Fletcher, Abkaham

, a man of some celebrity and talents, was born at Little Bronghton, in the parish of Bridekirk, Cumberland, in 1714. His father, who was a tobacco-pipe maker, had a small paternal estate; on which, with his trade, he was barely enabled to live, and bring up his family, without their becoming burthensome to their parish. It is not certain, that his son Abraham ever went to any school, although there is a tradition, that, very early in life, before he was able to do any work, his parents once spared him for three weeks, to attend a school in the village, where y^uth were taught at the rate of a shilling for the quarter. If this report be well-founded, all the education he ever had that was paid for, cost three-pence. By some means or other however he learned to read: and, before he haJ. arrived at manhood, he had also learned to write. With these humble attainments to set out with, it does him great honour that, at length by dint of industry alone, he became a man of science and a man of learning. He was of a thinking, inquisitive mind; and, having taught himself arithmetic, in preference to any other science, only because he met with a book of arithmetic and no other, for the same reason he applied himself to | mathematical investigations. Whatever he attempted, he attempted with all hio might, and pursued with unwearied diligence. In the day-time, he was employed in husbandry, or in making pipes: and, at night, eagerly betook himself to work the theorems (which word he long used to pronounce theorems) on which, during the day, he had been intensely ruminating. Often has he sat up all night, delineating diagrams; to the serious grief of his parents, who considered only the apparent unprofitableness of such pursuits, and the certain loss of the lump or two of cannel-coal, incurred by his lucubrations. Hardly ever, even in the subsequent more prosperous periods of his life, did he aspire to any thing beyond a rush light. The parents, contented in their ignorance, felt no ambition to have their son pass through life otherwise than they had done, in the midst of hard work and hard fare. And, as his midnight studies, and abstractedness of mind, seemed not to them likely to qualify him either to work more, or to eat less, they thought it their duty, and for his interest, to discountenance and discourage his passion for theorems his books and his slate were hid and he was double-tasked with labour. It was this poor man’s fate to begin and continue through life his pursuit after knowledge, under almost every possible disadvantage: yet difficulties and discouragements seemed but to increase his ardour. He used to relate, with vast self-complacence and satisfaction, a device he had formed, by which he flattered himself he should be permitted to stick to his studies without interruption, at his few intervals of leisure. He married early; and his wife, adopting the opinions and maxims of his parents, was no friend to studies, which appeared to her little likely to lead to any thing that might help to feed and clothe themselves, or their children. Over his house of one room, there was a kind of loft, or hoarded floor, (in Cumberland called a banks), which, however, had neither door, window, nor stairs. Hither, by means of a single rope, which he always drew up after him, he mounted with his book and his slate; and here he went through Euclid. This anecdote (says his biographer) is but simple, yet it is not insignificant.

At about the age of thirty, even his wife began to be persuaded, that learning, according to the old saw, may sometimes be a substitute for house and land, and consented to his relinquishing his manual labours, and setting | up as a schoolmaster. For several years, he was a teacher of mathematics of considerable reputation; and many respectable yoimg men were his pupils. Still pursuing knowledge wherever knowledge was to be found, Abraham (now Mr.) Fletcher, became a botanist, as well as a mathematician: but he studied the properties, rather than the classification of plants; and made many experiments to ascertain their medical virtues. Few men, it is believed, have lately made a greater proficiency than he did, in this (now perhaps too much neglected) department of science: and he was soon qualified to commence doctor, as well as schoolmaster. It is true, indeed, he practised chiefly, if not solely, with decoctions, or diet-drinks: yet with these, he either performed, or got the reputation of performing, many extraordinary cures; and had no small practice. Doctor Fletcher was particularly famed for his skill and success in hypochondriacal cases; and, had he been as able to describe, as he was to relieve and cure such cases, many things in this way occurred in his practice, to which even the most learned might have attended with advantage. He was also deeply versant in astrological predictions, and is said to have foretold the time of his own death, within a few days. We have more pleasure, however, in adding that Mr. Fletcher, with all his attention to intellectual attainments, never was inattentive to the duties of his relative station. He was both industrious and economical, and was enabled to leave his large family the sum of 4000l. three-fourths of which were of his own earning. He died Jan. 1, 1793. In 1762 he published a large mathematical work, in 8vo, called “The Universal Measurer,” which, as a collection of mathematical knowledge, is said to possess very great merit. 1


Hutchinson’b Hist, of Cumberland, vol. II. p. 324.