At Glasgow’s International Airport, Prestwick, where some New York flights make their first touchdown on the British Isles, portraits of Scotland’s famous scientists, inventors, explorers, and national leaders, challenge visitors to esteem a race of people whose intellectual achievements have been shared for the benefit of all mankind. Among them is Sir David Brewster, born 200 years ago—a man of prodigious energies and talents, and one of Scotland’s greats.
In his lifetime, Brewster performed outstandingly as a divinity student, a renowned preacher, tutor, editor, successful writer for popular science, inventor, university principal, and even an advocate for social reform. Historically, his life’s work comes after Isaac Newton’s (of whom he wrote a biography); was contemporary for a period with Charles Darwin and his death occurred eleven years before the birth of Albert Einstein. David Brewster did much to make science popular among the masses, but when ‘Darwinism’ began to be approved, he viewed the trend as ‘folly’.
David was an advantaged child whose father’s intellectual activities as Rector of the Grammar School in Jedburgh, and studies at Edinburgh University, provided manuscripts for a precocious boy to pore over. James Veitch, the ‘peasant astronomer’ encouraged and helped him in making sun dials, microscopes, and telescopes. Actually, this brilliant boy was only twelve years old when he was admitted to the revered halls of learning at the University of Edinburgh. There he completed all the prescribed courses like the other students but without taking out a formal B.A. degree. From that point of scholastic achievement, his background and religious aspirations led him to continue studying as a Divinity student, and in 1800, he received an honorary M.A. at the age of 19. It was not until four years later, that the Church of Scotland granted him a licence to preach. Although never ordained to the pastoral ministry, David Brewster preached frequently and with great acceptance, to the congregations in Edinburgh and Leith churches. His knowledge of the scriptures and his sound doctrine ensured him a welcome in any pulpit, and no doubt introduced him as an author to be read and discussed over many a Scottish meal-table, at home and abroad….
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