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James Watt (1736-1819)

Was the son of a small merchant of Greenock, and, on account of his weakly state when a child, was unable at first to enjoy the advantages of school tuition and was therefore taught chiefly at home.  When but six years old he was frequently caught chalking diagrams and solving problems on the hearth; and at fourteen he made a rude electrical machine with his own hands.  His aunt, it is related, often chided him for indolence and mischief, when he was found playing with the tea-kettle on the fire, watching the steam coming out of the spout, and trying the steam's force by obstructing its escape; the might of the vaporous element seeming even then to have begun to present itself, unavoidably, to his imagination and understandng. He grew to be an extensive manufacturer of philosophical toys while a boy, and used to increase his pocket-money by standing with them at the college gate, in Glasgow, and vending them to the students as they passed out.  At eighteen years of age his father apprenticed him to a mathematical instrument maker in London, but in little more than a year his weak health rendered it necessary to send him home to Scotland.

    At twenty-one, although he had received so little instruction in that profession, his skill secured him the appointment of mathematical instrument maker to the College of Glasgow.  His appointment, however, was not sufficiently productive to render it worth keeping; and, seven years afterwards, he began to practise as a general engineer, for which diligent study during this term had fitted him.  He was soon sought after for almost every undertaking of public improvement,—whether for the making of bridges, canals, harbours, or any other engineering design projected in Scotland.  But the circumstance of a small model of a steam-engine being sent him to repair, fixed his attention powerfully upon the element which had so often excited the attention of his boyish understanding.

    Watt found this model so imperfect, although it was the most perfect then known, that he could with difficulty get it to work.  The more he examined it, the more deeply he became convinced that the properties of steam had never been understood: the engine was, in fact, an atmospheric rather than a steam engine.  By laborious investigation he ascertained that the evaporation of water proceeded more or less rapidly in proportion to the degree of heat made to enter it; that the process of evaporation was quickened as a greater surface of water was exposed to heat, the quantity of coals necessary to raise a certain weight of water into steam, and the degrees of heat at which water boils under different pressures.  He had now learnt enough of the nature of the great element he proposed to wield; but it required long thought and the most exhaustless application of contrivance to give his vaporous giant a fitting body, limbs, joints, and sinews, and so to adapt these as to render them a self-regulating mechanism.  Watt found a coadjutor in the person of Boulton, of Birmingham, who was possessed of capital, and the will to embark it; and he now set to work to perfect his discovery, and did perfect it; thus revealing to man the greatest instrument of power yet put into his possession.

    "In the present perfect state of the engine," says Dr. Arnott, in his "Elements of Physics," "it appears a thing almost endowed with intelligence.  It regulates, with perfect accuracy and uniformity, the number of its strokes in a given time; counting or recording them, moreover, to tell how much work it has done, as a clock records the beats of its pendulum; it regulates the quantity of steam admitted to work; the briskness of the fire; the supply of water to the boiler; the supply of coals to the fire; it opens and shuts its valves with absolute precision as to time and manner; it oils its joints; it takes out any air which may accidentally enter into parts which should be vacuous; and when anything goes wrong, which it cannot itself rectify, it warns its attendants by ringing a bell: yet, with all these talents and qualities, and even when exerting the power of six hundred horses, it is obedient to the hand of a child; its aliment is coal, wood, charcoal, or other combustible; it consumes none while idle; it never tires, and wants no sleep; it is not subject to malady when originally well made, and only refuses to work when worn out with age; it is equally active in all climates, and will do work of any kind; it is a water-pumper, a miner, a sailor, a cotton-spinner, a weaver, a blacksmith, a miller, &c., &c.; and a small engine, in the character of a steam-pony, may be seen dragging after it on a railroad a hundred tons of merchandise, or a regiment of soldiers, with greater speed than that of our fleetest coaches.  It is the king of machines, and a permanent realization of the genii of Eastern fable, whose supernatural powers were occasionally at the command of man."

    And what was the greater instrument?  The mind of Watt, whose powers were manifested by the creation of this grandest physical instrument.  Could such a display of resources, such amazing circumspection of the wants and needs of his machine, and wisdom in the adaptation of its members to the perfect working of the whole, have been given forth from an intellect untrained itself to rule, uninured itself to toil, and to toil with certitude for an end, by persevering collection of all that could increase its aptitude to reach it?  The estimate of James Watt's character, by the eloquent Lord Jeffrey, will afford a weighty answer.

    "Independently of his great attainments in mechanics, Mr. Watt was an extraordinary and, in many respects, a wonderful man.  Perhaps no individual in his age possessed so much and such varied and exact information—had read so much, or remembered what he had read so accurately and well.  He had infinite quickness of apprehension, a prodigious memory, and a certain rectifying and methodizing power of understanding, which extracted something precious out of all that was presented to it.  His stores of miscellaneous knowledge were immense, and yet less astonishing than the command he had at all times over them.  It seemed as if every subject that was casually started in conversation had been that which he had been last occupied in studying and exhausting; such was the copiousness, the precision, the admirable clearness of the information which he poured out upon it without effort or hesitation.  Nor was this promptitude and compass of knowledge confined in any degree to the studies connected with his ordinary pursuits.  That he should have been minutely and extensively skilled in chemistry and the arts, and in most of the branches of physical science, might, perhaps, have been conjectured; but it could not have been inferred from his usual occupations, and, probably, is not generally known, that he was curiously learned in many branches of antiquity, metaphysics, medicine, and etymology, and perfectly at home in all the details of architecture, music, and law.  He was well acquainted, too, with most of the modern languages, and familiar with their most recent literature.  Nor was it at all extraordinary to hear the great mechanician and engineer detailing and expounding, for hours together, the metaphysical theories of the German logicians, or criticising the measures or the matter of the German poetry.

