ePub 版

The quiet and leisure of the long East India voyages, when the ship was lazily sweeping along under the steady impulse of the trade-winds, afforded him fine opportunities for pursuing his mathematical studies, as well as for indulging his taste for general literature. It

System of Navigation presented to the Society by one of its members, (Mr. Nathaniel Bowditch) they find that he has corrected many thousand errors existing in the best European works of the kind; especially those in the tables for determining the latitude by two altitudes, in those of difference of latitude and departure, of the sun's right ascension, of amplitudes, and many others necessary to the navigator. Mr. Bowditch has likewise, in many instances, greatly improved the old methods of calculation, and added new ones of his own. That of clearing the apparent distance of the moon, and sun, or stars, from the effect of parallax and refraction, is peculiarly adapted to the use of seamen in general, and is much facilitated (as all other methods are) in the present work, by the introduction of a proportional table into that of the corrections of the moon's altitude. His table nineteenth of corrections to be applied in the lunar calculations, has the merit of being the only one the committee are acquainted with. He has much improved the table of latitudes and longitudes of places, and has added those of a number on the American coast hitherto very inaccurately ascertained. This work therefore is, in the opinion of the committee, highly deserving of the approbation and encouragement of the Society, not only as being the most correct and ample now extant, but as being a genuine American production; and as such they hesitate not to recommend it to the attention of navigators, and of the public at large." This is signed by Jonathan Lambert, Benjamin Carpenter, John Osgood, John Gibaut and Jacob Crowninshield, Committee.

In two voyages across the Atlantic, which I made in 1834, I found myself often poring over the mate's "Practical Navigator," and, omitting the tables and the rules for taking and working lunars, and a few other things of the same sort, I found it quite a readable book, and about as interesting as any on board.

was at these times that he learnt the French* and Spanish languages, without any instructer. Subsequently in life he acquired the German and the Italian. He had previously commenced the study of Latin at the age of seventeen. The first Latin book that he undertook to read was a copy of Euclid's Geometry, which had formerly belonged to the Rev. Dr. Byles,† of Boston, and having been purchased at the sale of his books, was presented to the young mathematician by his brother-in-law, David Martin, of Salem.‡ The following words I copy from the blank leaf in the beginning of the book, "Began to study Latin Jan. 4, 1790.” He afterwards read Newton's "Principia," a copy of which book, rare, doubtless, at that time in this country, had

I have heard it stated, that, on the voyage to Manilla, the ship sprung a leak, and was obliged to put into the Isle of France to refit. Young Bowditch was the only one on board who knew any thing about French, having learnt it from his grammar on the voyage; and this casual knowledge thus proved of essential service to the interests of the owners, as well as to the crew of the ship. He used to say that nothing that he learnt ever came amiss.

† Dr. Bowditch mentioned this fact one day as he was walking up Common (then Nassau) street, with Dr. George Hayward, of this city, and expressed a desire to see the house where the eccentric owner of this book had lived. The book is now in his library.

‡ David Martin married Mary, the eldest sister of Dr. Bowditch. She died in 1808, at the age of forty-two, when her only child, and the only surviving descendant of the male line of his family, with the exception of his own six children, was received into his house and treated as his own child, as appears from this item in his will: "Whereas my niece, Elizabeth Bowditch Martin, has from youth resided in my family and been to me as a daughter," &c. I have so regarded and comprehended her in the Dedication of this Discourse.

come into his possession through the kindness of the learned and reverend Dr. Bentley, of Salem. Dr. Bentley told him that he could not give him the book, as it had been presented to him by a friend, but said he would loan it to him, and that he might keep it till it was called for. He did keep it; it was never called for; it is still among his books; and Dr. Bowditch has more than once taken it down from the shelf and showed it to

[blocks in formation]

What he once learned he ever afterwards remembered, and it may be mentioned as an instance of the singular tenacity of his memory, that, on lately reading the splendid "History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella," the last book he read through, and one for

*This is Dr. Bowditch's own account of the mode in which he came into possession of this book, which his own family, as well as myself, recollect to have heard often from his lips; and, moreover, the fact is so recorded, by his direction, in the catalogue of his library. But a very respectable merchant of Salem informs me that Dr. Bentley gave him the book, and he loaned it, in the manner above-mentioned, to Mr. Bowditch. Strict regard for accuracy leads me to append this statement.

† By WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT, Esq. This noble contribution to the youthful literature of our country is, at the same time, one of the most remarkable instances, in literary history, of the triumph of genius over difficulties and discouragements. It seems almost incredible, that so extensive a work, demanding the perusal of so many books, and the consultation of so many authorities, could have been composed without the full and free use of the eyes. And yet it is a fact known to me, that the author, although he wrote the book through with his own hand, never saw the words while he was writing them. His work is a noble evidence of his perseverance as well as of his learning and good taste, and reflects honor upon himself as well as upon his country.

which he expressed the highest admiration, he remarked that many of the incidents in it were quite familiar to him, he having once read the great work of Mariana on the History of Spain, in the original language, in the course of one of his voyages. The French mathematician, Lacroix, acknowledged to a young American that he was indebted to Mr. Bowditch for communicating many errors in his works, which he had discovered in these same long India voyages.

In the year 1806, Mr. Bowditch published his accurate and beautiful chart of the harbors of Salem, Beverly, Marblehead, and Manchester, the survey of which had occupied him during the summers of the three preceding years. So minutely accurate was this chart, that the old pilots said he had found out all their professional secrets, and had put on paper points and bearings which they thought were known only to themselves. They began to fear that their services would no longer be needed, and that their occupation and their bread were gone.


The extraordinary mathematical attainments of the young sailor soon became known, and secured to him

* Dr. Bowditch took great delight in every accurate scientific work of this sort; and I recollect his speaking, in terms of the highest admiration, of the survey of George's Shoal, recently made by the accomplished Lieut. Wilkes. He described it to me one evening very minutely, told me how it had been done, and spoke in the warmest manner of the science and skill which it evinced.

the notice of our most distinguished men,-among others that of the late Chief Justice Parsons, himself an eminent mathematician,—and likewise the deserved, yet wholly unexpected, honors of the first literary institution in the land. In the summer of 1802, at the age of twenty-nine, his ship lying wind-bound in this port, he went out to Cambridge to attend the exercises of Commencement Day; and whilst standing in one of the aisles of the church, as the President was announcing the honorary degrees conferred that day, his attention was aroused by hearing his own name called out as a Master of Arts. The annunciation came upon him like a peal of thunder; it took him wholly by surprise. He has been heard to say that that was the proudest day of his life; and that of all the distinctions which he subsequently received from numerous learned and scientific bodies, at home and abroad,* (among which may be mentioned his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, an honor to which few Americans have ever attained), there was not one which af forded him half the pleasure, or which he prized half so highly, as this degree from Harvard. It was, indeed,

* Dr. Bowditch was President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1829 to the time of his death. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Societies of Edinburgh and Dublin; of the Astronomical Society of London; of the American Philosophical Society held at Philadelphia; of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences; of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New York; Corresponding Member of the Royal Societies at Berlin, Palermo, &c. &c. &c.

« 上一頁繼續 »