Samuel Laing (science writer)

Samuel Laing (science writer)


He was born at Edinburgh on the 12th of December 1810. He was the nephew of Malcolm Laing, the historian of Scotland; and his father, also called Samuel Laing (1780-1868), was a well-known author, whose books on Norway and Sweden attracted much attention. Samuel Laing the younger entered St John's College, Cambridge in 1827, and after graduating as Second Wrangler and Smith's Prizeman, was elected a fellow, and remained at Cambridge temporarily as a coach. He was called to the bar in 1837, and became private secretary to Henry Labouchere, later 1st Baron Taunton, who was then the President of the Board of Trade.

Business and political career

In 1842 he was made secretary to the railway department, and retained this post until 1847. He had by then become an authority on railways, and had been a member of the Dalhousie Railway Commission; it was at his suggestion that the "parliamentary" rate of a penny a mile was instituted. In 1848 he was appointed chairman and managing director of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, and his business acumen showed itself in the largely increased prosperity of the line. He also became chairman (1852) of the Crystal Palace Company, but retired from both posts in 1855.

In 1852 he was elected to Parliament as a Liberal Party candidate in Wick Burghs. After losing his seat in 1857, he was re-elected in 1859, and appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury; in 1860 he was made finance minister in India. On returning from India, he was re-elected to parliament for Wick in 1865. He was defeated in 1868, but in 1873 he was returned for Orkney and Shetland, and retained his seat till 1885. Meanwhile he had been reappointed chairman of the Brighton line in 1867, and continued in that post until 1894, being generally recognized as an admirable administrator. He was also chairman of the Railway Debenture Trust and the Railway Share Trust.

Writing career

In later life he became well known as an author, his "Modern Science and Modern Thought" (1885), "Problems of the Future" (1889) and "Human Origins" (1892) being widely read, not only by reason of the writer's influential position, experience of affairs and clear style, but also through their popular and at the same time well-informed treatment of the scientific problems of the day. Laing's attitude was generally positive towards new developments in science, and he offered an optimistic vision of progressive modernity.

He also wrote on religion. His book "A Modern Zoroastrian" argued that the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism was more consistent with modern scientific thought than was traditional Christianity. He argued that the "all pervading principle of polarity" that was central Zoroastrian thought has been confirmed by science, and that modern Christianity should abandon its traditional theology to centre on the figure of Jesus as an ideal of humanity.

Laing died at Sydenham on the 6th of August 1897.

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