Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 146,008 pages of information and 231,555 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

James Nasmyth by James Nasmyth: Chapter 21

From Graces Guide

Revision as of 17:24, 12 June 2020 by PaulF (talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
Sun spots as seen by James Nasmyth, 5th June 1864.
From a photograph of the moon, exhibiting the bright radial lines.
Glass globe cracked by internal pressure, in illustration of the cause of the bright radial lines seen on the moon.
The Dial of Life.

CHAPTER XXI. ACTIVE LEISURE.

When James Watt retired from business towards the close of his useful and admirable life, he spoke to his friends of occupying himself with "ingenious trifles," and of turning "some of his idle thoughts" upon the invention of an arithmetical machine and a machine for copying sculpture. These and other useful works occupied his attention for many years.

It was the same with myself. I had good health (which Watt had not) and abundant energy. When I retired from business I was only forty-eight years old, which may be considered the prime of life. But I had plenty of hobbies, perhaps the chief of which was Astronomy. No sooner had I settled at Hammerfield than I had my telescopes brought out and mounted. The fine clear skies with which we were favoured, furnished me with abundant opportunities for the use of my instruments. I began again my investigations on the Sun and the Moon, and made some original discoveries, of which more anon.

Early in the year 1858 I received a pressing invitation from the Council of the Edinburgh Philosophical Society to give a lecture before their members on the Structure of the Lunar Surface. As the subject was a favourite one with me, and as I had continued my investigations and increased my store of drawings since I had last appeared before an Edinburgh audience, I cheerfully complied with their request. I accordingly gave my lecture before a crowded meeting in the Queen Street Lecture Hall.

The audience appeared to be so earnestly interested by the subject that I offered to appear before them on two successive evenings and give any viva voce explanations about the drawings which those present might desire. This deviation from the formality of a regular lecture was attended with the happiest results. Edinburgh always supplies a highly-intelligent audience, and the cleverest and brightest were ready with their questions. I was thus enabled to elucidate the lecture and to expand many of the most interesting points connected with the moon's surface, such as might formerly have appeared obscure. These questioning lectures gave the highest satisfaction. They satisfied myself as well as the audience, who went away filled with the most graphic information I could give them on the subject.

But not the least interesting part of my visit to Edinburgh on this occasion was the renewed intercourse which I enjoyed with many of my old friends. Among these were my venerable friend Professor Pillans, Charles Maclaren (editor of the Scotsman), and Robert Chambers. We had a long "dander" [1] together through the Old Town, our talk being in broad Scotch. Pillans was one of the fine old Edinburgh Liberals, who stuck to his principles through good report and through evil. In his position as Rector of the High School, he had given rare evidence of his excellence as a classical scholar. He was afterwards promoted to be a Professor in the University. He had as his pupils some of the most excellent men of my time. Amongst his intimate friends were Sydney Smith, Brougham, Jeffrey, Cockburn — men who gave so special a character to the Edinburgh society of that time.

We had a delightful stroll through some of the most remarkable parts of the Old Town, with Robert Chambers as our guide. We next mounted Arthur's Seat to observe some of the manifestations of volcanic action, which had given such a remarkable structure to the mountain. On this subject, Charles Maclaren was one of the best living expounders. He was an admirable geologist, and had closely observed the features of volcanic action round his native city. Robert Chambers then took us to see the glacial grooved rocks on another part of the mountain. On this subject he was a master. It was a vast treat to me to see those distinct evidences of actions so remotely separated in point of geological time — in respect to which even a million of years is a humble approximate unit. [2]

What a fine subject for a picture the group would have made I with the great volcanic summit of the mountain behind, the noble romantic city in the near distance, and the animated intelligent countenances of the demonstrators, with the venerable Pillans eagerly listening — for the Professor was then in his eighty-eighth year. I had the happiness of receiving a visit from him at Hammerfield in the following year. He was still hale and active and although I was comparatively a boy to him, he was as bright and clear-headed as he had been forty years before.