    "His astonishing memory was aided, no doubt, in a great measure, by a still higher and rarer faculty by his power of digesting and arranging in its proper place all the information he received, and of casting aside and rejecting, as it were instinctively, whatever was worthless or immaterial.  Every conception that was suggested to his mind seemed instantly to take its place among its other rich furniture, and to be condensed into the smallest and most convenient form.  He never appeared, therefore, to be at all encumbered or perplexed with the verbiage of the dull books he perused, or the idle talk to which he listened, but to have at once extracted, by a kind of intellectual alchemy, all that was worthy of attention, and to have reduced it for his own use to its true value and to its simplest form.  And thus it often happened that a great deal more was learned from his brief and vigorous account of the theories and arguments of tedious writers, than an ordinary student could have derived from the most faithful study of the originals; and that errors and absurdities became manifest from the mere clearness and plainness of his statement of them, which might have deluded and perplexed most of his hearers without that invaluable assistance."

    Such was the activity, industry, discipline, and perseverance in acquirement, of the mind which gave to the world its greatest physical transformer—the instrument which is changing the entire civilization of the world, "doing the work of multitudes, overcoming the difficulties of depth, distance, minuteness, magnitude, wind, and tide; exhibiting stranger wonders than those of romance or magic; annihilating time and space; giving wings even to thought, and sending knowledge like light through the human universe; most mighty, with power that Watt knew not of, and with more than we know, for futurity.  The discovery of America," says the same eloquent writer, W. J. Fox, in his "Lectures to the Working Classes," "was of matter to be worked upon: this is power to work upon the world."


Starts before the mind with the enunciation of the sentence just quoted.  He whose indomitable perseverance carried his mutinous sailors onward—and onward—across the dreary Atlantic, in a frail bark, until fidelity to his own convictions issued in the magnificent proof of their verity, the discovery of the new world.  But our space demands that we pass to the incomparable name which towers, alone, above that of James Watt, in the world's list of the scientific benefactors of mankind; and, perhaps, above all human names in its peerless excellence.


Sir Isaac Newton, (1643–1727)
by Godfrey Kneller (1689)

It is so well known as scarcely to need repeating here, displayed his wondrous and incontrollable tendency for scientific inquiry in boyhood.  In him too, as in the minds of almost all philosophical discoverers, was evinced the faculty for mechanical contrivance, as well as acuteness for demonstration.  The anecdotes of his boyish invention, of his windmill with a mouse for the miller, his water-clock, carriage, and sun-dials, and of his kites and paper lanterns, are familiar.  His mother having been persuaded, by an intelligent relative, to give him up from agricultural cares, to which his genius could not be tied down, he was sent to Cambridge, and entered Trinity College in his eighteenth year.  He proceeded at once to the study of "Descartes' Geometry," regarding "Euclid's Elements" as containing self-evident truths, when he had gone through the titles of the propositions.  Yet he afterwards regretted this neglect of the rigid method of demonstration, in the outset, as a great mistake, and wished he had not attached himself so closely to modes of solution by algebra.  He successively studied, and wrote commentaries on, "Wallis's Arithmetic of Infinities," "Sannderson's Logic," and "Kepler's Optics;" and, for testing the doctrines of the latter science, bought a prism, and made numerous experiments with it.  While but a very young man, Dr. Isaac Barrow, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, gathered hints of new truths from his conversation; and in the publication of his lectures on optics, a few years after, the Doctor acknowledged his obligations to young Newton, and characterized him very highly.  A year after this publication, Barrow resigned his chair in favour of Newton, who had recently taken the degree of Master of Arts.

    Zeal to acquit himself well in his professorship, a situation so congenial to his mind, led him to devote the most profound attention to the doctrines of light and vision.  Realities were what he sought, even in the most abstract pursuits; and he expended considerable manual labour in constructing reflecting telescopes.  One of these most valued relics of his mechanical toil is now in the library of the Royal Society.  The result of his studies and experiments was not fully known before the publication of his "Opticks," in his sixty-second year; but it is believed his entire discovery of the nature of light was made many years before, being at length "put together out of scattered papers."  The modesty of this great man was, indeed, the most distinguishing mark of his intellect.  Arrogant satisfaction, or pride of superior genius, never sullied his greatness.  Even in giving this scientific treasure to the world, he says he designed to repeat most of his observations with more care and exactness, and to make some new ones for determining the manner how the rays of light are bent in their passage by bodies, for making the fringes of colours with the dark lines between them.

    How much are we indebted to the patient perseverance of all the true discoverers in science!  This is the quality of mind which ever distinguished them.  Rashness and presumption, haste to place his crude theories before the world, and to gain assent to them before proof, on the other hand, are the sure marks of the empiric or pretender.  The popular author of "The Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties"—a work the young student should carry about with him as a never-failing stimulus to perseverance—thus admirably treats this pre-eminent characteristic of the mind of Newton:—"On some occasions he was wont to say, that, if there was any mental habit or endowment in which he excelled the generality of men, it was that of patience in the examination of the facts and phenomena of his subject.  This was merely another form of that teachableness which constituted the character of the man.  He loved Truth, and wooed her with the unwearying ardour of a lover.  Other speculators had consulted the book of nature, principally for the purpose of seeking in it the defence of some favourite theory: partially, therefore, and hastily, as one would consult a dictionary.  Newton perused it as a volume altogether worthy of being studied for its own sake.  Hence proceeded both the patience with which he traced its characters, and the rich and plentiful discoveries with which the search rewarded him.  If he afterwards classified and systematized his knowledge like a philosopher, he had first, to use his own language, gathered it like a child." .

