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members, this congregation of one of its firmest pillars, and the scientific world of one of its brightest ornaments. A great light has suddenly gone out while it was yet beaming brightly and beneficently on the world. An eminent man has fallen in the midst of us-one whom God had made singularly great in more than one of the departments which I have just specified. His position as a public man, the various posts and offices which he filled, his relation to the University and to other literary institutions and philosophical societies, and the prominent place which he confessedly occupied at the head of the scientific men of this western continent, are sufficient,-apart from any private considerations, or feelings of personal respect,-to justify the notice which I now propose to take of his life and character. There was much in that life instructive and encouraging, particularly to the young, the friendless, the poor. There was much in that character worthy of eulogy and imitation. Let me speak out my impressions and recollections of him with that simplicity and frankness which he loved.
The late NATHANIEL BOWDITCH was born at Salem, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the 26th day of March, 1773. He was the fourth child of Habakkuk and Mary Ingersoll Bowditch. His ancestors, for three generations, had been shipmasters, and his father, on retiring from that "perilous mode of hard industry," carried on the trade of a cooper, by which he gained a
scanty and precarious subsistence for a family of seven children.*
I had a curiosity to trace up the life of this wonderful man, if possible, to his childhood, to ascertain his early character and powers, and the influences under
* The names of the children were (I mention them in the order of their ages) Mary, Habakkuk, Elizabeth, NATHANIEL, William, Samuel, and Lois. William, who died in 1799, at the age of twenty-three, is said to have been quite as remarkable, in his childhood, as Nathaniel. They seem to have been a short-lived race, five of them having died before the age of twenty-three, and the eldest in 1808, at the age of forty-two. The old ladies, mentioned hereafter, told me the melancholy tale that they recollected seeing two of the daughters, Mary and Lois, both of them married women, pining away with a consumption in the same room, and dying within a few months of each other. Nathaniel was about the same time, 1808, at the age of thirty-five, attacked with a severe hemorrhage at the lungs. In consequence of this he took a journey with his friend, the Hon. Thomas W. Ward, now of this city; and on their arrival at Dedham, so feeble did he appear, that the compassionate innkeeper asked Mr. Ward where his friend belonged, and advised him to return home immediately, for he doubted whether he would live to reach the next inn. Not long after his removal to Boston he fell twice suddenly in the street, which excited the most alarming apprehensions in the minds of his friends, they fearing that he might at any time be taken off by apoplexy. But Dr. Bowditch ascertained by experience that this falling was occasioned by his walking immediately after dinner. He accordingly postponed his walk to a later hour in the day, and never had a recurrence of the complaint. Earlier in life, in consequence of poring over figures whilst sitting up to watch with a friend, he was attacked with inflammation and weakness of the eyes, which compelled him to favor them for two years. All these things should be taken into consideration in forming a just estimate of the amount and extent of his labors. He never would have been able to accomplish so much without the strictest regularity in diet and exercise.
which his mind and heart had been formed. Accordingly, on a recent visit to Salem, I took a walk, of some two or three miles, to see a house where he used to say that he and his mother had lived when he was as yet hardly advanced beyond infancy. My walk brought me among the pleasant farm-houses of a retired hamlet in Essex county; and I found the plain two-story house, with but two rooms in it, where he dwelt with his mother; and I saw the chamber-window where he said she used to sit and show him "the new moon with the old moon in her arm,"* and, with the poetical superstition of a sailor's wife, jingle the silver in her pocket that her husband might have good luck, and she good tidings from him, far off upon the sea. I entered that house and two others in the vicinity, and found three ancient women who knew her well, and remembered her wonderful boy. I sat down by their firesides and listened with greedy ear to the story, which they gladly told me, of that remarkable child, remarkable for his early goodness as well as for his early greatness. Their words, uttered in the plain, hearty English of the yeomanry of Massachusetts, uncorrupted by the admixture of any foreign gibberish,† I took down from
* See the grand old ballad of "Sir Patrick Spens," the oldest in the language, in Percy's Reliques, Allan Cunningham's Scottish Songs, or Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
What a pity it is that our noble language, of itself adequate to all purposes, should be in such danger of being converted into a Babylonian jargon of French and German. The late "History of the French Revo
their lips, and now give them without any alteration or improvement.
There were three of these crones, it will be recollected; and the accounts which they severally gave, both of the child and his mother, perfectly coincide, as will be seen, without any discrepancy, and therefore mutually confirm one another's statement of things and appearances as they existed upwards of sixty years ago. The boy was at this time about three years old. The first one that I saw and interrogated said that Nat. was "a beautiful, nice, likely, clever, thoughtful boy. Learning came natural to him; and his mother used to say that he would make something or nothing." I asked her whether she had ever heard what became of him. "O yes," she replied, "he became a great man, and went to Boston, and had a mighty deal of learning." "What kind of learning?" I asked. "Why," she answered, "I believe he was a pilot, and knew how to steer all the vessels." This evidently was her simple and confused idea of "The Practical Navigator."
The second old lady stated that "Nat. went to school to her aunt, in the revolutionary war, in the house where we were sitting, when he was about three years
lution," in many respects a noble work, would stand some chance of going down to posterity, had it been written in the English tongue-for although some of the words may be Saxon, yet the idiom throughout is any thing but English. A man who has shown himself capable, in his beautiful Life of Schiller, of writing in a simple and pure style, ought to be ashamed of these miserable affectations.
old, and that she took mightily to him, and that he was
His mother was
The third old lady said that "Nat. was a little, still creature; and his mother a mighty free, good-natured She used to say, 'Who should n't be cheerly if a Christian should n't?' Her children took after her, and she had a particular way of guarding them against evil."
These I testify to be their very words, as I pencilled them down at the time. And they show, I think, very clearly, the influence of the mother's mind and heart upon the character of her son. Of that mother, in after life, and to its close, he often spoke in terms of the highest admiration and the strongest affection, and in his earnest manner would say "My mother loved me-idolized me—worshipped me.'
After leaving the dame's school, the only other instruction he ever received was obtained at the common public schools of his native town, which were then very inferior to what they have since become, being wholly
* These circumstances concerning the childhood of Dr. Bowditch were obtained since the delivery of the discourse, but are inserted in this place as interesting facts, worth preserving, as indicative of his early capacities and character. No apology, I trust, will be needed for the minuteness with which I have detailed them. To his future biographer they will be invaluable, and for his use chiefly were they gathered up and preserved.