In the course of the same year I accompanied my wife and my sister Charlotte on a visit to the Continent. It was their first sojourn in foreign parts. I was able, in some respects, to act as their guide. Our visit to Paris was most agreeable. During the three weeks we were there, we visited the Louvre, the Luxembourg, Versailles, and the parts round about. We made many visits to the Hotel Cluny, and inspected its most interesting contents, as well as the Roman baths and that part of the building devoted to Roman antiquities. We were especially delighted with the apartments of the Archbishop of Paris, now hung with fine old tapestry and provided with authentic specimens of medieval furniture. The quaint old cabinets were beautiful studies and many artists were at work painting them in oil. Everything was in harmony. When the sun shone in through the windows in long beams of coloured light, illuminating portions of the antique furniture, the pictures were perfect. We were much interested also by the chapel in which Mary Queen of Scots was married to the Dauphin. It is still in complete preservation. The Gothic details of the chapel are quite a study; and the whole of these and the contents of this interesting Museum form a school of art of the best kind.

From Paris we paid a visit to Chartres, one of the most magnificent cathedrals in France. Its dimensions are vast, its proportions are elegant, and its painted glass is unequalled. Nothing can be more beautiful than its three rose-windows. But I am not writing a guide-book, and I must forbear. After a few days more at Paris we proceeded south, and visited Lyons, Avignon, and Nismes, on our way to Marseilles. I have already described Nismes in my previous visit to France. I revisited the Roman amphitheatre, the Maison Quarre, that perfect Roman temple, which, standing as it does in an open square, is seen to full advantage. We also went to see the magnificent Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. The sight of the noble structure well repays a visit. It consists of three tiers of arches. Its magnitude, the skilful fitting of its enormous blocks, makes a powerful impression on the mind. It has stood there, in that solitary wooded valley, for upwards of sixteen centuries; and it is still as well fitted for conveying its aqueduct of water as ever. I have seen nothing to compare with it, even at Rome. It throws all our architectural buildings into the shade. On our way back from Marseilles to Paris we visited Grenoble and its surrounding beautiful Alpine scenery. Then to Chambery, and afterwards to Chamounix, where we obtained a splendid view of Mont Blanc. We returned home by way of Geneva and Paris, vastly delighted with our most enjoyable journey.

I return to another of my hobbies. I had an earnest desire to acquire the art and mystery of practical photography. I bought the necessary apparatus, together with the chemicals; and before long I became an expert in the use of the positive and negative collodion process, including the printing from negatives, in all the details of that wonderful and delightful art. To any one who has some artistic taste, photography, both in its interesting processes and glorious results, becomes a most attractive and almost engrossing pursuit. It is a delightful means of educating the eye for artistic feeling, as well as of educating the hands in delicate manipulation. I know of nothing equal to photography as a means of advancing one's knowledge in these respects. I had long meditated a work "On the Moon," and it was for this purpose more especially that I was earnest in endeavouring to acquire the necessary practical skill. I was soon enabled to obtain photographic copies of the elaborate models of parts of the moon's surface, which I had long before prepared. These copies were hailed by the highest authorities in this special department of astronomical research as the best examples of the moon's surface which had yet been produced.

In reference to this subject, as well as to my researches into the structure of the sun's surface, I had the inestimable happiness of securing the friendship of that noble philosopher, Sir John Herschel. His visits to me, and my visits to him, have left in my memory the most cherished and happy recollections. Of all the scientific men I have had the happiness of meeting, Sir John stands supremely at the head of the list. He combined profound knowledge with perfect humility. He was simple, earnest, and companionable. He was entirely free from assumptions of superiority, and, still learning, would listen attentively to the humblest student. He was ready to counsel and instruct, as well as to receive information. He would sit down in my workshop, and see me go through the various technical processes of casting, grinding, and polishing specula for reflecting telescopes. That was a pleasure to him, and a vast treat to me.