    This transcendent combination of qualities,—modesty, patient investigation, and indefatigable perseverance,—was still more wondrously shown in his superlative discovery of the theory of gravitation, than in his promulgation of the laws of light and vision.  The anecdote of his observation of the fall of an apple from a tree, while sitting in his garden, is among the most familiar of all anecdotes to general readers.  This incident, it was affirmed by his niece, as well as his friend Dr. Pemberton, occurred in Newton's twenty-third year; and it instantly raised in him the inquiry whether the infinite universe were not held in order and kept in motion by the very power which drew the apple to the earth.  Galileo had already shown the tendency of all bodies near the earth to gravitate towards its centre, and had calculated and fixed the proportions of their speed in descent to their distance from the earth's centre.  Newton's general application of Galileo's rule to the planets of the solar system led him to regard his conjecture as strongly probable.  He next devoted his powers to the consideration of its verity, by examining the question whether the force of gravitation by which the planets preserved their orbits and motions round the sun would precisely account for the moon's preservation of her orbit and motion round the earth.  But here the precision of his calculations was frustrated by the imperfect knowledge then existing as to the real measurement of the earth—the gravitating centre of the revolving moon.  An empiric would have trumpeted his discovery to the world, in spite of the fact that this faulty admeasurement of the earth, by not affording a true calculation of her gravitating power, failed to lead him to an agreement with truth.  Newton was silent for long years, until a degree of the earth's latitude was ascertained, by actual experiment, to be sixty-nine degrees and a half instead of sixty; he then resumed his calculations, and their result was that he had probed the grand secret of the laws by which worlds move in obedience to the suns which are their centres.  It only remains to be observed, as a significant reminder to the young reader, that—though he may assent to the great doctrine of Newton, and consider it to be established, he can never fully know its mathematical and mechanical verity, unless study enables him to read the "Principia"—the work in which the truth of gravitation and its laws are demonstrated.  Let it be an additional motive to strive for the ability to read such a book, that, in having read it, the student has become acquainted with the greatest effort in abstract truth ever yet produced by the human intellect.

    The moral as well as the intellectual grandeur of the life of Newton would tempt us to enlarge; but we must merely say, ere we pass on, to the youthful inquirer—read about Newton, think about Newton, and the more you know of him the more will your understanding honour him, your heart love him, and your desire strengthen to approach him in virtue, wisdom, and usefulness.


Sir Frederick William Herschel, FRS

Newton's greatest successor in astronomical discovery, may claim an equality with him, as a true and noble disciple of perseverance.   The son of a poor Hanoverian musician, he was brought over to England, with his father, in the band of the Guards.  The father returned to Hanover, but young Herschel remained, and at the age of twenty began to seek his fortune in this country.  After many difficulties, wanderings from place to place, as a teacher of music in families, and a few slight glimpses of favour from fortune, he obtained the office of organist in the Octagon Chapel at Bath.  The emoluments of this situation, with his receipts from tuition of pupils and other engagements, were such that an ordinary mortal would have been content "to make himself comfortable" upon them, in worldly phrase.  But ease and competence were not the object of Herschel's ambition.  In the midst of his wanderings, he had not only striven to acquire a sound knowledge of English, but of Italian, Latin, and Greek, and had entered on the study of counterpoint, in order to make himself a profound theorist, as well as a performer, in music.  In order to comprehend the doctrines of harmonics, he found it necessary to get some acquaintance with the mathematics; and this led him at once to the line of study for which his natural genius was best fitted.  On his settlement at Bath, he applied himself with ardour to these abstract inquiries, and from the mathematics proceeded to astronomy and optics.  Desire to view the wonders of the heavens for himself, made him eager to possess a telescope; and, deeming the price of a sufficiently powerful one more than he could afford, he set about making a five-feet reflector, and, after much difficulty, accomplished his task.

    Success only stimulated him to bolder attempts, and he rapidly constructed telescopes of seven, ten, and twenty-feet focal distance.  Pupils and professional engagements were given up, until he reduced his income to a bare sufficiency, in order that he might have more time for the sciences to which he was now become inseparably attached.  So tireless was his perseverance in the fashioning of mirrors for his telescopes, that he would sit to polish them for twelve or fourteen hours, without intermission; and, rather than take his hand from the delicate labour, his sister was requested to put the little food he ate into his mouth.  With one of his seven-feet reflectors—the most perfect instrument he had constructed—after having been engaged for a year and a half, at intervals, in a regular survey of the heavens, he at length made the discovery of the planet which, until the very recent discovery of "Neptune" by Leverrier and Adams, was regarded as the most distant member of the solar system.  The Astronomer-Royal, Dr. Maskelyne, to whom Herschel made known what he had observed, together with his doubts as to the nature of the new celestial body, first affirmed it to be a comet.  In a few months this error was dissipated, and the grandeur of Herschel's discovery was acknowledged by the whole scientific world.  King George III., in whose honour he had named the new planet Georgium Sidus (a name which has been very properly set aside for that of Uranus), conferred upon him a pension of £300 a year, that he might be enabled to give up entirely the profession of music; and the son of the poor Hanoverian musician took his station among the first in the highest of the sciences.  The order of knighthood was afterwards bestowed upon him; but it could not add to the splendour of the names of either Herschel or Newton.

