Bernard Shaw.

The Percy anecdotes: original and select, Volume 6 online

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part, as soon as the intelligence reached him at Paris,
where lie then chanced to be, made similar observations
on the top of a high house, and in the belfry of
the church of St. Jacques des Boucheries, near the

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border of the Seine ; and so much was he satisfied
with the results, that he proposed at once the appli-
cation of the barometer, for measuring the relative
height of distant places on the surface of the globe.

• The discovery by Pascal 6f the variation in tfie
pressure of the atmosphere, threw a sudden blaie over
the whole contexture of physical science ; but luch is
the foice ci habit and early prejudice, that after the
first moments of suipirise nui coaaiaiaxm^ few of tbe
learned had the courage to opoi thdr eyes to the lig^
which had so unexpectedly b^f st upon them. Iktber
Mersenne, though a man not without common sense,
conceived that suction was occasioned by certain
hooked particles dispersed through the atmosphere,
which laid hold of any fluid in contact with them, a&d
drew ^t towards the general mass. Father Linus,
plunging still deeper in mysticism and abswdity*
gravely proposed the funicular hypothesis, which at-
tributes the suspension of the mercurial column to th6
agency of certain invisible small threads !


This ingenious magistrate, whose invention of the
Magdeburg Experiment has been already noticed,
used to take great pleasure in a huge water-baiometer
which he erected in his house. It consisted of a tube
above thirty feet rising along the wall, and ter-
minated by a tall and rather wide tube hermeticaHy
sealed, containing a toy of the shape of a man. The

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whole being filled with water, and set in a bason on
the ground, the column of liquid settled to the proper
altitude, and left the toy floating on its surface ; but
all the lower part of the tube being concealed under
the wainscoting, the little image, or weather-man-
nikin, as he was called, made its appearance only when
raised up into view in fine weather. This whimsical
contrivance, which received the name of anemoscope,
or semper vivumf excited among the populace of Mag-
deburg vast admiration ; and the worthy magistrate
was in consequence shrewdly suspected by his towns-
men of being too familiar with the powers of darkness.

The thermometer, although invented half a century
earlier than the barometer, was more than half a
century later in arriving at perfection. Hero, who
flourished at Alexandria about one hundred and thirty
years before Christ, ha» described in his Spiritalia a
sort of huge weather glass, in which water was made
to rise and fall by the vicissitudes of day and night,
or rather the changes of heat and cold. This machine
had been for ages overlooked, or merely considered in
the light of a curious contrivance. But Sanctorio, a
very learned and ingenious Italian physician, who was
long Professor of Medicine in the University of Padua,
and had laboured to improve his art by the application
of experimental science, reduced tiie hydraulic machine
of Hero into a more compendious form ; and thus con-
structed, about the close of the sixteenth century, the
instrument since known by the name of the air ther-
ihometer, which he employed with obvious advantage
to examine the heat of the human body in fevers.

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Some years afterwards, a similar instrument was
contrived, perhaps without any cpmmuiucation, by
Drebbel, a very clever and scheming Dutch artist, who
visited London in the reign of James L, and introduced
the knowledge of the instrument into England.


This great improver of the thermometer was origi-
nally a merchant of Dantzic, who, having failed in
business, and being attached to chemical and mecha-
nical pursuits, was obliged to gain a livelihood by
making and selling these instruments. The divbion
of the thermometric scale had occupied the attention
of several learned and ingenious men j butit was Fahren-
heit who first pointed out the most accurate means of
accomplishing this purpose. He observed how the
boiling l^oint differed under different degrees of atmos-
pheric pressure, and pointed out the necessity of fixing
it at a mean barometrical altitude. .He had also noticed,
that a degree of cold much more intense than that of
ice, might be procured by a mixture of snow and salt ;
and conceiving this to be extreme cold, he commenced
his scale from that point, which is 32^ below the
freezing of water. Accordingly, Fahrenheit's scale
commences at 0°, the temperature of , his freezing
mixture ; the freezing point of water is marked 32**, and
the boiling point 212°, the space between the freezing
and boiling of water being divided into 180(>.


