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THERE is still standing in the ancient town of Woburn, a substantial farm house, some forty feet long and twenty feet wide, enlarged by an ell and covered by a gambrel roof whose summit line is broken midway by a large, square chimney, containing bricks sufficient in quantity for a modern dwelling of fair dimensions. It has two low stories, the upper of which is reached by steep and tortuous steps, reminding one of the remark attributed to Rufus Choate, when called upon, in the office of a brother lawyer, to admire a spiral stairway leading to a private room above :-"A man must be quite drunk to get up such a flight as that and not tumble down.”
This house with its fields and pastures and woodlands, all of moderate areas, presented a century and a quarter ago, a fair specimen of an average farmstead in Eastern Massachusetts.
Here resided in frugal independence, with Hannah Converse, bis wife, Captain Ebenezer Thompson. He was a farmer and at times a soldier. No longer young, but not yet old, in the full ripeness of his mature maubood, he was a good type of the intelligent yeoman of his time.
With him was also living his son, a young man of twenty VOL. XXXV.
four, and but a short time married to Ruth Simonds. These had come to supplement with fresh vigor, when called upon, that decline of strength which succeeding years were sure to bring, ere long, to the older members of the household.
It was in such a family and on the 26th day of March, 1753, that Benjamin Thompson, now known as Count Rumford, first saw the light. But hardly twenty months had passed when the joy caused by his advent was changed to mourning by the death of his father.
Time however dulls the edge of grief, and love not unfrequently visits more than once the beart from which it was thought to have fled forever. A second marriage of his widowed mother to Josiah Pearce, Jr., removed Thompson, when three years old, from the house of his grandfather to a new home. His stepfather received him into his family with willingness, but with the very prudent stipulation that he should be paid from the boy's slender patrimony two shillings and five pence per week for bis support until he was seven years
No picture of the society of this period can be considered perfect, in which the town school master is not prominently delineated. Such an omission would be almost as serious as that of the town minister or of the selectmen. Woburn was particularly fortunate, just now, in having Master John Fowle as the teacher of its grammar school. He was one of the old fashioned masters, who, “because they were wise, taught the children knowledge,” and, we fear, we must admit, with a success rarely excelled in modern schools and under systems more complex.
Under his instruction Thompson mastered, at an age unusually early, the studies of the school. These seemed to have awakened in him an ardent desire for loftier attainments, and, under private teachers, he studied algebra, geometry, some of the higher mathematics, and astronomy with such success as to be able at the age of thirteen to calculate a solar eclipse with an accuracy nearly perfect.
This appetite for knowledge grew upon what it fed, and, as his horizon widened, his desire for still farther acquisitions expanded proportionately.
Worthy Mr. Joshua Simonds, his maternal uncle and guardian, relished but moderately these aspirations of his ward. Flighty and unprofitable seemed they to him.
The youth was accordingly taken from his teachers and apprenticed to Mr. John Appleton, a merchant and retail trader in Salem. But his taste for study was not thereby abated, and every leisure moment which he could command was devoted to scientific investigations of some kind. Such became, ere long, bis reputation in Salem, that when on some joyous occasion the good people of the town wanted skyrockets for their celebration, young Thompson was called upon as the person most competent to provide them. An explosion in their preparation defeated his obliging effort, but afforded him some valuable information, regarding the power and properties of gun powder, he could have obtained so completely in no other way.
The injuries received at this time remanded him awhile to his home, but diminished in no degree his thirst for knowledge.
Letters yet extant, addressed to Colonel Loammi Baldwin, his life-long friend, and by some nine years his senior, indicate the nature of the investigations interesting him during his convalescence.
On the 14th of August, 1769, he writes inquiringly to his friend :
"Please to give the direction of the rays of light from a luminous body to an opaque and the reflection from an opaque body to another equally dense and opaque.”
Two days after he writes again :
“Please to inform me in what manner fire operates upon clay to change the color to red and from red to black, &c."
And still again during the same month :
"Please to give the nature, essence, beginning of existence and rise of the wind in general, with the whole theory thereof, so as to be able to answer all questions relative thereto."
Whether such a correspondence was deemed by Baldwin most a nuisance or a blessing we are left to our individual conjectures.
But about this time still other studies engaged his attention ; among which were drawing, music, French, natural philosophy, the backsword exercises and heraldry. Indeed, he designed for himself and engraved on copper a Coat of Arms. Of this, Prof. Renwick has said: “By a mistake, amounting almost to prophecy, the helmet is of that character, facing full to the front, with beaver open and bars, which marks in heraldric symbols, the rank of nobility instead of the less ambitious basnet of the simple gentleman or esquire.”
This, doubtless, was one of the earliest efforts at copper line engraving, in this country.
For some three years Thompson pursued the double occupa. tion of tradesman's clerk and student. But in 1770 in consequence perhaps of the depression in business, which, from the disturbed condition of the country, had become such that his clerical services no longer found employment, he returned to Woburn.
Soon afterwards, abandoning all further thoughts of a mercantile life, for which he had little relish, he began the study of medicine under Dr. John Hay, a reputable practitioner of his native town.
From bis note book we learn with what diligence and system he entered upon this more congenial occupation. The following is recorded in his band writing as his programme of a day's work:
"From eleven [P. m.] to six [A. M.,] sleep. Get up at six o'clock and wash my hands and face. From six to eight, exercise one half and study one half. From eight till ten, breakfast, attend prayers, &c. From ten till twelve, study all the time. From twelve to one, dine, &c. From one to four study constantly. From four to five, relieve my mind by some diversion or exercise. From five till bed time, follow what my inclination leads me to; whether it be to go abroad or stay at home and read either anatomy, physics or chemistry, or any other book I want to peruse."
Thus for the next two years wrought he diligently and systematically. When the meagre income of his little patri- . mony was insufficient for his support, like hundreds of other New England students before his day and since, he sought its augmentation by school keeping.
For this purpose he went to Wilmington and again to Bradford, and at length, in the autumn of 1772, to Concord, New Hampshire, at that time a pleasant little town, to which a band of Massachusetts planters had, some forty years before,