Maxwell, James Clerk (1831 - 1879)

Biography: 

James Clerk Maxwell was born on Nov. 13, 1831, at 14 India St., Edinburgh, to John Clerk Maxwell and Frances Cay. The family home to which he would at last retire was at Glenlair, but after his mother's death young James was sent to Edinburgh for schooling at the Edinburgh Academy, from 1840 to 1847. He excelled at both English and mathematics. His education continued at the University of Edinburgh (1847-50) and Peterhouse College in the University of Cambridge (1850-54), which graduated him as Second Wrangler. After several years as a fellow at Trinity College Cambridge, lecturing on hydrostatics and optics, Maxwell took a position as Professor of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen, for two years (1856-57). Katherine Mary Dewar and he wed there in June 1858, and then Maxwell became Professor of Natural Philosophy at King's College, London. They lived at 8 Palace Gardens Terrace, Kensington. He retired to Glenlair from 1866 to 1870 after suffering from erysipelas, but returned to academe on March 8, 1871, when he assumed the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge. Here Maxwell brought out his greatest works, Theory of Heat (1871), Electricity and Magnetism (1873), and Matter and Motion (1876), but he also helped design and supervised the erection of the Cavendish Laboratory. Throughout his life, Maxwell loved English poetry and committed much of it to memory. He wrote poems himself, which were collected and published by his friend Lewis Campbell in 1882. He evidently sang the most well-known, his homage to Burns' "Comin thro' the Rye," while playing a guitar. The scientist who created one of the most famous of thought experiments, "Maxwell's demon" (which made entropy understandable to the un-numbered), died a Christian on Nov. 5, 1879.

  • Campbell, Lewis. The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, with a Selection from his Correspondence and Occasional Writings and a Sketch of his Contributions to Science. London: Macmillan, 1882. QC 16 M4C3 Gerstein
  • Goldman, Martin. The Demon in the Aether: the Story of James Clerk Maxwell. Edinburgh: Harris, 1983. QC 16 M4G75 1983 Gerstein
  • Maxwell, James Clerk. A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field. With an appreciation by Albert Einstein. Ed. Thomas F. Torrance. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1982. QC 665 E4M39 Gerstein Library
  • --. Matter and Motion. New York: Dover, 1952.
  • --. Maxwell on Molecules and Gases. Ed. Elizabeth Garber, Stephen G. Brush, and C.W.F. Everitt. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986. QC 16 .M4A4 1986 Gerstein
  • --. The Scientific Papers. Ed. W.D. Niven. Cambridge: University Press, 1890. 2 vol. S M4653s Gerstein Library
  • --. Theory of Heat. Ed. Lord Rayleigh. London: Longmans, 1899. Physics Thermodyn M Gerstein Library
  • --. Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881. 2 vols. QC 518 M47 1881 Engineering Library
  • --, ed. The Electrical Researches of the Honourable Henry Cavendish, written between 1771 and 1781. Cambridge: University Press, 1879. QC 517 C35 1879 Gerstein Library
  • Tolstoy, Ivan. James Clerk Maxwell, a Biography. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1981. QC 16 M4T6 Gerstein
Given Name: 
James Clerk
Family Name: 
Maxwell
Birth Date: 
November 13, 1831
Death Date: 
November 5, 1879
Nationality: 
Family Relations: 
father : John Clerk Maxwell
mother : Frances Cay Maxwell
wife : Katherine Mary Dewar Maxwell

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Illness

First RPO Edition: 
2001