Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 11, No. 63, January, 1863
Part 3 out of 5
fastening to the church-yard, and went in. My sister Mary lay in this
church-yard now. I had until this day known only sister Sophie, and
in my heart I thanked Miss Axtell for her story. I went in to look
at Mary's grave. A sweet perfume filled the inclosure; it came to me
through the branching evergreens; it was from Mary's grave, covered
with the pale pink flowers of the trailing-arbutus. I knew that Abraham
Axtell had brought them hither. I gathered one, the least of the
precious fragments. I knew that Mary, out of heaven seeing me, would
call it no sacrilege, and with it went to my tower.
Spring fingers had gathered up the leaves of snow, winter's growth, from
in among the crevices of stone. I noticed this as I went in. The great
stone was over the passage-opening, just where Mr. Axtell had dropped
it, lest Aaron should see. Something said to me that my love for the
tower was gone, that never more would I care to come to it; and I think
the voice was speaking truly, everything did seem so changed. The time
moss was only common moss to me, the old rocks might be a part of _any_
mountain now. I had caught up all the romance, all the poetry, which is
mystery, of the tower, and henceforth I might leave it to stand guard
over the shore of the Sea of Death, white with marble foam. I went up to
the very window whence I had taken the brown plaid bit of woman's wear.
I looked out from where I had seen the dying day go down. I heard the
sound, from the open door of the parsonage, of Sophie's voice,
humming of contentment; I saw the little lady come and look down the
village--street for me; I saw her part those bands of softly purplish
hair, with fingers idly waiting the while she stood looking for me. I
looked up at the window, down at the floor, down through the winding way
of stair, where once I had trembling gone, and, with a farewell softly
spoken, I left my churchyard tower with open door and key in the lock.
Henceforth it was not mine. I left it with the hope that some other
loving soul would take up my devotion, and wait and watch as I had done.
Aaron chanced at dinner-time to let fall his eyes on the door, swinging
in the wind. Turning, he looked at me. I, divining the questioning
intent of his eyes, answered,--
"It is I, Aaron. I've left the key in the door. I resign ownership of
The grave minister looked pleased. Sophie said,--
"Oh, I am so glad, you _are_ growing rational, Anna!"--and Anna Percival
did not tell these two that she had emptied the tower of all its
mystery, and thrown the cup afloat on the future.
Aaron and Sophie were doomed to wonder why I came to Redleaf. Sophie
begged my longer stay; Aaron thought, with his direct, practical way of
looking at all things, save Sophie, that I "had better not have come at
all, if only to stay during the day-journey of the sun."
The stars were there to see, when I bade good--bye to Chloe at the
parsonage, and went forth burdened with many messages for Jeffy. Aaron
and Sophie went with me to the place of landing. It was past Miss
Axtell's house. Only one light was visible; that shone from Miss
Lettie's room. Aaron said,--
"I saw Mr. Axtell this morning. He was going across the country, he
No one asked him "Where?" and he said no more.
We were late at the steamboat. I had just time to bid a hasty farewell,
and hear a plank-man say, "Better hurry, Miss, if you're going on," and
in another minute I was at sea.
I had so much to think of, I knew it would be impossible for sleep to
come to me; and so I went on deck to watch the twinkling lights of
Redleaf and the stars up above, whilst my busy brain should plan a way
to keep my promise to Miss Axtell. I could not break up her fancied
security; I could not deprive her of the "time to think" before crossing
the great bridge, by telling her of the stranger sick in Doctor
Percival's house, and so I let her dream on. It might be many weeks,
nay, months, ere Mr. McKey would recover, hence there was no need that
she should know; by that time she would be quite strong again.
Once on deck, and well wrapped from the March sea-breeze, blowing its
latest breath over the sea, I took a seat near a large party who seemed
lovers of the ocean, they sat so quietly and so long.
My face was turned away from all on deck. I heard footsteps going,
coming, to and fro, until these steps came into my reverie. I wished to
turn and see the owner, but, fearing that the charm would vanish, I kept
my eyes steadily seaward. I scarcely know the time, it may have been an
hour, that thus I had sat, when once again the footsteps drew near. The
owner paused an instant in passing me. I fancied some zephyr of emotion
made his footsteps falter a little. Nothing more came. He walked, as
before, and once, when I was certain that all the deck lay between my
eyes and him who so often had drawn near, I turned to look. I saw only
a gentleman far down the boat, wrapped in an ordinary travelling-shawl.
Neither form nor walk was, I thought, familiar, and I lost my interest.
I began to dream of other things,--of the going home, and should I find
Mr. McKey improved during my absence? The party near me began to talk;
it was pleasant to hear soft home words spoken by them,--it gave me,
alone as I was, a sense of protection.
When the owner of the footsteps again came near, I scarcely noticed it.
I had reason to do so a moment later. Instead of going straight on, as
before, the gentleman stopped an instant,--then, with a strong gesture
of excitement, stepped quite near to me, and saying hurriedly, as one
does in sudden emergencies, "I beg your pardon, Madam," he bent to look
at the railing of the guard, just beside me. It so happened that a
boat-light illumined a little space just there, and that within it lay
a hand whose glove I had a few moments before removed, to put back some
stray hairs the sea-breeze had brought from their proper place. No
sooner did I divine his intent than I took my hand from off the railing.
The gentleman looked up suddenly; he was quite near then, and no more
light than that the stars gave was needful for me. I saw Mr. Axtell, and
Mr. Axtell must have seen Miss Percival, for he said,--
"This is a great surprise. I did not hear of your being in Redleaf, Miss
"Why should you, when I have only been there one day?"
"Did you see my sister?" he asked.
"I was with her during the morning," I said.
"And she was as usual?"
"Better, I thought."
"I trust so, for I have not been home since morning. I received a
letter, as I came through the village, from your father, desiring to
see me, and I had time only to send a message to Lettie. I hope Doctor
Percival is well?"
