Memoirs of a Trait in the Character of George III. of these United Kingdoms/Preface
the title of the work, from which the present is abridged, enlarges further, "with a history of the transactions which finally led to the royal interference in the case recited."—But the Author imagining that the generality of those who might favour him with their attention would be disposed to pass by the previous history, to arrive at that part of these memoirs where the principal character is brought forward, which is not till chapter thirteenth, a demy-octavo pamphlet of about three dozen pages, reprinted in the Appendix, with such comments as seemed called for, was adopted as a substitute, at present, for the details of several antecedent years; the occurrences of which, from the common abuse of arbitrary power in corporations aggregate, which the Commission of Longitude much resembled, had been long verging to that state in which George 3rd, from a humane spirit and the love of science, interfered, to rescue from unqualified oppression the aged Claimant of the second moiety of the reward of £20,000 for discovering the Longitude at sea.—The trial which gave occasion for the strictures, in that pamphlet, was wholly uncalled for by the public, and worse than useless at the time it was ordered; for the machine had given the fullest satisfaction to the seamen, for whose use it was intended; and had the Inventor been allowed the use of it, and to resort to his genius in simplifying the construction, and reducing the price (£400) at which only it could then be afforded, the Commissioners would not have frustrated the purpose of their institution, as is found to have been the case, by their constantly rejecting the opinion of the only man that fully understood the subject, and to whom the highest gratification that could have been named, after achieving the discovery, would have been to see the Timekeepers brought into general use.
The strictures on Dr. Maskelyne's report (as we entitle him for conveniency, though not then D.D.) can leave but one opinion, in a very material view; for whatsoever might be the scientific abilities of that gentleman, or the goodness of the instruments he used, no enquirer unconnected with the party which he appeared at the head of, would have supposed him a fit person to superintend the examination of a new-made Timekeeper, by John Harrison. He had been unable to reply to those few pages, even with the assistance of his mathematical colleagues and although goaded to it by some pointed remarks in a periodical of extensive circulation.—In one passage of his antagonist's sixpenny defence, he was disarmed irrecoverably by being dared to say, whether his own discoveries of the Longitude were not all made after and not before the crew saw land? In another page, he is declared to be deeply interested in the Lunar scheme for finding the Longitude: this it was equally impossible he should dispute; for his sanguine temperament and inordinate anticipation had led to a curious scene in the West Indies, which becomes of impressive consequence towards developing the causes which led to the interference of George 3rd. An anomaly in the constitution of the Commission of Longitude, never contemplated by the framers of it, was that one class of interested, or of honorary candidates, became judges of the merits of another, more likely, in the opinion of the great Newton, to achieve the discovery sought. Professors of Astronomy from Oxford and Cambridge decided without appeal, while the Mechanics were not represented at the Board; and unless for a season, by some casualty, had no person to attend to their interests; and as the esprit du corps, in the learned mathematicians, varied not from what occurs among the most illiterate groups in society, the consequences were a source of infinite trouble and harassing disquietude to a man of genius who had sacrificed those advantages winch his acknowledged abilities would have insured him, among scientific men, for the construction of astronomical clocks, to the delusion which his disputes with men opposed to his success for so good a reason as that it interfered with their own superior demonstrations, threatened to make interminable, when he was nearly an octagenarian. A total disregard of his age was indeed not one of the least deformities in these proceedings: and what can be thought of this opprobrium when we find that Mr. Mudge, junior, intending to extenuate any defects in his father's Timekeepers, shows him to have been near sixty when he commenced the first: that is, twenty years younger than the Claimant. Neither was this the extremity of that malevolence which under public pretexts could with impunity indulge private resentment and despicable envy, for nothing could be more adverse to the common interest, than to throw unnecessary obstructions in the way of the work which they required from him» when he was two decennaries older than the watchmaker just mentioned. Did they not know, that an impaired sight, and an unsteady hand, are among the ordinary concomitants of age? Yet there is evidence, under different dates, of his repeated applications for the loan of the successful Timekeeper (offering security) having been refused; although he distinctly told them that the having it by him six months, would save him the labour of one year in three. At length, after eighteen months most injurious detention of the model, without the least consideration for the good of the community, they gave way on this point, but only, as might be said, in mockery for it was just then found to be necessary that the machine should go to Mr Kendal, or he could not complete his contract with the Board.
That corporations will be guilty of a meanness and oppression which, individually, they would be perfectly ashamed of, or desire to be thought so, is not a new observation, but it is insufficient to explain the circumstances detailed; for whatever might be the opposition of the Lunar party to the success of the Timekeeper, or their hostility to the Mechanics, still it becomes difficult to believe that any set of public men could throw common humanity to the dogs, and equity to the devil, in this way; the conjecture will be, that there must have been some stirring spirit in the depths of so foul a vortex, towards whom his colleagues might be regarded as men of straw, and such was the fact. James, Earl of Morton, p.r.s., a vain, bustling and obtrusive character, took the management of every thing to himself, with, or without leave, does not appear. He was sufficiently imbued with the sentiment couched under his country's motto, and the Claimant had the misfortune to affront hime, about two years before, by not complying with certain impossibilities he prescribed under a separate Commission, to which he had been nominated by an Act, the 2nd George 3rd, which had been procured to prevent the Invention from being lost by the casualties of the sea, &c.
Of this Nobleman, who seems to have coveted fame at all events, like the shepherd who set fire to the temple of Diana, nothing is now known but that he was a few seasons President of the Royal Society; which becomes an uncompromising libel on the discernment of those by whom (we suspect for some party purpose) he was thus promoted. He either could not, or would not, understand so plain a proposition, as that, if his mode of explaining the above Act of Parliament was allowed, and works were commenced, which by the lowest estimate would require an outlay of £900, it was necessary funds should be provided to meet this exigency, which, as no expense had been contemplated by the measure, unless merely for travelling charges to the gentlemen, or for loss of time to the watchmakers, unavoidably rendered it abortive: not from any oversight by those who drew up the clauses, but because Lord Morton who, at this Commission, as at that of the Longitude, it so happened, directed every thing as he would have it, put a construction on the Act altogether fantastical.