I had been busily occupied for some time in making careful investigations into the dark spots upon the Sun's surface. These spots are of extraordinary dimensions, sometimes more than 100,000 miles in diameter. Our world might be dropped into them. I observed that the spots were sometimes bridged over by a streak of light, formed of willow-leaf shaped objects. They were apparently possessed of voluntary motion, and moved from one side to the other. These flakes were evidently the immediate sources of the solar light and heat. I wrote a paper on the subject, which I sent to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester. [3] The results of my observations were of so novel a character that astronomers for some time hesitated to accept them as facts. Yet Sir John Herschel, the chief of astronomers, declared them to be "a most wonderful discovery."

I received a letter from Sir John, dated Collingwood, 21st of May, 1861, in which he said:

"I am very much obliged to you for your note, and by the sight of your drawings, which Mr. Maclaren was so kind as to bring over here the other day. I suppose there can be no doubt as to the reality of the willow-leaved flakes, and in that case they certainly are the most marvellous phenomena that have yet turned up — I had almost said in all Nature — certainly in all Astronomy.

"What can they be? Are they huge phosphorised fishes? If so, what monsters! Or are they crystals? a kind of igneous snow-flakes? floating in a fluid of their own, or very nearly their own, specific gravity? Some kind of solidity or coherence they must have, or they would not retain their shape in the violent movements of the atmosphere which the change of the spots indicate.

"I observe that in the bridges all their axes have an approximate parallelism, and that in the penumbra they are dispersed, radiating from the inside and the outside of the spot, giving rise to that striated appearance which is familiar to all observers of the spots.

"I am very glad that you have pitched your tent in this part of the world, and I only wish it were a little nearer. You will anyhow have the advantage at Penshurst of a much clearer atmosphere than in the north but here, nearer the coast, I think we are still better off.

"Mr. Maclaren holds out the prospect of our meeting you at Pachley at no distant period, and I hope you will find your way ere long to Collingwood. I have no instruments or astronomical apparatus to show you, but a remarkably pretty country, which is beginning to put on (rather late) its gala dress of spring."

Sir John afterwards requested my permission to insert in his Outlines of Astronomy, of which a new edition was about to appear, a representation of "the willow-leaved structure of the Sun's surface," — which had been published in the Manchester transactions, — to which I gladly gave my assent. Sir John thus expresses himself on the subject: "The curious appearance of the 'pores' of the Sun's surface has lately received a most singular and unexpected interpretation from the remarkable discovery of Mr. J. Nasmyth, who, from a series of observations made with a reflecting telescope of his own construction under very high magnifying powers, and under exceptional circumstances of tranquillity and definition, has come to the conclusion that these pores are the polygonal interstices between certain luminous objects of an exceedingly definite shape and general uniformity of size, whose form (at least as seen in projection in the central portions of the disc) is that of the oblong leaves of a willow tree. These cover the whole disc of the Sun (except in the space occupied by spots) in countless millions, and he crossing each other in every imaginable direction. . . . This most astonishing revelation has been confirmed to a certain considerable extent, and with some modifications as to the form of the objects, their exact uniformity of size and resemblance of figure, by Messrs. De la Rue, Pritchard, and Stone in England, and M. Secchi in Rome."

On the 2 5th of February 1864, I received a communication from Mr. W. J. Stone, first assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

"The Astronomer-Royal," he says, "has placed in my hands your letter of February 20. Your discovery of the 'willow leaves' on the Solar photosphere having been brought forward at one of the late meetings of the Royal Astronomical Society, my attention was attracted to the subject. At my request, the Astronomer-Royal ordered of Mr. J. Simms a reflecting eye-piece for our great equatorial. The eye-piece was completed about the end of January last, and at the first good opportunity I turned the telescope on the Sun.

"I may state that my impression was, and it appears to have been the impression of several of the assistants here, that the willow leaves stand out dark, against the luminous photosphere. On looking at the Sun, I was at once struck with the apparent resolvability of its mottled appearance. The whole disc of the Sun, so far as I examined it, appeared to be covered over with relatively bright rice-like particles, and the mottled appearance seemed to be produced by the interlacing of these particles.