"Oh, yes,--else I should not be here."
I had gloved my hand again during these words of recognition. Mr. Axtell
noticed it, and asked to see a ring that had attracted his attention.
"Excuse me," I said,--"it is one of my father's gifts to me,--I cannot
take it off,--it is a simple ring, Mr. Axtell"; and I held it out for
him to see.
"I knew it!" he exclaimed; "there could not be two alike; years have not
changed its lustre. Mary wore it first on the day we were engaged."
"Was it your gift to her, Mr. Axtell?"
He answered, "Yes"; and I, drawing it off, handed it to him, saying, "It
should have been returned to you long ago."
"No, no," he said, quite solemnly, "it is in better keeping"; and he
took the tiny circlet of gold, and looked a moment at it, with its
shining cluster of brilliants, then gave it back to me.
"Have you no claim upon this?" I asked.
"On the ring? Oh, no,--none."
I put back with gladness the gift my father gave.
My time had come. The opportunity was most mysteriously given me to
redeem the promise made in the morning to Miss Lettie. I began, quite
timidly at first, to say that I had a message for Mr. Axtell, one from
his sister,--that I was to tell him of events whose occurrence he never
knew. He listened quietly, and I went on, commencing at the afternoon of
my imprisonment in the tower. I told every word that I had heard from
Miss Axtell,--no more. I trembled, it is true, when I came to the death
of Alice, and the new life that came to his elder sister. I came at last
to Mary. I told it all, the night when he came home, the very words he
had spoken to his sister I repeated in his ears, and he was quiet,
with a quietness Axtells know, I took out the package and opened it,
"Your sister bade me give this to you."
The careful folds were unwrapped, and within a box lay only a silver
cup. Mr. Axtell took it into his hands, turned it to the light, and read
on it the name of my sister. I said to him,--
"Look on the inside."
He did. It was the fatal cup from which Mary Percival drank the
death-drops. Poisonous crystals lay in its depth. I told him so. I told
him how Bernard McKey, driven to despair, had made the fatal mistake.
I thought to have seen the sunlight of joy go up his face. I looked for
the glance whose coming his sister so dreaded; but it came not. My story
gave no joy to this strange man. He asked a few questions only, tending
to illumine points that my statement had left in uncertainty, and then,
when my last words were said, he rose up, and, standing before me, very
lowly pronounced these words:--
"Until to-night, Abraham Axtell never knew the weight of his guilt. He
must work out his punishment."
"How can you, Mr. Axtell? Heaven hath appointed forgiveness for the
"And freedom from punishment, Miss Percival, is that, too, promised?"
"Strength to bear is freely offered in forgiveness."
"May it come to me! In all God's earth to-night there dwells not one
more needy of Heaven's mercy."
"Mary forgives you," I said.
"Bernard McKey, whom I have made most miserable, Lettie's life-long
suffering, is there any atonement that I can offer to them?"
"Yes, Mr. Axtell"; and I, too, arose, for the party had gone whilst I
was telling my story.
"Will you name it?"
"Give unto the two a brother's love. Good night, Mr. Axtell."
"I will," said a deep, solemn voice close beside me. I turned, and
Mr. Axtell was gone. I heard footsteps all that night upon deck. They
sounded like those that came and stood beside me hours before.
Day was scarcely breaking when we came to land in New York. I waited for
the carriage to come from home. Mr. Axtell, was it he who came, with
whitened hair, to ask for Miss Percival, to know if he could offer her
any service? What a night of agony he must have lived through! He saw my
look of astonishment, and said,--
"It is but the beginning of my punishment."
Ere I had answered Mr. Axtell's question, my father appeared. He had
come for me so early on this March morning,--or was it to meet Mr.
Axtell? He said more, in words, to him than to his child. It was several
years since my father had met Mr. Axtell, therefore he did not note the
change last night had wrought. As I looked at him, during our homeward
drive, I repented not having said words of comfort, not telling him that
I believed Bernard McKey was at that hour in my father's house; but I
had not exceeded my instructions, by one word I had not gone beyond Miss
Lettie's story. Until Mr. McKey chose to reveal himself, he must exist
as a stranger.
Jeffy reported the "hospital man" as "behaving just like other people."
Jeffy evidently regretted, with all the intensity of his Ethiopian
nature, the subsiding of the delirium.
Not long after our arrival home, father went, with Mr. Axtell, into his
own room, where, with closed doors, the two remained through half the
morning. What could my father have to say to the "incomprehensible
man," his daughter Anna asked herself; but no answer breathed through
mahogany, as several times she passed near. All was silent in there to
other ears than those inside.
At last I heard the door open, and footsteps along the hall. "Surely," I
thought, "they are going the way to Mr. McKey's room." I was right. They
went in. What transpired in there I may never know, but this much was
revealed to me: there came thence two faces whereon was written the
loveliness of the mercy extended to erring man. My father looked, like
all who feel intensely, older than he did in the morning, and yet withal
happier. Mr. Axtell went away without seeing me. Father made apology
for him by saying that it was important that he should return home
immediately, and asked "could I make ready to receive some visitors the
"Who, papa?" I asked.
"Mr. Axtell and his sister."
Mr. McKey was able that evening to cross the room, and sit beside the
fire. I went in to inquire concerning his comfort. Papa was away. Mr.
Axtell must have told him something of me, for I had not been long
there, when he, turning his large, luminous eyes from the coals, into
which he had been peering, said,--
"Do you know the sweetness of reconciliation, young lady? If not, get
angry with some one immediately."
"I never had an enemy in my life, Mr. McKey," I replied.
He started a little at the name, and only a little, and he questioned,--
"Where did you learn the name you give to me?"
"From Miss Axtell, yesterday."