The simple falling of a stone to the ground has
been found to involve principles which are the basb

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of all we know in mechanical philosophy. Without
accurate experiments on the descent of bodies at the
surface of the earth, the objections Against the earth's
motion could not have been answered ; the inertia of
body would have remained unknown ; and the nature
of the force which retains the planets in their orbits
could never have been investigated.

In 1665, when the tremendous visitations of the
plague raged in London, and threatened Cambridge
and other places communicating with the metropolis,
Sir Isaac Newton, then a student at Cambridge Uni-
versity, withdrew to his rural farm near Grantham,
and devoted himself to most profound meditation.

As he was reading one day under a apple tree, one
of that species of fniit fell, and struck him a smart
blow on the head. When he observed the smalbess of
the apple, he was surprised at the force of tlie blow.
This led him to consider the accelerating motion of
falling bodies ; from which he divined the principles
of gravitation, and laid the foundation of that philo-
sophy, by which his name is so justly immortalized.

Sir Isaac Newton was only twenty-tiiree years of
age, when, in 1666, he discovered his method of
Fluxions, a method much more general and useful in
its application, than either that of the ancients by
Exhaustions ; Cavaleri's Geometry of Indivisibles,
printed in the year 1635 ; or Dr. Wallis's Arithmetic
of Infinites, published in the year 1656. By this
discovery, so sublime and extensive, Newton attracted
the attention of the whole body of mathematicians and


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philoBophers, both at home «iid abroad ; and indeed
the envy of some of the moat eminent of them, who
could not bear to have the meridian of thdr glory
eclipsed by this rising sun. His own modesty and
diffidence occasioning the delay of the publication of
this discovery till the year 1687, when he printed his
Brineipia, several mathematicians had in the mean
time, by pirivate correspondence with him, become
acquainted with, the principle. Among others, it
was communicated particularly to Mr. Godfirey
William Leibnite, a German philosopher, in the year
1676 ; who applied it to some few propositions, and
published them in the Acta Euridiiomtn, printed at
Leipsic in 1684, wherein he claimed the invention to

So great was the glory of the invention, that a warm
dispute ensued between the English and Foreign
philosophers, as to whom the merit belonged ; it was
however very satisfactorily proved to belong to Sir
Isaac Newton, and the wretched fraud of Leibnitz was

This curious machine had its name from a scientific
fraud. Mr. Rowley, a mathematical instrument
maker, having procured an orrery from Mr. George
Graham, the original inventor, to be exported with
some of his own instruments, he secretly copied it, and
made one for the Earl of Orrery. Sir Richard Steele,
who knew nothing of Mr. Graham's machine, thinking
to do justice to Uie first encourager, as well as to the
inventor of such a curious instrument, called it an

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Ofuery, and gave Mr. RoTvley the praise due to Mr.


When thb dSstingaisfaed nobienalk first published
his " Century of Inventions," he was regarded by tlwr
public 83 at best a visionary projector, if not an ab^
solute relator of falsehoods. A manuscript copy of
this curious work, in the hand writing of the noble
author, is preserved in the Hkrleian MSS. No. S4S8,
in the British Museum. It is dated 1569, and slightly
differs fh>m the copy printed in 1663.

The Marquess, who had sacrificed his fortune in
scientific pursuits, wished to obtain the encouragement
of the king or of the parliament ; but offered to carry
his grand projects into efiect, gratis. In a dedication
to the king, speaking of the list of his inventions, he
says, " If it might serve to give aim to your majesty
hpw to make use of my poor endeavours, it would
crown my tiioughts, who am neither covetous nor
ambitious, but of deserving your majesty's favour,
upon my own cost and charges ; yet according to the
old English proverb, 'It is a poor dog not worth
whistling after.' Let but your majesty approve, and
I will effectually peribrm to the height of my under-
taking ; vouchsafe but to command, and with my
life and fortune I shall cheerfully obey, and maugre
envy, i^ioiance, and malice, ever appear your majesty's
passionably devoted, or otherwise disinterested, subject
and servant^


In a second dedicalion to the niembers of the two

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houses of parliament, he states, that he had already
spent more than ten thousand pounds in maturing
his dbcoveries for the public good. He speaks of
them with that modest confidence so inseparable from
transcendant talents.