    Inquiry will put the young reader in possession of a knowledge of many other interesting and important discoveries of the persevering Herschel.  A few pages must be devoted to a brief mention of others who have benefited mankind by their unremitting labours; and they must be selected from a list where it is difficult to tell a single name unmarked by some peculiar excellence—so abundant in exemplars of meritorious toil is the vast muster-roll of science and mechanical invention.


René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur

May be instanced as one of the most industrious toilers for the advancement of useful science, though he does not take rank with the unfolders of sublime truths.  During a life of seventy-five years he was incessantly engaged in endeavouring to add something to the compass of human knowledge and convenience.  At one time he is found pursuing an investigation into the mode of formation and growth of shells, endeavouring to account for the progressive motion of the different kinds of testaceous animals; anon, he publishes a "Natural History of Cobwebs," evincing a mind capable of the most minute and ingenious search; and is afterwards found showing the facility with which iron and steel may be made magnetic by percussion.  For revealing to his countrymen, the French, a method of converting forged or bar iron into steel, of making steel of what quality they pleased, and of rendering even cast-iron ductile, a pension of twelve hundred livres yearly was settled upon him.  This allowance, at his death, was settled, by his own request, on the Academy of Sciences, to be applied to the defraying of expenses for future attempts to improve the arts.  He also made known the useful secret of tinning plates of iron, an article for which the French, till his time, had been compelled to resort to Germany.

    Continuing his researches into natural science, he showed the means by which marine animals attach themselves to solid bodies; discussed the cause of the electric effect from the stroke of a torpedo; displayed the proof that in crabs, lobsters, and crayfish, nature reproduces a lost claw; set forth a treatise showing, by experiments, that the digestive process is performed in granivorous birds by trituration, and in carnivorous by solution; and published a systematic "History of Insects."  Engaged atone period of life in proving, by experiment, that the less a cord is twisted the stronger it is—that is, that the best mode of uniting the threads of a cord is that which causes their tension to be equal in whatever direction the cord is strained; we find him, at another period, discovering the art of preserving eggs, so that they might be kept fresh and fit for incubation many years, and breeds of fowls propagated at home or abroad, by the eggs being washed with a varnish of oil, grease, or any other substance that would effectually stop the pores of the shell, and prevent the contents from evaporating.  Valuable secrets in the making of glass were also discovered by him; he devised a method of making porcelain, and showed that the requisite materials were to be found in France in greater abundance than in the East; and lastly, he rendered enduring service to science by reducing thermometers to a common standard, which continental nations gratefully commemorate by still calling thermometers by his name.  A life passed in mental occupations, so multifarious as well as useful, surely entitles Reaumur be termed a true scholar of perseverance.


By a life of virtue and usefulness, merits the epithet to which his birth by courtesy entitled him.  He was the youngest son of the first Earl of Cork, and, after being educated at Eton, was sent out to travel on the Continent.  A residence at Florence at the time of Galileo's death, and the almost universal conversation then caused by the discoveries of that great philosopher, seem to have induced Boyle's first attention to science.  On returning to this country he very soon joined a knot of scientific men, who had begun to meet at each other's houses, on a certain day in each week, for inquiry and discussion into what was then called "The New or Experimental Philosophy."  These weekly meetings eventually gave rise to the Royal Society of London; but part of the original members of the little club, a few years after its commencement, removed to Oxford, and Boyle, influenced by his attachment to these philosophic friends, in process of time took up his residence in that city.  Their weekly meetings were held in his house; and here he began to prosecute with earnestness his researches into the nature of air.  By his experiments and invention, the air-pump was first brought into so useful a form that he may be called its discoverer, though the genius of others has since greatly improved that important instrument.  He also demonstrated the necessity of the presence of air for the support of animal life and of combustion, showing not only that a flame is instantly extinguished beneath an exhausted receiver, but that even a fish could not live under it, though immersed in water.  His demonstration of the expansibility of air was still more important.  Aristotle, three hundred years before the Christian era, taught that if air were rarefied till it filled ten times its usual space, it would become fire.  Boyle succeeded in dilating a portion of the air of the common atmosphere, till it filled nearly fourteen thousand times its natural space.

    His other discoveries were numerous: every hour of his existence might be said to be devoted to usefulness: and his wealth and station, so far from disposing him to ease and inertion, were nobly turned by him into grand aids for the advancement of knowledge.  Mr. Craik thus admirably sums up his life of effort—- "From his boyhood till his death he may be said to have been almost constantly occupied in making philosophical experiments; collecting and ascertaining facts in natural science; inventing or improving instruments for the examination of nature; maintaining a regular correspondence with scientific men in all parts of Europe; receiving the daily visits of great numbers of the learned, both of his own and other countries; perusing and studying not only all the new works that appeared in the large and rapidly widening department of natural history and mathematical and experimental physics, including medicine, anatomy, chemistry, geography, &c., but many others, relating especially to theology and oriental literature; and, lastly, writing so profusely upon all these subjects, that those of his works alone which have been preserved and collected, independently of many others that are lost, fill, in one edition, six large quarto volumes.  So vast an amount of literary performance, from a man who was at the same time so much of a public character, and gave so considerable a portion of his time to the service of others, shows strikingly what may be done by industry, perseverance, and such a method of life as never suffers an hour of the day to run to waste."