Question and answer succeeded, until I had told him half the story that
I knew. I might have said more, but father's coming in interrupted me.
"I expect our visitors by the day-boat," papa said to me the day
following. The carriage went for them. I watched its coming from afar
down the street. I knew the expression of honest Yest's hat out of all
the street-throng. The carriage came laden. I saw faces other than the
Axtells', even Aaron's and Sophie's.
What glad visitors they were, Aaron and Sophie! and what a surprise
to them to see Miss Axtell there! I took off her wrappings, drew
an easy-chair, made her sit in it, and she actually looked quite
comfortable, outside of the solemn old house. "She had endured the
journey well," she said. Abraham was so anxious that she should come
that she would not refuse his request. "Abraham has forgiven me," she
whispered, as I bent over her to adjust some stray folds,--"forgiven me
for all my years of silent deceit."
I shook my head a little at the word; speak I could not, for the
minister's wife was not deaf.
Aaron called her away a moment later.
"It was deceit, Miss Percival," Miss Axtell said, so soon as she found
our two selves alone. "I could not well avoid it; if I were tried again,
I might repeat the sin; but, thank Heaven, two such trials never come
into a single life. I sometimes wish Bernard were not at sea, that he
were here to know my release and his forgiveness; it will be so sweet to
feel that no longer I have the sin to bear of concealing his wrong."
I knew from this that Miss Axtell did not know of Mr. McKey's presence
in the house; but she ought to know. What if a sound from his voice
should chance to come down the passage-way, as I often had heard it?
I watched the doors painfully, to see that not one was left open a
hair's-breadth, until the time Miss Axtell went up to her own room.
Talking rapidly, giving her no time to speak, I went on with her. Safely
ignorant, I had her at last where ears of mortals could not intrude.
Then I said,--
"We all of us are become wonderful story-tellers. Now it comes to pass
that I have a little story to tell; my time is come at last"; and,
watching every muscle of her face, and all the little veins of feeling
that I had learned so well, I began.
Carefully I let in the light, until, without a shock, Miss Axtell
learned that the room below contained Bernard McKey.
"They did not understand me," she said, "or they would not have brought
me here thus."
After a long, long lull, Miss Axtell thanked me for telling her alone,
where no one else could see how the knowledge played around her heart.
Dear Miss Axtell, sitting there, in my father's house, only last March,
with a holy joy stealing up, in spite of her endeavor to hide it from my
eyes even, and suffusing her white face with warm, rosy tints, dear Miss
Axtell, I hoped your day-dawn drawing near.
Miss Axtell said "she hated to have other people see her feel"; she
asked "would I manage it for her, that no one should be nigh when she
met Mr. McKey?"
It was that very evening that papa, calling Sophie and me into his room,
told us a little of the former history of the people in his house.
"I want you to help me, children," he said; "ladies manage such things
better than we men know how to."
I said, close to papa's astonished hearing, "I know all about it; just
let me take care of this mission"; and he appointed me diplomate on the
Sophie was strangely disconcerted; she had such fearsome awe of the
Axtells, "she couldn't think of interfering," she said, "unless to make
gruel or some condiment."
I coaxed Miss Lettie to have her tea in her own room: she certainly did
not look like going down. Under pretext of having the care of her, I
seated sister Sophie at my station, and thus I had the house, outside of
the tea-room, under my control.
"Come down now; don't lose time," I said to Miss Axtell, running up to
her, half breathless from my haste.
"What for? What is it?" she said.
"Papa is anticipating some grand effort in the managerial line from me,
regarding two people in his house, and I don't choose to manage at all.
Mr. McKey is waiting to see you. I knocked to see, as I came up, and all
the family are at tea."
I went down with her. There was no trembling, only a stately calm in her
manner, as she drew near.
I knocked. Mr. McKey answered, "Come in," in his low, musical, variant
tones. I turned the knob; the door opened. A moment later, I stood alone
within the hall. I walked up and down, a true sentinel on true duty,
that no enemy might draw near to hear the treaty of true peace which I
knew was being written out by the Recording Angel for these two souls.
They must have had a pleasant family-talk in the tea-room, they stayed
At last I heard footsteps coming. I told Miss Lettie, thinking that she
would leave; but no, she said "she would stay awhile"; and so, later on,
the two were sitting there in quietness of joy, when my father came up
to see his patient. Mr. Axtell was with him. They went in; indifferent
words were spoken,--until, was it Abraham Axtell that I saw as I kept up
my walking in the hall? What mysterious change had come to transfigure
his face so that I scarcely believed the evidence of my own eyes? He
came to the door and said, "Will you come in, Miss Percival?" I obeyed
his request. He closed the door, and turned the key.
"In the presence of those against whom he had sinned he would confess
his fault," were his first words; and he went on, he of whom _they_ had
asked a pardon, and drew a fiery picture of all that he had done, of the
murder that he had doubly committed, for he had made another soul to
bear his sin.
It was terrible to hear him accuse himself. It was touching to see
this proud Axtell begging forgiveness. He offered the fatal cup to my
"Therein lies the evidence of my murder. It was I who killed your
daughter, Doctor Percival. Although no court on earth condemns me, the
Judge of all the Earth holds me responsible for her death."
Doctor Percival tried to reason with him, said words of comfort, but he
heeded them not: they might as well have fallen on the vacant air.
"Blessings be upon you two! if, out of suffering, God will send joy, it
will be yours," Mr. Axtell said; and he offered his hand to Mr. McKey
and his sister, as one does when taking farewell.
He went from them to my father, and offered his hand doubtingly, as if
afraid it might be refused.
Papa took it in both his own. An instant later Mr. Axtell came to me.
Surely he had no forgiveness to ask of Anna Percival. No; he only said,
and I am certain that no one heard, save me, "I thank God that He has
not let me shadow _your_ life. Farewell!"
