On his mother’s side, ‘s Gravesande was descended from the Leiden professor Johannes Heurnius. Educated at home, ‘s Gravesande entered the University of Leiden in 1704, at the age of sixteen in order to study law.
He published at the age of 18 an essay on perspective, which was applauded by Bernoulli. He obtained his doctorate in Jurisprudence in 1707, with a dissertation on suicide and for a decade practiced Law in The Hague.
In 1717, ‘s Gravesande was appointed professor of astronomy and mathematics at Leiden. He taught the Newtonian system. His inaugural lecture was entitled On Mathematics in all the Sciences, especially in physics, and also about the Perfection of Astronomy to be Derived from Physics.
His philosophical writings are marked by the precision to which mathematical studies had habituated him; but being unable to decide between the doctrine of Locke, Descartes and Leibnitz, he borrowed ideas from each. He was the first to introduce the theories of Newton upon the continent.
He remained at Leiden until his death, adding the professorship of cavil and military architecture in 1730, and finally becoming professor of philosophy in 1734.
‘s Gravesande was a generalist who made few original contribution to science, yet he was perhaps the most famous scientist in Europe.
Willem Jacob 's Gravesande