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Queen Of Science
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Canongate Classics
Publication Date
23 June 2008
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Birlinn Limited

Queen Of Science

by Mary Somerville - Find out more about the author

Self-taught in algebra, Mary Somerville made her reputation in celestial mechanics with her 1831 translation of Laplace’s Mécanique Céleste as The Mechanism of the Heavens. As she was equally interested in art, literature and nature, Somerville’s lively memoirs give a fascinating picture of her life and times from childhood in Burntisland to international recognition and retirement in Naples. She tells of her friendship with Maria Edgeworth and of her encounters with Scott and Fenimore Cooper. She remembers comets and eclipses, high society in London and Paris, Charles Babbage and his calculating engine, the Risorgimento in Italy and the eruption of Vesuvius. Selected by her daughter and first published in 1873, these are the memoirs of a remarkable woman who became one of the most gifted mathematicians and scientists of the nineteenth-century, after whom Oxford’s Somerville College was named.

Mary Somerville (1780-1872) was born in Jedburgh, the fifth child of William Fairfax, a Lieutenant in Nelson’s navy (later a Vice-Admiral), and his second wife, Margaret Charters. She attended a school in Musselburgh whose chief aim was to teach girls how to be gracious. Despite the obstacles that were put in her way she pursued her own interests in mathematics and the classics. In 1804 she married her cousin Samuel Greig, and they went to stay in London, but she left with two young children when her husband dies only three years later. She married another of her cousins in 1812, and moved to London: she continued her studies during this time, and was in her early forties when her scientific interests began to make their mark.

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