He left the room. We all looked, one at another, in that dim
astonishment which is never expressed in words. Papa broke the spell by
putting on fresh coals.
Miss Lettie said, "Poor Abraham!" and yet she looked so happy, so as I
had never seen her yet!
A few moments later Jeffy came rushing in, his eyes dilate with
"The gentleman is gone," he said, "gone entirely."
It was even so. Mr. Axtell had gone, no one knew whither. It was late at
night, when a letter came for Doctor Percival by a special messenger.
I never saw it. I only know that in it Mr. Axtell explained his
intention of absence, and wrote, for his sister's sake, to make
arrangements for her future. She was to return to Redleaf, at such time
as she chose to go hence, with Mr. McKey; and to Aaron's and Sophie's
care Mr. Axtell committed her.
Papa gave the letter to Miss Lettie. She read it in silence, and her
face was immovable. I could divine nothing from it.
Last March! how long the time seems! Scarce six months have gone since I
gave the record, and now the summer is dying.
I thought Miss Axtell would have ventured out on the bridge, far and
high, ere now; but no, she says "the time is not yet,--that she will
wait until Abraham comes home"; and Bernard McKey is content.
The solemn old house is closed. No longer Katie opens the door and Kino
looks around the corner. Kino died, perhaps of grief: such deaths have
Miss Axtell has put off the old Dead-Sea-wave face. She has just put a
calm, beautiful, happy one in at my door, to ask Anna Percival "why she
sits and writes, when the last days of summer are drawing nigh?" Miss
Axtell stays with me, and a great contentment sings to those who have
ears to hear through all her life. If only Mr. Axtell would come home!
Why does he stay away so long, and take such a dreary line of travel,
where old earth is seamed _in memoriam_ of man's rebellion? I'll send to
him the althea-bud, when next his sister writes.
The leaves are fallen now. Winter is almost come. There is no need that
I should send out the althea-fragment. Mr. Axtell wrote to me. Last
night I received these words only,--and yet what need I more?
"God hath given me peace. I am coming home."
THE LEGEND OF RABBI BEN LEVI.
Rabbi Ben Levi, on the Sabbath, read
A volume of the Law, in which it said,
"No man shall look upon my face and live."
And as he read, he prayed that God would give
His faithful servant grace with mortal eye
To look upon His face and yet not die.
Then fell a sudden shadow on the page,
And lifting up his eyes, grown dim with age,
He saw the Angel of Death before him stand,
Holding a naked sword in his right hand.
Rabbi Ben Levi was a righteous man,
Yet through his veins a chill of terror ran,
With trembling voice he said, "What wilt thou here?"
The Angel answered, "Lo! the time draws near
When thou must die; yet first, by God's decree,
Whate'er thou askest shall be granted thee."
Replied the Rabbi, "Let these living eyes
First look upon my place in Paradise."
Then said the Angel, "Come with me and look."
Rabbi Ben Levi closed the sacred book,
And rising, and uplifting his gray head,
"Give me thy sword," he to the Angel said,
"Lest thou shouldst fall upon me by the way."
The Angel smiled and hastened to obey,
Then led him forth to the Celestial Town,
And set him on the wall, whence gazing down,
Rabbi Ben Levi, with his living eyes,
Might look upon his place in Paradise.
Then straight into the city of the Lord
The Rabbi leaped with the Death Angel's sword,
And through the streets there swept a sudden breath
Of something there unknown, which men call death.
Meanwhile the Angel stayed without, and cried,
"Come back!" To which the Rabbi's voice replied,
"No! in the name of God, whom I adore,
I swear that hence I will depart no more!"
Then all the Angels cried, "O Holy One,
See what the son of Levi here has done!
The kingdom of Heaven he takes by violence,
And in Thy name refuses to go hence!"
The Lord replied, "My Angels, be not wroth;
Did e'er the son of Levi break his oath?
Let him remain; for he with mortal eye
Shall look upon my face and yet not die."
Beyond the outer wall the Angel of Death
Heard the great voice, and said, with panting breath,
"Give back the sword, and let me go my way."
Whereat the Rabbi paused and answered, "Nay!
Anguish enough already has it caused
Among the sons of men!" And while he paused,
He heard the awful mandate of the Lord
Resounding through the air, "Give back the sword!"
The Rabbi bowed his head in silent prayer;
Then said he to the dreadful Angel, "Swear,
No human eye shall look on it again;
But when thou takest away the souls of men,
Thyself unseen and with an unseen sword
Thou wilt perform the bidding of the Lord."
The Angel took the sword again, and swore,
And walks on earth unseen forevermore.
* * * * *
MY FRIEND THE WATCH.
For two years I have had a most faithful, intimate, and useful friend,
whom I have constantly worn next my heart. I do not know him for a
Spiritualist, but by some mysterious sympathy he hears the incessant,
ghostly foot-falls of Time, and repeats them accurately to my ear.
While I wake he tells me how Time is passing. While I sleep he is still
marking his steps, so that sometimes I have a feeling of awe, as if my
mysterious friend were counting my own life away. Then again I am sure
that in the faint, persistent monotone of his voice I hear the singing
of the old mower's inevitable scythe. The Imagination contemplates this
friend of mine with wonder. But Science sees him holding the hand of a
captain in his ship at sea, or of a conductor in a train on shore, and
honors in him the friend of civilization.
His native place is Waltham, in Massachusetts, and he invited me but a
few days since to accompany him in a little visit thither. I cheerfully
assented, and we took the cars in Boston, at the Worcester Depot, and
after passing a range of unsavory back-yards and ill-favored houses, and
winding beneath streets and by the side of kennels, we emerged upon the
broad meadows and marshes from which rise in the distance the Roxbury
and Brookline hills. The whole region is covered with bright, wooden
houses. The villages have a pert, thrifty, contented air, which no
suburbs in the world surpass. If the houses are very white and a village
looks like a camp, it is because the instinct of the inhabitants assures
them that they may strike their tents to-morrow and move Westward or
elsewhere to a greater prosperity. In older countries the stained and
ancient stone houses are symbols of the inflexible state of society to
which they belong. The dwellers are anchored to that condition. There is
no "Westward ho" for them. Like father, like son. The hod-carrier's son
carries hods. Even the headsman's office is hereditary.
