Mary Somerville: Mathematician, Scientist, Writer

January 26, 2019 at 12:27 pm (books, history, people, research) (, , )


When I wrote a week ago, on my companion blog Georgian Gems, Regency Reads, & Victorian Voices (dedicated to letters and diaries) about Mary Somerville, it was with the idea of introducing her very useful “Personal Recollections, which I am reading and much enjoying.

Mrs. Somerville turns up in the letters (and diaries) of the Smith family, in the period after her husband’s employment began as physician at the Chelsea Hospital.

mary somerville

Two days ago I received a tiny little letter, written in 1827 by Augusta Smith (Emma’s eldest sister); and was working today to figure out who some of those mentioned in it were. A “Mr. Dukinfield” turns up, in a sentence that makes it probable that he had been a guest — as had the Smiths — at the Shaw Lefevre estate Heckfield Place. I wasn’t sure of his last name, and searched other letters – thereby making final corrections to some prior guesses, in two letters from 1833.

ONE letter made me sit up and take notice: Again written by Augusta Smith, it mentioned Dr. Somerville and the publication of his wife’s book.

In fact, the John Murray edition of Mrs. Somerville’s Personal Recollections features a list of her publications, including THE MECHANISM OF THE HEAVENS (1831).

It must be this that the letter references:

Mr. Blackwood (who had overnighted) “saw Dr Somerville not long ago in town – his wife & family are in Paris – his head is quite turned by the brilliant success of Mrs S:s book  – He was invited down to the Universities to receive thanks for it & assist at fêtes given for her – letters from all countries have poured in to compliment & thank her. She is received with the greatest distinction at the French court…”

This is an intriguing remark: for Augusta Smith (Augusta Wilder as she was after her marriage in 1829), like Mrs. Somerville, had a very inquiring mind. The two must have had a great deal of conversation when together.

If only Mary Somerville ever mentioned any of the Smith family! That would be fabulous information to find, though what seems to exist is not her daily, chatty correspondence. Still, this goes to show that even the shortest paragraph gains meaning once the meaning behind it is deciphered.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: