Richard Kirwan (1733-1812)


Life
b. 1 Aug. 1733, Cloghballymore, Co. Galway, ed. Poitiers and Jesuit Noviatiate, St. Omer, 1754 [var. Netherlands]; abandoned novitiate, 1755; conformed to established religion [Anglicanism] and joined Irish bar, 1766; left law for chemistry, 1777; FRS, 1780; Elements of Mineralogy (1784); received Copley Medal; Essay on Phlogiston; Kirwinian Soc. of Dublin; President RIA, 1790-1812 [var. 1799]; in 1798 he observed house searching in progress and warned William Sampson in time do dispose of his report on military atrocities;
 
elected Pres. of the Dublin Lit. Soc; appt. Inspector-general of His Majesty’s Mines in Ireland and a perpetual member Amicable Soc. of Galway; elected to foreign academies in Berlin, Dijon, Stockhold and Philadelphia; his Elements was the result of 18 years experimental work on chemical affinity, and went into many editions and translations; there is an oil pportrait by an unknown hand in the RIA (Dublin); d. Dublin. DIB ODNB RR CAB WJM

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Works
  • Experiments and Observations on the specific gravities and attractive powers of various saline substances ... Read at the Royal Society, November 16, 1780 [Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 71] (London: printed by J. Nichols 1781), 37, [1]pp., ill. [tables], 4°. [see also German trans., infra.]
  • Elements of Mineralogy (London; P. Elmsley 1784), 2, xviii, 412, 12pp., 8°; Do. [2nd edn.] 2 vols. (Dublin: printed by R. E. Mercier and Co. for P. Elmsly, London, 1796), xvii, [1], 529, [1]p., tables, 8°; and Do. [3rd edn.] (London : Printed for J. Mackinlay, 87, Strand, 1810), 8° [Vol. 1: Earths and Stones; Vol. 2: Salts, Inflammables, and Metallic Substances].
  • An Essay on Phlogiston and the Constitution of Acids (1787); Do. [as] An essay on Phlogiston: and the constitution of acids. A new edition. By R. Kirwan, Esq. Member of the Academies of Stockholm Upsal, Dijon, Dublin, Philadelphia, Manchester, &c. To which are added, notes, exhibiting and defending the antiphlogistic theory; and annexed to the French edition of this work; by Messrs. de Morveau, Lavoisier, de la Place, Monge, Berthollet, and de Fourcroy: translated into English. With additional remarks and replies, by the author (London: printed for J. Johnson, No 72, St. Paul's Church-Yard, 1789), xxiii, [1], 317, [1]pp., 8°, and Do. [facs. rep. of 1789 2nd edn.] (London: F. Cass 1968), [5], xxiii, 322pp. [see also French trans., infra]
  • An Estimate of the Temperature of Different Latitudes (London: printed by J. Davis, for P. Elmsly ..., 1787), viii, 114pp., 8° [see also French trans, infra];
  • Of the Strength of Acids, and the Proportion of Ingredients in Neutral Salts (1791) [see also French trans., infra];
  • Meteorological Observations in Ireland in the year 1793 (1794);
  • A comparative view of Meteorological Observations made in Ireland since the year 1788, with some hints towards forming prognostics of the weather (1794);
  • Essay in Answer to the Following Question proposed by the Royal Irish Academy: ‘What are the Manures most advantageously applicable to the various sorts of soils, and what are the causes of their beneficial effect in each particular Instance?’ By R. Kirwan, Esq. L.L.D. F.R.S. M.R.I.A. (Dublin: W. Sleater, 1795), 80pp.; Do. [ as] The Manures Most Advantageously Applicable to the Various Sorts of Soils, and the causes of their beneficial effect in each particular instance [3rd edn.] (London: Vernor & Hood 1796; 1801), [4], 96pp.;
  • Experiments on a New Earth: Found near Stronthian in Scotland (1794);
  • Meteorological Observations in Ireland in the year 1793 (1794);
  • Of the Composition and Proportion of Carbon in Bitumens and Mineral Coal (Dublin, 1796), 4°.;
  • Essay in answer to the following question proposed by the Royal Irish Acadamy, what are the manures most advantageously applicable to the various sorts of soils and what are the causes of their beneficial effect in each particular instance? (1795);
  • Geological essays : By Richard Kirwan, ... Read at the Royal Irish Academy, November 19th, 1796 (Dublin: George Bonham 1797), 78pp., 4°.
  • Additional Observations on the Proportion of Real Acid in the three Antient known Mineral Acids, and on the ingredients in various neutral salts, and other compounds (1799);
  • An Essay on the Analysis of Mineral Waters (London: Printed by J. W. Myers, ... for D. Bremner ..., 1799), vii, 279pp., ill. [5 folded lvs. of tables; 22cm.];
  • Geological essays (London: T. Bensley for D. Bremmer 1799), xvi, 502pp., 8°, and Do. [facs. rep.] [History of Geology] (NY: Arno Press 1978), xvi, 502pp.
  • Observations on the proofs of the Huttonian theory of the Earth adduced by Sir James Hall, &c. (1800);
  • An Essay on the Declivities of Mountains (Dublin: George Bonham, printer to the Royal Irish Academy, 1800), 20pp., 4°.
  • An Illustration and Confirmation of Some Facts Mentioned in an Essay on the Primitive state of the Globe (Dublin, 1800), 4°.
  • Essay on Human Happiness (Dublin: Graisberry & Campbell 1810), 188pp.
  • Of the Variations of the Atmosphere (1801);
  • An Essay on the primeval language of Mankind (Dublin: Graisberry & Campbell 1805), 56pp., 4°.
  • An Essay on the Analysis of Mineral Waters (1799);
  • Logick: An Essay on the Elements, Principles and Different Modes of Reasoning (1807);
  • Metaphysical Essay: containing the principles and fundamental objects of that science (1809);
  • with Joseph Dawson, Catalogue of Minerals, collected and arranged by Joseph Dawson of Royds Hall, Bradford (1820).

Related texts

  • Chemical observations and experiments on air and fire, By Charles-William Scheele ... with a prefatory introduction, by Torbern Bergman; trans. from the German by J. R. Forster ... To which are added notes by Richard Kirwan ... with a letter to him from Joseph Priestley (London: J. Johnson 1780), xl, 259pp. ill. [front.]
  • Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Herrn Carl Wilhelm Scheele ... Chemische Abhandlung von Luft und Feuer / Nebst einem Vorberichte [aus dem Schwedischen] von Torbern Bergmann ... mit einer eigenen Abhandlung u¨ber die Luftgattungen wie auch mit der Herren Kirwan und Priestley Bemerkungen und Herrn Scheelens Erfahrungen u¨ber die Menge der im Dunstkreise befindlichen reinsten Luft vermehrt und mit einem Register versehen, von D. Johann Gottfried Leonhardi ... [2nd edn.] (Leipzig: Bey S. L. Crusius, 1782), 32, 286pp., ill. [folded pls. on 1 folded lv.], 8°.
  • Stephen Dickson, An essay on chemical nomenclature ... In which are comprised observations on the same subject, by Richard Kirwan (London: J. Johnson; Dublin: W. Gilbert, 1796), xvi, 294pp., 8°'
  • Joseph Hayward, et al., On the Science of Agriculture: comprising a Commentary on and Comparative Investigation of the Agricultural Chemistry of Mr. Kirwan and Sir Humphry Davy; The Code of Agriculture of Sir J. Sinclair, Sir J. Banks, and other authors on the subject (1825);
  • Emmanuel Grison, Michelle Goupil, and Patrice Bret, eds., A Scientific Correspondence during the chemical revolution: Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau and Richard Kirwan [Office for History of Science and Technology] (Berkeley: California UP 1994), vi, 257pp
Translations (incl.)
  • Versuche und Beobachtungen über die specifische Schwere und die Anziehungskraft verschiedener Salzarten; und über die wahre neuentdeckte Natur des Phlogiston’s ... aus dem Englischen übersetzt und mit einer Vorrede versehen [Lorenz] von L. Crell, 2 pts. (Berlin und Stettin, 1783-85), 8º. [two papers read before the Royal Society].
  • [Marie-Anne-Pierrette Lavoisier, trans.,] Essai sur le phlogistique, et sur la constitution des acides / traduit de l'anglois de M. Kirwan; avec des notes de MM. de Morveau, Lavoisier, de La Place, Monge, Berthollet, & de Fourcroy (Paris: Rue et hôtel Serpente, 1788), xij, 344, [4]pp., 8°.
  • Estimation de la tempe´rature de diffe´rens degre´s de latitude / par Richard Kirwan ... Ouvrage tr. de l'anglois, par Pierre-Auguste Adet ... [&c.]. (Paris: Chez Cuchet, 1790), xvi, 183, [1]pp., ill. [tables], 8°.
  • [Mme. Lavoisier,] De la force des acides, & de la proportion des substances qui composent les sels neutres / ouvrage traduit de l'anglois de M. Kirwan, par Madame L[avoisier]. (Paris: s.n. 1792], 108pp.

