« AnteriorContinuar »
man, the celebrated John Harrison, who, in 1767, obtained the parliamentary reward of twenty thousand pounds for the invention of his admirable timepiece for ascertaining the longitude at sea, may be quoted as another example of self-taught genius, but not so entirely unaided by books. He was born at Pontefract, in Yorkshire, in 1693, and was bred a carpenter; yet he very early manifested a taste for mathematical science, which is said to have been first awakened by a manuscript copy of some lectures of Saunderson (the blind mathematician), that accidentally fell into his hands; and it should seem that he was not so entirely without education as to be unable to peruse and profit by them. Before he was twenty-one, he had made two wooden clocks by himself, and without having received any instructions in the art. We have, in a former chapter, mentioned the circumstance of his having been first induced to think of applying himself to the construction of marine chronometers by living for some time in sight of the sea. It was in 1728 that he first came up to London, in order to prosecute this object; but he bad to devote to it the anxious labours of nearly forty years before his inventions were perfected, or their general merit fully recognized. The art of watchmaking owes several valuable improvements to Harrison; among which may be particularly mentioned the gridiron pendulum, and the expansion balance-wheel—the one serving to equalize the movements of a clock, and the other those of a watch, under all changes of temperature-and both depending upon the unequal stretching under change of temperature of two different metals, which are so employed to form the rod of the pendulum and the circumference of a wheel, that the contraction of the one exactly counterbalances the expansion of the other. Although, however, a most skilful and ingenious artist, Harrison never acquired any acquaintance with literature ; and a little work, which he published in his old age, in explanation of some of his ideas on the construction of time pieces, is miserably ill-written. He died in London, in 1776, at the age of eighty-three.
Of these, and all such instances, it may safely be remarked that, far from proving the inutility of scientific acquirements, they only show how far, in one particular line, natural genius can carry its possessors, without cultivation ; and make us regret their having wanted those helps which, even in that line, would have carried them so much farther.
1 tory of our race, and the origin of the different nations by whom the earth is peopled-a subject to many parts of which we have no other guide than the evidence of language, but upon which this evidence, skilfully interpreted, may be made to throw the surest of all light. But the motive which most generally induces the student to seek an acquaintance with foreign or ancient tongues, is, of course, that he may be able to read the books written in them, and thus obtain access to worlds of intellectual treasure, from which he would be otherwise entirely, or almost entirely, shut out ; for no satisfactory knowledge of any foreign literature is to be acquired through translations. Of many works translations do not exist, or are not accessible, when the original is ; and of many there can be no adequate translation. The man whose knowledge of the literature of another age or country is confined to translations, is in the situation of the untravelled reader, who may, indeed, learn something of foreign lands from the descriptions of those who have visited them ; but a person familiar with the language of another people has that sort of access to their literature, which he would have to the general knowledge of their country and their manners who was in possession of one of the talismans of eastern fiction, by which he could transport himself thither at a wish.
Knowledge of Languages. Magliabecchi ; Hill; Wild ; Aram ; Purver ;
If mechanical invention does not necessarily imply much study of books, and may seem, on that account, a province of intellectual exertion fitted for persons who have not enjoyed the advantages of a regular education, as being one in which natural sagacity and ingenuity as much as literary attainments, are requisite to ensure advancement, the same thing can hardly be said of another department, in which selftaught genius has frequently made extraordinary progress ; we mean the study of languages. This is the sort of knowledge, indeed, which, in common parlance, is more peculiarly called learning. Its acquisition, in the circumstances alluded to, can only be the result of a love for, and familiarity with, books, and of what we may call the literary habit thoroughly formed.
There are three purposes for which languages may be studied, independently of their gratifying that general desire of information which makes both the acquirement and the possession of all knowledge delightful. One use, and an infinitely important one, to be made of the knowledge of languages, is the study of that intellectual mechanism by which they have been formed, and of which they present us, as it were, with the impross or picture. Another department of philosophy to which this knowledge is a key, is that relating to the early his
Perhaps the greatest reader that ever lived was the famous ANTONIO MAGLIABECCHI, of whose latinized name, Antonius Magliabbechius, some formed the anagram,—Is unus bibliotheca magnoHimself a great library. He was born at Florence, in 1633, and, according to one account, comme
menced, his career as a scholar in a very curious manner ; for having, it is affirmed been apprenticed by his parents, who were extremely poor, to a seller of pot-herbs, he used to take the greatest delight, although he could
not read a word, in poring over the leaves of old books in which his master wrapped his commodities; till having been one day observed at this sort of study by a bookseller who lived in the neighbourhood, that person offered to take him into his service. The proposal was instantly accepted by Magliabecchi, who could conceive no greater happiness than an occupation which would surround him with his beloved books. So keen, it is added, was the interest which he took in his new employment, that in two or three days he knew the place of every volume in the shop, and could find any one, when asked for, more readily than his master himself. After a short time he had learnt to read ; and then every moment of his leisure was devoted to this new pleasure. Such is the story which Mr Spence has told us, on the authority, as he states, of a Florentine gentleman well acquainted with Magliabecchi and his family. The Italian writer, Marmi, however, who, having been librarian to the Grand Duke of Florence, was, for many years, an intimate friend of Magliabecchi, has, in a life which he has written of him, given a different account of his early years. His mother, according to Marmi had him instructed both in the art of design and in Latin when he was a boy, after which she apprenticed him to a goldsmith. Whether his master was a goldsmith or a bookseller, it is agreed, on all hands, that, during the time of his apprenticeship, Magliabecchi had already begun those extraordinary acquisitions which made him at length the most learned man of his age. The fame of his ardour for study, and extensive knowledge, at length procured him the notice of some of the Florentine literati ; and having been introduced at court, he was appointed by the Grand Duke keeper of one of his libraries. In this situation he remained till his death, in 1714, at the age of eighty-one.