John Robison (1739-1805) was a pivotal figure in the rise of a new style of mathematical physics in Britain at the turn of the 19th century. He lectured on chemistry at the University of Glasgow in the 1760s and was professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh from 1773 until his death. Robison was also General Secretary to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and he did much to educate the broader public in the natural sciences through his many contributions to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (3rd edition). In 1822 one of Robison's former pupils, David Brewster, paid homage to his teacher by collecting Robison's contributions to the Britannica and publishing them under the title, "A System of Mechanical Philosophy". This work was generally seen in the early Victorian era as a reference point for the progress of scientific knowledge and its applications in the period. In our own day, the System serves not only to illuminate the history of the natural sciences and technology in Britain, but also to shed light on scientific culture in the Enlightenment and on Robison's outlook as a natural philosopher.
For Robison's articles in the "Encylopaedia Britannica" reveal much about his own philosophical and scientific ideas in the course of dealing with almost all branches of the physical sciences, as well as the applied arts and many of the major scientific disputes of the late 18th century. Robison's System has become very hard to find in libraries, and this facsimile reprint with Paul Wood's new introduction should be welcomed by scholars of Enlightenment science and technology, and those interested in 18th and 19th-century studies more generally.
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