F. R. 1833-1900

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F. R. 1833-1900  (1903) 
Horace Howard Furness
F. R. 1833-1900
Philadelphia: Privately printed pages 1-20
Frontispiece image of Fairman Rogers from F. R. 1833-1900.jpg






1833—1900





[PRIVATELY PRINTED]



PHILADELPHIA

1903


FAIRMAN ROGERS




Fairman Rogers was born in Philadelphia on the fifteenth of November, 1833, and died in Vienna on the twenty-second of August, 1900. Within this span of sixty-seven years there is comprised a life of unusual fulness,—but how brief for the large circle of his friends!

He was the only son of Evans Rogers, a retired iron-merchant of wealth, and of Caroline Augusta, a daughter of Gideon Fairman, the inventor of what is known, I think, as 'engine-turning' in the engraving of bank-notes. To this invention is due the elaborate and artistic designs, at this day, on our national paper-currency, whereof we are justly proud. In addition to this aptitude for mechanics, Gideon Fairman possessed unusual intellectual and social charms. To the end of his life he was an intimate friend of Washington Irving. I have heard my father say that Washington Irving on one occasion declared that were he condemned to a life-long imprisonment with the privilege of choosing the society of but one friend, his choice as a companion would be Gideon Fairman.

It is worth while to recall these characteristics of the grandfather; they reappear emphasized, if possible, in the grandson.

Fairman Rogers's father, sprung from a sturdy Pennsylvania stock which claims descent from John Rogers, 'the Martyr,' was an unyielding disciplinarian, and, while indulging his son in whatever wealth can give, inculcated those principles of moral restraint, exactitude in method, and precision in details which were afterward so marked a feature in the son's career. Through the boy's mother, a woman of rare personal beauty, was transmitted, with no loss in the transmission, a heritage from Gideon Fairman of a serenity of temper which none of the vexations of life could ever ruffle.

Under such influences the young lad grew up, disclosing from his earliest years a bent for mechanical devices; and was admired, caressed, and loved by all who knew him; he was fond of riding, of dancing, of swimming, of skating; his abbreviated, customary name, 'Fair,' lent itself readily in his childhood to the endearing and equally appropriate 'Fairy.' Competent as he was in many directions, he was most apt in Physics and Mechanics. Even while yet a school-boy, before he was admitted to college, he gave, at the request of his school-teacher, a lecture to his schoolmates on the electric telegraph, illustrated by means of wires attached to the walls and ceiling of the schoolroom. The exact date of this truly precocious performance I do not know, but, inasmuch as he entered college in 1849, it must have been in his fourteenth or fifteenth year,—that is, in 1847 or 1848,—an early date, I fancy, for any one not professional, still more for so young a lad, to have been thus familiar with the subject in its infant days.

He entered The University of Pennsylvania in his sixteenth year,—his seventeenth year began in the following November. After passing his entrance examination, he sojourned during the summer with his family at Bethlehem, in this State; here, in a family also sojourning in the quaint old Moravian town, he met his 'fate' in Miss Rebecca H. Gilpin. From this boy-love at first sight he never after for an instant swerved, but remained the enamoured, loyal lover through boyhood, manhood, and through age. After their marriage, in January, 1856, forty-four full years of mutual devotion hallowed a union whereof the world affords only too few examples.

In the University his career was creditable from the start to the close. While not taking the highest rank, he was always among the best. For Latin and Greek he cared little, but to the Mathematics and Physics he devoted all his zeal. A friendship here begun between the young collegian and Professor John F. Frazer, and continued with ever-increasing closeness as years advanced, exerted an abiding and beneficial influence on the character of the younger man.

After he was graduated in 1853, young Rogers travelled for many months in England and on the Continent, where his route was mainly determined by his eagerness to examine the most famous works of modern engineering skill.