When this Douglas who notwithstanding his chivalrous descent, had not a spark of magnanimity in his composition, took his seat at the Board, 9th February, 1765, at which the success of the Timekeeper was admitted by all, he accused the Claimant (who was not present nor prepared) of contumacy, in refusing to conform to the sentiments of a majority at the separate Commission, which majority it is distinctly shewn in, the history of the transactions, by a reference to the number, the names, and the letters of four out of eight who attended two meetings of this Commission, it was morally impossible he could have had.—It is common enough to meet with those who question your understanding if you are not always of their opinion, but never was this attribute of ill-informed people more extravagantly exemplified than in the northern Aristocrat; who could not possibly conceive how any men with a grain of sense could dissent from the profundity of his resolves on this, or indeed on any other subject: and reasoning rightly from wrong premises (according to. Locke's definition of a madman) instead of taking the sense of the meeting, either individually or collectively, and then embodying what might appear to be the prevalent desire, he produced from his pocket a string of resolutions ready prepared, and, as the Watchmakers who were of this Commission told the Candidate, assumed that they were adopted without a dissentient voice, giving them, no opportunity, to show him his mistake (if it was one.)Enough has been said to show that the Act to amend, explain and alter that of the 12th Queen Anne, originated in far other than the "doubts and difficulties" which according to their minutes on the above date, rendered it necessary to take that course, instead of paying the reward, which the proper law authorities affirmed they would be perfectly justified in doing—a particular so much in his favour, that it becomes, in a manner, impossible to divest the refusal of private and personal motives. Never was language more perverted than when, after hearing the statements of the Earl of Morton, it is added, that "they duly weighed and considered the same:" for they did no such thing. The slightest cross-examination would have shewn them, there was no foundation for the refractoriness imputed to John Harrison, in not complying with the resolutions of an imaginary majority. They might have seen, if they would, they were making themselves subservient to the contemptible and ungentlemanly revenge of the proud Thane, for having been defeated in enforcing his own construction of the 2nd George 3rd on the ill-fated Claimant. It is extremely surprising that not one Commissioner present had the sagacity to put a question or two to his Lordship, which would at once have dispersed the imbecile tissue he had fabricated. Had any particulars been asked, it must soon have appeared that he confuted himself; for his account implied that the Gentlemen of the separate Commission knew nothing of common business, or they could never have adopted his strange interpretation of that Act.—From an interview between the Earl and the Candidate, we may conclude, his Lordship's plan, if followed up with spirit, would have called for forty or fifty pounds a week in wages to workmen; which when it is considered there was no provision for carrying this mode of explaining the Act into effect, became the height of ridicule: yet a Peer of Scotland, and p.r.s., persisted in such an untenable argument: his absurd advice to John Harrison, at the time, was, to borrow all the money he could of his friends; naming Mr. Short, in particular; but he did not offer to back such counsel, by advancing him a fraction of a pound sterling.—The Commissioners of Longitude being presumed to have been all men of competent education, and more or less acquainted with what passes in our courts of equity and common law, how came it, that in a case on which the payment of £17,500 depended, they actually, without the least enquiry, took the word of this scientific coxcomb, so grievously to the prejudice of an eminent genius, whose rival, singularly enough, he assumed to be thought to a certain extent; for he pretended to have himself discovered, some years before, a principle employed in the construction of the Timekeeper, "but had not told it to man, woman or child." In connexion with this, he was possessed of a curious secret in mechanics, which, as he said "not a workman in London could find out, for they would all get wrong, if they attempted it.'" There might be no questioning this merit in a President of the Royal Society—who, however, previous to these disclosures had been fully empowered to take such steps as were preferable in his opinion: the subsequent proceedings being left unreservedly to his discretion.
Here then, the biographers of John Harrison, who being wholly unacquainted with these scenes, attribute his troubles to "the delicacy of the Commissioners in deciding between him and the public" may learn that the scrupulous sensations with which they endow them, had no veritable existence. The disinterested part of the Board were either outvoted, or too indolent to interfere when so clever a Manager as the President of the Royal Society, to wit, was willing to be fac totum to the whole concern: while those who were notoriously at variance with the Claimant, at the head of the party opposed to the success of the mechanics, could give a licence to their personal animosity, under the commonplace resort pro bono publico. It is certain the authority and immunities of the Board of Longitude were now either delegated to, or assumed by, an individual, whose effrontery was commensurate with his self-importance, and who even vaunted that the Act to amend, explain and alter, that of Queen Anne, was his own; and, after it was brought into Parliament, denounced, as follows, to his rival, through the agency of a gentleman in the Lower House, named Grey.—"Tell Mr. Harrison, out he will agree to the Resolutions of the Board of Longitude, on the 9th instant, that this affair shall never come to a decision in the House, but only be put off from time to time."
Montesqieu has said that the united power of the King, the Lords and Commons, in the Parliament of England, is the highest on earth; yet here, setting aside his rank (such are the discrepancies in the history of man) an ostentatious but insignificant individual, of contemptible pretensions, and who, in common parlance, would have been called a conceited prig, wields this mighty power; or at least assumes to give it a direction subservient to his own splenetic resolves and paltry revenge.—That the whole affair was of a personal nature, were there no previous evidence on the point, the conduct of this inflated Aristocrat, after he had procured the passing of the Act, which, with exulting propriety, he called his own, would establish. The ostensible purpose of that measure was to ascertain its being practicable to make more Timekeepers, like the successful one, and equally rate. Towards which object (security being given) the first, and most important requisite, was that the Inventor should have the use of it, as much as was necessary to abridge his labour. But this was immediately refused: after the drawings it was made from had been demanded, and were given up. No hindrance that could be superadded seems to have been forgotten, and when every thing was done that could be done to frustrate the professed
intention of bis own bill (an intention whicb be thus made a jest of the greatest power on earth to enforce) the conclusion we are left in is, that the real purpose of this psuedo philosopher, was to annihilate as far as his influence extended both the Invention and the fair fame of an original genius, towards whom he seemed destined to verify the Poet's stricture—
Envy will merit like its shade pursue,
And, like the shadow, proves the substance true.