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Commentary
W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), Richard Kirwan read two classical papers in 1808-09, An Essay on Happiness, in which he reached the conclusion that ‘the condition of every class of inhabitants of Attica, was upon the whole miserable; and that the Athenian commonwealth [55] can at most be deemed only semi-civilised’. The second paper, On the Origin of Polytheism, Idolatry, and Grecian Mythology, displayed wide classical and biblical erudition but no tolerance for ‘the immoral tendency and gross indecency’ of Greek myths. [56]

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Matthew Carey (on “Mines and Minerals” [chap. sect]- in Vindiciae Hiberniae, 1819) Our distinguished countryman, Mr. Kirwan, whose opinions on mineralogical subjects few will attempt to refute, affirmed that the Arigna iron was better than any iron made from any species of ore in England. (See View of the Very Great Natural Advantages of Ireland, Philadelphia: H. C. Carey & I. Lea 1823, p.11-12 - being an extract from VH on the topic of the title.)

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Marilyn Butler notes in her edn. of Frankenstein (OUP 1969; eds. to 1994) that ‘one of Mary Wollestonecroft Shelley’s two named Irish characters shares a name, perhaps coincidentally, with the leading Irish chemist of the day, Richard Kirwan (1733-1812), described in the ODNB as ‘the Nestor of English chemistry’. The name of the fisherman who finds the body of the victim is one Daniel Nugent. The gaoler’s wife, who tends Frankenstein, says ‘hung’ for ‘hanged’ (p.149) but shows no other sign of Hiberno-Irish variation. On acquittal, Frankenstein hastens to Dublin and takes ship for England: ‘... the packet sailed with a fair wind from Ireland, and I had quitted for ever the country which had been to me the scene of so much misery.’ Further: ‘... the wind that blew me from the detested shore of Ireland ... Holyhead, which we were now entering ...’ (p.154-55).

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References
Charles A. Read, The Cabinet of Irish Literature (London, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast & Edinburgh: Blackie & Son [1876-78]), calls him a contributor to Phil. Transactions, RIA, of papers on attraction of saline substances; An Essay on Phlogiston and the Constitution of Acids (1787), a defence of Priestley’s theory of chemistry; criticisms of it converted Kirwan to the anti-phlogiston view, with consequences for revolution of chemistry; An Estimate of the Temperature of Different Latitudes [1787]; An Essay on the Analysis of Chemical Waters; A Treatise on Logic; Geological Essays (1799); advocated Neptunian theory of the earth; founded Soc. in Dublin [Kirwinian]; remarkable for ingenuity of his theories and clearness of style. LL.D. TCD. Quotes from Geological Essays, ‘Mosaic Account of Creation’, reflecting on ‘the credit due to Moses on mere philosophical grounds and abstracting all theological considerations’ for his versions of the creation of the world and a ‘general deluge’ after. He departs from the ‘tohu’ and ‘bohu’ of Genesis [Hebr. confusion and vacuity], which is exactly the state which, from the consideration of the subsequent phenomena, I have shown to have been necessarily its primordial state,’ and refers to bone-remains in Siberia etc. as proof of the Biblical flood.

