Ackermann’s Repository of Arts/Series 1/Volume 1/January 1809/Introduction to the History of the Arts
ARTS, LITERATURE, COMMERCE,
Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics,
For JANUARY, 1809.
The First Number.
————————The suffrage of the wise,
The praise that’s worth ambition, is attain'd
By sense alone, and dignity of mind.
INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF THE USEFUL AND POLITE ARTS.
At the commencement of a new year, it seems natural to pause, and look back upon the period which has just been completed, to review the more important events, to examine their causes and consequences, and to form some kind of estimate of their relation to ourselves individually, or as they tend more generally to affect the aggregate of human happiness. Feelings of a similar nature lead us, at the commencement of a new work, which embraces so wide a circle, to trace the map of literature, to examine the progress of discovery in the arts and sciences, to follow their respective boundaries, to ascertain their extent, and finally, to form some opinion of their value, as they affect our morals and our manners. It is universally admitted, that to cultivate a taste tor the arts, and an acquaintance with the sciences, is a pleasure of the most refined nature: but to do this without regard to its influence upon the passions and affections, is to “tear a tree for its blossoms, which is capable of yielding the richest and most valuable fruit.” The cultivation of this taste may and ought to be subservient to higher and more important purposes: it should dignify and exalt our affections, and elevate them to the admiration and love of that Being an who is the author of every thing that is fair, sublime, and good in nature. Indeed scepticism and irreligion are hardly compatible with that sensibility of heart which results from an intimate knowledge of, and a lively relish for, the wisdom, harmony, and order subsisting in the world around us. In the discussion of subjects which occupy so much of our attention, and exercise so large a portion of our ingenuity, it is natural to begin with the most curious as well as interesting. Indeed
“The proper study of mankind, is man.”
he is the center round which the arts and sciences may be said to revolve, for whose comfort they were bestowed, and by whom they are to be enjoyed. The mind, accustomed to a beginning of things, feels an anxiety to trace him in the rude and
earliest stages of society, when the first dawning of the arts gleamed upon the universe. Writers, notwithstanding they agree almost generally in opinion, that man is a social being, have, in their speculations, described a slate of nature, which certainly never had any existence but in their own imaginations; and they appear to have fallen into this universal error, from a wish to exhibit the advantages of society in a stronger point of view, by contrasting them with a fancied state of wildness, as painters give effect to light by opposing large masses of shade, or as the beauty of melody is more sensibly felt when succeeding to the imperfect harmony which results from the proper management of discords. These philosophers seem as generally to have omitted the acknowledgment, that such a state of nature in which they are pleased to consider man in the abstract, never had, or could have had, any actual or physical existence.
It is obvious that some of the more useful arts must, from necessity, have been coeval with the first of the human race. The means of procuring food, raiment, and shelter, even in their utmost simplicity, imply a certain extent of knowledge in the arts; some of them are so obvious and necessary, and at the same time their antiquity is so remote, that even tradition does not furnish us with the names of their inventors. At a period when the occupations of mankind were limited to the attainment of what was necessary to existence, there was neither time nor occasion tor the cultivation of those arts which were to promote the conveniences, or minister to the luxuries of life. But very soon the shepherd state afforded not only the time, but was calculated to excite a desire for the useful arts; and the gradual improvements of agriculture furnished the means of supplying food for those who, relieved from the necessity of bodily labour, were employed in the useful arts, and afterwards in cultivating such as contributed to the enjoyments and amusements of mankind: accordingly, we find the arts first made their appearance in the East, under a genial sky and in a fertile soil. The bow and arrow, those necessary appendages of the first hunters, are attributed to Scythus, the son of Jupiter; and spinning, the most useful perhaps of all the arts, has usually been ascribed to some illustrious inventor; by the Egyptians to Isis, by the Greeks to Minerva, by the Peruvians to Mama Ella, wife to their first sovereign Mango Capac, and by the Chinese to the wife of their emperor Yao. The first attempts at architecture were necessarily rude and simple, and the hut of the savage was rivalled in neatness and accommodation by the commodious habitations of the more sagacious brutes. To a state of society naturally succeeded the appropriation of property, which as naturally led, first to individual trespasses, and afterwards to the mutual encroachments of different tribes upon one another. The means of attack and defence appear to have been among the first essays of human invention, and the miserable art of war has, perhaps, in succeeding ages, called forth the powers of the human mind in a greater degree than any of the arts of peace. To the club and the dart succeeded the bow and arrow. The employment of iron was a later discovery: even at the siege of Troy, brass was more generally used. Menestheus, who commanded fifty Athenian vessels upon that occasion, is said to be the first who marshalled an army. The earliest fortifications were trees interlaced with boughs; to which succeeded the wall, with holes left for missile weapons. The