Page images




“When but a stripling, with fond alarms,
Ais bosom danced to Nature's boundless charms."

AMONG the many illustrious characters whose names adorn the pages of British Biography, Dr. Henry Moyes claims our particular attention; his virtues, his genius, and his scientific acquirements, have been the admiration of every country which he has visited. This distinguished individual was born at Kirkaldy, in Fifeshire, and lost his sight by the small-pox, before he was three years old, so that he scarcely retained in after life, any recollection of having ever seen; he used however to say that he remembered having once observed a water-mill in motion, and it is characteristic of the tendencies of his mind, that even at that early age, his attention was attracted by the circumstance of the water flowing in one direction, while the wheel turned round in the other, a mystery on which he reflected for some time before he could comprehend it. Although blind he distinguished himself, when a boy, by his proficiency in all the usual branches of a literary education ; but mechanical exercises were especially the favourite employments of his infant years. From this period, till the time of his leaving college, we have no information respecting him. He commenced a series of lectures on the theory and practice of music, at Edinburgh, but not meeting with that encouragement which he expected, he relinquished this design. He next turned his attention to a subject which was more congenial to his taste, namely, to natural and experimental philosophy which presented an extensive field for the exercise of his talents. He was the first blind man who had proposed to lecture on chemistry, and as a lecturer, he acquired great reputation; his address was easy and pleasing, his language correct, and he performed his experiments in a manner which always gave great pleasure to his auditors.

He lest Scotland in 1779, and travelled into England, where he was well received, and his audience was generally composed of the most respectable people in the towns through which he passed. Being of a restless disposition, and fond of travelling, he, in 1785, visited America. In the summer of that

year, he made a tour of the Union, and conversed with such men as were distinguished, either for their learning or love of science. The following paragraph respecting him, appeared in one of the American newspapers of that day: "the celebrated Dr. Moyes, though blind, delivered a lecture upon optics, in which he delineated the properties of light and shade, and also gave an astonishing illustration of the power of touch. A highly polished plate of steel was presented to him with the stroke of an etching tool so minutely engra

ved on it, that it was invisible to the naked eye,

and only discoverable by a powerful magnifying glass; with his fingers, however, he discovered the extent, and measured the length of the line. Dr. Moyes informed us, that being overturned in a stage coach, one dark rainy evening, in England, and the carriage and four horses thrown into a ditch, the passengers

and driver, with two eyes a-piece, were obliged to apply to him who had no eyes, for assistance in extricating the horses. As for me," said he, “after I had recovered from the astonishment of the fall, and discovered that I had escaped unhurt, I was quite at home in the dark ditch. The inversion of the order of things was amusing ; I, that was obliged to be led about like a child, in the glaring sun, was now directing eight persons to pull here, and haul there, with all the dexterity and activity of a man-of-war's boatswain.”

On his return from America, he took a house in Edinburgh, where he resided for some time, beloved and admired, not only by his countrymen, but also by strangers, who resorted to that ancient metropolis. But he had not yet finished his travels; before his American expedition, he had formed the design of going over to Ireland, and when he returned, he determined to carry his favourite project into execution, and accordingly, in 1790, he crossed the Channel, and arrived in Belfast. He visited all the principal towns in the island, and he was every where received with that respect which was due to his great merit. He remained a few months in Dublin, where he was visited by some of the most respectable individuals in


that metropolis. Among his Irish friends was the in. genious Mr. Kirwan, of Dublin, a name well known in the scientific world, and between these two great men a friendship commenced, which only ended with their lives. Dr. Moyes was highly gratified with his journey through Ireland ; the hospitable manner in which he was every where received, and the kindness he experieneed, were the constant theme of his eulogium.

He finally took up his residence at Manchester, where he determined to spend the remainder of his life. He was here in his native element, or to use his own words, “quite at home.” In one of the most enlightened neighbourhoods in the empire, surrounded by a circle of chosen friends, distinguished by their taste, their talents, and their love of science; and with access to the numerous and well selected libraries, it was no wonder, that these advantages induced Dr. Moyes to prefer Manchester to any other place he had been in. He was elected a member of the Manchester Philosophical Society, and enriched its collection by several valuable papers on chemistry, as well as the other branches of physical science. The following particulars of our philosopher's character, come from the pen of Dr. Bew.

“Dr. Henry Moyes, who occasionally read lectures on philosophical chemistry at Manchester, lost his sight by the small pox in early infancy, and had no recollection of external objects, except some confused ideas of the heavenly bodies. He had the good fortune to be born in a country where learning of every

kind is highly cultivated, and to be brought up in a family devoted to literature. Possessed of native genius, and ardent in his application to study, he made rapid advances in various departments of knowledge. He not only acquired the fundamental principles of mechanics, music, and the languages, but likewise entered deeply into the investigation of the profounder sciences, and obtained a general knowledge of geometry, optics, algebra, astronomy, chemistry, and, in short, most of the branches of the Newtonian philosophy. At a very early age, he made himself acquainted with the use of edge tools so perfectly, that, notwithstanding his entire blindness, he was able to make little wind-mills; and he even constructed a loom with his own hands, which still show the marks of wounds he received in the execution of these juvenile exploits. By a most agreeable intimacy, and the frequent intercourse which I enjoyed with this accomplished blind gentleman, whilst he resided at Manchester, I had an opportunity of repeatedly observing the peculiar manner in which he arranged his ideas, and acquired bis information. Whenever he was introduced into company, I remarked that he continued for some time silent. The sound of the different voices enabled him to judge of the dimensions of the room, and of the number of

that were present; his discrimination in these respects was very accurate, and his memory so retentive, that he was seldom mistaken. I have known him instantly recognize a person on first hearing him speak, though more than two years had elapsed since the time of


« PreviousContinue »