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Stories of Invention, Told by Inventors and their Friends

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Stories of Invention.

by Edward E. Hale.


This little book closes a series of five volumes which I undertook some years since, in the wish to teach boys and girls how to use for themselves the treasures which they have close at hand in the Public Libraries now so generally opened in the Northern States of America. The librarians of these inst.i.tutions are, without an exception, so far as I know, eager to introduce to the young the books at their command. From these gentlemen and ladies I have received many suggestions as the series went forward, and I could name many of them who could have edited or prepared such a series far more completely than I have done. But it is not fair to expect them, in the rush of daily duty, to stop and tell boys or girls what will be "nice books" for them to read. If they issue frequent bulletins of information in this direction, as is done so admirably by the librarians at Providence and at Hartford, they do more than any one has a right to ask them for. Such bulletins must be confined to helping young people read about the current events of the day. In that case it will only be indirectly that they send the young readers back into older literature, and make them acquainted with the best work of earlier times.

I remember well a legend of the old Public Library at Dorchester, which describes the messages sent to the hard-pressed librarian from the outlying parts of the town on the afternoon of, which was the only time when the Library was open.

"Mother wants a sermon book and another book." This was the call almost regularly made by the messengers.

I think that many of the most accomplished librarians of to-day have demands not very dissimilar, and that they will be glad of any a.s.sistance that will give to either mother or messenger any hint as to what this "other book" shall be.

It is indeed, of course, almost the first thing to be asked that boys and girls shall learn to find out for themselves what they want, and to rummage in catalogues, indexes, and encyclopaedias for the books which will best answer their necessities. Mr. Emerson's rule is, "Read in the line of your genius." And the young man or maiden who can find out, in early life, what the line of his or her genius is, has every reason to be grateful to the teacher, or the event, or the book that has discovered it. I have certainly hoped, in reading and writing for this series, that there might be others of my young friends as sensible and as bright as Fergus and Fanchon, who will be found to work out their own salvation in these matters, and order their own books without troubling too much that nice Miss Panizzi or that omniscient Mrs. Bodley who manages the Library so well, and knows so well what every one in the town has read, and what he has not read.

I had at first proposed to publish with each book a little bibliography on the subjects referred to, telling particularly where were the available editions and the prices at which they could be bought by young collectors. But a little experiment showed that no such supplement could be made, which should be of real use for most readers for whom these books are made. The same list might be too full for those who have only small libraries at command, and too brief for those who are fortunate enough to use large ones. Indeed, I should like to say to such young readers of mine as have the pluck and the sense to read a preface, that the sooner they find out how to use the received guides in such matters,--the very indexes and bibliographies which I should use in making such a list for them,--why, the better will it be for them.

Such books as Poole's Index, Watt's and Brunet's Bibliographies, and the New American Indexes, prepared with such care by the Librarians'

a.s.sociation, are at hand in almost all the Public Libraries; and the librarians will always be glad to encourage intelligent readers in the use of them.

I should be sorry, in closing the series, not to bear my testimony to the value of the Public Library system, still so new to us, in raising the standard of thought and education. For thirty years I have had more or less to do with of intelligent young people who have met for study. I can say, therefore, that the habit of thought and the habit of work of such young people now is different from what it was thirty years ago. Of course it ought to be. You can say to a young learner now, "This book says thus and so, but you must learn for yourself whether this author is prejudiced or ill-informed, or not."

You can send him to the proper authorities. On almost any detail in general history, if he live near one of the metropolitan libraries, you can say to him, "If you choose to study a fortnight on this thing, you will very likely know more about it than does any person in the world."

It is encouraging to young people to know that they can thus take literature and history at first hand. It pleases them to know that "the book" is not absolute. With such resources that has resulted which such far-seeing men as Edward Everett and George Ticknor and Charles Coffin Jewett hoped for,--the growth, namely, of a race of students who do not take anything on trust. As Professor Aga.s.siz was forever driving up his pupils to habits of original observation in natural history, the Public Library provokes and allures young students to like courage in original research in matters of history and literature.


ROXBURY, April 1, 1885.



There is, or is supposed to be, somewhere in Norfolk County in Ma.s.sachusetts, in the neighborhood of the city of Boston, a rambling old house which in its day belonged to the Oliver family. I am afraid they were most of them sad Tories in their time; and I am not sure but these very windows could tell the story of one or another brick-bat thrown through them, as one or another committee of the people requested one or another Oliver, of the old times, to resign one or another royal commission. But a very peaceful Rowland has taken the place of those rebellious old Olivers.

