pease firlot) and only 1/5 of a gill more.

A firlot of the same diameter as above, at top and bottom, and 10 1/4 inches in depth, would contain 31 pints (the true bear and oat firlot) and only 2 gills more: but if, instead of 10 1/4, it be made 10 1/5 inches in depth, it will be less than 31 pints, (the true Standard measure) only 1/4 of a single gill.

By the greater of these firlots were to be measured bear, oats, and malt; by the less wheat, rye, beans, pease, and salt.

According to the act of parliament in 1618, to which reference has been made, the Scotch pint contains of the clear running water of Leith three pounds and seven ounces, French troy weight, and this is ordained to be the weight of Scotland; therefore, in the Scotch pound there are 7616 troy grains; and in the Scotch ounce 476 troy grains; and so on proportionally, with regard to the other Scotch weights.

In this way, by the recovery of the standard Stirling pint jug, canons of easy application resulted, for determining the just quantity of the measures, liquid and dry, and also of the weights in Scotland, and therefore of great public utility, by settling disputes and preventing litigation in that part of the empire.

After having obtained the above results by means of the Standard jug, Mr. Bryce superintended, at the desire of the magistrates of Edinburgh, the adjustment of the weights and measures, kept by the dean of Guild; and "for his good services to the city," was made a burgess and Guild brother in January, 1754.

Several detached memoirs by Mr. Bryce were published by the Royal Society of London; particularly "An account of a Comet observed by him in 1766;" "A new method of measuring the Velocity of the Wind;" "An Experiment to ascertain to what quantity of Water a fall of Snow on the Earth's surface is equal." His observations on the transits of Venus, 6th June, 1761, and 3rd June, 1769, were considered by astronomers as important, in solving the grand problem. In May, 1767, he was consulted by the trustees for procuring surveys of the lines proposed for the canal between the Forth and Clyde, and received their thanks for his remarks, afterwards communicated to them in writing, on Mr. Smeaton's first printed report. About this time, he was introduced to Stuart Mackenzie, lord privy seal of Scotland, who, as a lover of the arts and sciences, highly respecting his genius and acquirements, obtained for him soon after, the office of one of his majesty's chaplains in ordinary; and, during the remainder of his life, honoured him with his friendship and patronage.

He planned for that gentleman the elegant observatory at Be1mont castle, where also are still to be seen, an instrument contrived by him for ascertaining the magnifying powers of telescopes, and a horizontal marble dial, made with great precision, to indicate the hour, the minute, and every ten seconds. In 1770, his lordship having communicated an account or a phenomenon observed by lord Charles Cavendish, doctor Habberden, and himself, viz., "that a less quantity of rain (by a difference which was considerable) fell into the rain gauges placed on the top of Westminster abbey and an adjoining house than into those placed below," and for which they found it difficult to account, Mr. Bryce sent to his lordship, on the 14th December, an ingenious solution of the fact.

In 1772, he wrote "Remarks on the Barometer for measuring Altitudes;" showing the uncertainty and limited use of the instrument, as then commonly used for that purpose, and the means by which it might be rendered more perfect and greater precision attained. These remarks were sent to lord privy seal in January, 1773. In a map of the Three Lothians engraved by Kitchen of London, and published in 1773, by Andrew and Mostyn Armstrong, "the scales of Longitude and Latitude are laid down agreeably to the observations of the Rev. Mr. Bryce at Kirknewton manse." In April, 1774, in consequence of certain apparently insurmountable difficulties, he was consulted by the magistrates of Stirling on the subject of supplying the town with water: these difficulties he removed, by taking accurately all the different levels; making the calculations for the size of the leaden pipes and the reservoir, and fixing the situation for its being placed. For this service he had the freedom of the town conferred on him. In 1776, he made all the requisite calculations for an epitome of the solar system on a large scale, afterwards erected by the earl of Buchan at his seat at Kirkhill. In case of disputes about the extent of fields exchanged by neighbouring proprietors, or the line of their marches, he was generally chosen sole arbiter, and from his knowledge in land surveying, and the confidence reposed in him, had it often in his power to render them essential service. Mr. Bryce used to send various meteorological observations and other detached notices to Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine.

From the time of his ordination in 1745, till his death on the 1st January, 1786, he discharged with great fidelity, all the duties of his pastoral office; and excelled particularly in that species of didactic discourse known in Scotland, under the name of lecture. His lectures, however, were never fully written, but spoken from notes; and he left no sermons for publication.

In early life he composed several songs, adapted to some of the most favourite Scottish airs, and his stanzas, in "The Birks of Invermay," have been long before the world. For about three years before his death, his greatest amusement was in writing poetry, chiefly of a serious and devotional cast; which, though not composed for the public eye, is read with satisfaction by his friends, and valued by them as an additional proof of his genius, and a transcript of that enlightened piety, uprightness of mind, and unshaken trust in his Creator, which characterized him through the whole of life.

* A few days before his friend's death, he saw him institute a calculation for ascertaining the proportion that existed between the axis of the earth and the diameter of its equator. It proceeded on data sent him by the Earl of Morton, president of the Royal Society, consisting of observations made in Peru by the French mathematicians, and communicated at London by Don Antonio, who was taken prisoner at Cape Breton. The proportion ascertained was very nearly that which Sir Isaac Newton had predicted; being as 221:222, and afforded particular gratification. These are the news he is supposed to bear.


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