battering-ram was opposed to the wall by Pericles, the Athenian, and brought to perfection at the siege of Gades by the Carthaginians. To oppose this invention, parapets were introduced, which were counteracted by covers pushed close to the wall, to secure in its turn the assailants. This again was rendered ineffectual by deep and broad ditches, which creating the necessity for, led to the invention of machines to throw weapons from a distance, to employ the defenders of a fortified place so as to afford an opportunity of filling up the ditches: the use of these engines led also to other modes of fortification, which enabled one part to flank another, and to the construction of round, after- wards improved to square towers, erected upon the salient angles of the walls. But the invention of cannon created a great revolution in military architecture. They were first made of iron bars, united by rings of copper; and their size was afterwards reduced by the employment of iron instead of stone for the balls: these destructive engines were at length completed by making them of cast metal. To resist their force, ingenuity was employed in the construction of bastions, horn-works, crown-works, half-moons, &c.; but the arts of attack having at least kept pace with those of defence, have rendered these boasted inventions of little use.
In modern times, the experiment has been tried, of associating with military tactics the science of politics, and the moral nature of man has been successfully employed to convert the members of the same society into instruments of mutual destruction. Indeed, the vicissitudes of public opinion, or the public spirit arising out of public opinion, have had more effect in the revolutions at a late period, than even the collisions of armies; and the lightening which blasts, has not been more powerful in effect, or more rapid in communication, than the solar rays which sustain the universe.
Naval architecture (a subject upon which no Englishman can be uninterested) has had its gradual progress to a state of improvement. The first vessels were constructed with beams, joined together, and covered with planks. To these succeeded trees hollowed out by fire and manual labour, called monoxyles; and the Greeks formed other vessels, which were made of planks fastened together so as to imitate them. A prow for the head, and a movable helm for the tail, with oars for the tins, which was the next improvement, seem to have been suggested by the idea of imitating a fish. Sails were afterwards added; an invention of so remote antiquity, that the author is unknown. Before the middle of the sixteenth century, English ships of war were built without port-holes, and had only a few guns placed upon deck: even in the sixteenth century, a voyage to the East Indies on this side the Granges, allowing the time necessarily spent in the country for unlading and relading, was three years; but such is the improvement of navigation, accompanied by the advances made in marine astronomy, the knowledge of tides, winds, and currents, and in geography, that at present it is no more than a voyage of eighteen months. From Bombay and Madras to Falmouth, voyages have been frequently performed in less than four months. These circumstances, connected with the arts of writing and printing, facilitate the intercourse of men and minds, and account in a great degree tor the accelerated progress of knowledge at the present, beyond all former periods. These arts enable the learned of all countries to supply mutual deficiences, to correct mutual errors, and, on subjects of common investigation, to enlarge the knowledge of facts, which, since the days of Bacon and Galileo, have converted the learned world from visionary theorists into rational enquirers. As these two important arts (writing and printing) are the means by which we are principally acquainted with all human knowledge, we shall say a little respecting them.
To write, or, in other words, to express the thoughts to the eye, was early attempted in Egypt, by means of hieroglyphics: these were figures of animals, parts of the human body, and even mechanical instruments; as the former were made choice of on account of the peculiar properties or quality of the animals, so they are said to have represented similar qualities in the gods, heroes, or others to whom they were applied. These images being placed in their temples, gave rise to a strange sort of worship ascribed to these people; and that homage and veneration which had first been paid to the heroes themselves, was insensibly transferred, without any great violation of propriety perhaps, to the animals by which they were represented. The meanings of some of these hieroglyphics are preserved. The Supreme Deity was represented by a serpent with the head of a hawk: the hawk was the hieroglyphic of Osiris; the river-horse, of Typhon; the dog, of Mercury; the cat, of the moon, &c. But these were not confined to Egypt: figures, composed of feathers, were employed to express ideas in Peru; and Montezuma received intelligence of the invasion of his kingdom by the Spaniards, in this way. In Peru, arithmetic was composed only of different coloured knots. The next step in the progress of writing, appears to be the expression of a word by a single mark or letter, which is the Chinese method of writing. They have upwards of sixty thousand of these marks, which they employ in matters of science. Instead of using marks to represent words, which are infinite, we employ letters to represent articulate sounds, which compose words. Their inferior and wretched mode of writing, readily accounts for the state of literature among the Chinese, and their relative superiority in respect to the arts, which being imitative, may be acquired by practice or oral instruction. The art of writing seems to have been known in Greece when Homer composed the Iliad and Odyssey; and cyphers, invented in Hindostan, were brought into France from Arabia about the end of the tenth century.