Of the sentiments of the other Commissioners, the only particular known, shows that Sir John Cust (the Speaker of the House of Commons) was a dissentient from the proceedings for throwing cold water on the invention of the Timekeeper (as we think we may term them without a breach of propriety.) He seems to have detected and despised the affectation and effrontery by which Lord Morton kept his colleagues in a thraldom so injurious both in a public and private view; in consequence of which, the unprotected situation of the aged Claimant was an appeal to his humanity and good offices. The Applicant having drawn up a memorial for presentation at a Board held on May 24th, 1766, principally containing a reference to a plan before given in, for establishing a manufactory of Timekeepers, provided the second moiety of the reward was no longer detained, but withal having an allusion to the opinion of the Law Officers, which had been entirely in his favour; showed it to the worthy Baronet, who advised him to suppress it, unless he had a mind for an open breach with the Commissioners, which he said would be the certain consequence were it delivered in. He then offered to dictate a letter for Messrs. Harrison, and (in the words of the manuscript quoted) would try to get them a favourable answer.—A copy of the letter is preserved, which, under such strange circumstances. Sir John dictated, and—was to try to get a favourable answer if he could.—The father and son were not wanting in gratitude for his kindness, though the result was not favourable; for to a letter given in on the 24th May, no answer at all could be got till the 22nd of October, five months after; although it consisted only of as many lines, which were merely a reference to something before-said. No assignable reason can be noticed for this dilatory extreme, but the despotical caprice of the Manager—some counterpart of whom in Shakespear's time, probably enabled the poet to seize that forcible idea—
Man's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage.
And then is heard no more.—
The rest of the Board, we cannot doubt, however they might incline this way or that, would have disavowed any participation in so aggravating and useless a stretch of power; why then did they not check this audacity, so much in want of a bridle?—is a question that immediately occurs. It is evident they were responsible (but, as it has happened, to posterity only) for the conduct of the individual, to whom they had delegated their authority, or by whom it was assumed on a sufferance not ascertained, but consonant to the opposition he continued to manifest after he had lost his seat at the Board of Longitude.
The Earl of Morton was not now living, but seemed to have left bis animosity towards the Claimant as a legacy to that party at the Board whose views he always promoted, apparently without understanding them: (for there is no trace of his partiality to the Lunar method.) Never were ostensible duties more remarkably made a stalking-horse for private incentives, and vengeful misgivings, than when, in 1772, the talented veteran having, some time before, under the disadvantage of being refused every facility in their power, completed another Timekeeper (an improved copy of the successful one, which it was quite contrary to the common interest that he should waste his valuable time in showing he could imitate) it was required of him to submit this, his last work, to a trial of twelve months, instead of that which the Act, the foundation of his labours, had prescribed.—Although twelve months could not but be supposed to make a very serious difference to an octagenarian, yet be would have waived this discrepancy, had there not been other circumstances connected with it, too momentous to be overlooked. For haying been instructed by their late Manager to hold the teazing, the disheartening and insiduous uncertainty over his head, they refused to say whether such trial, however favourable the result, would be satisfactory: and as this was a direct contravention of the implied compact between him and the legislature, when he set to work (about his thirty-third year) which had always led him and the Commissioners, till Lord Morton took his seat among them, to consider the reward, in the event of a successful trial to the West Indies, as much his own as any other property that might be formally conveyed; it could not be expected he should acquiesce in his labours being rendered as interminable (at his great age) as his personal enemies might chuse to dictate. Yet neither did that forcible objection fully show the gist and bearing of this disgraceful business—which was, that ten months of the trial they required were to be under the especial superintendence of the Astronomer Royal, whom of all men he regarded as his mortal enemy: whether correctly, or otherwise, we need not stop to enquire; when it appears that Dr. Maskelyne though unable to reply to the diminutive octavo given herewith, and suffering judgment to go against him by default, was relieved by his party from "the slough of despond:" who were not ashamed to enable him, in this way, to take tenfold vengeance for having been hung in chains on his own premises.—The esprit du corps could never more decidedly have called for the unqualified contempt, and resentment of the public, had it been known that the meritorious individual was thus set up as a mark for malignant shafts, by persons whose learned designations, to say nothing of their Christian ministry, could not control that wild beast which Frederic 3rd said every man carries in his breast. Those gentlemen who have seen the caricature which Dr. Knox was supposed to have given of our Universities, in his day, may involuntarily ask, if the conduct of these savans was not too much in accordance with that questionable picture? No redeeming feature appears, for—with such a transparent purpose in view, they dared to heave the gauntlet of defiance at their Sovereign, after having excited his indignant resentment in behalf of the sufferer; and inducing him, with that promptitude and decision of character, which were his attributes, immediately to adopt the only course consistent with the limited authority of the crown, to do justice to the aged Claimant of the second moiety of the reward for the discovery of the Longitude at sea.
As in the course of this abridgment, a tract designated as the Journal of John and William Harrison is frequently cited, some account of it becomes important. After the death of the younger Harrison (William) it was discovered that he and his Father had kept a Journal, or narrative, of their transactions with the Commissioners of Longitude and others: (which becomes of no small curiosity and interest, with reference to the object of these pages.) It often goes into detail where the minutes of the Board supply only a meagre outline of what passed, and, what is more important, brings us acquainted with particulars of which there is but a garbled account, or which there might be good reasons for excluding altogether from these official reports—such as the refusal of a check on the computations after the return from Jamaica; and of his repeated applications for the loan of the successful Timekeeper, to make others by, which although of the highest importance to the understanding of his case, do not, with one exception, appear on their minutes.—As, it is very unusual for persons situated in life as these Journalists were, to engage in a trouble more appropriate to men of education and leisure, it maybe concluded they had cogent reasons for commencing this account of their proceedings when brought into contact with a public Board, defectively constituted, as was the Commission of Longitude. These they have distinctly stated, and it appears that though the recommendations the Candidate brought with him from the most eminent scientific men (including Dr. Bradley), had insured him suitable encouragement in the long interval while he was prosecuting his labours, till he was enabled to state himself prepared for the trial prescribed; yet when the success of the Timekeeper was anticipated, and probably within the nearest limits of the Act, such unequivocal symptoms of jealousy were apparent in the Professors from Oxford and Cambridge, at seeing the Mechanics carry off such a largess, to the prejudice of men of science, as led the Father and Son to believe that, whatever might be the merits of the Invention, pretexts would never be wanting to procrastinate the payment of the reward indefinitely (which was soon verified after the return from Jamaica.) For the satisfaction therefore of their descendants, and the friends of the family—that it might be seen their failure (in this point of view) was not attributable to their own neglect, but arose from causes they could not control, they adopted the practice of committing to paper, on their return home, what had passed between them and the Commissioners, or other persons connected with these proceedings. The Manuscript, which is in folio and bound, extending to 113 pages, commences in March, 1761, with an order from Lord Anson, respecting the intended trial, and concludes in May, 1766, with the delivering up of the three machines, considered by the Candidate as "the first essays towards this long-desired Invention."
