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.'

Thinking it would be a very easy matter to attend a mill, and that he would have plenty of leisure for study, poor Ferguson next engaged himself to a miller; but the fellow turned out to be a harsh, ignorant drunkard, who required every moment of the boy's time, starving and ill-using him besides, so that at the, end of a year he had to betake himself to the roof of his father. He next hired himself to a farmer; but here, again, he was worked beyond the strength of his naturally delicate constitution illness ensued, and he had again to seek the paternal refuge. 'In order to amuse myself in this low state, I made a wooden clock, the frame of which was also of wood; and it kept time pretty well. The bell on which the hammer struck the hours was the neck of a broken bottle. Having then no idea how any timekeeper could go but by a weight and a line, I wondered how a watch could go in all positions, and was sorry that I had never thought of asking Mr. Cantley, who could very easily have informed me. But happening one day to see a gentleman ride by my father's house, which was close by a public road, I asked him what o'clock it then was; he looked at his watch, and told me. As he did that with so much good nature, I begged of him to show me the inside of his watch; and though he was an entire stranger, he immediately opened the watch, and put it into my hands. I saw the spring-box with part of the chain round it, and asked him what it was that made the box turn round; he told me that it was turned round by a steel spring within it. Having then never seen any other spring than that of my father's gun-lock, I asked how a spring within a box could turn the box so often round as to wind all the chain upon it. He answered that the spring was long and thin, that one end of it was fastened to the axis of the box, and the other end to the inside of the box; that the axis was fixed, and the box was loose upon it. I told him I did not yet thoroughly understand the matter. Well my lad,' says he, take a long thin piece of whalebone, hold one end of it fast between your finger and thumb, and wind it round your finger, it will then endeavor to unwind itself; and if you fix the other end of it to the inside of a small hoop, and leave it to itself, it will turn the hoop round and round, and wind up a thread tied to the outside of the hoop.' I thanked the gentleman, and told him I understood the thing very well. I then tried to make a watch with wooden wheels, and made the spring of whalebone; but found that I could not make the watch go when the balance was put on, because the teeth of the wheels were rather too weak to bear the force of a spring sufficient to move the balance, although the wheels would run fast enough when the balance was taken off. I enclosed the whole in a wooden case very little bigger than a breakfast teacup; but a clumsy neighbor one day looking at my watch, happened to let it fall, and turning hastily about to pick it up, set his foot upon it, and crushed it all to pieces; which so provoked my father, that he was almost ready to beat the man, and discouraged me so much, that I never attempted to make such another machine again, especially as I was thoroughly convinced I could never make one that would be of any real use.'

He now turned his attention to the repairing and cleaning of clocks, and in this way managed for some time to make a livelihood. While tray cling the country for this purpose, he happened to attract the notice of Sir James Dunbar of Durn, who bestowed upon him the warmest patron age, and requested him to make his mansion his home. While there, geometry, mechanics, and astronomy, alternately engaged him. 'Two large globular stones stood on the top of his gate; on one of them I painted with oil colors a map of the terrestrial globe, and on the other a map of the celestial, from a planisphere of the stars which I copied on paper from a celestial globe belonging to a neighboring gentleman. The poles of the painted globe stood toward the poles of the heavens; on each the twenty-four hours were placed around the equinoctial, so as to show the time of the day when the sun shone out, by the boundary where the half of the globe at any time enlightened by the sun was parted from the other half in the shade; the enlightened parts of the terrestrial globe answering to the like enlightened parts of the earth at all times; so that, whenever the sun shone on the globe, one might see to what places the sun was then rising, to what places it was setting, and all the places where it was then day or night throughout the earth.'