"I could not observe any particular arrangement of the particles, but they appeared to be more numerous in some parts than in others. I have used the word 'rice-like' merely to convey a rough impression of their form. I have seen them on two occasions since, but not so well as on the first day, when the definition was exceedingly good.

"On the first day that I saw them I called Mr. Dunkin's attention to them. He appears to have seen them. He says, however, that he should not have noticed them if his attention had not been called to them."

The Astronomer-Royal, in his report to the Admiralty on my discovery, said:

"An examination of the Sun's surface with the South-East Equatorial, under favourable circumstances, has convinced me of the accuracy of the description, which compares it with interlacing willow leaves or rice grains."

In March 1864 I received a letter from my friend De la Rue, dated from his observatory at Cranford, Middlesex, in which he said: "I like good honest doubting. Before I had seen with my own eyes your willow leaves, I doubted their real existence, but I did not doubt your having seen what you had drawn. But when I actually saw them for the first time, I could not restrain the exclamation, 'Why, here are Nasmyth's willow leaves!' It requires a very fine: state of the atmosphere to permit of their being seen, as I have seen them on three or four occasions, when their substantial reality can no longer be doubted." [4]

Sir John Herschel confirmed this information in a letter which I received from him in the following May. He said "that Mr. De la Rue and a foreign gentleman, Hugo Muller, had been very successful in seeing and delineating the 'willow leaves.' They are represented by Mr. M. as packed together on the edge of a spot, and appear rather like a bunch of bristles or thorns. In other respects the individual forms agree very well with your delineations." Another observer had discovered a marvellous resemblance between the solar spots and the hollows left by the breaking and subsidence of bubbles, which rise when oil-varnish, which has moisture in it, is boiled, and the streaky channels are left by the retiring liquid. "I cannot help," adds Sir John, "fancying a bare possibility of some upward outbreak, followed by a retreat of some gaseous matter, or some dilated portion of the general atmosphere struggling upwards, and at the same time expanding outwards. I can conceive of an up-surge of some highly-compressed matter, which, relieved of pressure, will dilate laterally and upwards to an enormous extent (as Poullett Scrope supposes of his lavas full of compressed gases and steam), producing the spots, and, in that case, the furrows might equally well arise in the origination as in the closing in of a spot."

I had the honour and happiness of receiving a visit from Sir John Herschel at my house at Hammerfield in the summer of 18 6 4. He was accompanied by his daughter. They spent several days with us. The weather was most enjoyable. I had much conversation with Sir John as to the Sun spots and willow leaf shaped objects on the Sun's surface, as well as about my drawings of the Moon. I exhibited to him my apparatus for obtaining sound castings of specula for reflecting telescopes. I compounded the alloy, melted it, and cast a 10-inch speculum on my peculiar common-sense system. I introduced the molten alloy, chilled it in a metal mould, by which every chance of flaws and imperfections is obviated. I also showed him the action and results of my machine, by which I obtained the most exquisite polish and figure for the speculum. Sir John was in the highest degree cognisant of the importance of these details, as contributing to the final excellent result. It was therefore with great pleasure that I could exhibit these practical details before so competent a judge.

We had a great set-to one day in blowing iridescent soap bubbles from a mixture of soap and glycerine. Some of the bubbles were of about fifteen inches diameter. By carefully covering them with a bell glass, we kept them for about thirty-six hours, while they went through their changes of brilliant colour, ending in deep blue. I contrived this method of preserving them by placing a dish of water below, within the covering bell glass, by means of which the dampness of the air prevented evaporation of the bubble. This dodge of mine vastly delighted Sir John, as it allowed him to watch the exquisite series of iridescent tints at his tranquil leisure.

I had also the pleasure of showing him my experiment of cracking a glass globe filled with water and hermetically sealed. The water was then slightly expanded, on which the glass cracked. This was my method of explaining the nature of the action which, at some previous period of the cosmical history of the Moon, had produced those bright radiating lines that diverge from the lunar volcanic craters. Sir John expressed his delight at witnessing my practical illustration of this hitherto unexplained subject, and he considered it quite conclusive. I also produced my enlarged drawings of the Moon's surface, which I had made at the side of my telescope. These greatly pleased him, and he earnestly urged me to publish them, accompanied with a descriptive account of the conclusions I had arrived at. I then determined to proceed with the preparations which I had already made for my long contemplated work.