It is not in the hand-writing of either of the Harrisons, except a few verbal corrections by the Son, and, from circumstances, the Author concludes the present copy to have been written out from a rough one, or from notes afterwards thrown away, by Walter Williams, an attorney, an intimate friend of William Harrison; who latterly became Secretary to the Apothecaries' Company, and as such had apartments at their Hall, in Blackfriars. It sometimes offends against grammar, and now and then the construction of the sentences is not consonant to the intended meaning.—A consideration of some interest, is the traits occasionally developed in the distinguished characters of that time: these sometimes do not square with history, or with the biography of the parties, which is particularly the case with Lord Anson, and Mr. Granville. The Earl of Egmont reminds us of De Foe's "Tarpaulin Lords;" for he regarded conscientious objections, about the wording of an oath, no more than his boatswain would have done; and Dr. Bradley, as has been seen, was avowedly a judge in his own cause. We may add, that the Narrative of John Harrison and his Son, which was not known to be in existence when discovered among their mathematical books, was to him, in his limited sphere, what the diaries of Lord Melcomb Regis and the Earl of Waldgrave were to those noblemen in the political world: but the burden of his theme was of far more importance to mankind than the turmoil of party politics, when they wrote, which is daily becoming of less interest, and a dull affair to trace.—Taken altogether this Narrative becomes an epitome of the difficulties and discouragements which a man of uncommon genius, but born under an adverse planet, may have to contend with; not so much in the specimens he gives of his talents, as of that envy, the offspring of mediocrity, which John Harrison fully experienced from men whose names, with scarcely an exception, are nowhere to be found but on their college rolls, or parish registers. Had not George 3rd, with more consideration and consistency than was to be found in the mathematical chairs at Oxford or Cambridge, taken by the hand the first discoverer of the Longitude at sea, we might have been left to apostrophize this enterprizing man in the language of Johnson, on a far different occasion—
Around his tomb let art and genius weep,
But hear his fate, ye blockheads, hear and sleep.
- The Timekeepers could not be made for less on the model of the successful one; Mr. Kendal's contract was for £450; this cost may be conceived to have mostly arisen from the extensive use of jewellery, whereby to reduce the friction as much as possible, and, as the Inventor said, "to give them a durability for ages." He was not original in this method, but he found the utility of it, apart from the expense.
- "The subject of this debate is undoubtedly of great importance to mankind, in general, as well as to our own country in particular, and therefore our Author's remarks on what Mr. Maskelyne has observed, in relation to Mr. H's. watch, must undoubtedly merit the public attention. "Indeed it appears to us, that our Remarker has made so notable a defence of himself, and of his ingenious and indefatigable labours, that we cannot but think it will be very incumbent on the Astronomer Royal to clear his own reputation from Mr. Harrison's charges, not only of gross ignorance of mechanics, but of having (in his procedure relative to the celebrated machine in question) been influenced by selfish views. Mr. M. he asserts, is, in a pecuniary way, interested in another method of ascertaining the Longitude, viz. that of the Lunar tables, which has been long in agitation: a scheme on which Mr. H. bestows some observations, in order to show how very far it falls short of the method of obtaining this important end by means of a Timekeeper." Monthly Review for 1767.
- What can be thought of his assurance, when long subsequently he pretended, to the younger Mudge, that "there was no occasion, he should answer Mr. Harrison"—thus masking under the quintessence of affectation the gall and wormwood this challenge constrained him to swallow. This brings to recollection an anecdote connected with the acrimonious sparring between Pope and Cibber.—Mr. Richardson, the painter, and his Son, paying a visit one day to the Genius of Twickenham, found him reading a pamphlet. Unwilling to be any interruption, they sat down, requesting him to continue the perusal—to continue his task, they might have said; their attention being soon drawn to remark how his countenance was writhen with anguish as he proceeded; notwithstanding which, he would have smothered these appearances, on looking off the page, by saying with an air of careless indifference "This is one of Mr. Cibber's pamphlets, (It was probably that in which Cibber comments on the line—And has not Sawney too his Lord and W—e?) it is my amusement to read them." After they had taken leave, the young man observed to his father, that he never could feel any desire to partake of Mr. Pope's amusement.