This comfortable old house is now known to many young people as the home of a somewhat garrulous old gentleman whom they call Uncle Fritz. His real name is Frederick Ingham. He has had a checkered life, but it has evidently been a happy one. Once he was in the regular United States Navy. For a long time he was a preacher in the Sandemanian connection, where they have no ordained ministers. In Garibaldi's time he was a colonel in the patriot service in Italy. In our civil war he held a command in the national volunteer navy; and his scientific skill and pa.s.sion for adventure called him at one time across "the Great American Desert," and at another time across Siberia, in the business of constructing telegraphs. In point of fact, he is not the relation of any one of the five-and-twenty young people who call him Uncle Fritz. But he pets them, and they pet him. They like to make him a regular visit once a week, as the winter goes by. And the habit has grown up, of their reading with him, quite regularly, on some subject selected at their first meeting after they return from the country. Either at Lady Oliver's house, as his winter home is called, or at Little Crastis, where he spends his summers, those selections for reading have been made, which have been published in a form similar to that of the book which the reader holds in his hand.

The reader may or may not have seen these books,--so much the worse for him if he have not,--but that omission of his may be easily repaired.

There are four of them: STORIES OF WAR told by Soldiers; STORIES OF THE SEA told by Sailors; STORIES OF ADVENTURE told by Adventurers; STORIES OF DISCOVERY told by Discoverers.

Since the regular meetings began, of which these books are the history, the circle of visitors has changed more or less, as most circles will, in five years. Some of those who met are now in another world. Some of the boys have grown to be so much like men, that they are "subduing the world," as Uncle Fritz would say, in their several places, and that they write home, from other lat.i.tudes and longitudes, of the Discoveries and Adventures in which they have themselves been leaders. But younger sisters and brothers take the places of older brothers and sisters. The club--for it really is one--is popular, Lady Oliver's house is large, and Uncle Fritz is hospitable. He says himself that there is always room for more; and Ellen Flaherty, or whoever else is the reigning queen in the kitchen, never complains that the demand is too great for her "waffles."

Last fall, when the young people made their first appearance, the week before Thanksgiving day, after the new-comers had been presented to Uncle Fritz, and a chair or two had been brought in from the dining-room to make provision for the extra number of guests, it proved that, on the way out, John Coram, who is Tom Coram's nephew, had been talking with Helen, who is one of the old Boston Champernoons, about the change of Boston since his uncle's early days.

"I told her," said he to Uncle Fritz, "that Mr. Allerton was called 'the last of the merchants,' and he is dead now."

"That was a pet phrase of his," said Uncle Fritz. "He meant that his house, with its immense resources, simply bought and sold. He was away for many years once. When he returned, he found that the chief of his affairs had made an investment, from motives of public spirit, in a Western railroad. 'I thought we were merchants,' said the fine old man, disapproving. As he turned over page after page of the account, he found at last that the whole investment had been lost. 'I am glad of that,'

said he; 'you will remember now that we are merchants.'"

"But surely my father is a merchant," said Julius. "He calls himself a merchant, he is put down as a merchant in the Directory, and he buys and sells, if that makes a man a merchant."

"All that is true," said Uncle Fritz. "But your father also invests money in railroads; so far he is engaged in transportation. He is a stockholder and a director in the Hecla Woollen Mills at Bromwich; so far he is a manufacturer. He told me, the other day, that he had been encouraging my little friend Griffiths, who is experimenting in the conservation of electric power; so far he is an inventor, or a patron of inventions.

"In substance, what Mr. Allerton meant when he said 'I thought we were merchants,' was this: he meant that that firm simply bought from people who wished to sell, and sold to people who wished to buy.

"The fact, that almost every man of enterprise in Ma.s.sachusetts is now to a certain extent a manufacturer, shows that a great change has come over people here since the beginning of this century."

"Those were the days of Mr. Cleveland's adventures, and Mr. Forbes's,"

said Hugh.

He alluded to the trade in the Pacific, in which these gentlemen shared, as may be read in STORIES OF ADVENTURE.

Uncle Fritz said, "Yes." He said that the patient love of Great Britain for her colonies forbade us here from making so much as a hat or a hob-nail while we were colonies, as it would gladly do again now. He said that the New Englanders had a great deal of adventurous old Norse blood in their veins, that they had plenty of ship-timber and tar. If they could not make hob-nails they could make ships; and they made very good ships before they had been in New England ten years.

