Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

degrees. We should be as honest in handling our neighbour's character, as in handling our neighbour's money: as careful to protect the reputation of the forgotten Higgins as to exalt the memory of the immortal Dalton.

So far as intrinsic merit is concerned, we take it for granted that no one will call in question Dalton's honesty, or doubt that when he said 'an inquiry into the relative weights of the ultimate particles of bodies is a subject, so far as I know, entirely new,' he faithfully expressed his entire ignorance of what Wenzel, Richter, and Higgins had done before him. It is certain that, in 1803, the views of these writers were quite unknown in Great Britain, even to those most conversant with the scientific literature of the day, and that Dalton did not become acquainted with the views of Higgins at least, until the year 1810. If this be acknowledged, it follows that Dalton's merit as a discoverer is at least equal to that of his three predecessors taken together, for he found out for himself the laws which they only made out among them, and brought to light another, of which they were ignorant altogether.

The question of practical effect has been considered already. We have seen that it was Dalton who changed the state of chemistry. Dalton! who while his contemporaries were with difficulty building up a fragment of scaffolding here and there at separate corners, with the far distant hope of ultimately raising by their combined efforts the structure of chemistry another story, was in silence preparing to supplant them all; Dalton, who with the aid of a cunning engine of his own devising, uplifted at once the four corners, and planted the stately edifice on a new and stable basement, from which it towered above the bogs and quicksands which had been like utterly to overwhelm it before.

Four reasons may be given why Dalton's views on combining proportion should have attracted more attention than those of his predecessors. First, -Chemistry was riper and readier for the discussion of laws of combination than in the days of Wenzel or Richter, or when Higgins first wrote.

Secondly,-Dalton's atomic hypothesis made the apprehension of the laws taught by means of it infinitely more easy than it had been before.

Thirdly,--All the laws of combining proportion were taught together, and made to tell with their united force upon the mind.

Fourthly,-Dalton's high character as a discoverer, and his wide reputation among men of science before he announced his atomic theory, secured for it an immediate attention which was not shown to the works of his less distinguished predecessors.

In ending the discussion of the question of merit, we would

express our hope that no inconsiderate admirer of Dalton will rob his predecessors of their scanty, but hard-earned laurels, to add an insignificant leaf or two to his full-crowned head. He would have been the first himself to reject any such borrowed honours.

Here we resume the long dropped thread of biographical detail. Our

space will not allow us to prosecute it to any considerable extent. We have deemed it better, however, to discuss at some length those great questions connected with Dalton's discoveries and scientific reputation, which have never been brought before the public, than to occupy the reader with matters, however interesting, connected merely with his personal history, many of which have been published already in various ways.

Between the years 1803 and 1810, Dalton was occupied in the prosecution of analyses to verify bis atomic theory; in teaching mathematics; and in delivering lectures in Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow. He was not a fluent speaker, nor had he any great talent for teaching.

He declined, however, all the offers made by his friends to provide him with a competency so that he might devote his undivided attention to scientific pursuits. To such overtures he replied,

that teaching was a kind of recreation, and that if richer, he would not probably spend more time in investigation than he was accustomed to do.

For many years he had the usual fate of the prophet, and received no honour in his own country.' He had always around him in Manchester, however, a small circle of appreciating friends, who did all they could to extend his fame. In 1814, they had his portrait painted by Allen, and an engraving was made from it, which has long been out of print. In 1817, they conferred on him a further mark of their esteem by electing him President of the Literary and Philosophical Society, of which he had long been the most distinguished member. He was reelected every year till his death.

When Sir John Ross sailed on his first Polar voyage, government and Sir Humphry Davy together thought it a fitting opportunity for doing Dalton a service, and offered him the post of natural philosopher to the expedition. But he declined the appointment, probably thinking that the North Pole would not present many advantages for confirming by experiment his atomic theory; and that if they had been very anxious to serve him, they might have found better means, and nearer home, for so doing. He continued, accordingly, at Manchester, teaching, experimenting, and writing scientific memoirs; and we find nothing remarkable to record till the year 1822, when he visited

France. He carried with him to Paris a single letter of introduction to M. Breguet, a celebrated chronometer-maker, and member of the French Institute. He could not have been introduced in a better quarter.

Breguet was well known to the Parisian savants as the inventor of a metallic thermometer which bears his name; and being wealthy and fond of the society of men of science, was in the habit of assembling them round his table. He was well acquainted, moreover, with Dalton's researches, especially those upon heat, and at a former period had sent him a present of one of his thermometers. Through Breguet, Dalton was immediately introduced to La Place, and by him to all the more distinguished French philosophers. He was subsequently invited to the meetings of the Institute, where he was most heartily welcomed, and during the whole period of his residence in Paris was treated, both in public and in private, as one whom all delighted to honour.

The generous appreciation of his merits shown by the French, as contrasted with the indifference to these exhibited by all but his personal friends and a few men of science among his countrymen, made a strong impression upon Dalton. Although a man of few words, little given to betray his feelings, and very indifferent to applause, he was so moved by his reception as to say, when he returned home If any Englishman has reason to be proud of his reception in France, I am that one.'