The mode of impressing figures upon silk and cotton, which (according to the accounts given us by the Jesuits) had been practised by the Chinese many centuries before printing was known in Europe, seems to have been the first step towards the introduction of this art to the knowledge of mankind. The invention of cards, which took place towards the latter end of the fourteenth century, was an intermediate step between block and letter-press printing. They were originally painted, but, about the year 1400, a mode was discovered of printing them from blocks. The books of images succeeded: they are likewise printed from blocks, and the text is placed below, or on each side of the print. Mr. M. Lambinet mentions seven of these: 1. Figures Typicæ Veteris atque Antitypicæ Novi Testamenti. There is one copy of this work in the Bodleian Library, and another at Christ’s College, Cambridge. — 2. Historia S. Joannis Evangilistæ, ejusque Visiones Apoealypticæ. 3. Historia seu Providentia Virginis Mariæ, ex Cantico Canticorum. 4. Ars Moriendi. 5. Ars Memorandi Notabilis per Figuras Evangilistarum. 6. Donatus, seu Grammatica brevis in Usum Scholarum conscripta. 7. Speculum Humanæ Salvationis.
The bards are said to have carved their poems upon bars of wood, arranged like a gridiron. All these, which appear to be so many degrees of stereotype printing, naturally prepared the way for letter-press; but the origin and history of this invention is involved in so much obscurity, that with respect to its introduction, particularly to this kingdom, nothing satisfactory either has or can be said. The honour of having given birth to it is claimed by the cities of Haerlem, Strasbourg, and Mentz; but the evidence preponderates in favour of Strasbourg, where Guttemburg certainly first used movable types. It seems equally clear, that he afterwards carried on the business of printing at Mentz, where he was born. The names of the other competitors for the honour of this invention were, John Faust of Mentz, John Mental of Strasbourg, and L. J. Koster of Haerlem. When Mentz was taken, in the year 1462, by Adolphus, Count of Nassau, Faust and his workmen dispersed, and the art of printing became in consequence spread over the Continent. In Rome it was practised in the year 1367; and in 1468 it is said to have been introduced to this country by Thomas Bourchier, archbishop of Canterbury. He sent persons to the Continent, to make themselves masters of the art, who induced workmen to come over and practise it in England. Accordingly a press is said to have been soon after established at Oxford, thence removed to St. Alban’s, and ultimately to Westminster Abbey. Great doubts, however, have been expressed, as to the authenticity of these circumstances; but the fact still remains, that about this period, and particularly at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Germans, the Italians, and the Dutch, who had continued to engrave on wood and copper, now printed with movable types, and the art spread itself over a considerable part of Europe with astonishing rapidity: nor should this circumstance be a subject of surprise, when we consider what an alteration this art almost immediately produced upon the mind, by rendering that knowledge accessible to all ranks, which formerly was a luxury of which the rich and the great only could partake. But we are more surprised, that, in the nineteenth century, there should be found among the enlightened legislators of this country, advocates for confining the means of knowledge and improvement; men who are so little acquainted with the theory of the human mind, as to oppose the diffusion of letters among the lower orders of society, lest it should eventually render them dissatisfied under a government which is the noblest monument of human wisdom, and which the accumulated experience of ages has contributed to rear. What are we to think of men who contend, that we are little indebted to the art of printing, because it is productive of so many literary abortions, and multiplies the means of propagating false science, which is worse than ignorance itself?
