Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roget, Peter Mark

ROGET, PETER MARK (1779–1869), physician and savant, born in Broad Street, Soho, London, on 18 Jan. 1779, was only son of John Roget, a native of Geneva, who was pastor of the French protestant church in Threadneedle Street. His mother, Catherine, was only surviving sister of Sir Samuel Romilly. His father died in 1783 at Geneva, and he was brought up by his mother, from whom he inherited his systematic habit of mind. Mrs. Roget took up her residence in Kensington Square in the family of a Mr. Chauvet of Geneva, who kept a private school, which young Roget attended. He studied mathematics on his own account unaided, and made considerable progress. In 1793 the mother and her children removed to Edinburgh, where Roget, then fourteen years old, was entered at the university. In the summer of 1795 he went for a tour in the highlands with his uncle Romilly and M. Dumont, the friend of Mirabeau. He entered the medical school of the Edinburgh University in the winter session of the same year, and after recovering in 1797 from an attack of typhus fever, which he caught in the wards of the infirmary, he graduated M.D. on 25 June 1798, being then only nineteen years of age. The title of his graduation thesis was ‘De Chemicæ Affinitatis Legibus.’ He was subsequently a pupil in the London medical schools of Baillie, Cruikshank, Wilson, Heberden, and Horne.

In 1798 Roget proved his powers of observation by writing a letter to Dr. Beddoes on the non-prevalence of consumption among butchers, fishermen, &c., which Beddoes published in his ‘Essay on the Causes, &c., of Pulmonary Consumption’ (London, 1799). In 1799 he sent to Davy a communication on the effects of the respiration of the newly discovered gas, nitrous oxide, and the communication appeared in Davy's ‘Researches’ (1800). In October 1800 Roget spent six weeks with Jeremy Bentham, who consulted him upon a scheme which he was devising for the utilisation of the sewage of the metropolis. In 1802 he became travelling tutor to two sons of John Philips, a wealthy merchant of Manchester. In the summer they proceeded to Geneva, having for their travelling companion Lovell Edgeworth, half-brother to Maria Edgeworth, the authoress. The tour terminated owing to the rupture of the peace of Amiens, and Roget was detained at Geneva as a prisoner on parole. He successfully pleaded his rights as a citizen of Geneva by virtue of his descent from Genevese ancestors, and was released. After a long detour, made necessary by the military operations of the French, he and his pupils sailed for England, reaching Harwich on 22 Nov. 1803. After a brief visit in 1804 to Edinburgh with a view to pursuing his studies, he became private physiphysician to the Marquis of Lansdowne, whom he accompanied to Harrogate and Bowood.

In his twenty-sixth year, on the death of Dr. Thomas Percival [q. v.], Roget was appointed in 1805 physician to the infirmary at Manchester, and he became one of the founders of the Manchester medical school. In the spring of 1806 he gave a course of lectures on physiology to the pupils at the infirmary. In November 1806 he accepted the appointment of private secretary to Charles, viscount Howick (afterwards Earl Grey), then foreign secretary; but, disliking the duties, he resigned in a month and returned to Manchester. While in London he had attended some of Abernethy's lectures at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1807 he delivered a popular course of lectures on the physiology of the animal kingdom at the rooms of the Manchester Philosophical and Literary Society, of which he was a vice-president. In October 1808 he resigned his post at the infirmary and migrated to London. There he pursued a career of almost unexampled activity for nearly half a century, engaging with indomitable energy in scientific lecturing, in work connected with medical and scientific societies, or in scientific research. In London he first resided in Bernard Street, Russell Square, whence he removed to 18 Upper Bedford Place.

Admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians on 3 March 1809, Roget delivered in the spring of that and the following year popular lectures on animal physiology at the Russell Literary and Scientific Institution in Bloomsbury. In October 1809 he projected the Northern Dispensary, which was opened in the following June with Roget as its physician. The active duties of this office he performed gratuitously for eighteen years. In 1810 he began to lecture on the theory and practice of physic at the theatre of anatomy in Great Windmill Street, in conjunction with Dr. John Cooke, who two years afterwards resigned him his share of the undertaking. He then delivered two courses of lectures a year until 1815. In 1820 he was appointed physician to the Spanish embassy, and in 1823 physician to the Milbank penitentiary during an epidemic of dysentery. In the autumn of 1826 he commenced lecturing at the new medical school in Aldersgate Street. His introductory lecture was published. In 1827 he was commissioned by the government to inquire into the water-supply of the metropolis, and published a report next year. In 1833 he was nominated by John Fuller, the founder, the first holder of the Fullerian professorship of physiology at the Royal Institution, where, as at the London Institution, he had already lectured frequently on animal physiology. He held the Fullerian professorship for three years, and in his lectures during 1835 and 1836 confined himself to the external senses.

