The Last True Know-lt-All
A Thomas Young(1773-1829)contributed 63 articles to the Encyclopedia Britannica,including 46 biographical entries (mostly on scientists and classicists)and substantial essays on "Bridge,""Chromatics," " Egypt,Languages" and"Tides".Was someone who could write authoritatively about so many subjects a polymath,a genius or a dilettante? In an ambitious new biography,Andrew Robinson arques that Youna is a good contender for the epitaph"the last man who knew everything."Young has competition,however:The phrase,which Robinson takes for his title, also serves as the subtitle of two other recent biographies;Leonard Warren’s 1998 life of paleontologist Joseph Leidy(1823-1891) and Paula Findlen’s 2004 book on Athanasius Kircher(1602-1680)another polymath.
B Young, of course,did more than write encyclopedia entries.He presented his first paper to the Royal Society of London at the aae of 20 and was elected a Fellow a week after his 21st birthday.In the paper.Youna explained the process of accommodation in the human eye on how the eye focuses properly on objects at varying distances. Young hypothesized that this was achieved by changes in the shape of the lens.Young also theorized that light traveled in waves and he believed thatto account for the ability to see in colorthere must be three receptors in the eye corresponding to the three "principal colors" to which the retina could respond:redareenviolet.All these hvpothesis were subsequently proved to be correct.
C Later in his life,when he was in his fortiesYouna was instrumental in crackina the code that unlocked the unknown scriot on the Rosetta Stonea tablet that was "found"in Eavpt by the Napoeonic army in 1799the stone
contains text in three alphabets:Greek,something unrecognizable and Egyptian hieroglyphs.The unrecognizable script is now known as demotic and,as Young deduced,is related directly to hieroglyphic.His initial work on this appeared in his Britannica entry on Egypt. In another entry,he coined the term Indo-European to describe the family of languages spoken throughout most of Europe and northern India.These are the landmark achievements of a man who was a child
orodiay and whounlike many remarkable childrendid not disappear into oblivion as an adult D Born in 1773 in Somerset in EnalandYoung lived from an early age with his maternal grandfathereventually leavina to attend boardina school.He haddevoured books from the aae of twoand throuah his own initiative he excelled at Latin. Greekmathematics and natural philosophyAfter leavina schoolhe was areatly encouraed by his mother’s uncle,Richard Brocklesby,a physician and Fellow of the Royal Society.Following Brocklesby’s lead,Young decided to pursue a career in medicine.He studied in Londonfollowina the medical circuitand then moved on to more formal education in EdinburahGottingen and CambridaeAfter completina his medical trainina at the University of Cambridae in
1808 Youna set up practice as a phvsician inondonHe soon became a Fellow of the ova coleae of Phvsicians and a few vears later was appointed phvsician atStGeorae’sHospital.
EYoung’s skill as a physician,however,did not equal his skill as a scholar of natural philosophy or linguistics Earlier, in 1801, he had been appointed to a professorship of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution,where he delivered as many as 60 lectures in a year.These were published in two volumes in 1807. In 1804 Young had become secretary to the Royal Society,a post he would hold until his death.His opinions were sought on civic and national matterssuch as the introduction of aas liahtina to London and methods of ship construction.From 1819 he was superintendent of the Nautical Almanac and secretary to the Board of LongitudeFrom 1824 to 1829 he was physician to ano inspector of calculations for the Palladian Insurance CompanyBetween 1816 and 1825 he contributed his many and various entries to the Encyclopedia Britannica,and throughout his career he authored numerous books,essays and papers.
FYouna is a perfect subiect for a bioaraphy-perfectbut daunting.Few men contributed so much to so many technica fields.Robinson’s aim is to introduce non-scientists to Youna’s work and life.He succeedsprovidina clear expositions of the technical material (especially that on optics and Egyptian hieroglyphs)Some readers of this book will,like Robinson find Youna’saccomplishments impressive’others will see him as some historians have-as a dilettante. Ye
despite the rich material presented in this bookreaders will not end up knowing Youna personally.We catch alimpses of a playful Young,doodling Greek and Latin phrases in his notes on medical lectures and translating the verses that a young lady had written on the walls of a summerhouse into Greek eleaiacs.Young was introduced into elite societyattended the theatre and learned to dance and play the flute. In additionhe was an accomplished horseman.However,his persona life looks pale next to his vibrant career and studies.
G Young married Eliza Maxwell in 1804,and according to Robinson,"their marriage was a happyone and she appreciated his work."Almost all we know about her is that she sustained her husband through some rancorous disputes.
about optics and that she worried about money when his medical career was slow to take off.Very little evidence survives about the complexities of Youna’s relationships with his mother and fatherRobinson does not credit themor anvone else,with shaping Young’s extraordinary mind.Despite the lack of details concerning Young’s relationships however anyone interested in what it means to be a genius shouldread this book
1.The last man who knew everythinghas also been claimed to other people. TRUE
2.All Young's articles were published in Encyclopedia Britannica. FALSE
3. Like others, Young wasn't so brilliant when growing up FALSE
4. Young's talent as a doctor surpassed his other skills. NOT GIVEN
5.Young's advice was sought by people responsible for local and national issues. TRUE
6. Young took part in various social pastimes TRUE
7.Young suffered from a disease in his later years NOT GIVEN
8. How many life stories did Young write for the Encyclopedia Britannica? 46
9.What aspect of scientific research did Young focus on in his first academic paper? Human eve
10. What name did Young introduce to refer to a group of languages? Indo European
11.Who inspired Young to start his medical studies? Richard Brocklesby
12.Where did Young get a teaching position? Roval Institution
13.What contribution did Young make to London? Gas lighting