Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/125

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JAMES NASMYTH was pre-eminently a self-made man. Though, taught in the schools, he worked out his own way without regard to the teaching he had received, and by methods peculiarly his own. He was a master engineer, an astronomer whose discoveries and conclusions attracted the attention of learned societies and were admired by the great, and a successful manager of men. "There can be no doubt," says Nature, in a sketch of him, "that he stands in the front rank of those who have advanced the material interests of mankind by the application of science to industrial methods,"

Mr. Nasmyth was born in Edinburgh, August 19, 1808, the next to the youngest child of a family of eleven, and died in London, May 7, 1890. He was the son of Alexander Nasmyth, an artist of considerable distinction, and reckoned in his ancestry two or three successive generations of architects and builders. Mention is made of his exercise of his observing powers in very early infancy. The conditions of his childhood life, although it was passed in the city, gave him opportunities to become acquainted with Nature. Many workshops were in operation near Calton Hill, where the nurses took the children to play, and he was one of the throng of little boys who were interested in watching the proceedings of the workmen. Having tools at home in his father's shop, he tried to imitate what he had seen done. He became skilled in making things for himself, and was called "a little Jack of all trades." He was taught by his eldest sister, then sent to a teacher of such a character that he contracted "a hatred against grammatical rules," and was enrolled in the Edinburgh High School in 1817. The teaching here was of the old routine sort, and aroused little interest in the pupil; but he did his tasks punctually and cheerfully, "though they were far from agreeable."

A different condition prevailed in the shop, where his father directed his attention to the action of the tools and to all the processes required for turning out the best work; and gradually he had planted in his mind "the great fundamental principles on which the practice of engineering in its grandest forms is based." Nasmyth became famous in the school for the perfect spinning tops, or "peeries," he could make, for his accurate construction of kites, and for his paper balloons. He cast, bored, and mounted small brass cannon, and made guns of cellar keys. With the fine steels he made he was able to buy the monitors off from the too strict enforcement of the assigned tasks. But he learned little of what the school taught—"a mere matter of rote and cram." He