Shaw, George

, an eminent naturalist, the younger of two sons of the rev. Timothy Shaw, was born Dec. 10, 1751, at Bienon in Buckinghamshire, of which place his father was vicar. His propensity for the studies which rendered | him distinguished, discovered itself at the early age of four years; when, entering into no such amusements as those with which children are generally delighted, he entertained himself with books, or wandered by the sides of ditches, catching insects, and taking them home with him, where he would spend all his leisure time in watching their motions and examining: their structure. He was educated entirely by his father; and as the precocity of his intellect gave him an aptitude for acquiring whatever it was wished that he should acquire, he was, to the credit of the preceptor as well as the pupil, abundantly qualified at the age of little more than thirteen, to enter upon a course of academical studies. In 1765 he was entered at Magdalen -hall, Oxford, where he was no less distinguished by the regularity of his conduct than by an uncommonly diligent application to his studies. On May 24, 1769, he was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts; and on May ^6, 1772, to that of master of arts. That he might assist his father in his clerical duties, he took orders, and was ordained deacon in 1774, at Buckden, by Green, bishop of Lincoln, and performed regularly the duty at Stoke and Buckland, two chapels, each three miles apart from Bierton, the mother-church. As his predilection for natural science never forsook him, and feeling a stronger inclination for studies more connected with it than parochial duties and theological acquirements, he laid aside the clerical habit, and went to Edinburgh, where he engaged in a course of reading, and qualified himself for a profession more congenial with his favourite pursuit. Having directed his views to medicine, he attended for three years the lectures of Black and Cullen, and other eminent professors, and then returned to Oxford, where he obtained an appointment by which he acquired much celebrity, viz. deputy botanical lecturer. To this office he was appointed by Dr. Sibthorp, the botanical professor, who was then upon the eve of setting out upon his travels in Greece, &c. Upon the death of Dr. Sibthorp, Dr. Shaw was a candidate for the vacant chair of the professor of botany; and so high did the votes of the members of the university run in his favour, that he would have succeeded in his wishes, had it not been discovered that the statute relating to that professorship enacted that no person in orders should be deemed eligible. On October 17, 1787, he was admitted to the degrees of bachelor and doctor of medicine. It appears from the catalogue of | of Oxford graduates that when he took these degrees he had removed his name from Magdalen-hall to Magdalencollege. In this year Dr. Shaw removed to London, where he practised as a physician. In 1788 some gentlemen, distinguished for their attachment to the study of, and eminent for their acquirements in natural history, established a society for the advancement of this science, under the name of the Linmean Society. Dr. (now sir James) Smith was elevated to the chair of president of this society, and Dr. Shaw was appointed one of the vice-presidents. Among the Linnsean transactions appear the following articles, contributed by Dr. Shaw: “Description of the Stylephorus cordatus, a new fish.” “Description of the Cancer stagnalis of Linnaeus.” “Remarks on Scolopendra electrica, and Scolopendra subterranea.” “A Note to Mr. Kirby’s Description of the new species of Hirudo.” “Account of a minute Ichneumon.” “Description of a species of Mycteria,” “Description of the Mus Bursarius, and Tubularia magnifica.