"Yes, yes," hummed my friend, in his patient, persistent monotone,
"the American citizen is an aerial plant. He has no roots. There is no
wrenching, when he changes place. If there were, how could he overrun
the continent in time? He must carry lighter weight than Caesar's
soldiers. What has he to do with old houses? His very inventions would
make his house intolerable to him in twenty or thirty years."
"But we are going at this very moment to see your ancestral halls, are
we not?" I modestly inquired.
"Yes," he replied; "but they are not ten years old, and every year
By this time we were gliding through the gardens of Brookline and
Brighton, which have been afflicted of late years with the Mansard
epidemic. It has swept the whole region. Scarcely a house has escaped.
Even the newest are touched,--sometimes only upon the extremities or
outbuildings, but more frequently they are covered all over with the
"That affection of the house-top," whispered I to my friend, "was
originally derived from the dome of the Invalides, and has raged now for
a century and a half."
"Yes," replied my companion, gravely, "we are not very fastidious in our
He went on murmuring to himself as usual. Then he resumed more
"I suppose that most people, upon looking at me, would take me for a
foreigner. But you know how peculiarly native American I am. I am indeed
only a watch, and," added my modest friend, glancing at the gold chain
which hung from my waistcoat button-hole to the pocket, "if you will
pardon my melancholy joke, I am for putting Americans only upon guard."
This military expression suddenly sent my thoughts elsewhere; and for
some time the rattling of the cars sounded in my ears like another
rattling, and the gentle Charles River was to my eyes the historic
Rapidan or Rappahannock.
"Don't you think," unobtrusively ticked my watch, "that the exhortation
to encourage home-industry has a peculiar force just now? I mean nothing
personal; and I hope you will not think me too forward or fast."
"I have never had reason to think so," I answered; "and I am so used
to look upon your candid face to know exactly what the hour is, that I
shall be very much obliged, if you will tell me the time of day in this
matter also; unless, indeed, you should find the jar of the cars too
much for you, and prefer to stop before you talk."
"If I stopped, I certainly could not talk," my watch answered; "and did
you ever know me to stop on account of any jar?"
I hastened to exculpate myself from any intention of unkind insinuation,
and my watch ticked steadily on.
"If your mill turns only by a stream that flows to you through your
neighbor's grounds, your neighbor has your flour at his mercy. You can
grind your grist when he chooses, not when you will."
I nodded. My watch ticked on,--
"When you live on a marsh where the tide may suddenly rise house-high
without warning, if you are a wise man, you will keep a boat always
moored at the door."
"I certainly will," responded I, with energy.
"Very well. Every nation lives on that marsh which is called War.
While war is possible,--that is to say, in any year this side of the
Millennium,--there is but one sure means of safety, and that is actual
independence. At this moment England is the most striking illustration
of this truth. She is the most instructive warning to us, because she is
the least independent and the most hated nation in the world. England
and France and the United States are the three great maritime powers. We
all know how much love is lost just now between England and ourselves.
How is it with her ancient enemy across the Channel? The answer is
contained in the reported remark of Louis Napoleon: 'Why do the English
try to provoke a war with me? They know, if I should declare war against
England, that there is not an old woman in France who would not sell her
last shift to furnish me with means to carry it on.' Great Britain is at
this moment under the most enormous bonds to keep the peace. They are
the bonds of vital dependence upon the rest of the world.--Shall I
stop?" asked my watch.
"No, no; lose no time; go regularly on," answered I.
"Very well; while England sneers and rages at us, let us be warned by
her. She lives by her looms; but her looms and her laborers are fed from
abroad. Therefore she lies at the mercy of her enemies, and she takes
care never to make friends. She snarls and shows her teeth at us. She
sees us desperately fighting, and yet she can neither spring nor bite.
It is the moment most favorable for her to strike, but she cannot
improve it. She hopes and prays for the ruin of our government, seeing,
that, if it falls from internal disease, and not from a foreign blow,
her most threatening political and commercial rival is overthrown. And
she does not shrink from those hopes and prayers, although she knows
that the result she so ardently desires will be the establishment by
military power of a huge slave-empire, a counter-civilization to that
of Christianity. Fear of her life makes England false and timid. Her
dependence upon other nations has compelled her to abdicate her position
as the head of Saxon civilization, which is the gradual enlarging of
liberty as the only permanent security of universal international
prosperity and peace. Indeed, it is not denied that the tone of British
opinion in regard to human slavery is radically changed. That change is
the measure of the timidity and sophistication, the moral deterioration
inevitably produced in any people by the consciousness of its dependence
for the means of labor and life upon other nations. The crack of the
plantation-whip scares Washington no longer, but it pierces the heart of
Westminster with terror.
"See how utterly mean and mortifying is her attitude toward us. John
Bull looks across the highway of the world into his neighbor's house.
'D' ye see,' he mutters, 'that man chastising his son in his house
yonder? Let's play that they are not related, and ask him what he means
by assaulting an innocent passenger.' Then he turns to the rest of the
people in the street, who know exactly how virtuous and mild John Bull
is in his own family-relations, who have watched his tender forbearance
with his eldest son Erin, and his long-suffering suavity with his
youngest son India, and says to them,--'To a moral citizen of the world
it is very shocking to see such an insolent attack upon a peaceable
person. That man is an intolerable bully. If he were smaller, I'd step
over and kick him.'--Do you feel drowsy?" asked my watch.
