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Necessity And Invention

( Originally Published 1851 )

A curious catalogue might be made of the shifts to which ingenious students in different departments of art have resorted, when, like Davy, they have wanted the proper instruments for carrying on their inquiries or experiments. His is not the first case in which the stores of an apothecary's shop are recorded to have fed the enthusiam, and materially assisted the labors, of the young cultivator of natural science. The German chemist, Scheele, whose name ranks in his own department with the greatest of his time, was, as well as Davy, apprenticed in early life to an apothecary. While living in his master's house he used secretly to prosecute the study of his favorite science by employing often half the night in reading the works that treated of it, or making experiments with instruments fabricated, as Davy's were, by himself, and out of equally simple materials.

Like the young British philosopher, too, Scheele is recorded to have sometimes alarmed the whole household by his detonations an incident which always brought down upon him the severe anger of his master, and heavy menaces, intended to deter him from ever again applying himself to such dangerous studies, which; however, he did not long regard. It was at an apothecary's house, that Boyle and his Oxford friends first held their scientific meetings, induced, as we are expressly told, by the opportunity they would thus have of obtaining drugs wherewith to make their experiments.

Newton lodged with an apothecary, while at school, in the town of Grantham; and as, even at that early age, he is known to have been ardently devoted to scientific contrivances and experiments, and to have been in the habit of converting all sorts of articles into auxiliaries in his favorite pursuits, it is not probable that the various strange preparations which filled the shelves and boxes of his landlord's shop would escape his curious examination. Although Newton's glory chiefly depends upon his discoveries in abstract and mechanical science, some of his speculations, and especially some of his writings on the subjects of light and color, show that the internal constitution of matter, and its chemical properties, had also much occupied his thoughts. Thus, too, in other departments, genius has found it sufficient materials and instruments in the humblest and most common articles, and the simplest contrivances. Fergusson observed the places of' the stars by means of a thread with a few beads strung on it, and Tycho Btahe did the same thing with a pair of compasses. The self-taught American philosopher, Rittenhouse, being, when a young man, employed as an agricultural laborer, used to draw geometrical diagrams on his plough, and study them as he turned up the furrow. Pascal, when a mere boy, made himself master of many of the elementary propositions of geometry, without the assistance of any master, by tracing the figures on the floor of his room with a bit of coal. This, or a stick burned at the end, has often been the young painter's first pencil, while the smoothest and whitest wall he could find supplied the place of a canvass. Such, for example, were the commencing essays of the early Tuscan artist, Andrea del Castagno, who employed his leisure in this manner when he was a little boy tending cattle, till his performances at last attracted the notice of one of the Medici family, who placed him under a proper master. The famous Salvator Rosa first displayed his genius for design in the same manner. To these instances may be added that of the late English musical composer, Mr. John Davy, who is said, when only six years old, to have begun the study and practice of his art by imitating the chimes of a neighboring church with eight horse-shoes, which he suspended by strings from the ceiling of a room in such a manner as to form an octave.—The Pursuit of Knowledge.

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