- Prefaced thus, in the transactions of the junior Harrison on the second voyage.—'On William Harrison's landing at Barbadoes, he was told that Mr. Maskelyne was a candidate for the premium for discovering the Longitude: and therefore they [his informants] thought it very odd that he should be sent to make the observations to judge another man's scheme by: Mr. Maskelyne having declared, in a very public manner, that he had found the Longitude himself; and he had also shewn a letter from a friend, who said, he was very sorry the Commissioners should have given him the trouble of this second voyage, before they gave him the reward.[subnote 1]—Therefore it was plain from this, that Mr. Maskelyne's friends were well acquainted with what intention he went to Barbadoes. William Harrison acquainted Sir John Lindsay[subnote 2] with these facts; who agreed with him, that this being the case, Mr. Maskelyne must certainly be a very improper person to take the observations of equal altitudes, according to the instructions from the Board of Longitude. Therefore, the next day, when they came to the observatory, William Harrison told Mr. Maskelyne what he had heard, and produced witnesses to what he said, and did insist that Mr. Maskelyne should not observe: and Sir John Lindsay declared, that, if Mr. Harrison did insist upon it, that he did the same: for he did not think it was right that Mr. Maskelyne should [take the observations] as he could not deny but what Mr. Harrison said was true,—This put Mr. Maskelyne in great confusion; and he alleged, that if he was not to observe, it would be a great dishonour to him; and therefore he insisted upon it, he must.—After a long-time spent in this dispute, William Harrison agreed, that Mr. Maskelyne should observe; provided. Mr. Green [the other astronomer] took the next observation.—Mr. Maskelyne then went to work, but was so confused, with the above, that his observations were scarcely to be depended on: for every one that was present could see that he set some of his observations down dubious, when, at the same time, there was not a cloud near: nor was he in a condition to adjust his instruments.' The reference to his friend's letter above, is explained by a private voyage to St. Helena, in a merchant brig, to find the Longitude by the Moon, with the assistance of Mayer's Tables, which were imported in 1756, and excited much interest among scientific men. Captain (afterwards Admiral) Campbell, an officer well versed in the mathematics, was employed by the Commissioners to verify the Longitude with the advantage thus afforded: but as these tables, though so useful under favourable circumstances, will not enable a seaman to overcome the physical impossibilities so often in his way, and as this gentleman, like Dr. Halley, was not disposed to estimate the Lunar process higher than its practical merits deserved, the trial was altogether a failure.—Not so with the ardent Cantabrigian introduced, who, contrary to the proverb, always found hope an excellent supper, as well as a good breakfast: and as the sharpers who plunder Samuel Simon, the Jew, in Gil Blas found Gaspard, his apprentice, just such a talkative young man as they wanted: so the Lunar party at the Commission of Longitude could not have met with a more enthusiastic zealot, for their purposes, than was Nevil Maskelyne, thus brought forward. He must have been either employed, or materially assisted by the Board, or by some patron who kept behind the scenes: for it was never said that his pecuniary resources, at this period, were equal to such an enterprize.—He published the result of his discoveries in a pamphlet with an elaborate title; but as the security promised the mariner, who should follow his instructions, was only within a degree (or sixty geographical miles) which would not now be regarded by those who possess a chronometer of moderate value, we pass it by, to remark on the duplicity—the double-dealing that seems to have pervaded this affair: for he had been introduced to the Harrisons by Dr, Shepherd, a Commissioner of Longitude, as a gentleman skilled in the mathematics, but without any mention of the trip to St, Helena, not at least of the object of it: and the Father and Son, either not having seen his pamphlet, or not being aware of its ulterior purpose, had no idea of this decided rivalry, or they would of course have objected to him; he being, from direct opposition of interests, a very unfit person to take the observations connected with the examination of the Timekeeper.
- A passage in the Journal of John and William Harrison, under date 13th October, 1761, shows the consequences of this legislative oversight so remarkably, that it would be doing injustice to the subject to omit it.—
This weakness in the eminent Astronomer may be dated from his connexion with Christopher Irwin, the inventor of the marine chair, becoming engrafted on the natural vice of age: it was not so singular as the defection of another friend, the circumstances of which are a curiosity.John Harrison and his Son both attended this Board, and, on their return home, called at Mr. Bird's, to see the instruments which were to go to take the observations for the trial. They here met with Dr. Bradley, who had also been at the Board of Longitude, as being a Commissioner. The Doctor seemed very much out of temper, and in the greatest passion told John Harrison, that if it had not been for him and his plaguy Watch, Mr. Mayer[subnote 3] and he should have shared ten thousand pounds before now.—This gave the Candidate an opportunity of seeing what sort of a friend Dr. Bradley had been at the Board, who formerly had been one of the best he had, but now self-interest seemed to be the principle.
Among John Harrison's scientific cronies, was Dr. Robert Smith, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Professor of Astronomy, and author of a work found in musical libraries, under the title of Smith's Harmonics.—The musical accordance of time was secondary only to the mensuration of it, in our Mechanician's pursuits; and these geniuses had frequent discussions to solve some problem for
Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony.
In the solution of it, however, they touched a string too discordant for the dulcet notes of friendship; they differed respecting the right to discovery of a principle advanced in the Harmonics, but we waive the particulars here. Their estrangement, under such circumstances, cost the rural genius some tears (as he tells us.) Not so, the Cantabrigian, who, notwithstanding his professed analysis of harmony, seems to have been deficient of it in his composition; and indulged an acrimony so injurious in its consequences, that not having the candour to separate the cause of the Longitude from that of the musical amateur, he degenerated from a zealous friend into the bitter enemy of his former associate; which, as the Professor's chair gave him a seat at the Board, he could demonstrate: and, like Dr. Bradley, had no idea of the propriety of absenting himself when questions immediately connected with the interest of the Candidate were before them—a remark applicable, it may be seen, to other Commissioners at personal variance with him: they were a jury appointed to decide on his claim to a reward of £20,000, but unlike the general practice in other courts, he could not challenge any of them, though ever so notoriously at enmity with him.
- It appears from the Candidate's Journal, that he was induced to apply for the Act against his inclination, his repugnance being overcome by the importunity of his friends, so that he may be said to have had a presentiment of the misfortune that originated from this enactment. it was little known to the public, but some account of it is given in the history of the transactions.
- Whatever were their inducements, it would have been well if it did not the historical fact, that Peter the great, for special reasons made a patriarch of his fool.
- It was, that if any tools were necessary in constructing the Timekeepers different from those used by clock and watchmakers, a number of workmen were to be immediately set on preparing such tools; which being ready, two or three more Timekeepers were to be proceeded with; and these, being completed, were to be tried "in such manner as the Commissioners shall judge proper; so as to convince them that the discovery made by Mr. Harrison is sufficient to enable other workmen to make watches of equal goodness."—It requires no argument to show that this way of explaining the invention would have called for an outlay, both of time and money, together excessive, and quite foreign to the whole intention of the framers of the Act under which this Commission sat.
- Supposing otherwise, yet by not having summoned the Rev. John Michell, of Cambridge, to the second meeting, whose presence would probably have given him some trouble, he had vitiated and rendered null the whole proceeding.