Among the many things that I showed Sir John while at Hammerfield, was a piece of white calico on which I had got printed one million spots. This was for the purpose of exhibiting one million in visible form. In astronomical subjects a million is a sort of unit, and it occurred to me to show what a million really is. Sir John was delighted and astonished at the sight. He went carefully over the outstretched piece with his rule, measured its length and breadth, and verified its correctness. [5] I also exhibited to him a diagram, which I had distributed amongst the geologists at the meeting of the British Association at Ipswich in 1851, showing a portion of the earth's curve, to the scale of one-tenth of an inch to a mile. I set out the height of Mont Blanc, Etna, and also the depth of the deepest mine, as showing the almost incredible minimum of knowledge we possess about even the merest surface of the globe. This diagram was hailed by many as of much value, as conveying a correct idea of the relative magnitude of geological phenomena in comparison with that of the earth itself.

On this subject Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General of Australia wrote to me at the time: "I will not obtrude upon you any crude notions of my own, but merely say that you could not have sent the 'Geological Standard Scale' to one who better deserved it, if the claim in such favour is, as I suppose, to be estimated by the amount of the time of one whole life, applied to the survey of great mountain ranges, and coasts, rivers, etc. By this long practice of mine, you may know how appreciable this satisfactory standard scale is to your humble servant."

In the winter of 1865 I visited Italy. While at Rome, in April, I had the pleasure of meeting Otto W. von Struve, the celebrated Russian astronomer. He invited me to accompany him on a visit to Father Secchi at his fine observatory of the Collegio Romano. I accepted the invitation with pleasure. We duly reached the Observatory, when Struve introduced me to the Father. Secchi gave me a most cordial and unlooked for welcome. "This," he said, "is a most extraordinary interview as I am at this moment making a representation of your willow-leaf shaped constituents of the Solar surface!" He then pointed to a large black board, which he had daubed over with glue, and was sprinkling over (when we came in) with rice grains. "That," said he, "is what I feel to be a most excellent representation of your discovery as I see it, verified by the aid of my telescope." It appeared to Father Secchi so singular a circumstance that I should come upon him in this sudden manner, while he was for the first time engaged in representing what I had (on the spur of the moment when first seeing them) described as willow-leaf shaped objects. I thought that his representation of them, by scattering rice grains over his glue-covered black board, was apt and admirable and so did Otto Struve. This chance meeting with these two admirable astronomers was one of the little bits of romance in my life.

I returned to England shortly after. Among our visitors at Hammerfield was Lord Lyndhurst. He was in his ninetieth year when he paid a visit to Tunbridge Wells. Charles Greville, Secretary to the Privy Council, wrote to me, saying that his Lordship complained much of the want of society, and asked me to call upon him. I did so, and found him cheerful and happy. I afterwards sent him a present of some of my drawings. He answered: "A thousand thanks for the charming etchings. I am especially interested in Robinson Crusoe. He looks very comfortable, but I can't see his bed, which troubles me. The election ('Everybody for ever') is wonderful. I should not like to be there. I hope we shall go to you again one of these days, and have another peep into that wonderful telescope."

To return to Sir John Herschel. We returned his visit at his house at Collingwood, near Hawkhurst. I found him in the garden, down upon his knees, collecting crocus bulbs for next year's planting. Like myself, he loved gardening, and was never tired of it. I mention this as an instance of his simple zeal in entering practically into all that interested him. At home he was the happy father and lover of his family. One of his favourite pastimes, when surrounded by his children in the evening, was telling them stories. He was most happy and entertaining in this tranquil occupation. His masterly intellect could grasp the world and all its visible contents, and yet descend to entertain his children with extemporised tales. He possessed information of the most varied kind, which he communicated with perfect simplicity and artlessness. His profound astronomical knowledge was combined with a rich store of mechanical and manipulative faculty, which enabled him to take a keen interest in all the technical arts which so materially aid in the progress of science. I shall never forget the happy days that he spent with me in my workshop. His visits have left in my mind the most cherished recollections. Our friendly intercourse continued unbroken to the day of his death.

