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Memoirs of a Trait in the Character of George III. of these United Kingdoms/Appendix 6

No. 6.

ON THE CHARACTER OF MR. GEORGE GRAHAM.



The friendly solicitude of George Graham,[1] implied so exalted a degree of virtue (showing him superior to the far-famed Man of Ross, whose liberality was not exposed to such an ordeal) that the Author, in his admiration of the circumstance, blended with an impulse of gratitude in behalf of the descendants of the Mechanician, has attempted to make the world better acquainted with this practical philanthropist; which knows of him only as an eminent clock and watchmaker.—When our Adventurer went to London, in 1727, with the plans of his first Machine for the Longitude, he called on Graham, by the advice of Dr. Halley, who told him not to mind something repulsive in his first reception. After they got the ice broke (as John Harrison expresses it) this worthy man, than whom there could not be a better judge, allowed that young Harrison's plans were superior to his own; and probably saw that he was destined to supplant the imputation of all who had gone before him (his own inclusiyely) yet he manifested not a particle of that envy and ill-will which few but such rare geniuses can suppress at such a time—which Addison could not, who, it seems agreed,
Bore, like the Turk, no rival near the throne.
Which Pope himself, who wrote that line, was unequal to:[2] for he envied the success of the Beggars' Opera, the production of his friend Gay.—Graham instead of picking what he could out of the young man who had brought his drawings with him, and then conjuring up bugbears to dissuade him from applying to the Board of Longitude, which is too often the sequel of such an affair, detained him to pot-luck,[3] treated him like a brother, though an entire stranger, and gave him the most judicious counsel; nor did he stop at this negative kindness (advice being cheap) for he lent him money without security, and without interest. Nay, we have it on the testimony of John Harrison, that when he was pressed by the difficulties his enterprize led him into, and his friends came forward for his relief, "Graham was still among the rest."[4] In short the Sage who so quaintly pretended to search for an honest man, would have embraced, and thrust him into his tub, if there had been room enough for both. Such conduct may be concluded to have been a source of consolation to this excellent person in life's closing scene; and was wanting to be repeated with a sonorous blast, to pervade the tympanum of certain mathematical Professors at Oxford and Cambridge, whose consciences, to judge by their overt acts, were seared, as with a hot iron. Sir Thomas Lawrence, thought there was a deal more good than bad in human nature; and certainly such men as George Graham would bear him out. Those of a contrary opinion, allege that they should be regarded as an Oasis in the desert. Leaving the point to be decided by more competent abilities, we would observe that Gray, in his far-famed elegy chaunts—

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen;
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

To imply that the inherent virtues of some of—

"The rude forefathers of the hamlet,"

were wholly lost and unknown, from the obscurity of the precincts. In contradiction to the sentiment, however, this philanthropist flourished in the heart of London—in Fleet-street, to wit! and yet his merit was never enquired after, except in his profession:—it came under the cognizance of a meeting of Admirals and Civilians, among whom professed Scholars likewise took their seats; and can it be supposed their acquisitions under Euclid, Aristotle, or Quintilian, had left them so ignorant of

"The proper study of mankind,"

which the poet says, is Man; as not to know that, of all men living, John Harrison was the last person whose concerns Graham could have been expected to take an interest in promoting, which yet he did with a fraternal solicitude! that might have made a convert even of Swift, who, in the legacy his hatred left to the world (the verses on his own death) has this cogent question—

If, in a battle you should find
One, whom you loved of all mankind,

Had some heroic action done,
A champion killed, or trophy won.
Rather than be so overtopt.
Would you not wish his laurels cropt?—

The answer may be safely in the negative here. Graham, no doubt, would have been glad to achieve the Longitude, had he been equal to it: whether he wished his laurels cropt, as an abstract question is perfectly immaterial, while such was his conduct towards a rival, whom he could not be supposed to love most of all mankind, for he had never seen him before. Pope and Addison, and divers other celebrated men, were quite unequal to such a conquest over themselves, of which there is even official evidence in the present case.

At a Board of Longitude, 16th January, 1741.—

'A certificate being read, of the usefulness of a machine invented by Mr. John Harrison, for finding the Longitude at sea, by measuring time; it being an improvement which he hath made on two others which were before contrived by him, but of a different construction and considerably less than either of them, and Mr. Graham informing the Board that Mr. Harrison hath been ten years from first to last employed on the said machine, and been at very great expense in employing several persons to assist him in making the same, and that, in his opinion, it may in all probability effect when completed, the finding of the Longitude at sea. But Mr. Harrison representing that his circumstances are such, that he shall not be able to complete his said machine, unless he can be supplied with the sum of £500; but that with such encouragement he will undertake to put his machine together, and in motion, by the first day of August next, and in a condition by the first day of August, 1743, to be placed on board one of his Majesty's ships, in order to the making a trial thereof.—And the Board being satisfied that the said machine may be of advantage to navigation, in finding out the Longitude, and that therefore experiments thereof ought to be made: Resolved, &c.'
As none of the Commissioners understood the subject much, it was of prime importance to the applicant, that the first clock and watchmaker in London (as Graham was) should come forward to verify the correctness of his allegations. But it brings under observation at a subsequent period, those Collegians whose conduct, with all the advantages of a learned education, was totally at variance with the bright example of this excellent person.

