Dircks, Henry (DNB00)

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DIRCKS, HENRY (1806–1873), civil engineer and author, born at Liverpool on 26 Aug. 1806, was in early life apprenticed to a mercantile firm of that town, but gave his leisure time to the study of practical mechanics, chemical science, and general literature, and before he was twenty-one delivered courses of lectures on chemistry and electricity, and wrote literary articles in the local press and scientific papers in the ‘Mechanics' Magazine’ and other journals. In 1837 he became a life member of the British Association, and afterwards contributed papers to its proceedings. He wrote a pamphlet relative to a proposed union of mechanics' and literary institutions, 1839, and a short treatise entitled ‘Popular Education, a series of Papers on the Nature, Objects, and Advantages of Mechanics' Institutions,’ which was printed at Liverpool in 1840, and reprinted at Manchester in 1841. On relinquishing mercantile pursuits he became at first a practical engineer, conducting railway, canal, and mining works, and subsequently practised as a consulting engineer. He took out patents for several inventions between 1840 and 1857, and was the inventor of a curious optical delusion, originally intended as an illustration of Dickens's ‘Haunted Man,’ which was exhibited at the Polytechnic under the name of ‘Pepper's Ghost.’ Of this invention he read a notice before the British Association in 1858. He joined the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and other scientific bodies, and in 1868 procured the title of LL.D. from the so-called college of Tusculum in Tennessee, U.S.A.

He published the following separate works: 1. ‘Jordantype, otherwise called Electrotype: its Early History, being a vindication of the claims of C. A. Jordan as the Inventor of Electro-Metallurgy,’ 1852, 8vo. 2. ‘Perpetuum Mobile, or a History of the Search for Self-motive Power,’ 1861 (8vo, pp. 599), which was followed by a second series in 1870. 3. ‘Joseph Anstey,’ a novel, 1863, published under the pseudonym of D. Henry. 4. ‘Contributions towards a History of Electro-Metallurgy,’ 1863; part of this was published as early as 1844. 5. ‘The Ghost, as produced in the Spectre-Drama, popularly illustrating the marvellous optical illusions obtained by the Apparatus called the Dircksian Phantasmagoria,’ 1863, 12mo. 6. ‘A Biographical Memoir of Samuel Hartlib, Milton's familiar friend, with Bibliographical Notices,’ 1865. 7. ‘The Life, Times, and Scientific Labours of the Second Marquis of Worcester,’ 1865, 8vo, pp. 648. 8. ‘Worcesteriana, a Collection of Literary Authorities relating to Edward Somerset, Marquis of Worcester,’ 1866, 8vo. 9. ‘Inventions and Inventors,’ 1867, 8vo. 10. ‘Scientific Studies, two Popular Lectures on the Life of the Marquis of Worcester and on Chimeras of Science,’ 1869, 8vo. 11. ‘Nature-Study, or the Art of attaining those excellencies in Poetry and Eloquence which are mainly dependent on the manifold influences of Universal Nature’ 1869, 8vo, pp. 456. He issued an abridgment of this ‘system’ in pamphlet form at Edinburgh in 1871. 12. ‘Patent Law considered as affecting the Interests of the Million,’ 1869, 8vo, being a reprint of three pamphlets previously issued. 13. ‘Naturalistic Poetry, selected from Psalms and Hymns of the last three centuries, in four Essays developing the progress of Nature-Study in connection with Sacred Song,’ 1872, 8vo, pp. 332. A portrait of Dircks is given in the books numbered 11 and 13 above. He died at Brighton on 17 Sept. 1873.

[Men of the Time, 1875, p. 529; Report of Roy. Soc. of Literature, 1874, p. 31; Notes and Queries, 1885, 6th ser. xii. 309, 477; Cat. Patent Office Libr. 1881, i. 193.]

C. W. S.