" The treasures buried under these heads," he says,
"both for war, peace, and pleasure, being inex-
haustible, I beseech you pardon me if I say so; it
seems a vanity, but comprehends a truth ; since ho
good spring but becomes the more plentiful, by how
much more it, is drawn ;~ and the spinner to weave his
web is never stinted, but enforced.

** The more then that you shall be pleased to make
use of my inventions, the more inventive shall you
ever find me, one invention begetting still another, I
more and more improving my ability to serve my king
and you ; and as to my heartiness therein, there needs
no addition, nor to my readiness a spur. And there-
fore, my lords and gentlemen, be pleased to be^, and
desist not from commanding me, . till < I flag in my
obedience and endeavours to serve my king and

" For certainly you'll find me breathless first t'expire.
Before my hands grow weary, or my legs do tire."

It would be foreign to the nature of this work to
give the " Century of Inventions" of the noble author ;
it may however be necessary to observe, that however
much they were slighted in his own day, it is now
universally acknowledged, that the Marquess sug-
gested the first idea of the steam engine; and that
in like manner he evidently hints at the tel^aph, the
torpedo, and at that foolbh thing of modem (though

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BOW almost ftbsolete) use, the velocipede. And it is not
improbable that in his 15th "Scantling," "A boat
driying against wind and tide/' he had an eye to
steam navigation.


About the year 1645, several ingenious men, who
resided in London, and were interested in the progress
of mathematics and philosophy, agreed to meet once
a week to discourse upon subjects connected with
these sciences. These meetings were held sometimes
in Dr. Goddard's lodgings in Wood-Street, because
he kept in his house an operator for grinding glasses
for telescopes; sometimes in Cheapside, and some-
times in Gresham College. In the years 1648 and
1649, several of the gentiemen who attended these
meetiligs being appointed to situations in the Uni-
versity of Oxford, they instituted a similar society in
that city, in conjunction with several eminent men
already established there. Among the primitive mem-
bers of this Oxonian Society, we find the following
celebrated names: Dr. Wilkms, Dr. Wallis, Dr.
Goddard, Dr. Setii Ward, Dr. Bathurst, Dr. William
Petty, Dr. Willis. The meetings were for some time
held in Dr. Petty's lodgings ; and when that gentle-
man went to Ireland in 1652, the society met first in
Dr. Wilkins' apartments, and afterwards in those of
Mr. Boyle.

The greatest part of tiiese Oxford gentiemen coming

to London in 1659, held their meeting twice a week

at Gresham College. Here they were joined by several

new associates ; among others, by Lord Brouncker,


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William Brereton, Esq. Sir Paul Neile, John Evelyn,
Esq., Thomas Henshaw, Esq., Henry Slingesby, Esq.,
Dr. Thnothy Clarke, Dr. Ent, WilliamBalle, Esq.,
Abraham Hill, Esq., Dr. William Croune. These
meetings were continued till the members were scat-
tered by the disasters of 1659, after the resignation of
Kichard Cromwell, when their place of meeting was
converted into quarters for soldiers. But, after the
restoration of King Charles II. in 1660, these meetings
were revived, and still more numerously attended.
On the!28th of November 1660, a number of gentle-
men met in Mr. Rooke's apartments, Gresham College,
ond agreed to constitute themselves into a society for
the promotion of all kinds of experimental philosophy*
A set of regulations were drawn up, and a weekly
contribution of a shilling was collected from each of
the members, in order to defray the expenses of their
experimental investigations. At first the number of
members was limited to fifty-five, but it was afterwards
extended, and, finally, admission was left open to
every proper candidate. A president, a secretary, and
a register, were elected out of their body, and an ama-
nuensis and operator hired to execute tiie purposes of
the society.

The infant society was soon patronized by Charles
II. and many of the principal nobility ; and on the
15th of July, 1662, a royal charter was granted, con-
stituting them a body corporate.