- Barry, the painter, but for whom there was the excuse of partial insanity, was a chap of the same kidney: "with him, a difference of opinion, was an affront, a controversy was a quarrel, advice an insult, and competition a deadly and irremissible injury." The character of Colonel Bath, in Fielding's Amelia, may be adduced as a fit adjunct to the aforegoing; we learn, that he was at length killed in a duel, by a Gentleman, "who told him, he differed in opinion with him." Of our existing and conspicuous public men, the scrutiny need not be carried far to find Sir Andrew Agnew classes, in this particular, with the Aristocrat of Caledon, brought forward. For the Editor of a weekly paper, after commenting on the gloomy and ascetic character which the mistaken Baronet would attach to Christianity; by denying the laborious part of the Community any recreation out of doors on a Sunday; remarks that—"He seems to have no conception that any man can, or ought to be allowed, to think differently from him." But we must spare the "bones and leather" of our hobby, lest we should be thought to lean to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls (the metempsychosis.) We apprehend, the wags will be discovering something blockish and stupid in Sir Andrew's physiognomy, at the first view, as was remarked of old, in Socrates, "the wisest of men."
- The Commissioners, under this Act, were—James, Earl of Morton, Lord Charles Cayendish, Lord Willoughby, of Parham, the Rev. John Michell, of Cambridge, George Lewis Scott, esquire, Mr. James Short, optician, Messrs. Alexander Cumming, Thomas Mudge, Andrew Dickie, James Green, and William Frodsham, watchmakers. Eight of them attended two meetings of the Commission. The absentees were, Lord Willoughby, of Parham, for some reason unknown; Mr. Andrew Dickie, because he was not sufficiently prepared; and the Rev. John Michell, who was unavoidably prevented from attending the first meeting, and had not been summoned to the second. Of those who attended, there is evidence that Messrs. Short, Cumming, Green, and Frodsham, who were personal friends of the Candidate, perfectly concurred in opinion with him, as to the mode of explanation required by the obvious intention of the Act: so that supposing the other three to have divided with Lord Morton (thought it is very improbably) yet as four could not be a majority among eight without a casting vote, the effrontery with which he asserted to have had such majority cannot be extenuated.
- In the Journal of John and William Harrison, it is admitted that at the third meeting there was a majority against them; but it must have been connected with circumstances then generally contemplated, but now unknown; for the explanation looked for, by all who understood die subject, could not have varied much from that which afterwards took place in 1765, and which the Manager himself was constrained to acquiesce in; whereas his present resolutions were absolutely a dead letter, without the funds necessary to make them available. Besides this strange difficulty (entirely of his own creating) there was another beyond measure anomalous; which was that, by the lowest computation, his method of bringing the business to bear would have occupied from three to four, or five years; long within which time, if favoured by Providence, the Candidate hoped to see his Son return from the West Indies (as he actually did) with a success that would entitle him to a premium four times greater than that he was promised by this Act, which was £5,000.—In despite of considerations so obvious, this Nobleman, "wise in his own conceit," attempted to show that if our Mechanician did not conform to his resolves, he could not be entitled to another trial. Upon which Lord Sandwich, who was present, though not as one of these Commissioners, interfered, to say—
'there was no sort of connexion between the explanation [under this Act] and another trial; and as he plainly saw, from what had passed, that it was not in Mr. Harrison's power to comply with their demands, therefore he should have another trial when he pleased, and as soon as he pleased. Upon which the meeting dissolved; and Lord Morton said—"If this is the case, I am sure Harrison will get all the money."'
- It is scarcely necessary to observe, that in our courts of law, the evidence of any witness having an interest in the question litigated, or being at enmity with the party he is opposed to, if it is not wholly excluded, will be heard with much doubt; and the Judge in his charge to the jury will draw their attention to the circumstance with suitable comments.
- At a Board, May 30th, 1765, at which more good humour than was usual prevailed, after the business of the meeting was over, a conversation ensued, which elicited these singular items. Whether his Lordship miscarried of this secretum meum mihi, or that the accouchement could only be effected somewhat in Vulcan's manner, of classical notoriety, by breaking a distaff, or a ladle, over his craniological system had been better left to a jury of matrons (sworn to secrecy) to decide. But we may safely assume, contrary to the antient legend, that Wisdom would not have come forth fortified at ail points from the cloven head, any more than it will from a cloven foot—and we may observe that his Lordship while engrossed by such demonstrations seems to have been lucky in escaping the ken of the English Aristophanes, as Foote was often called, who was always on the look out for some farcical display, whereby to edify the galleries and replenish his purse, which was often below par. It would have been a good thing to have got hold of a philosopher employing workmen (conformably to his counsel) at an expense of forty or fifty pounds a week, but without any funds to pay them; these he was to borrow of Lady Pantweasel, Dr. Last, or Major Sturgeon, if he could; if he could not, he must go to a spunging-house perdue (maugre his privilege of peerage) from whence he is redeemed by some good-natured Nabob; to whom he gives, as security, a secret which all the mechanics in London would not be able to find out.—With something illustrating these cross-purposes, this dramatic humourist would have extracted some mirth at the expense of the Royal Society (as he had before done from the College, in Warwick-lane) by eulogizing their choice of a President, whom he would perhaps have equalled to James 1st for experimental philosophy: and, for every thing else, to the oracular head which Friar Bacon was so long in fabricating. But some one interposes here, to observe, that as clever men, like his Lordship, are constitutionally accessible to flattery, a few words from the Inventor of the Timekeeper, complimentary to the President's skill in these matters, his consummate knowledge and inventive powers, which the Royal Society[subnote 4] knew how to estimate, would soon have exemplified the utility of the sentiment—"It gives me pleasure to be praised by you, whom all men praise:" and the "doubts and difficulties" would have been no further heard of, except at Coventry. But the Claimant was wholly unfitted for any adroitness at such a manoeuvre; it would have seemed to him like putting on a fool's coat; his was a straight forward course; he would not compromise his sincerity, though it might have been demonstrated, that the rugged path in which he toiled and lost himself would soon have become as smooth and level as a bowling green before him.