"I was never more awake," I answered; "but you seem to me,--although,
when I look at you and think of Waltham, it is the most natural thing in
the world,--yet you do seem hard upon Old England, Mother England, spite
"Ah!" ticked my American watch, "not even I would for a moment seem to
be unjust to all that is manly and noble and friendly in England and
among Englishmen. There are two nations there, as Disraeli had already
said in one sense, when Gasparin said it in another. There is the sound
old stock from which flowers the finest modern civilization. From that
come the sweetness, the candor, the perception and sympathy of men like
Mill and Cairnes and Bright. From that springs all the nobler thought
of England. It is to that thought, to that spirit of lofty humanity
and pure justice, that Garibaldi appeals in his address to the English
people from his prison,--an appeal which seems utterly ludicrous, if
you think of it as addressed to the historic John Bull, but which is
perfectly intelligible and appropriate, if you remember that Sir Philip
Sidney was an Englishman as well as George IV., and that John Stuart
Mill is no less English than Lord Palmerston or Russell. It is with that
spirit that American civilization is truly harmonious. But there is the
other, merely trading, short-sighted, selfish spirit, which is typified
by the coarse John Bull of the pictures, and which has touched almost to
a frenzy of despair Carlyle in the "Latter-Day Pamphlets" and Tennyson
in "Maud." That is the dominant England of the hour. That is the England
which lives at the mercy of rivals. And that is the England which,
consequently, with feverish haste, proclaims equal belligerence between
the leaders of an insurrection for the extension and fortification of
slavery and the nation which defends its existence against them. That
is the England whose prime-minister alleges that a friendly power has
authorized an insult, while at the very moment in which he speaks he
carries in his pocket the express disclaimer of that power. That is
the England which incessantly taunts and reviles and belies a kindred
people, whose sole fault is that they were too slow to believe their
brothers parricides, and who were credulous enough to suppose that
England loved not only the profit, but the principle, of Liberty under
"It is very sad; but it certainly seems so," said I.
"Seems, my dear friend? nay, it is," ticked my watch, persistently. "It
is the inevitable penalty of national deterioration which any people
must pay that in its haste to be rich forgets to secure its actual
independence. Thus Richard Cobden, the most sagacious of English
statesmen, is the most unflinching apostle of peace, because he knows
that England has put it out of her power to go to war. I saw you reading
his late argument against a blockade. Did you reflect that it was really
an argument against war? 'How absurd,' he cries, 'that a commercial
nation, which lives by imports and exports, paying for the one by the
other, should, by shutting up ports in which it wishes to buy and sell,
cut its own hands and feet off, and so bleed to death!' 'In a commercial
nation,' says the orator, 'the system of blockade is mere suicide.'
"But a blockade may be clearly as effective a means of warfare as a
cannonade. If you can cut off your enemy from all that he gives and all
that he gets from without, you have taken the first great step in war.
Unless he can supply himself, he must presently surrender or perish. For
war is brute force. It is a process of terrible compulsion. 'Do this,'
says War, 'or you shall burn, and starve, and hunger, and be shot, and
"The point to be settled between the two combatants is, which can stand
starving and shooting longest. If one of them depends for his food upon
the sale to others of what he makes, and depends for what he makes upon
what he can get from others, it is easy enough to see, that, if the
other is self-supporting, his victory is sure, if he have only the means
to cut off supplies. England is at the mercy of a skilful and effective
blockade. No wonder her shrewdest statesman implores her to see it.
"'My dear John Bull,' says Cobden, 'an honorable member of your
Parliament, a miller and grain-merchant, estimates that the food
imported into England between September of last year and June of this
year was equal to the sustenance of between three and four millions of
people for a twelve-month; and his remark to me was, that, if that food
had not been brought from America, all the money in Lombard Street could
not have purchased it elsewhere, because elsewhere it did not exist.'
"That is the position of a nation with the hand of another upon its
throat.--Do I tire you?" ticked my watch.
"Not at all. I am listening intently, and trying to see what you are
coming to," I answered.
"We are coming, and very rapidly, to West Newton and the Waltham
Watch-Factory," ticked my companion.
"I hope so. It was where I understood you to invite me to go," said I.
"Courage, my friend! Before we get to the factory, let us understand the
reason of it. Let me finish showing you why I have a national pride in
my ancestral halls, and why I think that the American flag floats over
that building as appropriately as over Fort Adams or Monroe."
"I have always trusted you implicitly," I answered.
"Well, then, England is a nation whose mill grinds at the will of a
neighbor. Is it wonderful that so sagacious a statesman as Cobden says
that the blockade is a terrible thing for a commercial people? Take the
estimate of his authority, and imagine the supply of food from this
country into England stopped, and the bumptious little island necklaced
with Monitors to cut off the Continental supply. Do we not hold one of
her hands with our grain, and the other with our cotton? The grain she
gets, but the cotton is substantially stopped; what is the consequence?
Listen to Mr. Cobden. The case, he says, 'is so grave, so alarming,
and presents itself to those who reflect upon what may be the state of
things six months hence in such a hideous aspect, that it is apt to
beget thoughts of some violent remedy.' He computes that by Christmas
the Government must come to the aid of the pauper operatives, of whom
there are now seven hundred and fifty thousand, a number which will then
have increased to nearly a million.
"Of all nations, then, the industrial example of England is to be
avoided by every sensible people. She has been willing to wear chains,
because they were gold. But the pre-Millennial nations must be able to
stand alone; and we at this moment know more than ever that we must work
out our own national salvation, not only without aid, which we had no
reason to ask, but without sympathy, which we had every honorable right
to expect. But, to be a truly independent people, we must practically
prove our self-sufficiency; and at this moment patriotism shows itself
not only in defending the nation against the Rebellion, but in the
heartiest encouragement of every art and manufacture for which our
opportunities and capacities fit us."
