Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

This difficulty however was to be encounter | ed; and by close and steady perseverance of attention I at last subdued, or thought myself to have subdued, it; having formed a regular system in which all the phænomena seemed to be reconciled; and being able from the variation in places where it is known to trace it to those where it is unknown; or from the past to predict the future : and consequently knowing the latitude and variation, to assign the true longitude of any place.

With this system I came to London, wbere having laid my proposals before a number of ingenious gentlemen, it was agreed that during the time required to the completion of my experiments, I should be supported by a joint subscription to be repaid out of the reward, to which they concluded me entitled. Among the subscribers was Mr. Rowley, the memorable constructor of the orrery; and among my favourers was the Lord Piesley, a title not unknown among magnetical philosophers. I frequently shewed upon a globe of brass, experiments by which my system was confirmed, at the house of Mr. Rowley, where the learned and curious of that time generally, assembled.

At this time great expectations were raised by Mr. Whiston, of ascertaining the longitude by the inclination of the needle, which he supposed to increase or diminish regularly. With this learned man I had many conferences, in which I endeavoured to evince what he has at last confessed in the narrative of his life, the uncertainty and inefficacy of his method.

About the year 1729, my subscribers explained

my pretensions to the Lords of the Admiralty, and the Lord Torrington declared my claim just to the reward assigned in the last clause of the act to those who should make discoveries conducive to the perfection of the art of sailing. This be pressed with so much warmth, that the commissioners agreed to lay my tables before Sir Isaac Newton, who excused himself, by reason of his age, from a regular examination : but when he was informed that I held the variation at London to be still encreasing, which he and the other philosophers, his pupils, thought to be then stationary, and on the point of regression, he declared that he believed my system visionary. I did not much murmur to be for a time overborne by that mighty name, even when I believed that the name only was against me : and I have lived till I am able to produce, in my favour, the testimony of time, the inflexible enemy of false hypotheses; the only testimony which it becomes human understanding to oppose to the authority of Newton.

My notions have indeed been since treated with equal superciliousness by those who have not the same title to confidence of decision; men who, though perhaps very learned in their own studies, have had little acquaintance with mine. Yet even this may be borne far better than the petulance of boys whom I have seen shoot up into philosophers by experiments which I have long since made and neglected, and by improvements which I have so long transferred into my ordinary practice, that I cannot remember when I was without them.

When Sir Isaac Newton had declined the office

assigned him, it was given to Mr. Molineux, one of the commissioners of the Admiralty, who engaged in it with no great inclination to favour me; but however thought one of the instruments, which, to contirm my own opinion, and to confute Mr. Whiston's, I had exhibited to the Admiralty, so curious or useful, that he surreptitiously copied it on paper, and clandestinely endeavoured to have it imitated by a workman for his own use.

This treatment naturally produced remonstrances and altercations, which indeed did not continue long, for Mr. Molineux died soon afterwards; and my proposals were for a time forgotten.

I will not however accuse him of designing to condemn me, without a trial; for he demanded a portion of my tables to be tried in a voyage to America, which I then thought I had reason to refuse him, not yet knowing how difficult it was to obtain, on any terms, an actual examination.

About this time the theory of Dr. Halley was the chief subject of mathematical conversation ; and though I could not but consider him as too mueb a rival to be appealed to as a judge, yet his reputation determined me to solicit his acquaintance and hazard his opinion. I was introduced to him by Mr. Lowthorp and Dr. Desaguliers, and put my tables into his hands; which, after having had them about twenty days under consideration, he returned in the presence of the learned Mr. Machin,

other skilful men, with an entreaty that I would publish them speedily; for I should do infinite service to mankind.

and many

It is one of the melancholy pleasures of an old man, to recollect the kindness of friends, whose kindness he shall experience no more. I have now none left to favour my studies; and therefore naturally turn my thoughts on those by whom I was favoured in better days: and I hope the vanity of age may be forgiven, when I declare that I can boast among my friends, almost every name of my time that is now remembered : and that in that great period of mathematical competition scarce any man failed to appear as my defender, who did not appear as my antagonist.

By these friends I was encouraged to exbibit to the Royal Society, an ocular proof of the reasonableness of my theory, by a sphere of iron, on which a small compass moved in various directions, exhibited no imperfect system of magnetical attraction.

The experiment was shown by Mr. Hawkesbee, and the explanation with which it was accompanied, was read by Dr. Mortimer. I received the thanks of the society; and was solicited to reposit my theory properly sealed and attested among their archives, for the information of posterity. I am informed, that this whole transaction is recorded in their minutes.

After this I withdrew from publick notice, and applied myself wholly to the continuation of my experiments, the confirmation of my system, and the completion of my tables, with no other companion than Mr. Gray, who shared all my studies and amusements, and used to repay my communications of magnetism, with his discoveries in electricity. Thus I proceeded VOL, X.

II

with incessant diligence; and perhaps in the zeal of enquiry did not sufficiently reflect on the silent encroachments of time, or remember, that no man is in more danger of doing little, than he who flatters himself with abilities to do all. When I was forced out of my retirement, I came loaded with the infirmities of age, to struggle with the difficulties of a narrow fortune, cut ofl' by the blindness of my daughter from the only assistance which I ever had ; deprived by time of my patron and friends, a kind of stranger in a new world, where curiosity is now diverted to other objects, and where, having no means of ingratiating my labours, I stand the single votary of an obsolete science, the scoff of puny pupils of puny philosophers.

In this state of dereliction and depression, I have bequeathed to posterity the following table; which, if time shall verify my conjectures, will shew that the variation was once known; and that mankind had once within their reach an easy method of discovering the longitude.

I will not however engage to maintain, that all my numbers are theoretically and minutely exact; I have not endeavoured at such degrees of accuracy as only distract enquiry without benefiting practice. The quantity of the variation has been settled partly by instruments, and partly by computation ; instruments must always partake of the imperfection of the eyes and hands of those that make, and of those that use them; and computation, till it has been rectified by experiment, is always in danger of some omission in the premises, or some error in the deduction.

!

« AnteriorContinuar »