From what has been said, it follows, that we consider stereotype, or those kinds of it usually known by the description of block or plate printing, to have been anterior to letter-press, or printing with movable types; but the great modern improvements which have been made in stereotype, almost entitle it to be considered as a new branch of the art. The French claim the merit of the invention; and A. C. Camus, in a memoir read at the National Institute, assures us, upon the authority of Lottin, that stereotype was used by Vallayre, a printer, at Paris, in the seventeenth century. The Dutch certainly printed with solid types more than a hundred years ago; but we doubt very much whether any specimen can be produced equal to Fermin Didot’s stereotype. The Dutch types were the invention of J. Vander Mey, father of the well-known painter. Wm. Ged began to prosecute the art in 1725, and in 1730 obtained a privilege from the university of Cambridge, to print bibles and prayer-books; but he was unable to proceed in consequence of a combination between the compositors and pressmen. It appears, however, from his memoirs, that, in 1736, he stereotyped Sallust, with the assistance of his son, who “set up the forms in the night-time.” Mr. Tilloch, the ingenious editor of the Philosophical Magazine, has not only a copy of this work, but also one of the plates, as well as others of Mr. G.’s manufacture. Mr. Tilloch states, that, about fifty years afterwards, he made a similar discovery, without having any knowledge of Ged’s invention.
In 1784, letters patent were granted to Mr. Foulis and Mr. Tilloch, which expired in 1798. Several works were stereotyped by these gentlemen; but Mr. T. having settled in London, the concern was dropped; and Lord Stanhope (upon the recommendation of the late Mr. Elmsley, the bookseller), entered into a treaty with Mr. Foulis, and ultimately purchased from that gentleman whatever information it was in his power to communicate respecting the stereotype art. It was his lordship’s intention, in making the purchase, to communicate this valuable art to the public, without remuneration; but his lordship found it so defective in many essential parts, that he considered it unworthy and unfit to be communicated in that state, as a process to be advantageously employed.
In consequence of this disappointment, his lordship has employed no trifling degree of labour and expence in prosecuting the discovery of a new process, by which the former disadvantages attendant upon stereotype are completely obviated. This process has been adopted by the two universities, who contracted with Mr. Wilson for the monopoly of the improved stereotype, at the sum of £4000 each. The term of this contract (being only for two or three years) is expired; and we are given to understand that, at no distant period, his lordship proposes to communicate this discovery to the public; the stereotype art having now attained that state of perfection which authorizes his lordship to indulge the flattering sentiment, that, in presenting it to the public, he shall deserve the grateful acknowledgments of his country and of mankind. It should be observed, that his lordship has permitted Mr. Wilson to avail himself of any benefit to be derived from the prosecution of this art, and also from his engagements with the universities, in order to remunerate Mr. W. for the expence and trouble of establishing the manufacture of plates in London; but his lordship, with that generosity which forms a prominent feature of his noble mind, has invariably declined the opportunities of reimbursing any part of the large sum (exceeding five thousand pounds) which he has expended in the prosecution of experiments to bring the art of stereotype printing to its present improved state.
But it may be truly said, that
is indebted more than any other science to modern discoveries. Its importance and utility appear sufficiently obvious to these who have at all considered the extent of this department of knowledge; but for the sake of those of our readers who are yet unacquainted with it, we shall take a short view of the objects which it embraces, and the advantages that may be derived from the study of it, whether in explaining many of the striking phenomena of nature, or improving the arts of civilized life: for, in the midst of the infinite variety of objects from which man must derive the means of his comfort, his luxuries, and (it might be added) his very existence, this science affords him the most important aid. Whether his researches be carried into the mineral or animal kingdoms, the study and cultivation of chemical science become essentially requisite for the successful progress of his investigations. Of the knowledge which we possess of the vegetable kingdom, chemistry furnishes a very large share; it is this science which accounts for the phenomena of vegetation, germination, the growth, the ripening, and the death of plants. The nature of the different manures necessary for the various kinds of vegetables, the influence of light, the different temperatures, the nature and quality of moisture, the preservation of seeds, roots, and plants, are all founded upon chemical principles.
In considering the application of chemistry to the improvement of the useful arts, a wide field of contemplation opens to our view. So extensive indeed are its influence and importance, that, in most of the arts, the processes that are employed, depend on chemical principles. Barely to mention some of these arts, will afford ample illustration of its extensive utility: for the art of extracting metals from their ores, of purifying and alloying them with each other, and of forming instruments and utensils, whether for useful or ornamental purposes, almost all the processes are purely chemical. The essential improvements which modern chemistry has introduced in the arts of turning, brewing, distilling, bleaching, dying, in the manufacture of glass and porcelain, &c. shew its importance and utility in the arts of civilized life.