The rivalry alluded to (from which Dr. Halley must always be excepted, who, like Newton, preferred a Timekeeper) may be dated from the importation of Professor Mayer's Tables, in 1756, from the aid of which wonders were expected, while it was entirely forgotten that, while their utility is so much circumscribed by the laws of nature, the seaman is often not much better off than before. But waiving this consideration, what can be said to the moral attributes of these luminaries from Cam and Isis? Were they natives of Gotham ("born in thick Ræotian air") who were incapable of profiting by the extraordinary merit of a layman thus recorded on their own minutes?[5] They might concoct passable discourses for the spiritual rostrum, yet they were "but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal," if their practice was so unequal to their precepts. Had this benevolent man and excellent christian (we would say, though Calvin might have predestined him to be damned) done every thing he could to overset the views of the Candidate, instead of taking a refined pleasure (a pleasure they knew not) in promoting them, the common infirmity of human nature would have been pleaded in extenuation of such selfish demeanour towards a man, who he might have said, came to London "to take the bread out of his mouth:"[6] but no such set off could be brought to bear on their own case, for they were not of his trade, when they manifested so much envy, jealousy and meanness, particularly in refusing him a check on the computations, although (we repeat that) the commonest sense of equity called for it:[7] and this moral deformity, were their old acquaintance, Juvenal, resuscitated, might have produced from the red-hot pincers, with which his muse was armed, a more biting satire than "words far bitterer than wormwood" can convey! in which, to say the least, he would have evinced no more respect for their scientific designations, than he may be supposed to have had for those of Doctor Trypherus, a Professor of the Art of Carving; who, in his time, gave practical lectures, at which his pupils exercised themselves on all sorts of subjects in wood, and the hacking and hewing these resounded through the Suburra.[8]


Notes

  1. See page 65.
  2. With these, Voltaire may form a trio, for "his despotic jealousy could brook no rival in literary fame."
  3. These kindred geniuses, it appears, kept up an animated discussion, on scientific chronometry, from ten in the morning till eight in the evening.
  4. There was the more merit in this, when it is considered that he was not like the Man of Ross, and other celebrated philanthropists, disengaged from the cares of a family.
  5. A novel and important remark, in the letters to young Stanhope, is—that in antient authors, particulars are admired, the counterparts of which pass unregarded in the neighbourhood.[subnote 1] The same reasoning is frequently applicable to modern instances of recent date; for how many have heard and admired the case of Frederic 3rd and the Miller, who yet never knew an item of the particulars here given of George 3rd, although beyond comparison of more moral interest than those of the other affair, because of the trouble and perseverance they called for. Again, who is not aware of the immortality conferred by Pope on the Man of Ross, for his meritorious example in the use of riches, perhaps devolving on him by inheritance? while the use, not of wealth, but of a moderate competence (the fruits of his industry) heightened by a conquest over the baser passions of our nature, in George Graham, is as unknown to those whom it concerns, as the virtue of George III. of these United Kingdoms. Pope, we believe, knew no more of him than as a superior mechanic, and possibly, his own watchmaker.
  6. By the favour of a Correspondent, we are enabled to insert the following few particulars of this distinguished Mechanician.—
    'George Graham was born in 1675, at Gratwick, an obscure village in the North of Cumberland. In 1688 he was sent to London, and apprenticed to a thirty-hour clockmaker. When he was out of his time, he entered the service of Mr. Tompion, one of whose nieces he married. This union proved unfortunate: Mrs. Graham had two sons, whose legitimacy her husband refused to acknowledge. On the 9th March, 1720, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and admitted on the 16th of the same month. And that year, after having, in 1716, become an Assistant, he was chosen Master of the Clockmakers' Company.—He died on the 16th November, 1751, and was interred in Westminster Abbey, on the 24th of that month. He left about £6,000; which was divided between his Widow and her two Sons: she survived him but a short time.'
  7. Either from public reproach, or private compunction, they gave up this point, and tacitly admitted the injury that bad been done to him. After the return from Barbadoes, he was desired to name an equal number of Computers, on his own part; but it was then unnecessary, because he personally knew and respected the abilities and fitness of those named by the Board: so that he thought it sufficient to name one only himself to that office.
  8. A street which, we are told, answered to the Strand in London. This refinement on civilization, is perhaps equalled by "A treatise on the Art of tieing the neckcloth, explained by cuts," which we lately heard of; and to which, the Author haying prefixed his portrait, we cannot doubt he attaches adequate importance.



Subnotes

  1. This position the Noble Writer appolitely illustrates in the Letter numbered 162, 12th edition.