After his return, probably in 1855, another warm and enduring friendship enriched his life, and was destined largely to control it. He became acquainted,—possibly at the table of Professor Frazer, with Professor Alexander Dallas Bache, the Superintendent of The United States Coast Survey, who was evidently at once attracted to the quick-witted, well-equipped, sunny-tempered young man, and eventually accepted his services as a volunteer aid in the Government work then on hand in the measurement of a Base Line in Florida. Here was practice in the field,—such as any engineer double young Rogers's age would have been glad to gain,—under an officer the highest authority in the land in Civil Engineering, the most rigid and punctilious of military disciplinarians when on duty, the genial, warm-hearted friend, and, within the limits of becoming mirth, the most jovial of companions in hours of relaxation. Sterile, indeed, must be the soil which would not respond to such influences. In young Rogers's case the soil was ready to teem with flower and fruit. The hardest of hard work ruled the day, and in the evening, on board the Government boat, in the lagoons of Florida—'"Sir," said Dr Johnson, "we had good talk."' Throughout his life Rogers delighted to recall the varied charms of this and similar expeditions under the command of Professor Bache.

After the return from his wedding tour in Europe he was busily occupied, until the breaking out of the Rebellion in 1861, in giving series after series of Lectures on Physics and its branches at The Franklin Institute and on Civil Engineering at The University of Pennsylvania, where he had been installed in the chair of that department. Later, in 1861, he delivered a lecture on 'Roads' before The Smithsonian Institution in Washington; and still later, in 1863, he held for a year the appointment of Lecturer in Harvard College. All these Lectures were marked by complete mastery of the subject, by thorough minuteness of detail, coupled with clearness of exposition and a quiet, refined manner of delivery, utterly devoid of pedantry or pretence.

In 1857 he was elected a member of The American Philosophical Society,—the youngest man, it was so stated at the time, (he was only twenty-four years of age) on whom this honour had been conferred. In the summer of the same year he accompanied Professor Bache to Maine, again as a volunteer aid, for the purpose of measuring the Epping Base Line, near Cherryfield, in that State.

The outbreak of the Rebellion found Professor Rogers a member of The First Troop of Philadelphia City Cavalry, a time-honoured and aristocratic militia organization, (dating from the days of the Revolution) of which our city has been always justly proud by reason of its admirable drilling and its handsome uniform. Throughout the long, still years of peace its duties had consisted in the ornamental yet needful office of acting on State occasions as escort to the Governor of the State or to the President of the United States. But now this profound repose was broken by a call to arms. Although, probably, not a young man had joined The City Troop, in days gone by, with any thought that he should ever have to put his sabre to warlike use, yet now—

'So near to grandeur is our dust,
 So close to God is man,
When Duty whispers low, "Thou must,"
 The youth replies, "I can."'

and not a stripling but sprang to the saddle. In the hurried preparation for actual service, I well remember hearing what requisitions were made on Fairman Rogers's forethought,—he was but a private in the ranks then,—and on his ingenuity in all questions of detail, however minute. He spent a whole evening showing, over and over again, to almost every member in turn, with smiling patience, the most expeditious and convenient way of packing the kit, and the most economical of space. When in camp Rogers was promoted to Orderly Sergeant. Several years later, when the Captain died, Rogers was elected to the vacancy.

After having been mustered out of service at the end of the three months for which The Troop had been called into the field, Professor Rogers at once returned to his lectures before The Franklin Institute and to his classes at The University. Again he lectured in Washington before The Smithsonian Institution, this time on 'Glaciers.' In the meanwhile he was again on Professor Bache's staff engaged in completing the survey of the Potomac. The autumn saw him again on service in the field as a volunteer Engineer Officer on the staff of General Reynolds; and in the following summer of 1863, he was serving in the same capacity on the staff of General William F. Smith. Wherever and whenever he believed he could be of service to his country or to his fellow-men, his time, his labour, his talents were freely given.

In 1863, The National Academy of Sciences was organized, and Fairman Rogers was one of the original fifty members elected by the United States Senate.

As a member of this Academy, he was requested by the Government to correct the compasses of the iron vessels, which for this purpose and for his convenience were dispatched to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This task, in a novel department, required of him extraordinary skill, and was of the utmost responsibility. The experience and the exhaustive study which it involved found expression a few years later, in A Treatise on Terrestrial Magnetism and on the Magnetism of Iron Vessels, published by Van Nostrand, in 1877; a Revised Edition was published in 1883. At one time the Treatise was used as a text-book in The Naval Academy at Annapolis.

With zeal such as his in whatever his hand found to do, united with so much efficiency, executive ability, and prepossessing manners, it is small wonder that many an institution was eager to obtain his services on its executive board.

