Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lardner, Dionysius
LARDNER, DIONYSIUS (1793–1859), scientific writer, son of a Dublin solicitor, was born in Dublin on 3 April 1793. He was educated for the law, but, finding the work distasteful, entered Trinity College, where he graduated B.A. in 1817, M.A. in 1819, and LL.B. and LL.D. in 1827, taking prizes in logic, metaphysics, ethics, mathematics, and physics, and a gold medal for a course of lectures on the steam engine, delivered before the Dublin Royal Society, and afterwards published. He took holy orders, but devoted himself to literary and scientific work, contributing during his residence in Dublin to the 'Edinburgh Review,' the 'Encyclopædia Edinensis,' and the 'Encyclopædia Metropolitana' (for which he wrote the treatise on algebra), besides publishing some independent works. Elected in 1827 to the chair of natural philosophy and astronomy in the recently founded London University, now University College, he removed to London, and initiated in 1829 the work by which he is principally remembered, the 'Cabinet Cyclopædia.' He was fortunate in securing as contributors some of the most eminent writers of the day. Mackintosh wrote on England, Scott on Scotland, Moore on Ireland, Thirlwall on Ancient Greece, Sismondi on the fall of the Roman empire and the rise and fall of the Italian republics, Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas on the chronology of history, Southey and Gleig on British naval and military heroes, John Forster on British statesmen, Baden Powell and Herschell on the history and study of natural philosophy and astronomy, De Morgan on probabilities, Phillips on geology, Swainson on natural history and zoology, and Henslow on botany. Lardner himself contributed the treatises on hydrostatics and pneumatics, arithmetic and geometry, and collaborated with Captain Kater [q.v.] in the treatise on mechanics, and with C. V. Walker [q.v.] in those on electricity, magnetism, and meteorology. The work was completed in 1849, in 133 vols. 8vo. Another serial, started in 1830, under the title of 'Dr. Lardner's Cabinet Library,' was discontinued, after nine volumes had appeared, in 1832. It comprised Moyle Scherer's 'Military Memoirs of the Duke of Wellington,' 'A Retrospect of Public Affairs for 1831,' 'Historical Memoirs of the House of Bourbon,' and the 'History of the Life and Reign of George IV,' all except the first-mentioned work being anonymous. Lardner also edited the 'Edinburgh Cabinet Library,' of which thirty-eight volumes, 8vo, chiefly devoted to history, travels, and biography, were published at Edinburgh between 1830 and 1844. In a letter to Lord Melbourne, published in 1837, Lardner urged upon government the importance of establishing direct steam communication with India by way of the Red Sea ('Steam Communication with India by the Red Sea advocated in a Letter to the Right Hon. Viscount Melbourne,' London, 1837, 8vo). He also discussed, in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ for April of this year, the feasibility of constructing steamships capable of making the voyage across the Atlantic. In the course of this article, the tone of which was cautious to the verge of scepticism, he made some disparaging comments on Hall's recently patented method of condensation, which, by enabling the same water to be used throughout the voyage, effected a great economy of force. He was accordingly denounced before the British Association by the inventor as 'an ignorant and impudent empiric' (Samuel Hall's Address to the British Association, explanatory of the Injustice done to his Improvements on Steam Engines by Dr. Lardner, Liverpool, 1837, 4to). A paper by Lardner on the resistance to railway trains, read before the British Association at this meeting, was published in the 'Railway Magazine' for November of the same year, and among the 'Reports' of the association for 1838 and 1841 are two by him on the same subject, afterwards reprinted in 'Reports on the Determination of the Mean Value of Railway Constants,' London, 1842, 8vo.
In the midst of these various and arduous labours Lardner carried on during several years an amour with Mrs. Heaviside, the wife of Captain Richard Heaviside, a cavalry officer, and eloped with her in March 1840. Heaviside obtained a verdict against him in an action of seduction, with 8,000l. damages. An act of parliament dissolving the marriage followed in 1845. The interval was spent by Lardner in a lecturing tour in the United States and Cuba, by which he is said to have made 40,000l., besides the profits arising from the sale of his lectures, which were published at New York in 1842 and subsequent years, and passed through many editions. Returning to Europe in 1845, he settled at Paris, where he thenceforth resided until his death. He visited London in 1851, and reviewed the Exhibition in a series of letters to the 'Times' newspaper, reprinted under the title 'The Great Exhibition and London in 1851,' London, 1852, 8vo. Lardner also communicated in 1852 to the Royal Astronomical Society papers 'On the Uranography of Saturn,' 'On the Classification of Comets, and the Distribution of their Orbits in Space,' and 'On Certain Results of Laplace's Formulæ' (see Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, xiii. 160, 188, 252). During his residence in Paris he wrote the works on railway economy and natural philosophy mentioned below, and launched upon the world in 1853 a miscellany of treatises on various branches of science, especially in their relation to common life, entitled 'The Museum of Science and Art,' completed in 12 vols., London, 1856, 8vo. Portions of this work were acknowledged and reprinted as Lardner's own under the titles: 'The Electric Telegraph Popularised,' London, 1855, 8vo; new edition, revised and rewritten by E. B. Bright, 1867, 8vo (German translation by C. Hartmann in 'Neuer Schauplatz der Künste,' Ilmenau, 1856, 8vo); 'Common Things Explained,' in two series, London, 1855 and 1856, 8vo (reprinted 1873, 8vo); 'Popular Astronomy,' in two series, London, 1855 and 1857, 8vo (reprinted 1873, 8vo); 'Popular Physics,' London, 1856, 8vo (reprinted 1873, 8vo); 'The Bee and White Ants: their Manners and Habits, with Illustrations of Animal Instinct and Intelligence,' London, 1856, 8vo; 'Popular Geology,' London, 1856, 8vo (reprinted 1873, 8vo); 'The Microscope,' London, 1856, 8vo; 'Steam and its Uses,' London, 1856, 8vo (reprinted 1873, 8vo).
