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Charles himself dabbled in science, and proposed quizzical problems to the Royal Society.
I hope I may be pardoned for this digression, which traces a slender thread of affinity between the two contemporaneous charters, that of our own State, and that of the learned institution which long represented the physical sciences in Great Britain. Through this Society, many of the contributions to knowledge which illustrated the seventeenth century were published. Many New-Englanders were its correspondents and diligent readers of its transactions.
In glancing along the intellectual annals of the State, we are tempted to dwell on the name of Berkeley, whose stay in Newport threw a glamour over the rocks that overhang its beach. But Berkeley was properly a philosopher, not a man of science. His two chief distinctions, apart from his moral virtues, were (1) that he cast a doubt over the objective existence of an external universe, and (2) that he believed tar-water to be a panacea for human diseases. I submit that neither of these entitles him to be ranked among the promoters of physical science.
The intellectual movement in Newport, in which Berkeley took part, and which has its still remaining monument in the Redwood library, was rather literary and philosophical than scientific. Redwood himself is said to have laid out a botanical garden containing foreign and native plants, the first in New England.
There is then little to detain us, in a close treatment of our subject, till we come down to the middle of the last century. About that time, ELECTRICITY, hitherto regarded as little more than a plaything, became a subject of scientific experiment and discovery. Franklin is said to have had his attention called to it when on a visit to Boston in 1746 ; and in consequence, he with his fellow-workers performed that remarkable series of experiments which first made the names of Franklin and Philadelphia familiar in Europe. They occupied much of his time
from 1746 to 1752. The editor of Franklin's Works, Dr. Sparks, attributes his first interest in the subject to what he saw in Boston, at the hands of a Dr. Spence. I think it probable, however, that quite as much of the credit of this suggestion belongs to a Newport electrician. All that Spence had to show, so far as we know, was the familiar results of rubbing on a glass tube. At the same time William Claggett, clock-maker and " artist” of Newport, had constructed a very large electrical machine. He carried this machine to Boston, and performed public experiments for the benefit of the poor. He was intimately acquainted with Franklin, who saw his apparatus when passing through Newport in 1746. After Claggett's death, his son Thomas, having occasion to ask Dr. Franklin to procure for him a cylinder for an electric apparatus, Franklin furnished it without compensation, as a mark of gratitude to the deceased father.
It is probable then that the hint of which the great discoverer made such good use was given-in part at least-by a Newport experimenter, whose name is now almost forgotten. Claggett is said to have come to this couutry from Wales, and lived first in Boston. He was early involved in religious controversy, and printed at Newport, in 1721, a book entitled “A Looking-Glass for Elder Clarke and Elder Wightman and the church under their care. (Wherein is fairly represented the very image of their transactions. It being a brief but true relation of the cause and prosecution of the differences between the Baptist Church, under the pastoral care of the aforesaid Elders, and John Rhodes, Captain John Rogers, William Claggett and several others that were members of the aforesaid Church, with some remarks thereon ;)” This volume is now very rare ;our Society possesses a copy of it. Claggett united with the First Baptist Church in Newport, under the Rev. John Callender, in November, 1733. Many of his high, old-fashioned musical clocks still mark the time in Newport, Providence and War
(1) Historical Discourse by Rev. Arthur A. Ross, 1838, pp. 35, 36.
wick. He died in Newport, October 18, 1749. The late Dr. David King had in his possession a part of Claggett’s electrical machine, which had belonged to his father, the elder Dr. King, and previously to Dr. Isaac Senter. Dr. King came to the same conclusion as myself, that Franklin derived his interest in electricity from Claggett and his apparatus.
As one result of this interest in electricity, the needful apparatus was owned and used for experimental purposes by many investigators. Mr. Joseph Brown, of Providence,—one of the famous four brothers—had, as we are told by his friend Benjamin West, “as curious and complete an apparatus for electrical experiments as any perhaps in America, and of which he well knows the use.” Professor Tyler, in his most interesting “History of American Literature," remarks: "Inspired by the noble enthusiasm of Franklin, whose position brought him into large personal acquaintance in all the colonies, the activity and the range of scientific studies in America were greatly increased.” He enumerates several of the leading students of nature, who in colonies the most remote from one another were pushing forward similar researches, and who found in these researches a bond of scientific communion, that helped to prepare the way for political communion, whenever the hour for that should come.”
