Ferguson, James

, an eminent experimental philosopher, mechanist, and astronomer, was born in Bamffshire, in Scotland, 1710, of very poor parents. At the very earliest age his extraordinary genius began to unfold itself. He first learned to read, by overhearing his father teach his elder brother: and he had made this acquisition before any one suspected it. He soon discovered a peculiar taste for mechanics, which first arose on seeing his father use a lever. He pursued this study a considerable length, while he was yet very young; and made a watch in wood-work, from having once seen one. As he ha’d at first no instructor, nor any help from books, every thing he learned had all the merit of an original discovery; and such, with inexpressible joy, he believed it to be.

As soon as his age would permit, he went to service; in which he met with hardships, which rendered his constitution feeble through life. While he was servant to a farmer (whose goodness he acknowledges in the modest | and humble account of himself which he prefixed to ki* “Mechanical Exercises”), he contemplated and learned to know the stars, while he tended the sheep and began the study of astronomy, by laying down, from his own observations only, a celestial globe. His kind master, observing these marks of his ingenuity, procured him the countenance and assistance of some neighbouring gentlemen. By their help and instructions he went on gaining farther knowledge, having by their means been taught arithmetic, with some algebra, and practical geometry. He had got some notion of drawing, and being sent to Edinburgh, he there began to take portraits in miniature, at a small price; an employment by which he supported himself and family for several years, both in Scotland and England, while he was pursuing more serious studies. In London he first published some curious astronomical tables and calculations; and afterwards gave public lectures in experimental philosophy, both in London and most of the country towns in England, with the highest marks of general approbation. He was elected a fellow of the royal society, and was excused the payment of the admission fee, and the usual annual contributions. He enjoyed from the king a pension of fifty pounds a year, besides other occasional presents, which he privately accepted and received from different quarters, till the time of his death; by which, and the fruits of his own labours, he left behind him a sum to the amount of about six thousand pounds, although all his friends had always entertained an idea of his great poverty. He died in 1776, at sixty-six years of age, though he had the appearance of many more years.

Mr. Ferguson must be allowed to have been a very uncommon genius, especially in mechanical contrivances and executions, for he executed many machines himself in a very neat manner. He had also a good taste in astronomy, with natural and experimental philosophy, and was possessed of a happy manner of explaining himself in an easy, clear, and familiar way. His general mathematical knowledge, however, was little or nothing. Of algebra he understood but little more than the notation; and he has often told Dr. Hutton he could never demonstrate one proposition in Euclid’s Elements; his constant method being to satisfy himself, as to the truth of any problem, with a measurement by scale and compasses. He was a man of a very clear judgment in any thing that he professed, and of | unwearied application to study benevolent, meek, and innocent in his manners as a child humble, courteous, and communicative instead of pedantry, philosophy seemed to produce in him only diffidence and urbanity.

The list of Mni ^Ferguson’s public works, is as follows: 1. “Astronomical Tables and Precepts, for calculating' the true times of New and Full Moons, &c.1763. 2. “Tables and Tracts, relative to several arts and sciences,1767. 3. “An easy Introduction to Astronomy, for young gentlemen and ladies,” second edit. 1769. 4. “Astronomy x explained upon sir Isaac Newton’s principles,” fifth edit. 1772. 5. “Lectures on select subjects in Mechanics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, and Optics,” fourth edit. 1772. 6. “Select Mechanical Exercises, with a short account of the life of the author, by himself,1773, a narrative highly interesting and amusing. 7. “The Art of Drawing in Perspective made easy,1775. 8. “An Introduction to Electricity,1775. 9, “Two Letters to the Rev. Mr. John Kennedy,1775. It). “A Third Letter to the Rev. Mr. John Kennedy,1775. He communicated also several papers to the Royal Society, which were printed in their Transactions. In 1805, a very valuable edition of his Lectures was published at Edinburgh by Dr. Brewster, in 2 /vols. 8vo, with notes and an appendix, the whole adapted to the present state of the arts and sciences. 1


Life by himself. —Hutton’s Dictionary.Nichols’s Bowyer.