My watch here ticked so loudly and defiantly that I feared some
neighboring passenger might have a Frodsham or Jurgensen in his pocket
and feel insulted.
"A nation like ours," steadily ticked my watch, "seated upon a continent
from sea to sea, with so propitious a variety of climate and with such
imperial resources of every kind, if it brought all its powers to bear
upon its productions and opportunities, would be absolutely invincible,
because entirely independent. It need not, therefore, sit a cynic
recluse on the Western sea. It need not, therefore, deny nor delay the
dawn of the Millennial day, which the poet beheld, when
'The war-drum throbbed no longer, and the
battle-flags were furled,
In the Parliament of man, the Federation
of the world.'
"Tick, tick, tick," urged my watch. But I made no reply.
"Why, then," it continued, "do we consent to look longer to Europe for
any of the essential conveniences of life? Why are our clothes not made
of American cloth or of American silk? Why are our railroads not laid
with American iron? Yes, and why,--pardon me, but we are very near
Waltham,--why is our time not told by American watches? Tea and coffee,
doubtless, we cannot grow, nor do lemons and bananas ripen in our sun.
But has not the time come when every hearty American will say, 'All that
I can get here which is good enough and cheap enough for the purpose,
I will not look for elsewhere; and all that I can do to develop every
resource and possibility, I will do with all my heart'?"
"I do not wish to dampen your enthusiasm," answered I, "but I remember
a story of that friend of Southern liberty and author of the
Fugitive-Slave Bill, Mason of Virginia. He appeared in the Senate during
the Secession winter, in a suit of Southern-made clothes. The wool was
grown and spun and woven in Virginia, and Mason wore it to show that
Virginia unassisted could clothe her children. But a shrewder man than
Mason quietly turned up the buttons on the Secession coat and showed
upon them the stamp of a Connecticut factory."
"Have you ever found me unreasonable?" ticked my friend. "Have you ever
seen even my hand tremble, as it pointed out to you so many hours in
which you have been earnestly interested? I am not excited even by my
own existence, and I claim nothing extravagant. There will always be
some things that we may not be able to make advantageously. Absolute
independence of the rest of the world is no more possible than
desirable. But everything which tends to increase instead of diminishing
a vital dependence is nationally dangerous. I think, if you will
consider me attentively, you will agree that I ought to know that trade
is everywhere controlled by positive laws; nor will any wise watch
expect them to be long or willingly disregarded by the most enthusiastic
patriotism. Knowing that, we do not need to go far to discover why so
many important conveniences are still made for us by foreign hands. The
immense and compact population of Europe compels a marvellous division
of labor, whereby the detail of work is more perfected, and it also
forces a low rate of wages, with which in a new country sparely peopled
like ours the manufacture of the same wares can scarcely compete. This
is the great practical difficulty; but it can be obviated in two ways.
If a people assume that the fostering of its own manufactures is a
cardinal necessity, it can secure that result either by the coarse
process of compulsory duties upon all foreign importations, or by
developing the ingenuity and skill which will so cheapen the manufacture
itself as to make up the difference of outlay in wages.
"Then, if the work is as well done and as cheaply furnished"----ticked
my watch, a little proudly and triumphantly.
"Then it needs only to be known, to be universally and heartily
welcomed," said I. "Patriotism and the laws of trade will coincide, and
there will be no excuse for depending longer upon the foreign supply."
"But the fact must be made known," ticked my watch, thoughtfully.
"It certainly must," I answered.
"Well, it _is_ a fact that a man can get a better watch more cheaply, if
he buys an American instead of a foreign one."
Friendship and gratitude inspired my reply.
"I will put my mouth to the 'Atlantic Trumpet,'--I mean 'Monthly,'--and
blow a blast."
"That is not necessary; but as we are very near the station at West
Newton where we leave the railroad, and as I have endeavored to show
you the national importance of doing everything for ourselves that we
reasonably can, you will probably interest your hearers more, if you
give them a little description of your visit to my birthplace. Excuse
me, but I have watched you pretty constantly for two years, and, if you
will be governed by me, as you have generally been during that time, you
will not undertake any very elaborate mechanical description, but say a
few words merely of what you are going to see."
This sensible advice was but another proof of the accuracy of my watch.
While it was yet ticking, the train stopped at West Newton, and we
stepped out upon the platform. The station nearest to the Watch-Factory
is that at Waltham upon the Fitchburg Railroad; but by taking the
Worcester cars to West Newton, you secure a pleasant drive of a mile or
two across the country. If you can also secure, as my watch took care to
do for me, the company of the resident manager of the factory, the drive
is entirely pleasant and the talk full of value.
We import about five millions of dollars' worth of watches every year,
mainly from England and Switzerland through France, and then pay about
as much more to get them to go. Of course inquisitive Yankee ingenuity
long ago asked the question, Why should we do it? If anything is to be
made, why should not we make it better than anybody in the world? The
answer was very evident,--because we could not compete with the skilled
and poorly paid labor of Europe. But during the last war with England
the question became as emphatic as it is now, and a practical answer was
given in the excellent watches made at Worcester in Massachusetts, and
at Hartford in Connecticut.
But these were merely prophetic protests. The best watches in use were
Swiss. Four-fifths of the work in making them was done by hand in
separate workshops, subject of course to the skill, temper, and
conscience of the workmen. The various parts of each were then sent in
to the finisher. Every watch was thus a separate and individual work.
There could be no absolute precision in the parts of different watches
even of the same general model; and only the best works of the best
finishers were the best watches. The purchase of a watch became almost
as uncertain as that of a horse, and many of the dealers might be called
watch-jockeys as justly as horse-dealers horse-jockeys.