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Dictionary of National Biography narrates that he entered Jesuit noviciate at St. Omer, 1754; called to Irish bar, 1766; abandoned law to study science in London, FRS, 1780; Copley medallist, 1782; settled in Dublin, 1787; hon. LLD, TCD, President Royal Irish Academy, 1799. See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.357-59.

Jürgen Schneider & Ralf Sotscheck, Ireland: Eine Bibliographie selbständiger deutschsprachiger (Verlag Georg Büchner Buchhandlung 1989), cite works translated into German incl. An Essay on Phlogiston and the Constitution of Acids [trans. Berlin 1783]; Elements of Mineralogy (1784) [trans. Berlin 1784]; An Estimate of the Temperature of Different Latitudes (1787); What are the Manures Most Advantageously applied to the Various Sorts of Soils, and what are the Causes of their Beneficial Effect, &c. (1794) [trans. Göttingen 1796]; An Essay on Phlogiston, and the Constitution of Acids, to which are added Notes, exhibiting and Defending the Antiphlogistic Theory, by Messrs. de Morveau, Lavoisier, de la Place ... (1789) [trans. Berlin 1791] (p.272).

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COPAC lists Charles-William Scheele, Chemical observations and experiments on air and fire, intro. by Torbern Bergman, trans. from German by J. R. Forster, [with] notes by Richard Kirwan [and] a letter to him from Joseph Priestley (1780); Experiments on air ... Read at the Royal Society, Jan. 15, 1783 [1784] Hon. Henry Cavendish [&] Richard Kirwan (1784); An Estimate of the Temperature of different latitudes (1787); Of the strength of Acids, and the proportion of ingredients in neutral salts (1791); A comparative view of Meteorological Observations made in Ireland since the year 1788, with some hints towards forming prognostics of the weather (1794); Experiments on a new earth: found near Stronthian in Scotland (1794); Meteorological Observations in Ireland in the year 1793 (1794); What are the Manures most advantageously applicable to the various sorts of soils, and what are the causes of their beneficial effect, &c. (1795); Stephen Dickson, An essay on chemical nomenclature ... In which are comprised observations on the same subject, by Richard Kirwan (1796); Of the Composition and P roportion of Carbon in Bitumens and Mineral Coal (Dublin, 1796), 4o.; The manures most advantageously applicable to the various sorts of soils, and the causes of their beneficial effect in each particular instance [3rd edn.] (London: Vernor & Hood 1796; 1801), [4],96pp.; Essay in answer to the following question proposed by the Royal Irish Acadamy, what are the manures most advantageously applicable to the various sorts of soils and what are the causes of their beneficial effect in each particular instance? (1795); Additional Observations on the Proportion of Real Acid in the three Antient known Mineral Acids, and on the ingredients in various neutral salts, and other compounds (1799); Geological essays (London: T. Bensley for D. Bremmer 1799), xvi, 502pp.; Observations on the proofs of the Huttonian theory of the Earth adduced by Sir James Hall, &c. (1800); Of the Variations of the Atmosphere (1801); An essay on the Analysis of Mineral Waters (1799); Logick: An essay on the elements, principles and different modes of reasoning (1807); Metaphysical Essay: containing the principles and fundamental objects of that science (1809); with Joseph Dawson, Catalogue of Minerals, collected and arranged by Joseph Dawson of Royds Hall, Bradford (1820); Joseph Hayward, et al., On the Science of Agriculture: comprising a Commentary on and Comparative Investigation of the