Short, James

, an eminent optician, was born in Edinburgh in the year 1710. At the age of ten being left in a state of indigence by the death of both his parents, he was admitted into Heriot’s hospital, where he soon shewed a fine mechanical genius, by constructing for himself a number of curious articles with common knives, or such other instruments as he could procure. Two years after he was removed from the hospital to the high- school, where he so much distinguished himself in classical learning, that his friends thought of qualifying him for a learned profession. After four years spent at the high-school, in 1726 he was entered a student of the university of Edinburgh, where he | passed through a regular course of study, took his degree of master of arts, and at the earnest entreaties of his relations, attended the divinity lectures: after which, in 1731, he passed his examination to fit him for a preacher in the church of Scotland. He soon, however, gave up all thoughts of a profession which he found little suited to his talents, and from this period he devoted his whole time to mathematical and mechanical pursuits. He was pupil to the celebrated Maclaurin, who perceiving the bent of his genius, encouraged him to prosecute those particular studies for which he seemed best qualified by nature. Under the eye of his preceptor he began, in 1732, to construct Gregorian telescopes; and, as the professor observed, by attending to the figure of his specula, he was enabled to give them larger apertures, and to carry them to greater perfection, than had ever been done before him.

In 1736 Mr. Short was invited to London by queen Caroline, to instruct William duke of Cumberland in the mathematics; and on his appointment to this office, he was elected a member of the Royal Society, and patronized by the earls of Macclesfield and Morton. In the year 1739 he accompanied the former to the Orkney islands, where he was employed in making a survey of that part of Scotland. On his return to London he established himself as an optician, and in 1743, he was commissioned by lord Thomas Spencer to make a reflector of twelve- feet focus, for which he received 600 guineas. He afterwards made several other telescopes of the same focal distance, with improvements and higher magnifiers: and in 1752 he completed one for the king of Spain, for which, with the whole apparatus, he received 1200l. This was the noblest instrument of the kind that had ever been constructed, and has probably not been surpassed, unless by the grand telescopes manufactured by Dr. Herschel.

Mr. Short was accustomed to visit the place of his nativity once every two or three years during his residence in London, and in the year 1766 he paid his last visit to Scotland. He died at Newington Butts, near London, in June 1768, after a very short illness, in the fifty-eighth year of his age. Mr. Short was a very good general scholar, besides well skilled in optics and mathematics. He was a very useful member of the Royal Society, and wrote a great many excellent papers in the Philosophical Transactions, from 1736 to the time of his death. His eminence as an | artist is universally admitted, and he is spoken of by those who knew him from his youth upwards, as a man of virtue and very amiable manners. 1


By Lord Buchan, in the Transactions of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland, vol. 1. 1792.