Among these names, he rather strangely omits that of one student, long a resident of Rhode Island, who is more known in other departments of learning, but who was a disciple of Franklin, and who investigated during his busy life a great variety of scientific subjects.
The Reverend Dr. Ezra Stiles, who resided in Newport as a Congregational clergyman, from 1755 till his pastorate was interrupted by the British occupation of Newport in the revolutionary war, was a correspondent and friend of Dr. Franklin. and performed some of the earliest known electrical experiments
(2) Some of these facts about Claggett were told me by the late lamentəd
Comfort E. Barrows, D. D., of Newport.
in New England, in 1749 and 1750, with apparatus sent by Dr. Franklin to Yale College where Stiles was then Tutor. He was a native of Connecticut, and from the year 1778 till his death, May 12, 1795, was President of Yale College. He was a singularly inquisitive and many-sided scholar, with a marked vein of learned credulity. He recorded and preserved his observations of the comet of 1759, whose reappearance he had correctly foretold,—also of the transits of Venus and of Mercury. His notes and calculations concerning these transits fill a quarto volume. He carefully noted the phenomena of the dark day, (May, 1780), which he thus explains :
"The darkness may be considered as a very extensive sheet of very dense cloud, stationary and suspended in the atmosphere over this and the adjacent places, there being no current of air sufficient to carry it forward. This, penetrated by the meridian solar rays, produced the yellow duskishness which overshadowed us, transfusing a yellow hue over all visible nature.”
He pushed his inquiries on geographical subjects, the distinctions and history of the races of mankind, and the chronology of the earth, with a degree of pertinacity sometimes amusing. While living at Newport, he wrote a letter to a Greek priest or bishop in Syria, propounding a long list of questions about the Holy Land, the Samaritans and their Pentateuch, the Euphrates, and country beyond the Caspian Sea, with a delicious disregard of the limitations of effort on the part of his correspondent, and the brevity of human life. About the same time (1759) he wrote a letter, also in Latin and covering many pages, to the Principal of the Jesuits' college in Mexico, desiring information in regard to discoveries made on this continent, beyond (that is north of California. This inquiry was connected in his mind with the question of possible communication, by land, or over short distances of sea-travel, between Asia and North America. It should be remembered that, though Behring's Strait had been discovered in 1728, it was first distinctly explored and described by Captain Cook in his last voyage, 1778. A map in Salmon's "Geographical and Historical Grammar,” published in London 1749, and supposed to represent the best geographical knowledge of that time, exhibits the whole region north of California and west of the Missouri, as "unknown;" and the same work slices off the Peninsula of Kamschatka and the north-eastern extremity of Asia, leaving a wide and unknown interval between the two continents. There is no record of any answer to either of these formidable epistles. This is only a sample of his multifarious inquiries. He corresponded with Noah Webster about the works of the western mound-builders ; and made one of the earliest copies (not, I believe, the most correct) of the inscription on Dighton rock, the characters of which he and his learned Parisian correspondent interpreted as denoting that the ancient Carthaginians had once visited these distant regions. All these problems were grouped around the one central question, which has perplexed historians from Hugo Grotius to Diedrich Knickerbocker,—How did the American continent first come to be peopled by human beings ?
He was much concerned about the fate of the ten tribes of Israel, that disappeared after the Assyrian captivity. He ransacked the earth for them, by reading, and above all by correspondence. He expressed a most ardent desire that the interior and most remote regions of Asia, between the river Volga and the “Sinensian empire,” might be thoroughly explored; for somewhere there, he believed, “ these tribes had hitherto lain concealed, and would hereafter be found.” He sought for traces of the persistence of Jewish customs and traits among the Tartars, and the American Indians, finally inclining to the opinion that these last represented the missing Israelites. This hobby of his, and his historical researches into the lives of the regicide judges of Charles I., who took refuge in New England, furnish the coloring of a poetical picture of the pious scholar, as he
" — With mild rapture stooped devoutly o’er