The following is the last letter I received from him:—

"COLLINGWOOD, March 10, 1871.

"MY DEAR SIR - A great many thanks for the opportunity of seeing your most exquisite photographs from models of lunar mountains. I hope you will publish them. They will create quite an electric sensation. Would not one or two specimens of the apparently non-volcanic mountain ranges, bordering on the great plains, add to the interest? Excuse my writing more, as I pen this lying on my back in bed, to which a fierce attack of bronchitis condemns me. With best regards to Mrs. Nasmyth, believe me yours very truly,

"J. F. W. HERSCHEL."

Scientific knowledge seems to travel slowly. It was not until the year 1875, more than fourteen years after my discovery of the willow-leaved bridges over the Sun's spots that I understood they had been accepted in America. I learned this from my dear friend William Lassell. His letter was as follows:— "I see the Americans are appreciating your solar observations. A communication I have lately received from the Alleghany Observatory remarks 'that he (Mr. Nasmyth) appears to have been the first to distinctly call attention to the singular individuality of the minute components of the photosphere and this seems in fairness to entitle him to the credit of an important discovery, with which his name should remain associated.'"

I proceeded to do that which Sir John Herschel had so earnestly recommended, that is, to write out my observations on the Moon. It was a very serious matter, for I had never written a hook before. It occupied me many years though I had the kind assistance of my friend James Carpenter, then of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. The volcanoes and craters, and general landscape scenery of the Moon, had to be photographed and engraved, and this caused great labour.

At length the book entitled ‘The Moon, considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite’, appeared in November 1874. It was received with much favour and passed into a second edition. A courteous and kind review of the book appeared in the ‘Edinburgh’; and the notices in other periodicals were equally favourable. I dedicated the volume to the Duke of Argyll, because I had been so long associated with him in geological affairs, and also because of the deep friendship which I entertained for his Grace. I presented the volume to him as well as to many other of my astronomical friends. I might quote their answers at great length, from the Astronomer-Royal downwards. But I will quote two — one from a Royal Academician and another from a Cardinal. The first was from Philip H. Calderon. He said:

"Let me thank you many times for your kind letter, and for your glorious book. It arrived at twelve today, and there has been no painting since. Once having taken it up, attracted by the illustrations, I could not put it down again. I forgot everything; and, indeed, I have been up in the Moon. As soon as these few words of thanks are given, I am going up into the Moon again. What a comfort it is to read a scientific work which is quite clear, and what a gift it is to write thus!

"The photographs took my breath away. I could not understand how you did them, and your explanation of how you built the models from your drawings only changed the wonder into admiration. Only an artist could have said what you say about the education of the eye and of the hand. You may well understand how it went home to me. Ever gratefully yours, PHILIP H. CALDERON."

I now proceed to the Cardinal. I was present at one of the receptions of the President of the Royal Society at Burlington House, when I was introduced to Cardinal Manning as "The Steam Hammer!" After a cordial reception he suddenly said, "But are you not also the Man in the Moon?" "Yes, your Eminence I have written a book about the Moon, and I shall be glad if you will accept a copy of it?" "By all means," he said, "and I thank you for the offer very much." I accordingly sent the copy, and received the following answer:-

"MY DEAR MR. NASMYTH - When I asked you to send me your book on the Moon, I had no idea of its bulk and value, and I feel ashamed of my importunity, yet more than half delighted at my sturdy begging.

"I thank you for it very sincerely. My life is one of endless work, leaving me few moments for reading. But such books as yours refresh me like a clover field.

"I hope I may have an opportunity of renewing our conversation. Believe me always truly yours, HENRY CARDINAL MANNING."

