« AnteriorContinuar »
take the main road as far as it is found to be in his course; for there will be wilds and deserts to explore, sufficient to try all his strength, patience and fortitude, after he had used every highway made for his accommodation. Perkins deeply felt this want of early instruction; he knew there must have been many things settled which he was trying to discover, but he did not know where to find them. A man of genius without the light of knowledge, resembles Samson when his vision was extinguished, but his hair had grown, groping, in vain, for objects on which his supernatural gift might be tried. When Perkins was young, there were but few good books on natural philosophy in this country, and those, perhaps, not within his reach. Lectures were given at the several colleges, but they did not contain much information, compared with those of the present day, and these were chiefly confined to professors and students. The exact sciences were but slightly regarded at that period, by many men of learning. The taste has changed, and there is a strong desire for this kind of knowledge in almost every profession; and, in truth, philosophy has been brought to the common cares of life, with wonderful success.
The growth and progress of a great mind, depend much on the place where a man's lot is cast in early life, and the rank he holds among his fellow men. The birth place of Perkins was, in many respects, friendly to a mind like his. Retirement is the nurse of thought; he had, in that place, sufficient opportunities for deep and uninterrupted reflection. It was a busy, thriving town, with a population of six or seven thousand souls. The people, in general, were very intelligent, and some of them, especially in the professions, men of much erudition. The mass of the inhabitants were sober, honest, and religious, industriously engaged in their own pursuits; they never disturbed him by vague and unnecessary inquiries about his discoveries, but waited until he was ready to communicate them. He was in this place equally removed from the excitement and idle curiosity of a great city, and the peering inquisitiveness of a small village. Among these relations,
friends and townsmen, if he had not much to fire his ambition, he found nothing,-after his first embarrassments were removed,-to disturb the current of his thoughts, nothing to crush his hopes, or to mortify his spirits. He was known to all, connected with many, respected by most, and associated with the best; from boyhood he has maintained, and augmented the favourable impressions he had made on the public mind for talents, and his name was as familiar to every child, for superiour ingenuity, as the dial which the urchin watched to mark the moment for his school to begin. The literati of the town were among his warmest admirers and friends, and if he did not get much information from them in his own pursuits, he received many other advantages of perhaps equal value; they were the guardians of his fame; their opinions and friendship were a shield to his reputation, when assailed by the envious and carping, among those engaged in similar pursuits.
The latter years of the residence of Perkins in Newburyport and Boston, were occupied on subjects so numerous and various, that it would be impossible, for any one, but himself, to give an accurate detail of them, or hardly to make out a full catalogue of his inventions and improvements. The method he discovered of softening and hardening steel, at pleasure, increased the interest the community had taken in his check-plate for security against counterfeiting. This discovery has produced many fortunate results and opened a great field for his labours. The softness of copper-plates, which required often retouching, precluded the possibility, by these means, of producing a perpetual similarity in dies for bills, or other use, but this invention has effected the object practically, if not mathematically.
The King of Siam never expressed greater surprise and incredulity, when told by the Dutch ambassador, that in Holland water became so hard, at times, as to bear all his royal elephants, than did the philosophers of Europe and America, when Perkins first maintained the doctrine of the compressibility of water. He for a long while doubted the old philosophy, but made a series of experiments, before he dared risk his reputation on a
full avowal. His perseverance is now amply rewarded by a general belief in this phenomenon. This discovery led to the invention of his bathometer, an instrument, as its name denotes, to measure the depth of water-and his pleometer, which marks with precision the rate at which a vessel moves through the same element.
Every man, who knows Perkins, and is capable of judging of his merits, cannot but place his intellectual powers in the first class of mind, but common observers have frequently thought him dull and plodding--a man who built up his fame by slow and patient drudgery; but they do not know him. it is true he is patient and laborious, but it is also true that he possesses that divine impulse of the mind which cannot be measured, nor exactly analyzed; power, which creates, combines, and felicitously arranges all it acts upon; that faculty of the soul which leaves all things of a common cast and seems to go on as if ordained to develope the great laws of creation. There was as much of the "mens divinior" in him who first used the alembic, or invented numbers and pursued them to the higher branches of mathematics, or taught the extent, and the charms of algebraic calculation, as in those who have produced the sublimest efforts of taste, in poetry, sculpture, and painting. The etherial spirit which lighted up the soul of Archimedes was as intense, as pure and hallowed, and came as directly from the great fountain of light and intelligence, as that which warmed the breast of Homer. The poets, painters, sculptors, and orators are not the only sons of God by the daughters of men: the philosophers and inventors-that have made
-fire, flood and earth,
The vassals of their will,"
for the benefit of mankind, have an equal birth claim in the heraldry of nature.
