Ferguson

WE pass by several authors and observers who contributed during the time of Huygens and Halley, to the advancement of astronomy, to notice the life of an individual whose career, while beneficial to the science under review, furnishes an ever-memorable instance of the acquirement of knowledge under the most pressing difficulties and obstructions. The most of those to whom we have adverted were men in independent circumstances, or at least so situated as to obtain at once a liberal education and the patronage and support of the great and wealthy. James Ferguson, the ingenious experimental philosopher, mechanist, and astronomer, to whom we allude, had no such advantages. He was born in 1710, a few miles from Keith, a village in Banffshire, in the north of Scotland. His parents were of the poorest order, but honest and religious, and, by toilsome labor in the cultivation of a few rented acres, contrived to rear to manhood a large family of children. Of the manner in which James acquired the rudiments of education, and how he struggled to rise from obscurity to distinction, we have a most interesting account in a memoir by himself, which we cannot do better than quote in an abridged form.

After mentioning how he learned to read with a very scanty aid from an old woman and his father, and that little more than three months' tuition at the grammar school of Keith was all the education he ever received, he thus proceeds: My taste for mechanics was soon developed; but as my father could not afford to maintain me while I was in pursuit only of these matters, and as I was rather too young and weak for hard labor, he put me out to a neighbor to keep sheep, which I continued to do for some years; and in that time I began to study the stars in the night. In the daytime I amused myself by making models of mills, spinning-wheels, and such other things as I happened to see. I then went to serve a considerable farmer in the neighborhood, whose name was James Glashan. I found him very kind and indulgent; but he soon observed, that in the evenings, when my work was over, I went into a field with a blanket about me, lay down on my back, and stretched a thread with small beads upon it, at arms length, between my eye and the stars, sliding the beads upon it till they hid such and such stars from my eye, in order to take their apparent distances from one another; and then, laying the thread down on a paper, I marked the stars thereon by the beads, according to their respective positions, having a candle by me. My master at first laughed at me; but when I explained my meaning to him, he encouraged me to go on; and, that I might make fair copies in the daytime of what I had done in the night he often worked for me himself. I shall always have respect for the memory of that man.

I soon after was introduced by a schoolmaster whom I knew to a Mr. Cantley, an ingenious man, who acted as butler to Thomas Grant, Esq., of Achoynaney, and from whom I received some instruction, particularly in decimal arithmetic, algebra, and the first elements of geometry. He also made me a present of Gordon's Geographical Grammar;' which at that time was to me a great treasure. There is no figure of a globe in it, although it contains a tolerable description of the globes, and their use. From this description I made a globe in three weeks at my father's, having turned the ball thereof out of a piece of wood, which ball I covered with paper, and delineated a map of the world upon it, made the meridian ring and horizon of wood, covered them with paper, and graduated them: and I was happy to find that by my globe, which was the first I ever saw, I could solve the problems. But this was not likely to afford me bread; and I could not think of staying with my father, who, I knew full well, could not maintain me in that way, as it could be of no service to him; and he had, without my assistance, hands sufficient for all his work.'