Dr. Shaw’s fame, which had already beamed forth in Oxford, now began to shine with effulgence in London; for about this time he was becoming popular as a lecturer, and admired as an author. His lectures at the Leverian Museum, both before and after that rich and incomparable collection was removed from Leicester-house, never failed to attract a numerous and scientific audience. An elegant production, entitled “The Naturalist’s Miscellany,” made its appearance in 1789: this work was published monthly, in numbers, and had extended at the time of the decease of Dr. Shaw as far as No. 286. A posthumous number, with an index, closed this beautiful and extensive production, which comprises, in one thousand and sixty-four plates, figures of the more curious and remarkable productions of the three kingdoms of Nature, more particularly of the animal kingdom, with descriptions in English and Latin. In this year also Dr. Shaw was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, an honour which few among its members have better deserved, and none ever more justly prized. A periodical work appears to have been projected by him in 1790, entitled “Speculum Linnseum, or Linnsean Zoology,” 4to: one number only appeared. A vacancy happening in the British Museum in 1791, Dr. Shaw became a candidate for the office of a librarian upon that great national establishment; and his eminent qualifications | procured him the appointment of assistant keeper of the Natural History. The melancholy scenes and the disagreeable effluvia of a sick chamber, had given him a disgust for the practice of a profession whose studies he had pursued with considerable ardour and delight. Upon this appointment, therefore, he resigned with cheerfulness whatever prospects he might have had as a physician, for the narrow income of an office which afforded him the most enlarged opportunities of prosecuting his researches into that science to which he was most devoted. Between the years 1792 and 1796 appeared “Musei Leveriani explicatio Anglica et Latina, opera et studio Georgii Shaw, M.D. R.S.S. Adduntur figurae eleganter sculptse et coloratas. Irnpensis Jacobi Parkinson.” In 1794 a splendid publication was undertaken by Dr. Shaw, in conjunction with sir James Smith and Mr. Sowerby, illustrative of the accessions which had been made to natural science by the discoveries of those who had attempted to explore the undefined shores of New Holland. The animals peculiar to that country were described by Dr. Shaw, in a work published in one volume 4to, entitled “The Zoology of New Holland;” the beautiful and accurate figures which adorned it were delineated by Mr. Sowerby: the botanical part, which formed another portion of this work, was written by sir James Smith, and published under the title of “The Botany of New Holland.” Sixty large and beautiful prints, published by J. Miller, the celebrated editor of the Gardener’s Dictionary, under the title of “Various subjects in Natural History, wherein are delineated Birds, Animals, and many curious Plants,” not meeting with a quick sale, from want of letter-press containing descriptions of the plates, Dr. Shaw was applied to, to supply the deficiency. This work was published in 1796, under the following title: “Cimelia Physica: Figures of rare and curious Quadrupeds, Birds, &c. together with several most elegant Plants, engraved and coloured from the subjects themselves: with descriptions by Geo. Shaw, M. D. F. R. S.” This, and the Museum Leverianum, are amongst the most magnificent publications England has produced.

From the extended state of natural history, the objects of which had become exceedingly numerous by the discoveries of those, who through love of enterpnze, or stimulated by commerce, ventured to traverse the globe in search | of new regions, it became desirable that a work should be accomplished which should give, in a systematic, yet a popular form, the description and history of those numerous beings, among which man holds so elevated a place, and which, equally with himself, have proceeded from the grand source of creative power and goodness. The verbosity and the reveries of BufTon rendered his, otherwise valuable, work uselessly extensive; and the systematic brevity of Linnæus was too dry for any but philosophers. To give a systematic history of the animal kingdom, free from the redundancies of the one, and more inviting to the general reader than the philosophic production of the other, was a comprehensive and arduous undertaking, which Dr. Shaw ventured to attempt, and had, with an ability which will for ever render him illustrious amongst his countrymen, nearly completed. This work was entitled “General Zoology, or Natural History, with plates from the best authorities, and most select specimens.” Of this celebrated work, Parts I and 2 of the first volume were published in 1800, and from time to time seven more volumes in the life-time of the author. Among his papers was found a ninth volume prepared for the press, which is intended for publication.

A course of Zoological lectures was read by Dr. Shaw at the Royal Institution in the years 1806 and 1807; and the same course, with little alteration, was delivered in 1809 at the Surrey Institution. These were published in 1809, in two volumes 8vo. In the first nine lectures the author compresses the substance of what he had already published in his General Zoology. The last three lectures have now become more particularly valuable, as they not only contain materials which have hitherto been almost untouched, but may be further considered as a sketch of what he intended to accomplish in completing his General Zoology. In 1807, upon the death of Dr. Gray, keeper of the natural history in the British Museum, Dr. Shaw was promoted to that office. An Abridgment of the Philosophical Transactions, in 18 vols. 4to, by Dr. Charles Button, Dr. George Shaw, and Dr. R. Pearson, made its appearance in 1809. All the papers relating to natural history, and these amounted to near fifteen hundred, were abridged by Dr. Shaw, and were rendered more interesting than they app’eared in their original form, by the insertion of the Linnaean generic and specific names, and still further so by | occasional annotations, pointing out where the subject has been more fully investigated in some of the subsequent volumes of the Transactions, or in other works. After this, no new undertaking engaged his pen. His time was altogether employed upon his two progressive works, his Naturalist’s Miscellany, and his General Zoology, when death, upon a short warning, terminated his useful labours on July 22, 1813, in the sixty-second year of his’age. His illness, which was but of a few days’ continuance, originated in a constipation of the bowels. In this he had relief, and confident hopes of his recovery were beginning to be entertained, when an abscess formed on a portion of the intestines, and brought on speedy dissolution. His senses and his recollection only forsook him with his breath. He died as he had lived, with a philosophic composure and serenity of mind, which neither the acute pains which he endured, nor the awful change which he was about to experience, could in any visible degree disturb.

