Knight, William (1786-1844) (DNB00)


KNIGHT, WILLIAM (1786–1844), natural philosopher, son of William Knight, a bookseller, of Aberdeen, was born in that city on 17 Sept. 1786. In 1793 he entered the Aberdeen grammar school, where he was a contemporary of Lord Byron. Though not in the same class with him, he preserved a vivid recollection of the poet, whose disposition he described in later life as ‘most damnable.’ He entered the Marischal College and University in 1798, graduated M.A. there in 1802, and delivered several courses of lectures to the students in natural history and chemistry between 1810 and 1816. In 1811 he was defeated in his candidature for the chair of natural philosophy, but was elected in 1816 to the professorship of natural philosophy in the Academical Institution, Belfast. In 1817 he received from Marischal College and University the degree of LL.D., and in the following year he published his chief work, entitled ‘Facts and Observations towards forming a New Theory of the Earth,’ Edinb. 1818, 8vo, being a series of desultory papers mainly on geological subjects. Knight returned to Aberdeen from Belfast in 1822, when he was appointed professor of natural philosophy at the Marischal College and University. His style of lecturing, says Professor Masson (Macmillan's Magazine, ix. 331), was characterised by much pungency, occasionally relieved by a ‘sarcastic scurrility which no other lecturer ventured on, and which was far from pleasant.’ Though his teaching was varied and interesting, its effect was greatly marred by the shallowness of his mathematical knowledge. Knight died at Aberdeen on 3 Dec. 1844, his class during the session 1844–5 being taken by Mr. Alexander Bain, afterwards professor of logic in the university of Aberdeen. He married, on 17 Sept. 1821, Jean, eldest daughter of George Glennie, professor of moral philosophy at Marischal College from 1796 to 1846. By her he had two sons and four daughters.

Besides the work mentioned above Knight published: 1. ‘Outlines of Botany,’ Aberdeen, 1813; 2nd edition, 1828. 2. ‘First Day in Heaven, a Fragment,’ London, 1820; a curious book, afterwards suppressed by the author. More important than any of his printed works are his eight volumes of manuscript collections relating to Marischal College, now in the library of the university of Aberdeen, which have formed the basis of the ‘Fasti Academiæ Mariscallanæ,’ edited by Mr. P. J. Anderson for the New Spalding Club. To these must be added some ‘Autobiographical Collections,’ now in the hands of relatives, which are full of racy criticisms of contemporaries.

[Information kindly supplied by Mr. P. J. Anderson, secretary, New Spalding Club, Aberdeen; Alma Mater (Aberdeen Univ. Mag.), January and February, 1889; James Riddell's Aberdeen and its Folk; Philos. Mag. xlviii. 384.]

T. S.