Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 3.djvu/264

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292 JAMES FERGUSON.


were not neglected ; for, at his leisure hours, he taught them to read and write. And it was while lie was teaching my elder brother to read the Scottish catechism that I acquired my reading. Ashamed to ask my father to instruct me, I used, when he and my brother were abroad, to take the catechism, and study the lesson which he had been teaching my brother ; and when any difficulty occurred, I went to a neighbouring old woman, who gave me such help as enabled me to read tolerably well before my father had thought of teaching me.

Some time after, he was agreeably surprised to find me reading by myself: he thereupon gave me further instruction, and also taught me to write ; which, with about three months I afterwards had at the grammar-school at Keith, was all the education I ever received.

My taste for mechanics arose from an odd accident When about seven or eight years of age, a part of the roof of the house being decayed, my father, desirous of mending it, applied a prop and lever to an upright spar to raise it to its former situation ; and, to my great astonishment, I saw him, without considering the reason, lift up the ponderous roof as if it had been a small weight. I attributed this at first to a degree of strength that excited my terror as well as wonder : but thinking further of the matter, I recollected, that he had applied his strength to that end of the lever which was furthest from the prop ; and finding, on inquiry, that this was the means whereby the seeming wonder was effected, I began making levers (which I then called bars); and by applying weights to them different ways, I found the power gained by my bar was just in proportion to the lengths cf the different parts of the bar on either side of the prop. I then thought it was a great pity, that, by means of this bar, a weight could be raised but a very little way. On this I soon imagined, that, by pulling round a wheel, the weight might be raised to any height by tying a rope to the weight, and winding the rope round the axle of the wheel ; and that the power gained must be just as great as the wheel was broader than the axle was thick ; and found it to be exactly so, by hanging one weight to a rope put round the wheel, and another to the rope that coiled round the axle. So that, in these two machines, it appeared very plain, that their advantage was as great as the space gone through by the working power exceeded the space gone through by the weight. And this property I also thought must take place in a wedge for cleaving wood ; but then I happened not to think of the screw. By means of a turning lathe which my father had, and sometimes used, and a little knife, I was enabled to make wheels and other things necessary for my purpose.

I then wrote a short account of these machines, and sketched out figures of them with a pen, imagining it to be the first treatise of the kind that ever was written : but found my mistake, when I afterwards showed it to a gentleman, who told me that these things were known long before, and showed me a printed book in which they were treated of: and I was much pleased when 1 found, that my account (so far as I had carried it) agreed with the principles of mechanics in the book he showed me. And from that time my mind preserved a constant tendency to improve in that science.

But as my father could not afford to maintain me while I was in pursuit only of these matters, and I was rather too young and weak for hard labour, he put me out to a neighbour to keep sheep, which I continued to do for some years ; and in that time I began to study the stars in the night. In the day-time I amused myself by making models of mills, spinning-wheels, and such other things as I happened to see.

I then went to serve a considerable farmer in the neighbourhood, whose name was James Glashan. I found him very kind and indulgent : but he soon ob-