In the early meetings of the Royal Society, the
suspension of the mercury on the Torricellcan tube

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had still the attraotion of novelty. The famous Italian
experiment, as it was called, was frequently repeated
and varied, in the presence of a few of the more
assiduous members, who, though delighted with the
exhibition, continued to reason and to doubt concerning
the cause of the phenomenon. These doubts acquired
new force from a singular experiment which tlje cele-
brated Huygens some years afterwards communicated,
during a visit he made to London. Having filled a
glass tube eighty inches long with mercury, and care-
fully expelled whatever air was lurking about the sides,
he gently inverted it, as usual, in a bason ; when the
mercury, notwithstanding, remained still hanging from
the top of the tube, and did not subside to tiie proper
height till it was struck with a slight blow. This anoma-
lous fact appeared then extremely puzzling. Huygens,
who had embraced the leading principles of the Car-
tesian philosophy, was of opinion that the fact proved
the existence of another fluid besides the atmosphere,
and one possessed of such extreme subtlety and power,
as to be capable of permeating the grosser bodies^.
In ordinary cases, this fine ethereal substance might
be supposed to escape through the pores of the glass,
and leave the mercurial column to the mere pressure
of the atmosphere. Such was the unfortunate intro-
duction of that ideal being — an aether— into experi-
mental science, which it has continued to infest with
mysticism, and to dazzle with a false glare.

The experiment of Huygens is one which requires
great nicety and address on the part of the operator,
and evidently depends on a concurrence of circum-
stances which have not been yet sufficiently explained.

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The experiment of transferring the blood of one
animal into the vascular system of another, by means
of a tube connected with a vein of the receiving
animal, and an artery of the other, was first tried in
England in the year 1657 by T. Clarke, who failed in
his attempts. Lower succeeded in 1665, and com-
municated his success to the Boyal Society. This
was on dogs. Coxe did it on pigeons ; and Coxe
and King afterwards exhibited the experiment on dogs
before the society, transfusing the blood from vein tu
vein. It was again performed from a sheep to a dog,
and the experiment was frequently repeated.

The first proceedings on tiiis subject appear to have
been instigated merely by curiosity, or at least by a
dispositicm to inquire into the powers of the animal eco-
nomy. But higher views soon opened themselves ;
and it was conceived that inveterate diseases, such as
epilepsy, gout, and others, supposed to reside in the
blood, might be expelled with that fiuid ; while with
the blood of a sheep or calf, the health and strength
of the animal might be transferred to the patient;
The most sanguine anticipations were indulged on tlie
occasion, and the new process was almost expected to
realize the alchemical reveries of an elixir of life and
immortality. The experiment was first tried in France,
where the blood of a sheep, the most stupid of all
animals, according to BufFon, was transfused into the
veins of an ideotic youth, with the effect, as was
asserted, of sharpening his wits. A similar expe-
riment was made wi^out injury in a healthy man.

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Lower and King transferred blood from a sheep into
the system of. a literary man, who had offered himself
for the experiment, at first without inconvenience, but
afterwards with a less favourable result.

TThese events were not calculated to maintain the
expectations that had been raised of brilliant results ;
and other occurrences produced still more severe dis-
appointment. The French youth first mentioned died
lethargic soon after the second transfusion ; the phy-
sicians incurred great disgrace, and were judicially
prosecuted by the relations. Not however discou-
raged by this unlucky evpnt, they soon after transfused
the blood of a calf into a youth related to the royal
family, who died soon after of a local inflammation.
The parliament of Paris now interfered, and proscribed
the practice ; and two persons having died after trans-
fusion at Home, the Pope also issued a prohibitory
edict. From this time the practice had not been re-
peated in the human subject ; although it has been
repeatedly done, as a matter of philosophical curiosity
on animals, who have suffered no interruption of their
health and strength.


The wealth of the celebrated Dr. Hooker, the ope-
rator and assistant of Boyle, was in his latter days
considerable ; but he sunk into the habits of a perfect
mis«r, from a fear that he should outlive his estate.
He sometimes declared, that he intended to dispose
of his estate for the advancement of natural know-
ledge, and to promote the end^ for which the Royal

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Society was instituted ; to build a handsome edifice
for the society's use, with a laboratory, libtary, and
repository ; and to endow a professorship. If he ever
seriously entertained this design, he forgot to put if
into execution; and his property went to a distant
relation. " I wonder," says Sir Godftey Copley in a
letter written a few weeks after Hooker's death, " old
Dr. Hooker did not choose rather to leave his ^12,00ff
to continue what he had promoted and studied all the
days of his life — I mean mathematical experiments-*
than to have it to go to those whom he never saw or
cared for. It is rare that virtuosos die rich; and
it is a pity they should, if they were like him!"