After having faithfully performed the duties of Professor of Civil Engineering in The University of Pennsylvania for fifteen years, he resigned the position in 1871, and was immediately elected to the Board of Trustees. Nine years later, when, through the resignation of Dr Stillé, the office of Provost became vacant, Professor Rogers (the honourable title still clung to him) was earnestly and unanimously requested by the Board of Trustees to accept the position. But he shrank from the weight of responsibility and the restricted liberty of action which its acceptance would entail, and declined the honour.

At about the same time that he resigned his Professorship in The University, he was elected one of the Directors of The Academy of the Fine Arts. Herein he found a field extremely congenial to his tastes,—the artistic blood of his grandfather was always stirring in him. What admirable fruit his zeal and enthusiasm bore let the following minute tell, which was adopted by the Board of Directors, after the tidings of his death in Vienna reached this country:—

'Mr. Rogers was elected a member of the Board in 1871, and for twelve years served the interests of the institution with rare intelligence and devotion.

'At the time of his election the Academy was preparing to give up its old habitation on Chestnut Street, and Mr. Rogers became Chairman of the Committee in charge of the present building. In its internal design and arrangement much that is admirable and best is owing to his careful and earnest thought.

'Upon completion of the work in 1876,—the year of the Nation's Centennial Anniversary,—he became Chairman of the Committee on Instruction. The period was an important era in Art Education in the United States. Under Mr. Rogers the school system of the Academy was wholly reorganized upon a basis so thorough that the schools rose to the highest point reached in this country, and for the first time women were admitted to them upon the same conditions as men. Their pre-eminent position to-day for the study of the fundamental principles of art, and their character for sincere and earnest work, are in large measure due to Mr. Rogers' influence.

'In 1883 he relinquished all active duties and withdrew from the Board of Direction, but the record of his benefactions and services must always be a part of the history of the Academy.'

Another debt which we owe to Fairman Rogers is that he was one of the founders of The Union League, which was itself an offspring of The Saturday Club, whereof also he was one of the original promoters. The indebtedness of our city in times past to The Saturday Club is noteworthy. Composed as it was of men of influence and wealth, it fairly represented the working force of the city, and gave to this force a unity which neither New York nor Boston possessed. On one occasion, to give an instance of what I mean, at one of these Saturday Club evenings, the unhappy case was mentioned of one of our most eminent scientific men, of national and international reputation, not a resident of our city, who was about to retire from his position at the head of a well-known institution in Washington, enforced thereto by age and infirmity, and yet with no provision for his family. The assertion was accepted by a group of men (in which Fairman Rogers was prominent) that such a termination of a most honourable career would be a national disgrace. Whereupon, in a few minutes, the sum of sixty thousand dollars was promised, and the amount was collected and sent as a tribute of deep respect within two or three days. I doubt that in those days a similar deed could have been done anywhere else as expeditiously as in Philadelphia. It used to be jocularly said that half the affairs of The University were transacted at The Saturday Club. It was in these social gatherings that the design and scope of a Union League had its origin. In the final organization of The Union League, Professor Rogers took a leading part, and when it moved from its original quarters to its present location, the adoption of the architectural design of the building fell to his share of the work, and much of the admirable interior arrangement is due to him.

From his early years Professor Rogers had been a collector of books; naturally he preferred those in his own chosen department of Civil Engineering. Down to 1878 this collection had become about as complete as it was possible to make it, and he then presented it to the Library of The University as a filial and enduring memorial of his father.

In another and favourite department he had also gathered a noteworthy collection,—namely, on Horsemanship. This collection is possibly unparalleled in this country, and probably could not now be duplicated. It, too, he subsequently gave to The University Library.

Professor Rogers was one of the early photographers, and some of his pictures, taken forty-five years ago, show very careful manipulation, and will even stand a lenient comparison with those of the present day.

According to a recent communication in The Rider and Driver, it is due to his ingenious application of the principle of a Zoötrope that Mr. Muybridge was enabled to show from his own photographs animals in motion. From this device of Professor Rogers, so says the writer, have followed the Biograph, the Cinematograph, and all similar adaptations.

One of the first typewriters, if not the very first, was set up by its inventor in Professor Rogers's library. At that time I remember hearing of improvements which were suggested and adopted, and of the gratitude of the inventor.

