Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/50
obtained for its advocate his distinction in this branch of physical science. He planted a germ which, under his own assiduous care, grew and overspread the globe: its seed fell in every maritime nation, and to-day they are producing meteorological charts of the ocean — all modifications or elaborations of his useful idea. It is therefore but proper that I should here give a short sketch of both himself and his great work.
Matthew Fontaine Maury was born in Virginia, January 4, 1806. He entered the navy as midshipman in 1825, and was promoted to the grade of lieutenant in 1836, having in the interval been attached to various cruising-vessels, on which he performed the customary duties of a sea officer. It was during one of these cruises that the outline of his future work acquired form and shape in his brain.
In 1839 an accident permanently incapacitated him for further service at sea, and he was therefore given charge of the depot of charts and instruments in Washington: this was soon afterward united to the Naval Observatory, and he became superintendent of both, retaining the position uninterruptedly until 1861 — a period of more than twenty years. Later still, the scope, character, and importance of the chart department grew to such dimensions as to necessitate its separation from the observatory: this was done, and it became the Hydrographic Office, which it continues to this day, under the management of a naval officer. At present, it has no closer intimacy with the observatory than being under the guidance of officers of the same branch of the Government — the navy.
Maury was promoted to the grade of commander in 1855, and it was then also that he attained the height of his scientific fame: he had written his "Physical Geography of the Sea"; he had been chiefly instrumental in bringing about the Brussels Conference, whereby the civilized nations of the world entered into his plan of "ocean meteorology"; he had prepared his ponderous volumes of "Sailing Directions"; he had received the encomiums of numerous scientific bodies both native and foreign; and, with the constant aid of a large number of naval officers, he had compiled, with incredible labor and pains, that series of charts that has made his name so familiar to sailors, whatever the flag they sail under.
On the 1st of February, 1873, after having done more than any other man that preceded him toward tracing the wind in its circuits, and showing the navigator how to take advantage thereof, he died at Lexington, Virginia, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.
I will now give an outline of the charts compiled under Maury's direction. A full description would necessitate the reproduction of specimen-sheets, and that is impracticable here.
First and most important are the Pilot Charts. These give for small areas of ocean — every five degrees square — the relative frequency of different winds during each month. The following figure is a