Sir Godfrey Copley originally bequea&ed five gui-
neas, to be given at each anniversary meeting of the'
Royal Society to the person who had been the author
of the best paper of experimental observations for the
year preceding. In process of tune, this pecuniary
reward, which could never be an important considera-
tion to a man of enlarged and philosophic nund, how-
ever nan;ow his circumstances might be, was changed
into the more liberal form of a gold medal, in which
form it is become a truly honourable mark of distinc-
tion, and a just and laudable object of ambition.

Dr. Flamstead, who was a cotemporary of Sir Isaac
Newton, and for many years astronomer royal, had,
like most men of superior learning in those days, the

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r^Hitation among the lower orders of being able to
foietel events. In this persuasion, a poor washerwoman
of Greenwich; who had been robbed at night of a
parcel of linen, came to him, and with great annety
requested him to use his art, to let her know where the
-linen was, and who had robbed her. The doctor, who
was a humourist, thought he would indulge himself in
the joke; he bade the poor woman stay, and he
would see what he could do ; perhaps he might let
her know where she might find it ; but who the persons
w^e he would not undertake to inform her, for as she
could have no positive proof to convict them, it would
be useless. He then set about drawing circles, squares,
&c. to amuse her ; and after some time, told her if
she would go into a particular field, she would find
the whole bundled up in a part of the ditch. The
woman repaired, there immediately, and found it. She
caiBe back with great haste 6nd joy to thank the
doctor, and offered him half a crown as a token of
he^ gratitude, that being as much as she could afford.
The doctor, more surprised than the woman, told her,
" GtKxl woman, I am heartily glad you have found
your linen ; but I assure you I knew nothing of it,
and intended only to joke with you, and then to have
read you a lecture on the folly of applying to any
person to know events not in the human power to tell,
but I see Satan has a mind I should deal with him :
I am determined however 1 will not ; so never come
or send any one to me any more, on such occasions,
for I never will attempt such an affair again whilst i

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When Lord Cobham was adorning his gardens at
Stowe vrith the busts of famous men, he made inquiry
of the family, for a picture of William Penn, in order
to get a bust formed from it; but could find none.
Sy Ivanus Bevan, an old Quaker apothecary, remariLable
for the notice he took of countenances, and a talent
he possessed of cutting in ivory strong likenesses of
persons he had once seen, hearing of Lord Cobham's
desire, set himself to recollect Penn's face, with which
he had been well acquainted ; and cut a little bust of
him in ivory, which he sent to Lord Cobham, without
any letter or notice that it was Penn's. But Lord
.Cobham, who had personally known Penn, on seeing
it, immediately cried out, "Whence comes this ? It is
William Penn himself;" and from this little bust the
large one in the gardens was formed.


In the year 1663, the famous James Gregory, who
in many respects may be regarded as the precursor^
and in some things, even the rival of Newton, publbhed
bis Optica Promota, a work distinguished by its origi-
nality, and containing much ingenious research and
fine speculation. In this treatise, a complete descrip-
tion is given of the reflecting telescope, now almost
universally adopted, consisting of a large perforated
concave reflector, combined with another very smaH and
deep speculum, placed before the principal focus. But

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sudi was &e still low state of the mechanical arts in
England, that no person was found capable of casting
and policing the metallic specula with any tolerable
delicacy, and the great inventor never enjoyed the
sati^action and transport of witnessing the magic of
his admirable contrivance.


The first person who applied to the mercurial tube
the name of baroscope, or indicator of weight, (the
more defixute appellation of barometer, or measurer of
weight, not having been appropriated till many years
afterwards) is said to have been a Scotchman of the
name of George Sinclair. He was at one time
Professor of Philosophy in the University of Glasgow}
but conscientiously resigned his office soon after the

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Online LibraryBernard ShawThe Percy anecdotes: original and select, Volume 6 → online text (page 7 of 23)