- He was chairman of the committee when Lord Morton was nominated one of the eleven Commissioners, under the 2nd George 3rd, but nothing attaches to him in the present affair, further than his being the bearer of this message: which yet becomes a marked curiosity by the Parliamentary management it illustrates at this, if not at a more extended period (or what time is exempt from it?) when an independent member, if such he was, could, as if only a matter of course, be the bearer of a message not with a reference to public business, but administering, could he not see, to the private revenge of this weak but consequential Peer. Such a transaction becomes an aggravated slur on a constitution by all admitted to be the perfection of political wisdom in theory, but yet betraying in practice such an inconsistency as the case herewith discloses; which was not mixed up with the common party distinctions of Whig and Tory, or otherwise. How, under any circumstances, the House could comply with the speechifying of some Popinjay by whom it might be pestered and either forward swimmingly, or swamp by procrastination, a bill brought in to supersede that on which our Mechanician had "pinned his faith" forty years before, is for gentlemen more conversant with the mysteries of legislative etiquette to say—unless they adjudge the astounding denunciation of the p.r.s. to be a sheer rodomontade, worthy of the quarter it came from. But what can be thought of the incapacity or the misconduct of a majority at the Board of Longitude, by whom so improper a character as the Earl of Morton, who insiduously sought to get him within his grasp, was enabled as far as in them lay, to control the destiny of a man of genius who reflected so much credit on his age and country, but towards whom the conduct of their majority, after he had achieved the Longitude of Jamaica nearly within a mile, was any thing but honourable.
- There are instances in which the difference between the real and the ostensible purpose of some bill brought into either House of Parliament, is enough to excite the amazement of those, out of doors, in the secret, when such there are; but in the present case, no liberal man, that could have traced his Lordship's motives to their source, two years before, and had scented his genius for mechanics, would have desired to be in his confidence.—The following brief dialogue, which occurred in April, 1833, may place the subject in a clearer point of view,—Sir Robert Inglis asked whether Government were acquainted with the nature of the Bill authorizing the establishment of the Glasgow lottery, while that Bill was in progress through the House?—Lord Althorp replied, that His Majesty's Government had not the least idea that a Bill authorizing the establishment of a lottery had passed the Houses of Parliament until he was apprised of the existence of the lottery itself. His attention was then drawn to the subject, and on looking at the Act, he found that no allusion was made to the lottery in its title, and that the word lottery itself occurred but once throughout the Act. It was, to say the truth, most skilfully drawn up, and the parties who concocted it had fully succeeded in rendering the House and the Government entirely ignorant of the real nature of the Bill.—Sir Robert Peel: If the lottery is not yet drawn, the Bill may be repealed [it is drawn.] Well then, all I can say is, that those who were parties to the transaction ought to be subjected to public punishment.
The measure which the President of the Royal Society was too successful in procuring, not to explain, but to subvert the original Act, was not of this description, though the imposition was as complete, for it did not require the sharp wits of those concerned in the Glasgow business, but belonged to a more common class of enactments—to those bills which pass both Houses pro forma; either because they are prepared by public functionaries, honourable men, whose averment, as to the utility of the step, it might seem both unnecessary and invidious to dispute; or the bill was to rectify some technical informalities, or certain local particulars, interesting only to A, B, C, and D, or their neighbours, whom nobody appeared to oppose.[subnote 5] —What could be thought of the application, had it been known (we are justified in repeating it) that the Commissioners themselves had uniformly interpreted the 12th of Queen Anne as the Claimant did. So that after he had persevered forty years on the basis of this conformity, rendered more unequivocal by advances of the public money, they could not measure back their steps without assuming the attitude of a swindler towards so singular a dupe, as he might be regarded. The HISTORY OF THE TRANSACTIONS shows that this unparalleled case should be dated from January 19th, 1765, when "a great vain man" first took his seat at the Board, surcharged with inexhaustible animosity towards the Claimant, for having been defeated in enforcing his eccentric resolves under the separate Commission. He was now enabled to embody those resolutions, six in number, as far as possible, in the clauses of his bill—which Parliament never knew, nor even the Board, we conjecture, for no attention was paid to the proceedings of that Commission after its failure. Hence a northern Aristocrat whose forte was low cunning, notwithstanding his chivalrous descent, could effect a counterpart of the Glasgow Lottery, though much deficient in the acuteness attributed to the parties concerned in that gross imposition. To aggravate pretences the fallacy of which there was no one to detect, the consideration is very material, that there was a party at the Board of Longitude directly opposed to the success of the Mechanics: and even Lord Morton, had given sufficient indications of rivalry, though it was not by the Lunar method.—Exclusive of a proceeding which would have blown up the whole plan of this scientific Commissioner had it transpired, a question of peculiar magnitude arises out of the case of John Harrison. For if, without reflecting that he had his rights as well as the community—if, without examination, or hearing counsel in his behalf, the 12th of Queen Anne was rendered wholly null and unavailable, by an enactment of such an indefinite construction that it bore whatever his personal enemies might chuse to affix to it, the future trials of his Timekeepers being neither limited in number, nor duration, nor in the degree of exactness required, was not the Legislature exceeding its own powers? as it would do, were it to pass an Act depriving some individual of his estate; or mulcting him in a sum of money, without assigning treason, rebellion, or the like causes of legal forfeiture?
- To disable the Claimant as much as possible, yet "not to 'minish aught from the tale of the bricks," could be resembled only to the conduct of the task-masters of old; "Ye are idle," said Pharoah, the prototype of the proud Scotchman.—This double-refined oppression, can never be explained away, when it is considered he was at an age at which almost all men desire to have the evening of (a well-spent) life to themselves. It is true his ardent spirit never brooked long repose[subnote 6] while his head and bis hand vindicated his genius, but the difference need scarcely be pointed out, between the labour of choice, and the dictum that weighed him to the ground. Exclusive of the enmity borne him by the northern Peer, it is to be lamented that he fell into such ignorant hands.—A Colbert, a Chatham, a Frederic 3rd, or Cromwell, on ascertaining the drift of his ambition, which was to see his chronometry brought into general use, would have thought the business done to their bands, and counted it folly to interfere, unless it bad been to stimulate his pride, by affecting to doubt his competency for what he had undertaken; but the Manager, who judged of the meanness of others by his own (as when he advised the Candidate to borrow all the money he could, yet did not offer to lend him a stiver) was entirely incapable of entering into the merits of the subject in that view: and with the exception of Sir John Cust, who would not bow to the Baal the Royal Society had sent them, the Commissioners of Longitude have left a stigma on their names—a brand of reproach, which a patent scrubbing-brush can no more efface than it can the indelible complexion of the Ethiopian.