As few men have left behind them a character more estimable in every quality that regards personal merit, or public service, his name will be transmitted to posterity among those who give lustre to their age and country, who do honour to human nature by their virtues, and who contribute to the advancement of science and the interests of literature by their superior talents. Endued by nature with considerable intellectual parts, and those improved by assiduous cultivation, he acquired a vast stock of general knowledge. His extensive information was treasured up without confusion, applied in his works with discernment, and communicated to every inquirer with cheerfulness and freedom. At an early period of life he became an excellent scholar. He wrote Latin with facility, with elegance, and with great purity, Upon most subjects of polite literature he manifested in his conversations a critical taste, and a high relish for the productions of genius. Among the relaxations from graver studies, poetical compositions occasionally employed his talents, and the productions of this kind, which are dispersed in his General Zoology, and in Dr. Thornton’s “Temple of Flora,” are equally creditable to his taste and his imagination. He had a prodigious and a most tenacious memory: to such a perfection did he enjoy this faculty, that he could refer persons correctly to almost every author he had read, for any fact that they needed. In trials that have been made upon him in the | earlier part of his life, he could repeat the preceding or following line of any one recited from Milton’s Paradise Lost, or the works of Horace. Dr. Shaw’s reputation was great in botany, but still greater in Zoology. Herein posterity will be ever indebted for the services he has rendered this branch of natural history, especially that portion of it which relates to arrangement and description. A clear and correct account of the generic and specific character of animals, the essentials of this science, is the remarkable feature and meritorious character of all his works. Having in the first place strictly attended to these, he then proceeded to give his subjects all the suitable embellishments that extensive erudition, good taste, and a correct memory could bestow. His descriptions, if they were minute, yet they were never trifling; if enlivened by anecdote, and rich in information, it was done with propriety, and without being tedious; they were too, always popular, and at the same time possessing all that the dignity of science required. His hours of amusement were frequently employed upon mechanical contrivances, connected with his philosophical pursuits, or his domestic comforts, in which he shewed great ingenuity in invention, and a delicate neatness in execution. His behaviour was remarkably polite. In his person he was neat, gentlemanlike in his dress, methodical in his habits, in the disposition of his library, his papers, and in the order of every thing that belonged to him. His natural temper was lively, good-humoured, sociable. His conversation was precise, full of information, always amusing, frequently smart and witty. He was universally esteemed by men of science, beloved by a large circle of his friends, and had it not been for a few sarcastic expressions which he had, without any malicious intention, suffered to escape him, he had lived without an enemy. None of those passions which produce so much disquietude and misery amongst mankind, seem ever to have found a place in his bosom. He was frugal in his expences, moderate in his wishes, temperate to an uncommon degree in eating and drinking, and so chaste in his desires, that no one could reproach him with the commission of an indecent action, or the use of an immodest word; nay, such was the delicacy and purity of his mind, that the writer of this memoir has repeatedly heard him assert, thnt he had scrupulously endeavoured to avoid in his writings every expression which a woman would blush to read. Sincerity of heart, | innocence of mind, and simplicity of manners, eminent!/ and uniformly marked his whole character. Of his religious sentiments little is known, as he was remarkably reserved upon all subjects connected with his personal conduct and opinions. He however sufficiently shewed in his conversation, and by performing the public duties of religion in his attendance upon the service of the Church of England, that his notions were, in this respect, serious and pious. 1


Gent. Mag. vol. LXXXIII. by a gentleman well qualified to appreciate Dr. Shaw’s talents and character.