The History of Leith

December 11, 2006

David Brewster Showed Clear Sight in More than Optics

Optics proved to be a fruitful field of study for the Scotsman David Brewster. He formulated the laws of polarization and invented the kaleidoscope.

Born 225 years ago on this day, December 11, 1781, he showed a strong interest in scientific things even as a child. At ten, he constructed his own telescope. He also made sundials and microscopes. At twelve, he entered University and graduated before he turned seventeen.

Most of his life he lived by his pen, producing scientific works and
biographies. He edited the “Edinburgh Encyclopedia” and the “Edinburgh magazine.” His most notable scientific discovery goes by the name “Brewster’s Law;” it has found wide application, especially in laser technology. In his zeal for science, he helped found the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Brewster was one of many notable scientists who have been Christians. He had even thought of going into the ministry, but fainted from strain in the pulpit. Still, his religious interests were lively and he maintained a deep spirituality to the last. His daughter reported he lived a humble, penitent and truthful life, rising early to pray. He himself said of faith, “It can’t be presumption to be SURE because it is Christ’s work, not ours; on the contrary, it is presumption to doubt his word and work.” At death he said, “I shall see Jesus, and that will be grand. I shall see him who made the worlds.”

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