I may also mention that I received a charming letter from Miss Herschel, the daughter of the late Astronomer.

"Is it possible," she said, "that this beautiful book is destined by you as a gift to my most unworthy self? I do not know, indeed, how sufficiently to thank you, or even to express my delight in being possessed of so exquisite and valuable a work, made so valuable, too, by the most kind inscription on the first page! I fear I shall be very very far from understanding the theories developed in the book, though we have been endeavouring to gather some faint notion of them from the reviews we have seen but it will be of the greatest interest for us to try and follow them under your guidance, and with the help of these perfectly enchanting photographs, which, I think, one could never be tired of looking at.

"How well I remember the original photographs, and the oil painting which you sent for dear papa's inspection, and which he did so enjoy! and also the experiment with the glass globe, in which he was so interested, at your own house. We cannot but think how he would have appreciated your researches, and what pleasure this lovely book would have given him. Indeed, I shall treasure it especially as a remembrance of that visit, which is so completely connected in my thoughts with him, as well as with your cordial kindness, as a precious souvenir, of which let me once more offer you my heartfelt thanks. I remain, my dear sir, yours very truly and gratefully,

"ISABELLA HERSCHEL."

I cannot refrain from adding the communication I received from my dear old friend William Lassell.

"I do not know," he said, "how sufficiently to thank you for your most kind letter, and the superb present which almost immediately followed it. My pleasure was greatly enhanced by the consideration of how far this splendid work must add to your fame and gratify the scientific world. The illustrations are magnificent, and I am persuaded that no book has ever been published before which gives so faithful, accurate, and comprehensive a picture of the surface of the Moon. The work must have cost you much time, thought, and labour, and I doubt not you will now receive a gratifying, if not an adequate reward."

After reading the book Mr. Lassell again wrote to me. "I am indebted to your beautiful book," he said, "for a deeper interest in the Moon than I ever felt before. . . . I see many of your pictures have been taken when the Moon was waning, which tells me of many a shivering exposure you must have had in the early mornings. . . . I was sorry to find from your letter that you had a severe cold, which made you very unwell. I hope you have ere this perfectly recovered. I suppose maladies of this kind must be expected to take rather severe hold of us now, as we are both past the meridian of life. I am, however, very thankful for the measure of health I enjoy, and the pleasure mechanical pursuits give me. I fully sympathise with you in the contempt (shall I say?} which you feel for the taste of so many people who find their chief pleasure in 'killing something,' and how often their pleasures are fatal! Two distinguished men killed only the other day in hunting. For my part I would rather take to the bicycle and do my seventeen miles within the hour."

He proceeds: "I have no doubt your windmill is very nicely contrived, and has afforded you much pleasure in constructing it. The only drawback to it is, that in this variable climate it is apt to strike work, and in the midst of a job of polishing I fear no increase of wages would induce it to complete its task! If water were plentiful, you might make it pump up a quantity when the wind served, to be used as a motive power when you chose." This reference alludes to a windmill which I erected on the top of my workshop, to drive the apparatus below. It was the mirror of a reflecting telescope which was in progress. The windmill went on night and day, and polished the speculum while I slept. In the small hours of the morning I keeked through the corner of the window blinds and saw it hard at work. I prefer, however, a small steam-engine, which works much more regularly.

It is time to come to an end of my Recollections. I have endeavoured to give a brief résumé of my life and labours. I hope they may prove interesting as well as useful to others. Thanks to a good constitution and a frame invigorated by work, I continue to lead, with my dear wife, a happy life. I still take a deep interest in mechanics, in astronomy, and in art. It is a pleasure to me to run up to London and enjoy the collections at the National Gallery, South Kensington, and the Royal Academy. The Crystal Palace continues to attract a share of my attention, though, since the fire, it has been greatly altered. I miss, too, many of the dear accustomed faces of the old friends we used to meet there. Still we visit it, and leave to memory the filling up of what is gone. All things change, and we with them.

