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CHAMBERS, SIR W.—CHAMBERS

1862–1864) were the most important. Chambers’s Encyclopaedia (1859–1868), with Dr Andrew Findlater as editor, was carried out under the superintendence of the brothers (see Encyclopaedia). The Cyclopaedia of English Literature[1] contains a series of admirably selected extracts from the best authors of every period, “set in a biographical and critical history of the literature itself.” For the Life of Burns he made diligent and laborious original investigations, gathering many hitherto unrecorded facts from the poet’s sister, Mrs Begg, to whose benefit the whole profits of the work were generously devoted. Robert Chambers was a scientific geologist, and availed himself of tours in Scandinavia and Canada for the purpose of geological exploration. The results of his travels were embodied in Tracings of the North of Europe (1851) and Tracings in Iceland and the Faroe Islands (1856). His knowledge of geology was one of the principal grounds on which the authorship of the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (2 vols., 1843–1846) was eventually assigned to him. The book was published anonymously. Robert Chambers was aware of the storm that would probably be raised at the time by a rational treatment of the subject, and did not wish to involve his firm in the discredit that a charge of heterodoxy would bring with it. The arrangements for publication were made through Alexander Ireland of Manchester, and the secret was so well kept that such different names as those of Prince Albert and Sir Charles Lyell were coupled with the book. Ireland in 1884 issued a 12th edition, with a preface giving an account of its authorship, which there was no longer any reason for concealing. The Book of Days was Chambers’s last publication, and perhaps his most elaborate. It was a miscellany of popular antiquities in connexion with the calendar, and it is supposed that his excessive labour in connexion with this book hastened his death, which took place at St Andrews on the 17th of March 1871. Two years before, the university of St Andrews had conferred upon him the degree of doctor of laws, and he was elected a member of the Athenaeum club in London. It is his highest claim to distinction that he did so much to give a healthy tone to the cheap popular literature which has become so important a factor in modern civilization.

His brother, William Chambers (1800–1883) was born at Peebles, on the 16th of April 1800. He was the financial genius of the publishing firm. He laid the city of Edinburgh under the greatest obligations by his public spirit and munificence. As lord provost he procured the passing in 1867 of the Improvement Act, which led to the reconstruction of a great part of the Old Town, and at a later date he proposed and carried out, largely at his own expense, the restoration of the noble and then neglected church of St Giles, making it in a sense “the Westminster Abbey of Scotland.” This service was fitly acknowledged by the offer of a baronetcy, which he did not live to receive, dying on the 20th of May 1883, three days before the reopening of the church. He was the author of a history of St Giles's, of a memoir of himself and his brother (1872), and of many other useful publications. On his death in 1883 Robert Chambers (1832–1888), son of Robert Chambers, succeeded as head of the firm, and edited the Journal until his death. His eldest son, Charles Edward Stuart Chambers (b. 1859), became editor of the Journal and chairman of W. & R. Chambers, Limited.

See also Memoir of Robert Chambers, with Autobiographic Reminiscences of William Chambers (1872), the 13th ed. of which (1884) has a supplementary chapter; Alexander Ireland’s preface to the 12th ed. (1884) of the Vestiges of Creation; the Story of a Long and Busy Life (1884), by William Chambers; and some discriminating appreciation in James Payn’s Some Literary Recollections (1884), chapter v. The Select Writings of Robert Chambers were published in 7 vols. in 1847, and a complete list of the works of the brothers is added to A Catalogue of Some of the Rarer Books ... in the Collection of C. E. S. Chambers (Edinburgh, 1891).


CHAMBERS, SIR WILLIAM (1726–1796), British architect, was the grandson of a rich merchant who had financed the armies of Charles XII., but was paid in base money, and whose son remained in Sweden many years endeavouring to obtain redress. In 1728 the latter returned to England and settled at Ripon, where William, who was born in Stockholm, was educated. At the age of sixteen he became supercargo to the Swedish East India Company, and voyaging to Canton made drawings of Chinese architecture, furniture and costume which served as basis for his Designs for Chinese Buildings, &c. (1757). Two years later he quitted the sea to study architecture seriously, and spent a long time in Italy, devoting special attention to the buildings of classical and Renaissance architects. He also studied under Clérisseau in Paris, with whom and with the sculptor Wilton he lived at Rome. In 1755 he returned to England with Cipriani and Wilton, and married the beautiful daughter of the latter. His first important commission was a villa for Lord Bessborough at Roehampton, but he made his reputation by the grounds he laid out and the buildings he erected at Kew between 1757 and 1762 for Augusta, princess dowager of Wales. Some of them have since been demolished, but the most important, the pagoda, still survives. The publication in a handsome volume of the designs for these buildings assured his position in the profession. He was employed to teach architectural drawing to the prince of Wales (George III.), and gained further professional distinction in 1759 by the publication of his Treatise of Civil Architecture. He began to exhibit with the Society of Artists in 1761 at Spring Gardens, and was one of the original members and treasurer of the Royal Academy when it was established in 1768. In 1772 he published his Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, which attempted to prove the inferiority of European to Chinese landscape gardening. As a furniture designer and internal decorator he is credited with the creation of that “Chinese Style” which was for a time furiously popular, although Thomas Chippendale (q.v.) had published designs in that manner at a somewhat earlier date. It is not unreasonable to count the honours as divided, since Chippendale unquestionably adapted and altered the Chinese shapes in a manner better to fit them for European use. To the rage for every possible form of chinoiserie, for which he is chiefly responsible, Sir William Chambers owed much of his success in life. He became architect to the king and queen, comptroller of his majesty’s works, and afterwards surveyor-general. In 1775 he was appointed architect of Somerset House, his greatest monument, at a salary of £2000 a year. He also designed town mansions for Earl Gower at Whitehall and Lord Melbourne in Piccadilly, built Charlemont House, Dublin, and Duddingston House near Edinburgh. He designed the market house at Worcester, was employed by the earl of Pembroke at Wilton, by the duke of Marlborough at Blenheim, and by the duke of Bedford in Bloomsbury. The state coach of George III., his constant patron, was his work; it is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Although his practice was mainly Classic, he made Gothic additions to Milton Abbey in Dorset. Sir William Chambers achieved considerable distinction as a designer of furniture. In addition to his work in the Chinese style and in the contemporary fashions, he was the author of what is probably the most ambitious and monumental piece of furniture ever produced in England. This was a combined bureau, dressing-case, jewel-cabinet and organ, made for Charles IV., king of Spain, in 1793. These combination pieces were in the taste of the time, and the effort displays astonishing ingenuity and resource. The panels were painted by W. Hamilton, R.A., with representations of the four seasons, night and morning, fire and water, Juno and Ceres, together with representations of the Golden Fleece and the Immaculate Conception. The organ, in the domed top, is in a case decorated with ormolu and Wedgwood. This remarkable achievement, which possesses much sober elegance, formed part of the loan collection of English furniture at the Franco-British Exhibition in London in 1908. Sir William Chambers numbered among his friends Dr Johnson, Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick and Dr Burney.


CHAMBERS (the Fr. chambre, from Lat. camera, a room), a term used generally of rooms or apartments, but especially in law of the offices of a lawyer or the semi-private rooms in which judges or judicial officers deal with questions of practice and

  1. A new and enlarged edition of this work, edited by David Patrick, LL. D., appeared in 1903.