While enjoying the hospitality of Durn, he was introduced to Lady Dipple, Sir James' sister, who also extended to him the warmest patronage. This lady, seeing his taste for design, employed him in drawing patterns for needlework on gowns, aprons, etc., recommending his work to her acquaintances, and in a short while created, as it were, a flourishing domestic trade for the young philosopher. On removing to Edinburgh, she advised Furguson to accompany her household, in which he would have the benefit of another year's hospitality, assured that, in the more extensive field of the metropolis, he would have a much better opportunity of rising into notice. Thither he accordingly went; was introduced into new families of distinction; drew and designed for fancy needlework; and latterly turned his attention to miniature painting, in which he so far excelled, that for six-and-twenty after, it was the business to which he trusted for a maintenance. But while engaged in painting, and enjoying the estimation of those who had been his patrons, somehow or other took a violent inclination to study anatomy, surgery, and physics, all from reading of books and conversing with gentlemen on these subjects, which for that time put all thoughts of astronomy out of my mind and I had no inclination to become acquainted with any one there who taught either mathematics or astronomy, for nothing would serve me but to be a doctor.

'At the end of the second year I left Edinburgh, and went to see my father, thinking myself tolerably well qualified to be a physician in that part of the country, and I carried a good deal of medicines, plasters, etc., thither; but to my mortification, I soon found that all my medical theories and study were of little use in practice. And then finding that very few paid me for the medicines they had, and that I was far from being so successful as I could wish, I quite left off that business, and began to think of taking to the more sure one of drawing pictures again. For this purpose I went to Iverness, where I had eight months' business. When I was there, I began to think of astronomy again, and was heartily sorry for having quite neglected it at Edinburgh, where I might have improved my knowledge by conversing with those who were very able to assist me.'

Having spent some time in astronomical pursuits at Inverness, Furguson returned to Edinburgh, where he made himself known to Mr. Maclaurin, professor of mathematics, by whom he was kindly patronized, and instructed in points wherein he was deficient. Being greatly delighted with the orrery of the professor, he set about constructing one after a somewhat different principle, and succeeded so well in the undertaking that his patron not only commended it to the young men attending his class, but desired the constructor to read them a lecture on it. This so far encouraged the young philosopher, that he instantly set about the construction of another more complex, and of higher finish. This was purchased by Sir Dudley Rider when Ferguson first went to London and he mentions in his memoir, that altogether eight orreries were constructed chiefly by his own hand, and that in no two of them was the wheelwork alike. We now follow him to London, whither he went in May 1743.

I had a letter of recommendation from Mr. Baron Eldin at Edinburgh to the Right Hon. Stephen Poyntz, Esq., at St. James', who had been preceptor to his Royal Highness the late Duke of Cumberland, and was well known to be possessed of all the good qualities that can adorn a human mind. To me his goodness was really beyond my power of expression and I had not been a month in London, till he informed me that he had written to an eminent professor of mathematics to take me into his house, and give me board and lodging, with all proper instructions to qualify me for teaching a mathematical school he (Mr. Poyntz) had in view for me, and would get me settled in it. This I should have liked very well, especially as I began to be tired of drawing pictures; in which, I confess, I never strove to excel, because my mind was still pursuing things more agreeable. He soon after told me he had just received an answer from the mathematical master, desiring I might be sent immediately to him. On hearing this, I told Mr. Poyntz that I did not know how to maintain my wife during the time I must be under the master's tuition. What! says he, 'are you a married man?' I told him I had been so ever since May, in the year 1739. He said he was sorry for it, because it quite defeated his scheme, as the master of the school he had in view for me must be a bachelor.

'He then asked me what business I intended to follow. I answered that I knew of none besides that of drawing pictures. On this he desired me to draw the pictures of his wife and children, that he might show them, in order to recommend me to others; and told me that when I was out of business, I should come to him, and he would find me as much as he could - and I soon found as much as I could execute; but he died in a few years after, to my inexpressible grief.

Soon afterwards it appeared to me, that although the moon goes round the earth, and that the sun is far on the outside of the moon's orbit, yet the moon's motion must be in a line - that is, always concave towards the sun; and upon making a delineation representing her absolute path in the heavens, I found it to be really so. I then made a simple machine for deineating both her path and the earth's on a long paper laid on the floor. I carried the machine and delineation to the late Martin Felkes, Esq., president of the Royal Society, on a Thursday afternoon. He expressed great satisfaction at seeing it, as it was a new discovery; and took me that evening with him to the Royal Society, where I showed the delineation, and the method of doing it.

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.