Meanwhile some of Roget's energy had been devoted to other fields. He always cultivated a native aptitude for mechanics. In 1814 he had contrived a sliding rule, so graduated as to be a measure of the powers of numbers, in the same manner as the scale of Gunter was a measure of their ratios. It is a logo-logarithmic rule, the slide of which is the common logarithmic scale, while the fixed line is graduated upon the logarithms of logarithms. His paper thereon, which also describes other ingenious forms of the instrument, was communicated by Dr. Wollaston to the Royal Society, and read on 17 Nov. 1814. The communication led, on 16 March 1815, to his election as a fellow of the society. On 30 Nov. 1827 he succeeded Sir John Herschel in the office of secretary to the society, retiring in 1849. He not only edited, while secretary, the ‘Proceedings’ both of the society and council, but prepared for publication the abstracts of papers. This labour he performed from 1827 to his retirement. He was father of the Royal Society Club at the time of his death.

On many other literary and scientific societies Roget's active mind left its impress. From 1811 to 1827 he acted as one of the secretaries of the Medico-Chirurgical Society; he was one of the earliest promoters of the society, and was vice-president in 1829–30. He was a founder of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and wrote for its ‘Library of Useful Knowledge’ a series of treatises on ‘electricity,’ ‘galvanism,’ ‘magnetism,’ and ‘electro-magnetism,’ during 1827, 1828, and 1831. On 24 June 1831 he was elected, speciali gratia, fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and in the following May he delivered the Gulstonian lectures on ‘The Laws of Sensation and Perception.’ He held the office of censor in the college in 1834 and 1835. Roget was a frequent attendant at the meetings of the British Association for over thirty years, and at an early meeting filled the chair of the physiological section. He wrote in 1834 one of the Bridgewater treatises on ‘Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with reference to Natural Theology;’ it was reissued in 1839, 1840, and 1862.

In 1837 and the subsequent years he took an active part in the establishment of the university of London, of the senate of which he remained a member until his death; in June 1839 he was appointed examiner in physiology and comparative anatomy.

After 1840 he retired from professional practice and at first mainly devoted himself to compiling his useful ‘Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, classified and arranged so as to facilitate the expression of ideas, and assist in literary composition’ (1852, 8vo). During his life the work reached its twenty-eighth edition, and it is still widely used. Many generations of literary men and journalists have testified to its practical utility. An edition of 1879, embodying Roget's latest corrections, was edited by his son.

Roget always used Feinaigle's system of mnemonics, and spent much time in his last years in attempts to construct a calculating machine. He also made some progress towards the invention of a delicate balance, in which, to lessen friction, the fulcrum was to be within a small barrel floating in water. He was fond of exercising his ingenuity in the construction and solution of chess problems, of which he formed a large collection. Some of these figured in the ‘Illustrated London News.’ In the ‘London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine’ for April 1840, there is a ‘Description of a Method’ which he invented, ‘of moving the knight over every square of the chessboard without going twice over any one, commencing at a given square and ending at any other given square of a different colour.’ The complete solution of this problem was never effected before. To assist persons interested in chess, he contrived and published in 1845 a pocket chessboard, called the ‘Economic Chessboard.’

He died at West Malvern, in the ninety-first year of his age, on 12 Sept. 1869. In 1824 he married the only daughter of Jonathan Hobson, a Liverpool merchant. Mrs. Roget died in the spring of 1833, leaving two children. One of them, John Lewis Roget, is author of the ‘History of the Old Water Colour Society’ (1890). A portrait of Roget was engraved by Eddis.

Besides the works mentioned, Roget was author of many able papers in encyclopædias, notably in the sixth and seventh editions of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ in the ‘Encyclopædia Metropolitana, ‘Rees's Cyclopædia,’ and the ‘Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine’ (1832). He contributed important articles to the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ especially those upon Hüber's works on ants and bees (vols. xx. and xxx.), and wrote in the ‘Quarterly’ on Ampère's ‘Observations’ (1826). His paper on the ‘Optical Deception in the Appearance of the Spokes of a Wheel seen through Vertical Apertures’ was published in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ (1825), and essays on ‘Quarantine’ and ‘Pauper Lunatics’ in the ‘Parliamentary Review’ (1826 and 1828). Many memoirs by him appeared in the ‘Annals of Philosophy’ and ‘Medico-Chirurgical Transactions,’ and other periodicals.

[Jackson's Guide to the Literature of Botany; Britten and Boulger's Biogr. Index of British and Irish Botanists; Allibone's Critical Dictionary of English Literature; Lancet, 25 Sept. 1869; Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. xviii. 1869–70.]

W. W. W.