- The consideration is very important towards analyzing the gross imposition practised on Parliament by this consequential character; that the 12th of Queen Anne having left untouched the right of property in the tangible materials that might thereafter be used for discovering the Longitude, whatever form might be given them. Lord Morton assumed, by what he called "the reason of the thing," that they were public property; and accordingly inserted a clause in his bill to that effect—without once consulting the Attorney, or the Solicitor General on a point of so much interest to his rival: for if those authorities had differed with him, what then?—Granting however the correctness of the Thane's decision, without further enquiry, yet there can be but one opinion on the collateral bearing of the question—which is that "the reason of the thing" especially demanded of him to exercise this asserted right with all possible forbearance, and with the avoiding of any injury or hardship in enforcing it.—Now as the contrary is glaringly evident, and he indulged a revolting inhumanity towards the aged Claimant, without the least regard to "the reason of the thing," the unavoidable inference is—that he was ready to appeal to this argument, if it squared with his views, but still more ready to throw it to the dogs when it thwarted his disgraceful purpose.
- That there is a class of philosophers by experiment as well as experimental philosophers, the Author once had a remarkable proof. Some years ago he received (and has by him) a letter on business, from a person who till then he was not aware aspired to any higher concerns than those it treated of. It was most grossly illiterate, both in the grammar and orthography; but that a dealer and chapman should be so deficient, not being altogether singular, as the world goes, he might have thought no more of it; had not the letter been seen by a friend, who informed him, to his utter astonishment, that the writer of it was a metaphysician and a philosopher—that he had published a tract to controvert a particular theory of Newton's; and he referred him to a periodical where he might see an account of the work.—That the same sagacity which elevated this metaphysician and philosopher to contend with Newton, could not serve him to put two words together right, as might be seen in this document, being too paradoxical for the Author's solution, he leaves the problem as he found it. But it is worth observing, what "thin partitions do their bounds divide" between these philosophical pretenders, and certain enterprizing lovers; of whom Richardson has given us a specimen in his Sir Charles Grandison; where a military gentleman, ycleped Captain Anderson, makes a great impression on the heart of the Baronet's youngest Sister, by the elegance, good taste, and propriety of sentiment displayed in the letters with which he assailed his Mistress: but unfortunately, by a change of quarters, the Captain lost his letter writer, and with that his conquest: his next billet deux being glaringly deficient both in orthography, and in the notions advocated.
- Sir John said, "he knew their minds," and that it would not be in the least attended to.—That a proposal for a manufactory of Timekeepers, by the Inventor, of incalculable importance in that day, though not much wanted now, could not be mentioned to these Commissioners of Longitude, seems incredible, but is thus identified, and may be handed over to the future historian, who is descanting on the progress of the arts and sciences in the reign of George 3rd.
- It is almost superfluous to say, that the Author is not acquainted directly, or indirectly with the respected nobleman, or his connexions, who inherits the title and estates of the Earldom of Morton, and who he presumes will readily admit, as an abstract proposition, that in all lengthened genealogies, fools and wrongheads may be looked for, as well as wise and clever men: which must have been Addison's opinion, when he gave us the portraits in the gallery at Coverley Hall. In the strictures adverted to, there is no more intention to annoy the present representative of the family than the publishers of Swift's private letters, edited by Dr. Hawksworth, had to grieve the descendants of a Courtier of Queen Anne's circle, who seems to have resembled the character of Nasiedenus in Horace. The Dean, after having been several times invited, one day took his dinner with this Aristocrat, and thus comments on the fare: "his wine was poison, his carps were raw, and his candles tallow; yet, with all this, the puppy has fourteen thousand a year. I will take care how he catches me so again; besides every body has laughed at me for dining with him."—These letters give an idea of the habits and mode of life of Swift, at that time, and the present purpose is to develope the causes which finally led to the royal interference in the case of John Harrison.
- He was the Father of Mr. Williams, the Chamber Counsel, well known by various compilations on jurisprudence, which were well received by the profession.
- An obvious question arises here—for supposing Dr. Maskelyne had found the Longitude of Barbadoes and all the Islands in the route as accurately as was done by the Timekeeper, yet as he was not the inventor of the Lunar method, that honour belonging to Meran, a Frenchmanwith which Professor Mayer subsequently divided it, how could he claim the reward? Notwithstanding this moot point, he spoke as if he had received assurances from one or more of the Commissioners to that effect: and probably Dr. Shepherd who introduced him to John Harrison could have informed us better on the subject. But there is no intimation that Dr. Halley, the Abbe de la Caille, and Captain Campbell, who exerted themselves assiduously to accomplish the same object, ever formed expectations of achieving the reward. Dr. Maskelyne was the only astronomer, at sea, who, like Ixion, grasped a treasure in nubibus, only to catch a Tartar.
- The Captain of the Tartar frigate, which took him out, with the Timekeeper.
- Tobias Mayer, a Professor at Gottingen; inventor of the Lunar tables: for which the Commissioners of Longitude in England, with proper liberality (the Author desires to say) voted him £3,000 out of the money at their disposal: this he did not live to receive, but it was paid to his widow.
- The Fellows of the Royal Society, by their successive choice of Sir John Pringle, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Humphry Davy, and His Royal Highness, the Duke of Sussex, have amply redeemed the unaccountable blunder they must have fallen into, when they fixed on the discreditable pretender brought forward in these pages.
- The Author remembers reading in the debates, many years ago, that while a private bill was passing through its final stages in this way, a gentleman in the House, cautioned them against too much precipitation, and, to enforce his suggestion, related that, one day, on the third reading of a bill of this description, an honourable Member happened to observe that a man in the gallery changed countenance, and was evidently much alarmed at their proceedings: this inducing him to go round and question the person, he found by his statement, that was that bill to receive the royal assent, it would extremely affect his interest, if it did not entirely ruin him. That he had come from the country, but could only witness what was going on without knowing how to take any step in his own behalf. The House being apprized of this, it led to an investigation of particulars, and to the introduction of a clause, effectually to guard against the injury pointed out: which but for the casual incident mentioned, would soon have passed into a law.
- Quod erat demonstrandum; literally, which was to be demonstrated: was a scrap of latin he probably got from his friend Dr. Smith, of Trin. Col. Cam., and was fond of; as they told him to English it—the labour is my delight!