    The lives of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, and Kepler, among astronomers; of Napier of Murchiston, the inventor of logarithms; of Dolland and Ramsden, the improvers of optical glasses; of Cavendish, the discoverer of the composition of water; of Linnæus and Cuvier, the greatest naturalists; of Lavoisier, Fourcroy, Black, and, indeed, a host of modern chemists; might be singly and in order adduced as inspiring lessons of perseverance.  The young inquirer, if he have caught a spark of zeal from the ardour of the tireless minds we have hastily endeavoured to portray, will, if he act worthily, strive to make himself acquainted more fully with the doings of these and other great men, and "gird up the loins of his mind" to follow them in their glorious path of wisdom and beneficence.


Michael Faraday, FRS

Who, by general consent, ranks as one of the greatest of English chemists and natural philosophers, like many other men who have attained eminence, was born in poverty, and owed his rise into fame to the perseverance with which he studied and the determination to avail himself, to the best of his abilities, of his opportunities of acquiring knowledge.  He was the son of a working blacksmith, and was born at Newington Butts, London, on the 22nd of September, 1791.  The amount of regular education he received must have been small; and at an early age he was apprenticed to a bookbinder, an occupation so far agreeable that it afforded him opportunities of perusing books to which otherwise he must have been a stranger.  Fond as he was of reading, he took still greater pleasure in the construction of an electrical machine and other apparatus, the use of which he had learned probably from some of the books passing through his hands, and with which he is able to make simple, but to him most interesting, experiments, which attracted the attention of a gentleman of scientific attainments who frequently came to his master's shop.

    Wonderfully elated Faraday must have been when this gentleman offered to take him to hear one of Sir Humphry Davy's lectures at the Royal Institution.  Davy was then in the height of his fame, and his admirable lectures, illustrating the nature of his striking discoveries, attracted large and brilliant audiences.  Michael carefully took notes, and no person of all that Albemarle Street audience left the place with a keener appreciation of the value of the lecturer's discoveries.  He was then twenty-one years of age, and already wearied of the mechanical trade by which he gained his living.  Animated by an impulse bold indeed—but it was the boldness of genius—he ventured to send to Davy the notes he had taken, accompanied by an expression of his desire to be engaged in some occupation connected with science.  Sir Humphrey, noticing the great ability shown by the manner in which the notes had been taken, wrote to Faraday in an encouraging manner, and shortly afterwards offered him the situation of assistant in his laboratory.

    Faraday was now quite at home, and exhibited such talent and readiness that Sir Humphry selected him to accompany him on a continental tour, as scientific assistant and secretary.  On their return, he was entrusted with the performance of some experiments which resulted in the discovery of the possibility of condensing gases into liquids by pressure; and, about 1821, he made the important discovery of the connection between electricity and magnetism which is the first of a series of observations on this subject which, in 1823, procured him the honour of being elected corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences, and, in 1825, of being admitted Fellow of the Royal Society.  In 1827, he was appointed to succeed Sir Humphry as lecturer, and in December, 1829, he gave the first of the Christmas lectures on chemistry which afterwards became so famous.  In 1829, he was appointed chemical lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, a position he occupied for thirteen years.

    He was now rapidly achieving fame, and was looked upon as the most rising man of science of his age.  In 1831, he began his numerous contributions to the "Philosophical Transactions," afterwards republished in three large volumes, between 1839 and 1845.  In 1832, he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford; ten years afterwards he was elected honorary member of the Academy of Berlin; in 1844, he was chosen one of the eight foreign associates of the Paris Academy of Sciences, and many other honours were conferred on him.

    The phenomena of electro-magnetism and electric induction, and their application to the useful arts, were the more prominent objects of his study; but there was scarcely a subject connected with physical philosophy that he did not carefully investigate, and on which his patient research and powerful intellect did not throw some light.  The application of magnetic electricity to lighthouses, electro-plating, telegraphy, and medical purposes, is in a great measure due to him; and his researches certainly suggested the investigations which resulted in the discovery of the electric telegraph and the valuable aniline dyes.  His experiments on the polarization of a ray of light by electricity were very beautiful.  As a lecturer, he was unsurpassed for lucidity and success in illustrating very abstruse matters by striking and intelligible experiments.

    Trained scientific minds were attracted by the closeness of his reasoning; and children were delighted by the charming clearness with which he made the elementary truths of science easy to be understood.

    In 1835, he received a pension from the State of £300 a year; and, in 1858, the Queen gave him a residence in the palace of Hampton Court.  In character he was singularly gentle and unassuming, deeply impressed with religious truth, being the member of a small sect of Christians known as Sandemannians, and often preaching at a little chapel in an obscure part of the Metropolis.  He waited patiently and reverently on science, believing that all truth must be harmonious, and valued his great discoveries only for the help they ought to give to the world to be better and happier.  He closed his laborious life, a remarkable instance of the success of perseverance and unselfishness, at Hampton Court on the 25th of August, 1867, at the age of seventy-six.


Robert Fulton (1765–1815)

If Fulton could not claim to be the inventor of steamboats, he occupies a very prominent place among those who first applied steam power to the purposes of navigation.  He was a man of great inventive power, and persevered, notwithstanding many difficulties, until he had matured his discoveries.

    His parents were poor Irish people who had emigrated to Pennsylvania, and Robert was born at Little Britain, in that State, in 1765.  He had but little regular education, but read eagerly the books that came in his way.  Showing an aptitude for ingenious mechanical work, he was apprenticed to a jeweller at Philadelphia.  He worked assiduously at his trade, and in his spare time studied painting with such success that, while yet a youth, he had realized enough money by the sale of portraits and landscapes to purchase a small farm, in which, his father being dead, he established his mother.