From the extensive application of chemical science, those who have not considered the objects which it embraces, will be enabled to judge of the importance or this branch of knowledge to every individual.
But, however much one may be interested in observing and admiring the beneficial influence of this science on the arts and manufactures, if we extend our views, and consider chemistry as a science or subject of philosophical investigation, it will command a greater share of our admiration and study; for, perhaps, there is no branch of knowledge better calculated to promote and encourage that generous and ardent love of truth, which confers dignity and superiority on those who successfully pursue it; and it is surely no small recommendation to the study of this science, that while we store the mind with interesting truths, we add something to the stock of human knowledge, which is perhaps immediately applicable to the most important purposes of life. It is thus that the value of any science may fairly be estimated; namely, in proportion as it interests our understanding, as it enlarges our resources, augments our industry, our commerce, and our power.
With regard to the history of chemistry, it is not necessary here to trace the principles of this science to remote periods of antiquity. Man indeed could not exist long without some knowledge of chemical processes; and as he improved in civilization, this knowledge must also have improved or become extended.
Tubalcain, who is mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures as a worker in metal, and who is supposed to have given rise to the fabulous story of Vulcan in ancient mythology, is considered by some as the first chemist whose name has been transmitted to the present time; and altho’ the working of metals, the kindling of fires, the baking of bread, the burning of clay into pottery, the processes of the vintage, and many other operations which owe their invention to the immediate wants of mankind, and which are absolutely chemical, must have been coeval with the earliest state of society; yet the mere knowledge and practice of these arts do not deserve to be dignified with the name of a science.
A carpenter may erect a piece of machinery arranged and constructed exactly similar to what he has seen, without the knowledge of a single principle of architecture; but the man of science, who can neither handle the axe nor the chisel, observes, accounts, and estimates the power and operation of the moving parts, and ascertains precisely the effects of the whole machine: and is it not more plausible to suppose that a science, so much depending on the civilization of man, and the experience of ages, could not have been cultivated as a science in such a remote period? Nor will it afford us much instruction to enquire whether Moses, who is said to have been skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and who burnt the golden calf: whether Cleopatra, who is said to have dissolved a pearl; or whether Noah, who made wine from his grapes, understood chemistry or not: but as it would be unpardonable were we not to notice the outlines of the history of the science, we shall shortly trace the æras of the progressive discoveries which led to the establishment of chemical philosophy.
The Israelites acquired all the information which may be called chemical, in Egypt. It was there that Moses learnt the properties of metals, the art of extracting oils, the preparation of balsams and perfumes, the dying of linen, the making of wine, the art of gilding, the fabrication of pottery, &c.
The Phœnicians arc spoken of as being acquainted with the making of glass, with which they traded. They invented the art of tinging garments with a purple-coloured matter, said to be produced by a species of shellfish. They were also skilled in the working of metals; they made artificial gems, perfumes, and odoriferous balsams; they invented the art of preserving the fruits of vegetables and plants. They first distinguished the metals by the names of the planets, which they retained for many centuries.
Among the Chinese (if we may believe their historians) many chemical arts were known from time immemorial. They were acquainted with nitre, borax, alum, gunpowder, verdigrease, sulphur, and colouring matters; nor were the arts of dying linen and silk, paper-making, manufacturing of porcelain, unknown. They were also skilled in the art of alloying metals, and in the working of ivory and horn.
The Carthaginians, who were a colony of the Phœoenicians, learnt their arts.
Fewer traces of chemistry are found among the Greeks, although they derived their knowledge of many of the arts from the Phœnicians. The ancient philosophers of Greece, as Pythagoras, Thales, and Plato, were more devoted to the cultivation of mathematical and astronomical knowledge, than the physical sciences. It is natural to suppose that the obvious difference or change of bodies that surround us, could not remain unnoticed by a people of so philosophical a turn of mind as the Greeks; hence, both Aristotle and Empedocles taught the doctrine of the four supposed elements, air, fire, earth, and water.
