chapter  8
13 Pages

Bryan Higgins and his Circle

The late Professor T. S. Wheeler was a scholar born, as well as an industrious and lovable character who gave people credit for far more knowledge than they possessed. Our interests coincided in following the activities of chemists in the eighteenth century, chiefly in Great Britain and Ireland. Two of the more problematical figures at that time were Bryan Higgins, MD, and his nephew William Higgins. Both are remarkable for having attacked the leading chemists of their day. Bryan accused Priestley of plagiarism, maintaining that the latter's celebrated work on the gases owed something, to say the least, to Bryan's lectures and demonstrations in London, some of which Priestley and Benjamin Franklin had together attended at the time of the work on oxygen. William, on the other hand, argued that he, rather than John Dalton, should be regarded as the originator of the atomic theory of chemistry - the 'modern' theory as distinct from that of the ancients. Bryan's claims do not stand thorough examination, for Priestley's work on 'different kinds of air' had already earned him the Copley Medal before he heard of Higgins as a lecturer. Priestley squashed these claims in a book called Philosophical Empiricism (1775), but Dalton (being a man ofa different stamp, as Partington says) did not answer William.