Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/569

This page has been validated.
551
SKETCH OF WILLIAM MATTIEU WILLIAMS.

a pedestrian tour through Norway, published his book Through Norway with a Knapsack.

While living here he became unwittingly connected with the Orsini plot for assassinating Louis Napoleon with bombs, which resulted in the destructive attempt of January 14, 1858. He was introduced to Orsini, whom he describes as "a highly educated, refined, and courteous Italian gentleman," in the fall of 1857, and having lived in Italy and witnessed the abuses of the despotisms with which the country was then saddled, "heartily sympathized with his patriotic yearnings for the liberation of his country." Orsini represented to him that the patriots were preparing for a great effort to drive out the foreign intruders, both Austrian and French, but that the watch upon them was so close that they could not introduce or hold ordinary arms. He had therefore invented a new form of stellar gas burner which could easily be converted into a bomb and used as a hand grenade. The gas-burner shells were, however, too small for a charge of ordinary gunpowder to produce effective explosion. Mr. Williams therefore suggested fulminate of mercury in lieu of the powder, and taught Orsini and Fieri how to make it themselves. They also learned how to make fulminate of silver and some other detonating compounds. Orsini, in his final confession, said that the English chemist (Mr. Williams) who taught him how to make the fulminate had no knowledge of its intended purpose. This assurance was accepted by Napoleon and the French police, who gave Mr. Williams no further trouble than that of a few days' secret watching of his movements in Birmingham, which was so delicately conducted that he only discovered it accidentally. Mr. Williams's sympathies with the Continental peoples who were oppressed by foreign despotisms were very strong, and he sometimes expressed them vehemently in his lectures, when he would denounce the Hapsburgs and hold up the Swiss as a pattern people.

Mr. Williams devoted considerable attention, toward the last of his residence at Birmingham, to the chemistry and manufacture of paraffin oil, for which he had patented a process of distillation from shale. Having been appointed manager of the Leeswood Oil Company, whose works were at Caergwile, near Wrexham, Wales, he left Birmingham in 1863, carrying with him a testimonial presented to him by students and friends of the institute. The oil-distilling process was worked with complete success, but without profit; for the product of the newly discovered oil wells of Pennsylvania came into the market at the time and destroyed the sales. Mr. G. Combe Williams writes that "during this part of his career his foresight and influence over the working class, for whose social and intellectual advancement he had devoted so much time and energy, were clearly demonstrated, for