    Having completed his apprenticeship, he left America and came to London, with the intention of studying art, and worked for several years under the instruction and supervision of his famous countryman, Benjamin West, afterwards President of the Royal Academy.  His taste for art, however, was inferior to that for mechanical and engineering pursuits, to which in course of time he entirely devoted his energies.  The skill he displayed in designing some engineering works in Devonshire obtained for him the patronage of the Duke of Bridgewater, famous in connection with the construction of canals, and of Earl Stanhope, so eminent for mechanical invention.  He patented several important inventions, among them a mill for sawing and polishing marble, and machines for spinning flax and making ropes; and, in 1795, published a work of considerable value on the subject of navigable canals.

    His talents as a practical engineer had by this time attracted attention, and, in 1796, he accepted an invitation from the United States minister at Paris to visit that city, where he remained for seven years, working hard at various new projects and inventions, one of the most remarkable of which was a submarine boat, which he named the Nautilus, and intended to be used in naval warfare for the purpose of attacking vessels below the water-line.  Neither the French nor the English Governments—for he applied to each—would adopt the invention; and then Fulton turned his attention to the practical development of a subject which had long occupied his mind—navigation by steam.

Robert Fulton's steamer, the Clermont, on the Hudson River, New York, 1807.

    Many attempts had been made with varying degrees of success to apply the steam-engine as a propelling power for vessels.  William Henry, of Pennsylvania, had constructed a model steamboat forty years before, and other Americans, Rumsey and Fitch, had made some attempts in the same direction.  In Scotland, Symington had been more successful, attaining a speed of seven miles an hour, but the experiments led to little practical result.  In 1803, Fulton constructed a small steamboat, which he exhibited on the Seine; but he failed to obtain the assistance and encouragement he required; and three years afterwards he returned to America, where he launched a steamboat on the Hudson, with machinery supplied by the great English firm of Boulton and Watt, and achieved a great success.  The legislature granted him a patent, other vessels were constructed; and Fulton obtained a considerable amount of employment from the United States Government, in connection with canals and other engineering work.

    He lived to see steam-vessels on all the principal rivers of the States, and his own fame as an engineer and inventor firmly established.  He died in 1815, aged fifty, and an almost national demonstration of mourning showed the estimation in which he was held by his fellow-countrymen.


Some of the ablest naturalists, the most ardent lovers of animals and flowers, and the most acute observers of geological phenomena, have been poor working men who, ardently inspired by a love of the subject which has attracted them, devoted to it the time which others in their class of life give to recreation and repose, and denying themselves not only the little indulgences, but even the comforts which their earnings might procure, spent the few shillings they could save above their absolutely necessary expenses on the purchase of books, or in obtaining specimens of bird, flower, or fossil.

    A very remarkable type of this intellectual and indomitable order of men was Robert Dick, a baker, of Thurso, who lived almost unknown, but whose name became, after his death, a familiar word with men of science, and all those who can admire a genuine triumph of persevering energy.  He was born in January, 1811, at Tullibody, Scotland, a village not far from the Forth river, and amidst beautiful scenery.  His mother died soon after his birth, and his father, an exciseman, having sent the boy to school—where he made such progress, that his friends suggested he should be helped to a college career—apprenticed him, at the age of thirteen, to a baker.  He worked frequently from three in the morning till seven or eight in the evening; but even then found time to read such books as he could obtain.  When on his daily rounds, delivering bread, he noticed the plants by the wayside, and acquired a considerable amount of knowledge regarding their structure and peculiarities.  When seventeen years old he worked as a journeyman baker at Leith, and afterwards at Glasgow and Greenock, and after a few years set up in business for himself at Thurso, where his father then lived, in the extreme north of Scotland.  This was in 1830, and he remained in the same shop until his death in December, 1866.  He worked hard all day, never neglecting his business, and then started off on long rambles.  As he never married, he had no family ties, and he formed no companionships.  Nature was all in all to him.  He studied the botany and geology of the district; then entomology attracted him, and he made himself thoroughly acquainted with the natural history of Caithness.  He thought nothing of making a journey of nine or ten miles, wading through streams and climbing rocks, to obtain a specimen of some rare plant.

    One plant, which he had preserved for twenty years before making his prize known, proved to be one, the existence of which, in the British Isles, was much doubted by many eminent botanists, and, indeed, denied by some, none of them being able to obtain a specimen.  In geology he made some original discoveries, and presented many of his specimens to
Hugh Miller, the eminent geologist, from whom, and from Sir Roderick Murchison, he received high praise.

    Dick possessed also admirable literary gifts, wrote vigorously and imaginatively in prose and verse, with a fine feeling for humour, and an enthusiasm, when writing about his favourite studies, which communicates itself to the reader.

    A very choice collection, illustrative of botany, entomology, and geology, formed by him, has been presented to the town of Thurso; and a noble memorial of the baker-naturalist is found in the biography written by Dr. Samuel Smiles.

    Robert Dick was peculiarly situated for the indulgence of his tastes, and his example could not, without neglect of important social duties, be followed by all lovers of nature.  But the wonders of creation are not hidden from any, and if we cannot all make collections and study minutely, we may see enough to impress us with the beauty and order of creation.