The Corinthian brass has been much celebrated. Tyches knew the art of tanning leather; Plato describes the process of filtration; Hippocrates was acquainted with the (so called) process of calcination; Galen speaks of distillation; Democritus, of Abdera, examined the juices of plants; Aristotle and Theophrastus treated of stones and metals.
The wars in which the Romans were almost constantly engaged, and the spirit of enterprise which prompted them to military affairs, gave them neither time nor taste to cultivate and improve the arts of peace. After having conquered and subjugated almost the whole of the civilized world, they then arduously applied themselves to the arts of their early masters, the Greeks. They understood the art of making excellent wines and spirits; they knew the application of manures; they prepared incombustible cloth, for wrapping up the dead bodies which were destined to be burnt, in order to preserve their ashes distinct from those of the funeral pile; they were acquainted with almost all the metals, and the modes of coining them: they were skilled in the culinary art; their cooks prepared delicious sauces for their tables: and the remains of their aqueducts, and other works of architecture, evince the incomparable perfection of their cements.
But all the arts, the sciences, and literature of the Romans and Greeks, were destined to sink into oblivion. Hosts of barbarian conquerors descended upon them from the North; the energies of civilization withered at their touch, and their works were destroyed before them.
The arts and sciences, driven as it were from Europe, obtained an asylum with the Arabians. The attachment of this nation to magic, and their inclination to the marvellous, soon increased the mysteries in which the arts were then already involved; and hence alchemy, or the art of transmuting base metals into gold, took its rise.
To us it may appear somewhat singular, that chemistry, now of such universal importance to mankind, should be indebted, in some measure, for its origin as an art, and for some parts of its progress, to one of the less noble or generous of the human passions; yet, in its early dawn, it was cultivated by men who were instigated by avarice to prosecute and study it. It was, certainly, natural enough for men who observed the remarkable changes produced by chemical action, to be struck with their effects; and overlooking the variations and differences in the result of their operations, which were the consequences of partial or inaccurate observation, to flatter themselves that their power over the substances on which they operated, was only limited by their wishes.
It was one of the principles among the alchemists, that all metals are composed of the same ingredients; or that the substances which enter into the composition of gold, are found in all metals, but mixed with many impurities, from which, by certain processes, they might be separated: and as they never seem to have thought of enriching themselves by their great discoveries, they were too generous to monopolize the wealth of the world. Hence they offered their services to others, and liberally proposed to communicate the fruit of their labours for a moderate reward.
As this delusive dream of the imagination held out a bait to avarice, it soon acquired a train of followers. The research was pursued with an ardour which no disappointment could damp, and the mania spread from one country to another.
The ambitious man, to procure riches that he might increase his power, and the opulent man to add to his wealth, employed and encouraged the alchemists in the prosecution of their extravagant schemes. These flattering hopes, it will be supposed, were never realized; the rich prospect fled before them, and the golden prize, which they often supposed was just within their reach, eluded their eager grasp. The magnitude of the plan, however, fired the imagination, and produced something like conviction in their minds of the possibility, and even certainty, of obtaining the object of their wishes and all their labours. With unabating ardour, with unexampled assiduity, they pursued their researches, persuading themselves and their employers, that they were on the point of being soon in possession of unlimited wealth. But the alchemists beholding man by anticipation possessed of immense riches, saw that something more was requisite, that he might be secured in the uninterrupted enjoyment of them. Experience fatally taught them, that the feeble frame of man was subject to the languor of disease; that gold could neither allay the thirst of fever, assuage the agonies of pain, or purchase for its possessor the blessings of health.
Thus another most desirable object was held up to view, and deluded the visionary enthusiasm of their minds with the false hope of attaining it. This was the universal medicine which was to cure all diseases, and not only to cure, but absolutely to prevent their occurrence.
Thus fortunate in the enjoyment of vast riches, thus blest with unbroken health, the desires of man were yet unsatisfied. Another seeming evil still remained, which was naturally to be dreaded as the destroyer of this fancied scene of enjoyment and felicity. The melancholy reflection, that it was limited by the short space of human life, roused the alchemists again into exertion, and produced new efforts of ingenuity in their labours; and in imagination they had discovered the means of prolonging life at pleasure. But the age of visionary philosophers did not cease with the alchemists. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, the progress of discovery, particularly in chemistry and mineralogy, had become so great, and the reign of art over nature so extensive, that some of the same philosophers who set up for political reformers, believed not only the period was approaching, when men were to be governed by the purity of their own minds, and the moderation of their own desires, without any external coercion, but when the life of man might be prolonged ad infinitum, and philosophers, if they choose it, become immortal.