Lardner was a fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, of the Royal Astronomical Society, of the Linnean Society, of the Zoological Society; an honorary fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society and of the Statistical Society of Paris; a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and a fellow of the Society for Promoting Useful Arts in Scotland. He was reputed to be the Paris correspondent of the 'Daily News.' He died at Naples on 29 April 1859. He is satirised by Thackeray in the last 'Memoirs of Mr. Charles J. Yellowplush,' as a literary quack advertising his cyclopædia at dinner-parties, and also as Dionysius Diddler in the 'Miscellanies.' He was certainly not an original or profound thinker, but he was a man of great and versatile ability, master of a lucid style, and as a populariser of science did excellent work.
Lardner married twice: first, in 1815, Cecilia Flood (d. 1862), granddaughter of the Right Hon. Henry Flood [q.v.], by whom he had three children. The parties separated by mutual consent in 1820, and in 1849 a formal divorce took place. The doctor then married Mary, the divorced wife of Captain Heaviside, by whom he had two daughters. A humorous sketch of Lardner, which is vouched for by the editor as a graphic likeness, is given in the 'Maclise Portrait Gallery,' ed. Bates, p. 122.
Lardner's principal works, exclusive of those of which the full titles are given in the text, are as follows: 1. 'System of Algebraic Geometry,' London, 1823, 8vo, one volume only, treating of the geometry of plane curves. 2. 'An Elementary Treatise on the Differential and Integral Calculus,' London, 1825, 8vo. 3. 'An Analytical Treatise on Plane and Spherical Trigonometry and the Analysis of Angular Sections,' 2nd edit. London, 1828, 8vo. 4. 'The First Six Books of Euclid, with a Commentary and Geometrical Exercises. To which are annexed a Treatise on Solid Geometry, and a Short Essay on the Ancient Geometrical Analysis,' London, 1828, 1838, 1843, 1846, 8vo. 5. 'Discourse on the Advantages of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy as part of a General and Professional Education. Being an Introductory Lecture delivered in the University of London,' London, 1825, 8vo. 6. 'Popular Lectures on the Steam Engine,' London, 1828, 12mo; 7th edit. 1840, 8vo; new edit. 1848, 12mo. 7. 'Mechanics,' 'Pneumatics,' and 'Newton's Optics' ('Library of Useful Knowledge—Natural Philosophy,' vols. i. and ii.), London, 1829, 8vo. 8. 'Course of Lectures on the Sun, Comets, the Fixed Stars, Electricity, &c. Eight double lectures, revised and corrected,' New York, 1842, 8vo. 9. 'Lectures upon Locke's Essay,' Dublin, 1845, 8vo. 10. 'Popular Lectures on Astronomy, delivered at the Royal Observatory of Paris by M. Arago, member of the Institute of Paris, &c. With extensive additions and corrections by D. Lardner, LL.D.,' 3rd edit. New York, 1848, 8vo. 11. 'A Rudimentary Treatise on the Steam Engine,' London, 1848, 12mo. 12. 'Railway Economy: a Treatise on the New Art of Transport, its Management, &c.,' London, 1850, 8vo. 13. 'Handbook of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy,' London, 1851–3, 5 vols. 12mo; republished as follows: 'Astronomy,' London, 1855–6, 2 vols. 12mo, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions, revised and enlarged by E. Dunkin, 1860, 1867, 1875, 8vo; 'Mechanics,' London, 1855, 8vo, new and enlarged edition by B. Loewy, 1877, 8vo; 'Electricity, Magnetism, and Acoustics,' London, 1856, 8vo, new edit. by E. Carey Foster, 1874, 8vo; 'Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, and Heat,' London, 1885, 8vo, edited, in 2 vols., by B. Loewy—vol. i. 'Hydrostatics and Pneumatics,' 1874, and vol. ii. 'Heat,' 1877, 8vo; 'Optics,' London, 1856, 8vo; new edition by T. O. Harding, 1878, 8vo. 14. 'Animal Physics, or the Body and its Functions Familiarly Explained,' London, 1857, 8vo; reprinted in Weale's Rudimentary Series as 'Handbook of Animal Physiology,' 1877, 8vo. 15. 'Natural Philosophy for Schools,' London, 1857, 8vo; new edit. by T. O. Harding, 1869, 8vo. 16. 'Animal Physiology for Schools,' London, 1858, 8vo. 17. 'Chemistry for Schools,' London, 1859, 8vo.[Vapereau's Dict. Univ. des Contemporains, 1858; Ann. Reg. 1859 Chron. p. 446, 1840 Chron. p. 289; Conversations-Lexikon, 1853; Men of the Time, 1856; Dublin Graduates; Dublin Univ. Mag. vol. xxxv.; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; Lowndes's Bibl. Man.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]