EXAMPLES of a successful pursuit of wealth, either from the beginnings of a moderate fortune, or from absolute penury, are abundant.  A life devoted to the acquirement of money, for its own sake, cannot be made the subject of moral eulogy; it can only be introduced among the "Triumphs of Perseverance," as a proof of the efficacy of that quality of the mind to enable the wealth-winner to compass his resolves.  It by no means follows, however, that a career towards opulence is impelled by the more sordid passion for gain.  Happily, among those who have started with a moderate fortune, progressive increase in riches has often been found united with increasing purposes of the noblest philanthropy and public beneficence; while the manly aim for independence has equally distinguished many who have risen to wealth from poverty.  A brief rehearsal of the biographies of two persons, of widely different station and character, but whose names have alike become inseparably connected with the history of the first commercial city in the world, will suffice to illustrate our position.


Sir Thomas Gresham (1519—79)
by Anthonis Mor ca. 1554

    The younger son of Sir Richard, who was a knight, alderman, sheriff, and Lord Mayor of London, and a prosperous merchant, had the twofold example set him by his father, of an intelligent pursuit of trade, and of public spirit and munificence.  He was sent to Cambridge, distinguished himself in study, and might, undoubtedly, have risen to reputation in one of the learned professions; but, by his father's wish, he turned his attention to business, and was admitted a member of the Mercers' Company at the age of twenty-four.  Having, through his father's eminence as a merchant, succeeded in obtaining the trust of agent to King Edward the Sixth, for taking up money of the merchants of Antwerp, he quickly discerned the abuses under which the king's interest suffered.  He proposed methods for preventing the Flemish merchants from extorting unfair commissions and brokages, and so turned the current of advantage to the king's favour, that the young prince was enabled to pay all the debts for which his father and the Protector—Somerset—had left him responsible.  During the short reign of Edward, this active and enterprising merchant made forty journeys from England to Antwerp; and, by the application of his genius, retrieved English commerce from the disadvantage into which it had fallen by mismanagement at home, and the superior shrewdness of the Netherland merchants.  The precious metals had become scarce in our country, but Gresham brought them back again; our commodities were low in price, and foreign ones high, but he reversed their conditions of sale: while the king's credit, from being very low abroad, was, by Gresham's shill, raised so high, that he could have borrowed what sums he pleased.  For such services the young and acute negotiator had a pension of £100 a year appointed him for life, and estates to the value of £300 a year were also conferred upon him by the king.

    At the accession of Mary, Gresham was discharged from his agency; but, on his drawing up a memorial, and its allegements being proved, he was re-instated.  Queen Elizabeth immediately re-engaged him, at her accession, and employed him to provide and buy up arms for the national defence.  She knighted him a year afterwards, and he then built himself the mansion known by his name in Bishopsgate Street; and, till lately, occupied by the "Gresham professors."

    His noblest public work was performed soon after.  His father had striven to move King Henry the Eighth to build an Exchange for the city merchants, who then met in the open air in Lombard Street, but could not.  Sir Thomas Gresham now publicly proposed, if the citizens would purchase a piece of ground large enough, and in the proper place, to build an Exchange at his own expense, with covered walks, and all necessary conveniences for the assemblage of merchants.  This was done; the site was cleared; Gresham himself laid the foundation-stone; and Queen Elizabeth, when the building was complete, "attended by nobility, came from Somerset House, and caused it, by trumpet and herald, to be proclaimed the 'Royal Exchange."'  This building, as our young readers know, was burnt down some years ago, and the present stately fabric, opened by Queen Victoria, has been erected on its site.

The third and present Royal Exchange opened by Queen Victoria in 1844.

   About the time that the building of the Royal Exchange was commenced, Gresham was again employed to take up moneys for the royal use at Antwerp.  Experience had so fully shown him the evil of pursuing this system, that he at length persuaded the queen to discontinue it, and to borrow of her own merchants in the city of London.  Yet his views were so much in advance of the contracted commercial spirit of that age, that the London citizens, in their common hall, blind to their own interests, negatived his proposition when it was first made to them.  But, on more mature consideration, several merchants and aldermen raised £16,000, and lent it to the queen for six months, at six per cent. interest; and the loan was prolonged for six months more, at the same interest, with brokage.  This illustrious London citizen, by his superior intelligence, thus opened the way for increasing others' as well as his own gains.

    Sir Thomas Gresham's successful negotiations issued in so large an increase of his own wealth, that he purchased large estates in several counties, and bought Osterley Park, near Brentford, where he built a large mansion, in which he was accustomed to receive the visits of Elizabeth.  Even here the ideas of the merchant were predominant.  "The house," says a writer of the period, "standeth in a parke, well wooded and garnished with many faire ponds, which affoorded not onely fish and fowle, as swannes and other water fowle, but also great use for milles, as paper milles, oyle milles, and corn milles."  On his retirement to Osterley, he transformed his residence in Bishopsgate Street into a "college," for the abode of seven bachelor professors, who were to read lectures there on "divinity, law, physic, astronomy, geometry, music, and rhetoric," and to have £50 each per year.

    He was the richest commoner in England—such were what is usually termed "the substantial" rewards of his perseverance; while his name deserves lasting honour as the patron of learning, and the exemplar of merchant-beneficence.  He left, by will, not only ample funds for continuing his "professorships," but endowments for almshouses, and yearly sums for ten of the city prisons and hospitals.