Luckily for us, soon after the country became a country, near a hundred years ago, the quarrels of Europe were such, that if an English ship carried produce of the West Indies or China to Europe, France seized, if she could, ship and cargo; if a French ship carried them, English cruisers seized ship and cargo, if they could. So it happened that the American ships and the American sailors, who were not at war with England and were not at war with France, were able to carry the stores which were wanted by all the world. The wars of Napoleon were thus a steady bounty for the benefit of the commerce of America. When they were well over, we had become so well trained to commerce here, that we could build the best ships in the world; and we thought we had the best seamen in the world,--certainly there were no better. Under such a stimulus, and what followed it, our commerce, as measured by the tonnage of our ships, was as large as that of any nation, and, if measured by the miles sailed, was probably larger.

All this prosperity to merchants was broken up by the War of 1812, between the United States and Great Britain. For two years and a half, then, our intercourse with Europe was almost cut off; for the English cruisers now captured our vessels whenever they could find them. At last we had to make our own hob-nails, our guns, our cannon, our cotton cloth, and our woollen cloth, if we meant to have any at all. The farmers' wives and daughters had always had the traditions of spinning and weaving.

When Colonel Ingham said this, Blanche nodded to Mary and Mary to Blanche.

"That means," said the Colonel, "that you have brought dear old mother Tucker's spinning-wheel downstairs, and have it in the corner behind your piano, does it not?"

Blanche laughed, and said that was just what she meant.

"It does very well in 'Martha,'" said the Colonel. "And can you spin, Blanche?"

Blanche rather surprised him by saying that she could, and the Colonel went on with his lecture. Fergus, who is very proud of Blanche, slipped out of the room, but was back after a minute, and no one missed him.

Here in Ma.s.sachusetts some of the most skilful merchants--Appletons, Perkinses, and Lawrences--joined hand with brave inventors like Slater and Treadwell, and sent out to England for skilful manufacturers like Crompton and Boott; thus there sprung up the gigantic system of manufacture, which seems to you children a thing of course. Oddly enough, the Southern States, which had always hated New England and New England commerce, and had done their best to destroy it when they had a chance, were very eager to secure a home-market for Southern cotton; and thus, for many years after the war, they kept up such high protective duties that foreign goods were very dear in America, and the New England manufacturers had all the better prices.

While Uncle Fritz was saying this in substance, Ransom, the old servant, appeared with a spinning-wheel from Colonel Ingham's music-room. The children had had it for some charades. Kate Fogarty, the seamstress of the Colonel's household, followed, laughing, with a great hank of flax; and when the Colonel stopped at the interruption, Fergus said,--

"I thought, Uncle Fritz, they would all like to see how well Blanche spins; so I asked Ransom to bring in the wheel."

And Blanche sat down without any coaxing, and made her wheel fly very prettily, and spun her linen thread as well as her great-grandmamma would have done. Colonel Ingham was delighted; and so were all the children, half of whom had never seen any hand-spinning before. All of them had seen cotton and wool spun in factories; in fact, half of them had eaten their daily bread that day, from the profit of the factories that for ten hours of every day do such spinning.

"Now, you see," said the well-pleased Colonel, "Blanche spins that flax exactly as her grandmother nine generations back spun it. She spins it exactly as Mrs. Dudley spun it in the old house where Dr. Paterson's church stands. It is strange enough, but for one hundred and fifty years there seems to have been no pa.s.sion for invention among the New Englanders. Now they are called a most _inventive_ people, and that bad word has been coined for them and such as they.

"But all this is of the last century. It was as soon as they were thrown on their own resources that they began to invent. Eli Whitney, a Worcester County boy, graduated at Yale College in 1791. He went to Georgia at once, to be a tutor in a planter's family; but before he arrived, the planter had another tutor. This was a fortunate chance for the world; for poor Whitney, disappointed, went to spend the winter at the house of Mrs. General Greene. One day, at dinner, some guests of hers said that cotton could never be exported with profit unless a machine could be made to separate the seeds from the 'wool.' 'If you want anything invented,' said Mrs. Greene, 'ask my young friend Mr.

Whitney; he will invent anything for you.' Whitney had then never seen cotton unmanufactured. But he went to work; and before he was one year out of college, he had invented the cotton-gin, which created an enormous product of cotton, and, in fact, changed the direction of the commerce of the world.

"Well, you know about other inventions. Robert Fulton, who built the first effective steamboat, was born in Pennsylvania the same year Whitney was born in Ma.s.sachusetts.

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