Of everything pertaining to Riding, Driving, and Hunting Professor Rogers was unfeignedly fond. He had ridden in England with The Pytchley and The Quorn Hunt, and had been a member of the North Warwickshire; here at home he was one of the founders of The Rose-Tree Hunting Club, near Media. Together with the late Judge Cadwalader and John D. Bleight, esq., he was the first in this country to test Baucher's methods and the riding of the Haute École. He was also the first, I think, in this city,—at least within recent years,—to own and drive a Four-in-hand Coach.

Thus it was that this many-sided man touched life at such diverse points, and his solid worth dignified them all. The hand that could delicately adjust the compass on an iron ship lost none of our respect when it deftly caught a whip-lash in a double thong.

The care and responsibility of so many interests where others were involved could not fail, as the years ran on, to make themselves felt to one as conscientious in the performance of every duty as was Professor Rogers. Accordingly, from time to time he resigned from one and another of the many institutions whereof he was a director, and finally decided to give up his steam yacht, and even his 'house beautiful' at Newport, where, as was his wont in everything he undertook, he had brought the art of 'ribbon gardening,' to such perfection that the wonder and admiration of his neighbours in even that flowery kingdom were excited.

An honestly-earned and indefinite rest in Europe seemed now to be his as of right.

But a mind as active as his could not lie idle,—work of some kind was as essential to it as is air to the lungs. Thus it happened that what had been hitherto an altogether delightful and healthful recreation now became a source of earnest and profitable study. The well-kept roads in England and on the Continent, the fair landscapes, the wayside Inns, the summers longer and gentler than here at home,—all combined to rekindle his love of horses and of driving; and if of driving, then of driving in its highest perfection, that of a Four-in-hand. Before his imagination there floated the ideal of a book which should hold to Coaching the same relation that a scientific treatise holds to its subject,—it must be thorough, exact, exhaustive. The realisation of such an ideal Professor Rogers, in the maturity of his powers, now resolved to attempt. The result was, in 1899, given to the public in A Manual of Coaching, a work which it would be difficult to praise too highly. By maintaining no standard lower than perfection in the humblest details of coach, of harness, of driving, it elevates what is perhaps supposed to be merely the pastime of luxurious ease into the dignity of an art worthy of respect. A terret or a splinter-bar may be an insignificant thing, but perfection is not; and in this Manual nothing is overlooked, from the position of a screw to the mathematical formula for computing the centrifugal force in turning a heavy coach round a sharp corner. In no case does the more excellent way fail to receive due note. Even to those who can mount the box and handle the reins only in imagination, the book is good reading. Here and there beams forth the twinkle of a laughter-loving eye, such as: 'If a man has not hands enough to spare one to take off his hat to bow to a lady, he should continue to practise driving until he can find one;' and, again, 'There is something so exhilarating in the motion behind four horses, through the fresh air, that even stupid people wake up, and for once make themselves agreeable;' again, the humorous description of an unhappy beginner's first experience on the box, when 'the reins seem to be all edges,' speaks home to the heart of every driver. Again, there are sentences of epigrammatic wisdom, such as: 'It is usually better to keep out of a "fix," than to get out.'

It is a sad satisfaction to know that the author lived long enough to be assured that his Manual was warmly admired and extolled by those best qualified to judge, and gratefully accepted at home and abroad as a standard authority.


The end came swiftly, in Vienna. The footsteps of death were inaudible and noiseless. An organic ailment,—long suspected, but never obtrusive,—culminated after about a week's illness, and he now rests beside his father and his mother in Laurel Hill Cemetery.


A choicer spirit has seldom visited this earth. To a keen intellect were united clearness of exposition and a retentive memory. Warm and loyal in his friendship, he never cherished an ill-feeling,—for no one ever did him an unkindness. On many an institution in his native city an ineffaceable impression has been left of his judicious devotion; of unstinted hospitality, and the most considerate and attentive of hosts; of such exquisite urbanity that, though emphatic and inflexible in his matured convictions, he was never known to give offence in expressing them; of high veracity, and a delicate sense of honour; and of such imperturbable serenity that it may be said with absolute truth that a harsh or hasty word never fell from his lips.

Possibly it may be thought by those who did not know him face to face that in what has just been said there is too much of the 'personal equation.' Be it so. We were children together, boys together, men together, brothers in love and in law. I can say but what I believe.


Before her who is left within a shadow which will never lift we can but stand in silence.

H. H. F.