At length his countrymen became more alive to his merits; and if we have to acknowledge that the Celtic fire of our Gallic neighbours blazed forth into admiration at a time when our colder Saxon natures had scarcely begun to glow, it must be admitted, on the other hand, that when the latter began to warm, they rose steadily to a red, even to a white heat of unbounded admiration. For the last ten years of his life, Dalton was the object of universal esteem among his countrymen,

In 1826, the council of the Royal Society of London unanimously awarded to him the royal gold medal of fifty guineas value, placed at their disposal by George IV. But it is to the British Association for the Advancement of Science that Dalton was indebted for the estimation in which latterly he was held.

He attended its earliest meeting at York, in 1831, where he was seen for the first time by many who had long esteemed bim at a distance, and now rejoiced in an opportunity of vying with each other in shewing him respect.

At the next meeting of the association, held at Oxford, in the following year, the university conferred upon him the title of Doctor of Civil Law. In 1833, when the association met at Cambridge, the president, Professor Sedgwick, took a public opportunity of expressing his regret that the university could not honour herself

, as the sister one had done, by conferring upon Dalton an honorary degree, as these cannot be granted without royal mandamus. At the close of his speech, he announced that his Majesty King • William IV., wishing to manifest his attachment to science and his regard for a character like that of Dr. Dalton, had graciously conferred on him, out of the funds of the civil list, a substantial mark of his royal favour.' This substantial mark' was a pension of 1501., which was raised to 3001. in 1836. It is not generally known, but we have the best authority for stating it, that the Rev. Dr. Chalmers was the first to rouse the government to a sense of Dalton's claims. To his purely professional and literary accomplishments, the celebrated Scotch divine adds no inconsiderable acquaintance with most of the physical sciences, and the widest sympathy with the progress of them all. In early life, he is known to have been an indefatigable experimenter, and has even lectured to select audiences on heat and on chemistry. Knowing well what Dalton's merits were, he visited him at Manchester, and was surprised and pained to find him an obscure, ill-remunerated teacher of mathematics. Dr. Chalmers lost no time in expostulating, by letter, with Joseph Hume, on the injustice of suffering such a man as Dalton to go unrewarded. His claims were acknowledged even by that rigid economist, and soon after the first pension was accorded him.

We have already seen that Dalton declined to avail himself of the offers of his friends to provide him with a competency, which should set him free from the necessity of elementary teaching. This was in the days of his robust manhood; and we think he did right. We know no reason why the man of science, so long as he is full of health, should not take his share in bearing the burden under which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth'why he should be exempt from the common lot of earning his bread by the sweat of his brow. We are sure, moreover, that the joys even of a hard-earned independence will more than compensate, in every case, for the fancied advantages of an undeserved and an inglorious leisure. different when age has overtaken the man who has laboured while he had strength, and who has spent his days in extending that knowledge by which all men are gainers. Such a one, even though his studies have been of the most purely speculative and apparently unpractical kind, may fitly be saved from the gripe of poverty when the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the

It is very

• windows be darkened,' by the kindness of his less gifted but more wealthy fellow-men. But the claims of the worn-out man of science are still greater, when he has been the author of discoveries which have enabled his quite unscientific brethren to

reap where they had not sown, and gather where they had not strawn.' Then it becomes a matter of justice, not of generosity, that he who has been the invisible sower of the seed which has produced, in some cases thirty, in some sixty, and in some an hundred-fold, should receive his tithe of the fruits of the field. The pension which government allowed to Dalton might be regarded as a generous gift to the author of · Experiments and an Hypothesis on the Constitution of mixed Gases.” But to him who unfolded the Atomic Theory' it was only a moderate, we had almost said a niggard dole. Three hundred pounds a-year! What a small fraction was that of the countless sums which he had saved his country—which he had won for her. The application of the laws of combining proportion to the practical arts enabled the manufacturer of glass, of soap, of pigments, of medicinal substances, of dyes, of oil, of vitriol, and of many other bodies of great commercial value, to secure their production without waste, or loss, or any unnecessary expenditure. Dalton could tell such a man, to a grain, the exact quantity of each ingredient which required to be added to produce a given compound. Three hundred pounds a-year! If Joseph Hume could obtain as good an account of every 300l. sent out of the Treasury, he would be a happy man, and England a happy country.

In the same year, 1833, in which Dalton received his first pension, a number of his friends subscribed the sum of 20001., and employed Chantrey to execute a full-length statue of him in marble. This beautiful work of art, which gives a fine likeness of Dalton, is erected in the entrance hall of the Royal Manchester Institution.

Dalton went to London to give Chantrey the requisite sittings for his bust, and while there was most cordially welcomed by men of science. Nor was this all. Through the influence of Mr. Babbage, the matheniatician, of Lord Brougham, who was then Chancellor, and of some other friends, he was presented to William IV. From the account of a Manchester gentleman who was well acquainted with the facts, we learn that with • great skill all the minute preparations for his appearance in

such august presence were made by his friends, and arrayed ' in the pompous vestments of a Doctor of Oxford, with the • scarlet gown and black cap, the silk stockings, the buckles, and • the whole paraphernalia of a learned courtier, our townsman

« PreviousContinue »