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Richard Kirwan



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Richard Kirwan FRS (August 1, 1733 – June 22, 1812) was an Irish scientist. He is remembered today, if at all, for being one of the last supporters of the theory of phlogiston. Kirwan was active in the fields of chemistry, meteorology, and geology. He was widely known in his day, corresponding and meeting with such better-known scientists as Lavoisier, Black, Priestley, and Cavendish.

Additional recommended knowledge

Contents

Life and work

 

Richard Kirwan was born at Cloughballymore, Co. Galway, the second son of Martin Kirwan and Mary. Part of his early life was spent abroad, and in 1754 he entered the Jesuit novitiate either at St Omer or at Hesdin, but returned to Ireland in the following year, when he succeeded to the family estates through the death of his brother in a duel. Kirwan married in 1757, but his wife only lived eight more years. The couple had two daughters, Maria Theresa and Eliza.[2]

In 1766, having conformed to the established religion two years previously, Kirwan was called to the Irish bar, but in 1768 abandoned practice in favor of scientific pursuits. During the next nineteen years he resided chiefly in London, enjoying the society of the scientific men living there, and corresponding with many savants on the continent of Europe, as his wide knowledge of languages enabled him to do with ease. His experiments on the specific gravities and attractive powers of various saline substances formed a substantial contribution to the methods of analytical chemistry, and in 1782 gained him the Copley medal from the Royal Society, of which he was elected a fellow in 1780; and in 1784 he was engaged in a controversy with Cavendish in regard to the latter's experiments on air.

In 1787 Kirwan moved to Dublin, where, in 1799, he became president of the Royal Irish Academy. To its proceedings he contributed some thirty-eight memoirs, dealing with meteorology[3], pure and applied chemistry, geology, magnetism and philology. One of these, on the primitive state of the globe and its subsequent catastrophe, involved him in a lively dispute with the upholders of the Huttonian theory. His geological work was marred by an implicit belief in the universal deluge, and through finding fossils associated with the trap rocks near Portrush he maintained basalt was of aqueous origin.

Kirwan was one of the last supporters in England of the theory of phlogiston, for which he contended in his Essay on Phlogiston and the Constitution of Acids (1787), identifying phlogiston with hydrogen. This work, translated by Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze, was published in French with critical notes by Lavoisier and some of his associates; Kirwan attempted to refute their arguments, but they proved too strong for him, and he acknowledged himself a convert in 1791.

Various stories are told of Kirwan's eccentricities as well as of his conversational powers. It is said that flies "were his especial aversion; he kept a pet eagle, and was attended by six large dogs."[4]

Kirwan died in Dublin in June 1812, and was buried there in St. George's Church, Lower Temple Street.[5]

Honors and activities

  • Fellow of the Royal Society (1780)
  • Copley Medal (1782)
  • Royal Irish Academy (1799 – 1812) - President
  • Wernerian Natural History Society of Edinburgh (1808) - honourary founding member

Books

 

  • Elements of Mineralogy (1784)
  • Essay on Phlogiston and the Constitution of Acids (1787)
  • An Estimate of the Temperature of Different Latitudes (1787)
  • Essay of the Analysis of Mineral Waters (1799)
  • Geological Essays (1799)
  • The Manures Most Advantageously Applicable to the Various Sorts of Soils (1796; sixth edition in 1806)
  • Logick (1807)
  • Metaphysical Essays (1809)
  • An Essay on Human Happiness (1810)

Notes and references

  1. ^ Berry, Henry Fitz-Patrick (1915). A History of the Royal Dublin Society. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 154 – 158. 
  2. ^ Reilly, R.; N. O'Flynn (February 1930). "Richard Kirwan, an Irish Chemist of the Eighteenth Century". Isis 13: 298 – 319.
  3. ^ Dixon, F. E. (December 1969). "Some Irish Meteorologists". The Irish Astronomical Journal 9: 113 – 119.
  4. ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. (1909), , vol. 11, New York: Macmillan, p. 228 – 230,
  5. ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. (1909), , vol. 11, New York: Macmillan, p. 228 – 230,
  6. ^ Reilly, R.; N. O'Flynn (February 1930). "Richard Kirwan, an Irish Chemist of the Eighteenth Century". Isis 13: 298 – 319.

For further reading

  • Brockman, C. J. (1927). "Richard Kirwan – Chemist, 1733 – 1812". Journal of Chemical Education 4: 1275 – 1282.
  • Donovan, M. (1848). "Memoir of R. Kirwan". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 4.
  • Reilly, R.; N. O'Flynn (February 1930). "Richard Kirwan, an Irish Chemist of the Eighteenth Century". Isis 13: 298 – 319.
  • Reilly, D. (May 1950). "Irish Chemical Pioneers of 150 Years Ago". Journal of Chemical Education 27: 237 – 240.
  • Smith, Edgar Fahs (1926). "Forgotten Chemists". Journal of Chemical Education 3: 29 – 40.
  • Dixon, F. E. (December 1969). "Some Irish Meteorologists". The Irish Astronomical Journal 9: 113 – 119.
  • Owenson, Sydney (1829). The Book of the Boudoir. New York: J. & J. Harper, 42 – 66.  (written by Lady Morgan)
  • Lee, Sidney, ed. (1909), , vol. 11, New York: Macmillan, p. 228 – 230, - Biographical information
  • Thomson, Thomas (1818). A System of Chemistry, 5, Philadelphia: Abraham Small, 124 – 126. 
  • Kirwan and the Royal Irish Academy
  • Life and works

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


Awards
Preceded by
William Herschel
Copley Medal
1782
Succeeded by
John Goodricke and Thomas Hutchins
 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Richard_Kirwan". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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