The son of a journeyman shoemaker and of a weaver's daughter, passed his early years amidst circumstances which must have enduringly impressed him with the miseries of vice and poverty.  His father was a selfish and habitual drunkard, and his mother frequently worked nineteen or twenty hours out of the four-and-twenty to support her family.  He was the eldest child of a numerous family, and was put two or three years to a dame's school; but was less intent on learning than on "getting on in the world," even while a boy.  He heard a pieman cry his wares, and soon proposed to a baker to sell pies for him; and so successful did young Lackington prove as a pie-vender, that he heard the baker declare, a twelvemonth after, that he had been the means of extricating him from embarrassment.  A boyish prank put an end to this engagement; and when the baker wished to renew it, Lackington's father insisted on placing him at the stall.  Again, however, his pedler inclinations, which in after life led him to affluence, rescued him from the disagreeable treatment he expected to receive under his father's rule.  He heard a man cry almanacks in the street, and importuned his father till he obtained leave to start on the same itinerant enterprise.  In this he succeeded so well that he deeply aggrieved the other venders, who, as he tells us in his very whimsical but interesting biography, would have "done him a mischief had he not possessed a light pair of heels."  Resolute on not continuing at home, he persuaded his father, at length, to bind him apprentice with a shoemaker in a neighbouring town, and at fourteen years of age sat down to learn his trade.

    We will not follow this singular specimen of human nature, spoilt by want of education and by evil example, through all the vagaries of his youth.  Taking him up at four-and-twenty, after he had experienced considerable changes in religious feeling, and gathered some smatterings of knowledge from reading, we find him marrying, and beginning the world the next morning with one halfpenny.  Yet he and his wife set cheerfully to work, he tells us; and by great industry and self-denial, they not only earned a living, but paid off a debt of forty shillings, which was somewhat summarily claimed by a friend of whom he had borrowed that sum.  Trials very soon fell to his lot which tended to make him deeply thoughtful.  His wife was ill for six months; and, at the end of that period, he was compelled to remove her from Bristol to Taunton, for her health's sake.  During two years and a half the poor woman was removed five times to and from Taunton without permanent recovery; and Lackington, despairing of an amendment of his circumstances under such discouragements, resolved to leave his native district.  He therefore gave his wife all the money he had, except what he thought would suffice to bring him to London; and, mounting a stage-coach, reached town with but half-a-crown in his pocket.  He got work the next morning, saved enough in a month to bring up his wife, and she had tolerable health, and obtained "binding work" from his employer.

    Lackington was now fairly entered on the path to prosperity.  His partner was a pattern of self-denial and economy; they began to save money, bought clothes, and then household furniture, left lodgings, and had a house of their own.  A friend, not long after, proposed that Lackington should take a little shop and parlour, which were "to let" in Featherstone-street, City-road, and commence master shoemaker.  Lackington agreed, but also formed the resolution to sell old books.  With his own scanty collection, a bagful of old volumes he purchased for a guinea, and his scraps of leather, altogether worth about £5, he accordingly commenced master tradesman.  He soon sold off, and increased his stock of books; and next borrowed £5. of John Wesley's people—"a sum of money kept on purpose to lend out for three months, without interest, to such of their society whose characters were good, and who wanted temporary relief."  Much to his shame he traduces the character of the philanthropic Wesley and of his brother religionists, in his "Confessions," even while acknowledging that this benevolent loan was "of great service" to him.  He afterwards endeavoured to make the amende honorable, but the mode in which it was made was as unadmirable as his ungrateful offence.  But, to return to his narrative.

    "In our new situation," says he, "we lived in a very frugal manner, often dining on potatoes, and quenching our thirst with water, being determined, if possible, to make some provision for such dismal times as sickness and shortness of work, which had often been our lot, and might be again."  In six months he became worth five-and-twenty pounds in old book stock, removed into Chiswell-street, to a more commodious shop, though the street, he says, was then (in 1775) a dull street, gave up shoemaking, "turned his leather into books," and soon began to have a great sale.  Another series of reverses, during which his wife died, his shop was closed, while he himself was prostrate with fever, and was robbed by nurses, only served to sharpen his intents and strengthen his perseverance, when he recovered.  His second marriage, with an intelligent woman, he found of immense advantage, since his new partner was a very efficient helpmate in the book-shop.  Next, his friend Dennis became partaker in his business, and advanced a small capital, by which they "doubled stock," and printed their first catalogue of 12,000 volumes.  They took £20 the first week, and Dennis then advanced £200 more towards the trade; but, after two years, Lackington was left once more to himself, his friend being weary of the business.  A resolution not to give credit gave him great difficulty, he says, for at least seven years, but he carried his plan at last, principally by selling at very small profits.  His business premises were successively enlarged, and his sales likewise, until his trade and himself became wonders.  At the age of fifty-two he went out of business, leaving his cousin head of the firm.  He sold 100,000 volumes annually, during the latter years of his personal attention to trade, kept his carriage, purchased two estates, and built himself a genteel house.  He once more became a professor of religion, on retiring from business, and built several chapels.  He was, in the close of life, benevolent in visiting the sick and indigent, and in relieving the distressed.

"The Temple of the Muses"
The bookshop opened by James Lackington
(1746–1815), at No. 32, Finsbury Place South

    "As the first king of Bohemia kept his country shoes by him to remind him from whence he was taken," says the bookseller, in his "Confessions," "so I have put a motto on the doors of my carriage, constantly to remind me to what I am indebted for my prosperity, viz., 'Small profits do great things;' and reflecting on the means by which I have been enabled to support a carriage, adds not a little to the pleasure of riding in it."  Alluding to the stories that were rife respecting his success, attributing it to his purchasing a "fortunate lottery-ticket," or "finding bank-notes in an old book," he says, very emphatically, "I found the whole that I am possessed of, in—small profits, bound by industry, and clasped by economy."

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