Agricultural Chemistry of Mr. Kirwan and Sir Humphry Davy; the Code of Agriculture of Sir J. Sinclair, Sir J. Banks, and other authors on the subject (1825); Emmanuel Grison, Michelle Goupil, and Patrice Bret, eds., A Scientific Correspondence during the chemical revolution: Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau and Richard Kirwan [Office for History of Science and Technology] (Berkeley: California UP 1994), vi, 257pp. FRENCH, Eléments de minéralogie, traduits de l'anglois de M. Kirwan ... par M. Gibelin ... [etc.] (1785); Essai sur le phlogistique, et sur la constitution des acides, traduit de l'anglois de M. Kirwan; avec des notes de MM. de Morveau, Lavoisier, de La Place, Monge, Berthollet, & de Fourcroy (1788); Estimation de la température de différens degrés de latitude par Richard Kirwan ... Ouvrage tr. de l'anglois, par Pierre-Auguste Adet ... [ &c.] (1790); Supplement au Traité Chimique de l'Air et du Feu ...: Contenant un tableau abrégé des nouvelles découvertes sur les diverses espèces d'air par J. G. Léonhardy; des notes de M. R. Kirwan, & une lettre du Docteur Priestley ... ; Traduit et augmenté ... par M. le Baron de Dietrich ... ; Avec la traduction, par M. M. de l'Académie de Dijon, des expériences de M. Scheele sur la quantité d'air par qui se trouve dans l'atmosphère (1785); Traité des engrais tiré des différens rapports,: faits au Département d'Agriculture d'Angleterre, avec des notes; suivi de la traduction du Mémoire de Kirwan sur les engrais, et de l'explication des principaux termes chimiques employés dans cet ouvrage, par F. G. Maurice [ ...] (1800). ITALIAN, Esperimenti sull'aria epatica ... letti alla Società Reale di Londra a' 22 Dicembre 1785; Operetta tradotta dall'Inglese dal Sig. Ab. G. B. Vasco (1778); Saggio meteorologico, contenente una valutazione della temperatura di differenti latitudini di Riccardo Kirwan ... pubblicato in Londra l'anno 1787, e tradotto dall'Inglese (1790). GERMAN, Herrn Carl Wilhelm Scheele ... Chemische Abhandlung von Luft und Feuer / Nebst einem Vorberichte [aus dem Schwedischen] von Torbern Bergmann ... mit einer eigenen Abhandlung über die Luftgattungen wie auch mit der Herren Kirwan und Priestley Bemerkungen und Herrn Scheelens Erfahrungen über die Menge der im Dunstkreise befindlichen reinsten Luft vermehrt und mit einem Register versehen, von D. Johann Gottfried Leonhardi (1782); Lorenz Florenz Friedrich von Crell. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die specifische Schwere und die Anziehungskraft verschiedener Salzarten [Experiments and observations on the specific Gravities, and Attractive Powers of Various Saline Substances]; und über die wahre neuentdeckte Natur des Phlogiston's ... aus dem Englischen übersetzt und mit einer Vorrede versehen von L. Crell. [A translation of two papers read before the Royal Society] (1783); Untersuchung über die vermeinte Entstehung der Gebirgsarten durch Feuer (1798).

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Notes
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1813): Mr Kirwan is the name of the magistrate before whom Frankenstein is brought when in Ireland, suspected of one of his creation’s crimes, having travelled there from the Orkneys where he rejected the monster’s demands that he create a female of the same breed for him. (See under Marilyn Butler, supra.) Note that the Chavalier de la Tocnaye saw Kirwan’s mineralogical display at TCD (see Constantia Maxwell, Strangers in Ireland, 1954).

Portrait, Richard Kirwan, by unknown hand, RIA (see Anne Crookshank, ed., Irish Portraits [Catalogue], Ulster Museum Exhib., 1965).

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