In Egypt, alchemy attracted the attention of the government. The exact period of the origin of this study is unknown, nor can it now be ascertained what progress it had made, or to what extent it was cultivated among the ancients. Dioclesian, apprehensive that the dreams of the alchemists might be realized, ordered their books to be burnt, and prohibited all chemical operations, that he might subdue them with more facility. After this period, the alchemists were strongly opposed by several able and learned men.
(To be continued.)
- The computation of the beginning of the year has been varied at different periods of our history, and was never legally settled for civil affairs till the parliamentary alteration of our calendar. From Bede’s time down to the Norman conquest, the constant practice was, to compute the year from Christmas-day. After the conquest, Gervaise, a monk of Canterbury, mentions several different ways of computation during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; some from the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Circumcision, and others from the Passion of our Lord: but he chuses to fix the commencement of the year to Christmas-day; “because,” says he, “we compute the age of men from their birth.” Matthew Paris and others prove this uncertainty for many years afterwards. T. Walsingham, one of the most accurate of the monkish writers, begins the year sometimes from the Circumcision, and at others from Christmas. There is reason to believe, that the custom of computing from the Annunciation began about the year 1450. Thomas Chandler, who was chancellor of Oxon from 1458 to 1462, in his short account of William of Wickham, printed by Warton (Aug. Sacra. ii. 355.) begins this year with the Annunciation. Bishop Godwin, who wrote at the beginning of the seventeenth century, computes from the first day of January; but then he wrote for the use of foreigners, who had no other way of computation. At the Reformation the commencement of the year was fixed to the feast of the Annunciation, by adding the following rubric to the table of movable feasts for forty years, viz. “Note, That the supputation of the year of our Lord in the church of England beginneth the 25th of March, the same day supposed to be the first at day upon which the World was created, and the day when Christ was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary.” It stood thus down to the Savoy conference, soon after the Restoration, when it was thought proper to retain the order and drop the reason; in this shape it was continued until the alteration of the calendar. In civil affairs, the year of the king’s reign seems to have been the general date even in common deeds, till after the Restoration. During Cromwell’s usurpation the year of our Lord was introduced, because they did not choose to date by the years of the king’s reign; and this was afterwards continued for convenience. The Scotch had from time immemorial observed the 25th day of March as the first day of the year, till November 27, 1599, when the following entry was made in the books of the Privy Council: “On Monday, proclamation was made by the king’s warrant, ordaining the first of January in tyme coming to be the beginning of the new year;” which they have constantly followed ever since.
- The Biographical Memoirs of Wm. Ged were published in 1781: the first part dictated by Ged, the second part by his daughter; and the third was a copy of proposals that had been published by Mr. Ged’s son in 1751, for reviving his father’s art; and to the whole was added Mr. More’s narrative on block-printing.
In the Philosophical Magazine, No. 39, Mr. Tilloch says,
“In the mean time, we learnt that our art, or one extremely similar, had been practised many years before by Mr. Ged.”
Again, “At the time of the discovery, I flattered myself that we were original, and with these sanguine , which are natural to a young man, indulged the hopes of reaping some fame at least from the discovery; nay, I was even weak enough to feel vexed when I afterwards found that we had been anticipated by a Mr. Ged, of Edinburgh, who had printed books from letter-press plates about fifty years before. The knowledge of this fact lessened the value of the discovery so much in my estimation, that I felt but little anxiety to be known as the second inventor.
“Though we had reason to fear, from what we found Ged had met with, that our efforts would experience a similar opposition from prejudice and ignorance, we persevered in our object for a considerable time, and at last resolved to take out letters patent for England and Scotland, to secure to ourselves, for the usual term, the benefit of our invention: for the discovery was still as much our own as if nothing similar had been practised before; Ged’s knowledge of the art having died with his son, whose proposals for reviving it, published in 1751, not having been followed with success, he went to Jamaica, where he died. The patents were accordingly obtained, nay, they are even expired; and yet we hear people who only began their stereotype labours yesterday, taking to themselves the merit of being the first inventors.” Again Mr. T. says (speaking of Didot’s claim to the merit of this invention), “The facts I have stated shew with how little justice this claim is made. It is true, he may have discovered, for himself, the secret of the art; but it is hardly credible that he could be ignorant of Ged’s progress, and of our’s, especially as it is well known, that when patents are obtained, a specification of the is obliged to be put upon record, of which any one may obtain an office copy at a small expence.”
