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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/571

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SKETCH OF WILLIAM WILLIAMS MATHER.

applied for a warrant as a cadet at West Point, which he obtained in the following year. Recommending him for this appointment, the chief judge of Windham County wrote: "He is about eighteen years of age, possessed of much more than common talents and literature. He understands the Latin language, and some of the higher branches of mathematical science, which he acquires with much facility."

He entered the academy in the summer of 1823, and, in common with eight or nine other members of his class, spent one year more than the usual period there, being graduated in 1828. Young Mather was proficient in chemical analysis, especially of ores and minerals, before going to West Point, and in 1826, when Webster's Chemistry was passing through the press, the proof-sheets of a part if not the whole of the work were sent to him by the author for suggestions and corrections. These were furnished by him and were adopted, but Mather's name was not mentioned in the preface of the book among those who had contributed to it, and he expressed to his classmate and memoirist, Austin, his disappointment at the omission. In the fall of that year he entered the second class, thus coming to the studies of chemistry and mineralogy in the curriculum of the academy, Webster's book being used. Cadet Mather at once took the head of the class in these subjects, and easily kept his place to the end of the course. When off duty he explored the hills of the vicinity to collect minerals for his private cabinet and that of the lyceum. The chemical laboratory of the institution was also a place of resort for his leisure hours. During the last year of the course he was an assistant in the laboratory. He seemed to have a special aptitude for science and took great delight in experimenting. Mr. Austin illustrates this tendency by the following account:

"The winter of 1826-'27 was very cold. The ice, floating down to the narrow gorge between the precipitous shores of West Point and the opposite bank, became wedged there and was exceedingly thick. It occurred to Mather that a favorable opportunity was thus offered to ascertain the temperature of the water at the bottom of the river while the surface was covered with ice. After several attempts he succeeded in making a self-registering thermometer, and an apparatus for bringing up a specimen of the water of the lowest depth. A hole was cut through the ice about the middle of the river, and the apparatus, attached to a strong cord, was let down into the water, but the current was so strong that it failed to reach the bottom. With a heavier weight it sank far enough, but the pressure forced the cork into the bottle. The next attempt was successful; water was drawn from below, and its temperature ascertained from the self-registering, compared with that indicated by a detached, thermometer. The result of this experiment,