Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/128

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118
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
SKETCH OF JAMES FERGUSSON

MR. JAMES FERGUSSON, writer on architecture and its history, who died January 9, 1886, was distinguished for the diligence with which he prosecuted his researches, and for the originality of his conclusions. Although the subject to which he chiefly directed his attention is usually classed among the arts rather than the sciences, he brought so philosophical a spirit to its study; so prominently regarded it in its archaeological and anthropological aspect, and so combined with the questions which it raised those which relate to the development of human civilization; and so faithfully in all his work upon it strove, as he expresses the thought, to raise its study from the "dry details of measurements to the dignity of an historical science," that he may well be considered entitled to a place among scientific men.

Mr. Fergusson was born at Ayr, in Scotland, in 1808, the son of an army-surgeon, who had seen active service abroad, "who had a liking for engineering as applied to architecture," and who wrote on the construction of hospitals. He was taught in the High School at Edinburgh and in a private school at Hounslow, and became a resident of England by the removal of his father to Windsor. When he had reached an age to start out for himself, he went to India, with a determination to work steadily in business for ten years, and then to retire with such fortune as he might have been able to make. He associated himself with a mercantile house in Calcutta, from which he withdrew his interest in time to escape being involved in its failure, and afterward, having filled for a short time two or three administrative positions, became an indigo-planter in Bengal.

He had, however, already developed a high interest in art, and found in India an attractive field, and novel in many of its features, for the cultivation of this taste and the increase of his knowledge. He made a thorough exploration of the whole peninsula, traveling, for the most part, on camel-back, and armed with a camera lucida, with which he was an expert draughtsman. His attention was directed early to the rock-cut temples of Ajunta, Ellora, and other places. "His perspicacity," says a critic of his life in the "Athæneum," "soon guided him to a true explanation of the origin and character of these remains, his familiarity with Indian life and modes of worship gave insight as to the intentions of the excavators, and large comparisons enabled him to decide on the positive as well as the relative ages of these astonishing works. ... In effect, the first fruit of his researches was a denial that the temples were architectural at all in the ordinary sense of that term." His first publication of the results of these studies was the "Illustrations of the Rock-cut Temples of India," which appeared in