Catalogue Number: 29
Letters on natural magic, addressed to Sir Walter Scott, Bart. including letters about optics, the eye and vision
Sub-Category: Significant book (Aitken collection)
Author: BREWSTER, Sir David
Year Of Publication/Manufacture: 1834
Time Period: 19th C
Place Of Publication/Manufacture: London
Description Of Item: The book is small, 145 mm x 102mm, but has 351 pages. It has its original binding in good condition. There are 8 "letters". The first letter describes how governments and magicians use their understanding of natural phenomena to "deceive and enslave" their subjects. Letter 2 is about the eye and vision. Letter 3 is on spectral apparitions, Letters 4 and 5 are on optics to create illusions and letter 6 describes and explains naturally occurring illusions. Other letters deal with hearing, mechanics and chemistry in the production of illusions.
Historical Significance: Brewster(1781 - 1868) was a Scotttish physicist known for work on light and the law on the extent of polarisation on reflection of light is called Brewster's law. At the age of 12, Brewster was sent to the University of Edinburgh, graduating MA in 1800, being intended for the clergy. However, he had already shown a strong inclination for natural science, and this had been fostered by James Veitch of Inchbonny - a man who was particularly skillful in making telescopes. Though Brewster finished his theological studies and was licensed to preach, his other interests distracted him from the duties of his profession. In 1799 fellow-student Henry Brougham persuaded him to study the diffraction of light. The most important of his inquiries are the laws of light polarization by reflection and refraction, the discovery of the polarizing structure induced by heat and pressure, the discovery of crystals with two axes of double refraction, including the connection between optical structure and crystalline forms and the laws of metallic reflection. He discovered the connection between the refractive index and the polarizing angle; biaxial crystals, and the production of double refraction by irregular heating. The degree of LL.D. was conferred on him in 1807 Brewster by Marischal College, Aberdeen; in 1815 he was made a member of the Royal Society of London in 1825. Among the non-scientific public, his fame spread by his invention in about 1815 of the kaleidoscope and later the stereoscope in 1849 although Sir Charles Wheatstone had discovered principle of the stereopscope and applied it in 1838. Brewster's contribution was the suggestion to use prisms for uniting the dissimilar pictures; and accordingly the lenticular stereoscope may fairly be said to be his invention.
How Acquired: Donated by Michael Aitken, honorary archivist
Date Acquired: 1989
Location: Nathan Library. Aitken collection