Cancelled – The Life & Times of Mary Somerville, BRLSI, 10th April 2017


Due to ill health, this event has been cancelled


Venue: 7.30pm Monday 10th April 2017 at the BRLSI

Title: The Life & Times of Mary Somerville

Speaker: Dr Claire Brock of the University of Leicester


Mary Fairfax Somerville (26 December 1780 – 29 November 1872) was a Scottish science writer and polymath. She studied mathematics and astronomy, and was nominated to be jointly the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society at the same time as Caroline Herschel.

In 1816 the Mary Somerville and her family moved to London, where they became friends with such eminent scientists as astronomers Sir William Herschel and Caroline Herschel, metallurgist William Hyde Wollaston, physicist Thomas Young, and mathematician Charles Babbage. On a trip to Europe in 1817, Somerville met French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace.

In 1827 Somerville was asked by the lawyer Henry Brougham to prepare for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge—which intended to make good books available at low prices to the working class—a condensed version of Laplace’s five-volume work Traité de mécanique céleste (Celestial Mechanics, 1798–1827), which offered a complete mechanical interpretation of the solar system. After four years Somerville finished, but Brougham deemed the work too long. However, astronomer Sir John Herschel considered the book excellent and recommended Mechanism of the Heavens (1831) to another publisher. Mechanism of the Heavens’s introduction, in which Somerville summarized the current state of astronomical knowledge for the general reader, was published separately in 1832 as Preliminary Dissertation to the Mechanism of the Heavens. Mechanism of the Heavens was acclaimed by British mathematicians and astronomers.