There is at least great inaccuracy (to say nothing more) in this statement. It appears Messrs. Tilloch and Foulis were not ignorant of Ged’s progress in 1781, nor of the difficulties which he had encountered in prosecuting his invention; but the knowledge of his art having died with his son, they determine to take out letters patent to secure the benefit of their own (our) invention: in order to obtain which, they must, first, distinctly state the invention itself, of which they swear themselves to have been the first and original inventors. Secondly, specification of the process is obliged to be put upon record. The invention itself is stated in the patent in the following words:
“Now know ye, that, in compliance with the said proviso, we, the said Andrew Foulis and Alexander Tilloch, do hereby declare, that our said invention of a method of making plates for the purpose of printing by or with such plates, instead of the movable types commonly used, which is performed by making a plate or plates for the page or pages of any book or other publication, and in printing of such book or other publication at the press, the plates of the pages to be arranged in their proper order, and the number of copies wanted thrown off, instead of throwing the impression wanted from movable types, locked together in the common method.”
If this description amounts to any thing intelligible, it is a claim of the invention of making plates for printing, instead of printing with movable types. The patentees then describe the process as follows:
“And such plates are made either by forming moulds or matrices for the page or pages of the books or other publications, to be printed by or with plates, and filling such moulds or matrices with metal, or with clay, or with a mixture of clay and earth; or by stamping or striking with these moulds or matrices the metal, clay, earth, or mixture of
clay and earth. In witness whereof, &c. &c.
“Dated 8th June, 1784.”
If we cannot impute a very imperfect degree of knowledge to these gentlemen, we must confess there appears to be an inexplicable obscurity in this specification, which merely states that moulds are to be formed (of what? gypsum, &c.? no such thing mentioned), and such moulds are to be filled with metal, or with clay, or with a mixture of clay and earth. There is nothing stated of the previous operation of composing the page, in the usual way, with movable types; and what can be intended by filling the moulds with clay, or a mixture of clay and earth, we cannot divine. But if this mode should not succeed, the alternative is presented, of stamping or striking with these moulds, or matrices, the metal, clay, earth, or mixture of clay and earth. We do not wonder that our ingenious neighbours treat this invention with so little ceremony. Indeed, we think the conclusion drawn by Mr. Tilloch, “that it is hardly credible Didot could be ignorant of Ged’s progress and ours,” is by no means logical: if Didot had procured this specification from the Petty Bag-office, could he possibly have discovered any similarity between the process thus specified, and the process invented by Ged, or practised by himself and others in France? and does not Mr. Tilloch himself tell us, “That several small volumes were actually printed by himself and Mr. Foulis, and the editions were sold to the trade, without any intimation of their being printed out of the common way?"
There is a concealment in these transactions for the avowed purpose of obviating the effects of any jealousy the trade might feel at this "new-fangled way,” and we do not blame the artifice; but if it was calculated to impose upon brother printers at home, how much more likely was Didot to be unacquainted with the progress of Messrs. Foulis and Tilloch, and what becomes of Mr. Tilloch’s "hardly credible" conclusion?
In the memoir of A. C. Camus to the National Institute, published in Memoires de Littếrature, he has enumerated several persons who have practised this beautiful art, beginning with Valleyre. In 1740, an almanack was stereotyped by J. Michel Funckter at Erfort, a place since rendered so famous by a meeting of the emperors of France and Russia. In 1778, books were stereotyped at Frankfort. In 1786, Hoffman, a native of Alsace, published in France, and likewise Abbế Rochon. In 1791, Jos. Carez published two volumes of one thousand pages each, large octavo, and beautifully executed. In 1793, Pingeron practised this art. In 1798, Louis Etienne Herhan, Fermin Didot, and Nicolas Mari Gatteaux, all obtained patents for it. Afterwards, Pierre Didot, brother to Fermin, published his prospectus. In the same year, a small quarto was printed by Bouvier in monotype: these plates were made by a different process from the stereotypes, and cast in copper; it is a beautiful specimen of printing. Since that period, several other works have been stereotyped in France.