Simplicity is the striking charactertstic of the habits and manners of Perkins; and his methods of reasoning are all of the same cast; he begins upon a subject, whatever it may be, with calmness and serenity, and though constantly on the rack of invention," he seems in a reverie, on a bed of flowers. Invincibly persever
ing until he is certain that he can accomplish what he has undertaken, he often leaves the design to be carried into execution by some one to whom he accidentally imparts the information, and, probably, the first he knows of the advantage of his invention is through the medium of the altered condition, and perhaps consequential airs of the creature who had grown up by catching the offals of his genius. Smaller animals often feed on the prey the lion has hunted down.
To his brother artists, Perkins always showed the most delicate attention; and, notwithstanding he was teazed by them, to examine, and recommend their inventions, as often, and as pertinaciously as the bard of Twickenham, by his rhyming brothers, yet he never lost his patience, or ordered the door to be shut, the knocker tied up, nor charged his workmen to say that he was sick or dead; he felt no jealousy of them, and would do much at any time to oblige them, if they were tolerably clever in their business. He was modest and quiet, but did not think humbly of his own capacity; not that he ever assumed a tone of superiority, or discovered any self conceit, but he always indulged ardent hopes, and it would not be going too far to say, a fixed belief, that he should find something in his course which would lead to fame and fortune. When entreated by his friends, as he often was, to control his disposition for invention, and attempt to turn some of his numerous matters, already in operation, to pecuniary account, he quietly answered that he was, in his own opinion, still an apprentice in his profession, and must do something more before he should be satisfied to set up for himself; and he sometimes modestly intimated hopes that England would one day be the theatre on which he should act his part.
There never lived a man more destitute of selfishness, nor more prodigal of his labours for public good; but it generally happens that, in views and feelings too expanded, a very particular attention to ordinary and every day matters is not readily found: Perkins wanted such a man as Franklin was, for his friend and companion, with his maxims on prudence, thriftiness, punctual
ity in pecuniary settlements, and all the economical philosophy of "Poor Richard"; and such a sage might, in return, have been paid for his friendship, by purity of feeling, singleness of heart, and an inexhaustless fund of intellectual wealth.
Perkins never made any complaint of the neglect of the world, or its ingratitude, which is so common to men who are sometimes not sufficiently appreciated.
In every strait and difficulty he found one friend that was never weary—such an one as is seldom seen or known-one who never obtruded his advice, never sought him to share his fame, or followed him to mingle with his associates, for pleasure or pride, nor kept near him to speculate on his credulous generosity--but a man of good affections and an excellent understanding, who came when the funds of his friend were low, and his pulse sinking with disappointment, to lend his name to the bank and relieve his mind from the load which oppressed him all this was done with such delicacy and gentleness as greatly to enhance the value of the service, and to give new charms to the fraternal tie-for this was a younger brother; and the vicissitudes of fortune have given the elder an opportunity of showing a similar disposition. For several years before Perkins went to England, he had resided in Philadelphia, a city in which the arts, sciences, and letters have been patronized in a higher degree than in any other in our country; but New-York and Boston are emulous of the fame of Philadelphia, and are following her closely in the march of improvement; may we soon discover to the world, that we have reached her. Much is here given to charitable and literary institutions; every year adds a new name to the long list of munificent donors to the public, who, by gifts and bequests, have done much to soften the ills of humanity, and to add to our mental stores. The arts too, which have had no splendid patrons, are rising in estimation, and will soon have their votaries, bringing acceptable offerings. The time is not far distant when such talents as distinguished Fulton, and give universal celebrity to Perkins, will find their due patronage and praise in the cities of the east.