Thomas Rawson Birks was born on 28 September 1810 in Staveley in Derbyshire, where his father was a tenant farmer employed by the Duke of Devonshire. He died in Cambridge, after a series of strokes, on 19 July 1883. He received his childhood education at Chesterfield and later at the Dissenting College at Mill Hill. In 1830 Birks entered Cambridge University, where he was granted a sizarship (an allowance from the university requiring the performance of menial duties) and a scholarship at Trinity College. In his third year he distinguished himself by winning the chief English declamation prize. The winner of this prize was required to give the customary oration in the college hall, and Birks chose the topic ‘Mathematical and Moral Certainty’. (The oration was published in 1834 as ‘Oration on the Analogy of Mathematical and Moral Certainty’.) William Whewell, then Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy, said that the oration was suffused with the ‘most profound philosophy’ and contained views on morality that were ‘pure and elevated’. Birks graduated in 1834 as second Wrangler and second Smith's prizeman. Shortly thereafter he was elected a Fellow of Trinity.
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.