David Brewster was born in the Scottish lowlands on December 11, 1781.
Even as a child he showed an interest in things scientific … and it is as a scientist his fame now rests. A child prodigy he built his first telescope at age 10 and so mastered his learning that he was admitted to the University of Edinburgh at age 12, to study for ministry in the Church of Scotland.
Upon his ordination in 1801, nineteen year old Brewster immediately found that the strain of public speaking was not his forté – especially after he fainted in the pulpit! A colleague recorded, “the first day he mounted the pulpit was the last, for he had …. a nervous something about him that made him swither when he heard his own voice and saw a congregation eyeing him”.
Brewster happily turned his attention to scientific enquiry, harvesting his excessive aptitude by producing many practical improvements in scientific technology.
In 1810 Brewster married Juliet and together they produced five children and enjoyed forty years of marriage.
His experiments led to a new system of lighthouse illumination; he helped establish the British Association for the Advancement of Science; he improved the stereoscope and invented the kaleidoscope (1816). He also published over 2,000 scientific papers and won awards from notable academies. He even held the post of editor of the Edinburgh Encyclopedia for two decades.
“His most notable discovery goes by the name Brewster’s Law, which has found wide application, especially in later technology” (Scientists of Faith, by D. Graves, page 94).
Brewster was knighted by King William IV in 1832, after many scientific achievements had won him international acclaim.
Whether delving into scientific research, religion, philosophy, education, optics, photography, writing, inventions, or life on other planets, Sir David pursued each endeavour with incredible energy.
Henry Morris writes that it was not until after the death of his wife Juliet that “he experienced a true conversion and regeneration” (Men of Science – Men of God, page 42).
Brewster remarried, a few months before his 75th birthday, to Jane, who presented him with a daughter.
At the time of his death, on 10 February, 1868, he said: “I shall see Jesus, and that will be grand. I shall see Him Who made the worlds.”
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com