The following Dial of Life gives a brief summary of my career. It shows the brevity of life, and indicates the tale that is soon told. The first part of the semi-circle includes the passage from infancy to boyhood and manhood. While that period lasts, time seems to pass very slowly. We long to be men, and doing men's work. What I have called The Tableland of Life is then reached. Ordinary observation shows that between thirty and fifty the full strength of body and mind is reached and at that period we energise our faculties to the utmost.

Those who are blessed with good health and a sound constitution may prolong the period of energy to sixty or even seventy but Nature's laws must be obeyed, and the period of decline begins, and usually goes on rapidly. Then comes Old Age; and as we descend the semi-circle towards eighty, we find that the remnant of life becomes vague and cloudy. By shading off, as I have done, the portion of the area of the diagram according to the individual age, every one may see how much of life is consumed, and what is left — D. V.

Here is my brief record:—

Age Year  
- 1808 Born 19th August
9 1817 Went to High School, Edinburgh
13 1821 Attended the School of Arts
21 1829 Went to London, to Maudsley’s
23 1831 Returned to Edinburgh, to make my Engineer’s tools
26 1834 Went to Manchester to begin business
28 1836 Removed to Patricroft, and built the Bridgewater Foundry
31 1839 Invented the Steam Hammer
32 1840 Marriage
34 1842 First visit to France and Italy
35 1843 Visit to St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Dannemora
37 1845 Application of the Steam Hammer Power Driver
48 1856 Retired from business, to enjoy the rest of my life in the active pursuit of all my favourite occupations

I have not in this list referred to my investigations in connection with astronomy. All this will be found referred to in the text. It only remains for me to say that I append a resume of my inventions, contrivances, and workshop "dodges," to give the reader a summary idea of the Active Life of a working mechanic. And with this I end my tale.


See Also

Foot Notes

  1. Dander - to saunter, to roam, to go from place to place.
  2. It is to our ever-dropping climate, with its hundred and fifty-two days of annual rain, that we owe our vegetable mould with its rich and beauteous mantle of sward and foliage. And next, stripping from off the landscape its sands and gravels, we see its underlying boulder-clays, dingy and gray, and here presenting their vast ice-borne stones, and there its iceberg pavements. And these clays in turn stripped away, the bare rocks appear, various in colour and uneven in surface, but everywhere grooved and polished, from the sea level and beneath it, to the height of more than a thousand feet, by evidently the same agent that careered along the pavements and transported the great stones."— HUGH MILLER'S Geological Features of Edinburgh and its Neighbourhood.
  3. Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, 3d series, vol. i. p. 407. My first discovery of the "Willow-leaf" objects on the Sun's surface was made in June 1860. I afterwards obtained several glimpses of them from time to time. But the occasions are very rare when the bright sun can be seen in a tranquil atmosphere free from vibrations, and when the delicate objects on its surface can be clearly defined. It was not until the 5th of June 1864 that I obtained the finest sight of the Sun's spots and the Willow-leaf objects; it was then that I made a careful drawing of them, from which the annexed faithful engraving has been produced. Indeed I never had a better sight of this extraordinary aspect of the Sun than on that day.
  4. Let me give another letter from my friend, dated the Observatory, Cranford, Middlesex, October 26, 1864. He said:— "I am quite pleased to learn that you like the large photograph. The first given to any friend was destined for and sent to you. No one has so great a claim on the fruit of my labours for you inoculated me with the love of star-gazing, and gave me invaluable aid and advice in figuring specula. I daresay you may remember the first occasion on which I saw a reflecting telescope, which was then being tried on the sun in a pattern loft at Patricroft. You may also recall the volumes you wrote in answer to my troublesome questions. Yours very sincerely, WARREN DE LA RUE."
  5. At a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Railway Company I exhibited one million of letters, in order to show the number of passengers (thirty-seven millions) that had been conveyed during the previous twelve months. This number was so vast that my method only helped the meeting to understand what had been done in the way of conveyance. Mr. Macdonald, of the Times, supplied me with one million type impressions, contained in sixty average columns of the Times newspaper.