In the year 1747, I published a dissertation on the phenomena of the harvest moon, with a description of a new orrery, in which there are only four wheels. But having never had grammatical education, nor time to study the rules of just composition, I acknowledge that I was afraid to put it to press; and for the same cause, I ought to have the same fears still. But having the pleasure to find that this my first work was not ill received, I was emboldened to go on in publishing my Astronomy,' Mechanical Lectures," Tables and Tracts relative to several Arts and Sciences,' a small treatise on Electricity,' and Select Mechanical Exercises.'
In the year 1748, I ventured to read lectures on the eclipse of the sun that fell on the 14th of July in that year. Afterwards I began to read astronomical lectures on an orrery which I made, and of which the figures of all the wheelwork are contained in the 6th and 7th plates of Mechanical Exercises.' I next began to make an apparatus for lectures on mechanics, and gradually increased the apparatus for other parts of experimental philosophy, buying from others what I could not make for myself. I then entirely left off drawing pictures, and employed myself in the much pleasanter business of reading lectures on mechanics, hydrostatics, hydraulics, pneumatics, electricity, and astronomy; in all which my encouragement has been greater than I could have expected.'
To this narrative we shall add the few particulars which are necessary to complete the view of Ferguson's life and character. It was through the zeal of George III in behalf of science, that Ferguson was honored with the royal bounty of L50 a-year. His majesty had attended some of the lectures of the ingenious astronomer, and often, after his accession, sent for him to converse upon scientific topics. He had the extraordinary honor of being elected a member of the Royal Society, without paying either the initiatory or the annual fees, which were dispensed with in his case, from a. supposition of his being too poor to pay them without inconvenience.
To the astonishment of all who knew him, it was discovered, after his death, that he was possessed of considerable wealth - about £6000. t Ferguson,' says Charles Hutton in his Mathematical Dictionary,must be allowed to have been a very uncommon genius, especially in mechanical contrivances and inventions, for he constructed many machines himself in a very neat manner. He had also a good taste in astronomy, as well as in natural and experimental philosophy, and was possessed of a happy manner of explaining himself in a clear, easy, and familiar way.
His general mathematical knowledge, however, was little or nothing. Of algebra he understood little more than the notation and he has often told me that he could never demonstrate one proposition in Euclid's Elements; his constant method being to satisfy himself as to the truth of any problem with a measurement by scale and compasses. ' He was a man of very clear judgment in everything that he professed, and of unwearied application to study: benevolent, meek, and innocent in his manners as a child humble, courteous, and communicative: instead of pedantry, philosophy seemed to produce in him only diffidence and urbanity. After a long and useful life, worn out with study, age, and infirmities, he died November 16, 1776.