Needham, John Tuberville

, a philosopher and divine of the Roman catholic persuasion, was born at London Sept. 10, 1713. His father possessed a considerable patrimony at Hilston, in the county of Monmouth, being of the younger or catholic branch of the Needham family, but died young, leaving only a small fortune to his four children. Our author, his eldest son, studied in the English college of Douay, where he took orders, and taught rhetoric for several years, but was particularly distinguished for his knowledge of experimental philosophy.

In 1740 he was employed by his superiors on a mission to England, and had the direction of the school erected at Twyford, near Winchester, for the education of the Roman catholic youth. In 1744 he was appointed professor of philosophy in the English college at Lisbon, where, on account of his bad health, he remained only fifteen months. After his return he passed several years at London and Paris, chiefly employed in microscopical observations, and in other branches of experimental philosophy. The results of these observations and experiments were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1749, and in a volume in 12mo at Paris in 1750; and an account of them was also given by Buffon, in the first volumes of his natural history. There was an intimate connection subsisted between Mr. Needham and this illustrious French naturalist: they made their experiments and observations together; though the results and systems which they deduced from the same objects and operations were totally different.

Mr. Needham was elected a member of the royal society of London in 1746, and of the society of antiquaries some time after. From 1751 to 1767 he was chiefly employed as a travelling tutor to several English and Irish noblemen. He then retired from this wandering life to the English seminary at Paris, and in 1768 was chosen by the royal academy of sciences in that city a corresponding member. | When the regency of the Austrian Netherlands, for the revival of philosophy and literature in that country, formed the project of an imperial academy, which was preceded by the erection of a small literary society to prepare the way for its execution, Mr. Needham was invited to Brussels, and was appointed successively chief director of both these foundations; an appointment which he held, together with some ecclesiastical preferments in the Low Countries, till his death, which happened December the 30th, 1781. The abbe Mann, from whose account of Mr. Needham we derive the above particulars, says, that “his piety, temperance, and purity of manners, were eminent; his attachment to the doctrines and duties of Christianity was inviolable. His zealous opposition to modern infidels was indefatigable, and even passionate. His probity was untainted. He was incapable of every species of duplicity: his beneficence was universal, and his unsuspicious candour rendered him often a dupe to perfidy.” The same writer, however, adds, that “his pen was neither remarkable for fecundity nor method; his writings are rather the great lines of a subject expressed with energy, and thrown upon paper in a hurry, than finished treatises.

Mr. Needham’s papers inserted in the Philosophical Transactions were, 1. Account of chalky tubulous concretions, called Malm; vol.XLII. 2. Miscroscopical observations on Worms in Smutty Corn; vol. XLII. 3. Electrical Experiments lately made at Paris; vol. XLIV. 4. Account of M. Buffon’s Mirror, which burns at 66 feet; ibid. 5. Observations upon the generation, composition, and decomposition of Animal and Vegetable substances; vol. XLV. 6. On the Discovery of Asbestos in France; vol. LI. His works printed at Paris, in French, are, 1. “New Microscopical Discoveries,1745. 2. “The same enlarged,1750. 3. “On Microscopical, and the Generation of Organized Bodies,1769, 2 vols. Besides these he had a considerable share in the controversy that was carried on about sixty years ago at Paris and Rome respecting the origin of the Chinese. He had seen a famous bust at Turin, on the breast and forehead of which several characters were visible, which some antiquaries supposed to be Egyptian. Mr. Needham having compared them with the characters of a Chinese dictionary in the Vatican, printed at Pekin, in 26 vols, (entitled Ching Zu Tung) perceived a striking resemblance between the two. He drew from this | resemblance an argument in favour of the opinion of the late De Guignes (see de Guignes), concerning the origin of the Egyptians, Phenicians, and Chinese, or rather concerning the descent of the latter from the former, and pronounced, without hesitation, that the bust was Egyptian. The process of this discovery, or rather opinion, he published in 1761, in a pamphlet entitled “De Inscriptione quadam Ægyptiaca Taurini inventa, et characteribus Ægyptiis olim et Sinis cornmunibus exarata; idolo cuidam antiquo in regia, universitate servato, ad utrasque academias, Londinensem et Fajrisiensem, rerum antiquarum investigation! praspositas, data Eptstola,” 8vo. Several others subscribed to this, opinion, but it is more generally thought that the conclusion respecting the descent of the Chinese from the Egyptians does not follow from the premises. The very candid and fair manner, however, in which Mr. Needham proceeded in his comparison of the characters on the bust tyith thos.e in the dictionary, was acknowledged in an attestation very honourable to his probity, signed by several of the, literati at Rome, and by two of our countrymen then resident there, sir Richard Lyttelton and the late duke of Grafton. 1


Life by theabé Mann, in the Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Brussels, in Month. Rev. vol. LXX.—Hutton’s Dict.