A.L. Dennison, of Maine, seems to have been the first who conceived
American watch-making as a manufacture that could hold its own against
European competition. It was clear enough that to put raw and well-paid
American labor into the field against European skill and low wages, with
no other protection than four per cent., which was then the tariff, was
folly. But why not apply the same principle to making watches that Eli
Whitney applied to making fire-arms, and put machinery to do the work of
men, thereby saving wages and securing uniform excellence of work? There
was no reason whatever, provided you could make the machinery. Mr.
Dennison supplied the idea; who would supply the means of working it
out? He was an enthusiast, of course,--visionary, probably; for in all
inventors the imagination must be so powerful that it will sometimes
disturb the conditions essential to the practical experiment; but he
interested others until the necessary tools began to appear, and enough
capital being willing to try the chances, the experiment of making
American watches by machinery began in Roxbury in the year 1850. After
various fortunes, the manufacture passed from the original hands into
those of the present company, which is incorporated by the State of
"Do you think," whispered I to my watch, as I listened to these facts,
"that the experiment is still doubtful?"
My companion ticked so indignantly that my friend the manager evidently
suspected what question I had asked, and he answered at once,--
"The experiment is already perfectly successful. We have had our
critical moments, but"----
"But now," proudly ticked my watch, "now we have weathered the Cape Horn
of adversity and doubt, and ride secure upon the deep Pacific sea of
prosperity and certainty. You had better blow a note like that through
your Atlantic Bugle. Set your tune high, and play it up loud and
"It seems to me," answered I, "that the tune plays itself. There is no
need of puffing at the instrument."
While my watch was thus pleasantly jesting, we had passed through a low
pine wood and come out upon the banks of the Charles River. Just before
us, upon the very edge of a river-basin, was a low two-story building
full of windows, and beyond, over the trees, were spires. They were the
steeples of Waltham, and the many-windowed building was the factory of
the American Watch Company. It stands upon a private road opened by
the Company in a domain of about seventy acres belonging to them. The
building thus secures quiet and freedom from dust, which are essential
conditions of so delicate and exquisite a manufacture.
The counting-room, which you enter first, is cheerful and elegant. A new
building, which the Company is adding to the factory, will give them
part of the ampler room the manufacture now demands; and within the last
few months the Company has absorbed the machinery and labor of a rival
company at Nashua, which was formed of some of the graduate workmen of
Waltham, but which was not successful. Every room in the factory is full
of light. The benches of polished cherry, the length of all of them
together being about three-quarters of a mile, are ranged along the
sides of the rooms, from the windows in which the prospect is rural and
peaceful. There is a low hum, but no loud roar or jar in the building.
There is no unpleasant smell, and all the processes are so neat and
exquisite that an air of elegance pervades the whole.
The first impression, upon hearing that a watch is made by machinery,
is, that it must be rather coarse and clumsy. No machine so cunning as
the human hand, we are fond of saying. But, if you will look at this
gauge, for instance, and then at any of these dainty and delicate
machines upon the benches, miniature lathes of steel, and contrivances
which combine the skill of innumerable exquisite fingers upon single
points, you will feel at once, that, when the machinery itself is
so almost poetic and sensitive, the result of its work must be
My friend--not the watch, but the watchmaker--said quietly, "By your
leave," and, pulling a single hair from my head, touched it to a fine
gauge, which indicated exactly the thickness of the hair. It was a test
of the twenty-five hundredth part of an inch. But there are also gauges
graduated to the ten-thousandth part of an inch. Here is a workman
making screws. Can you just see them? That hardly visible point exuding
from the almost imperceptible hole is one of them. A hundred and fifty
thousand of them make a pound. The wire costs a dollar; the screws are
worth nine hundred and fifty dollars. The magic touch of the machine
makes that wire nine hundred and fifty times more valuable. The operator
sets them in regular rows upon a thin plate. When the plate is full, it
is passed to another machine, which cuts the little groove upon the top
of each,--and of course exactly in the same spot. Every one of those
hundred and fifty thousand screws in every pound is accurately the same
as every other, and any and all of them, in this pound or any pound, any
one of the millions or ten millions of this size, will fit precisely
every hole made for this sized screw in every plate of every watch made
in the factory. They are kept in little glass phials, like those in
which the homoeopathic doctors keep their pellets.
The fineness and variety of the machinery are so amazing, so
beautiful,--there is such an exquisite combination of form and
movement,--such sensitive teeth and fingers and wheels and points of
steel,--such fairy knives of sapphire, with which King Oberon the first
might have been beheaded, had he insisted upon levying dew-taxes upon
primroses without the authority of his elves,--such smooth cylinders,
and flying points so rapidly revolving that they seem perfectly
still.--such dainty oscillations of parts with the air of intelligent
consciousness of movement,--that a machinery so extensive in details, so
complex, so harmonious, at length entirely magnetizes you with wonder
and delight, and you are firmly persuaded that you behold the magnified
parts of a huge brain in the very act of thinking out watches.
In various rooms, by various machines, the work of perfecting the parts
from the first blank form cut out of Connecticut brass goes on. Shades
of size are adjusted by the friction of whirring cylinders coated with
diamond dust. A flying steel point touched with diamond paste pierces
the heart of the "jewels." Wheels rimmed with brass wisps hum steadily,
as they frost the plates with sparkling gold. Shaving of metal peel off,
as other edges turn, so impalpably fine that five thousand must be laid
side by side to make an inch. But there is no dust, no unseemly noise.
All is cheerful and airy, the faces of the workers most of all. You pass
on from point to point, from room to room. Every machine is a day's
study and a life's admiration, if you could only tarry. No wonder the
director says to me, as we move on, that his whole consciousness is
possessed by the elaborate works he superintends.
He opens a door, while we speak, and you would not be in the least
surprised, in the exalted condition to which the wonderful spectacle has
brought you, to hear him say, "In this room we keep the Equator." In
fact, as the door opens, and the gush of hot air breathes out upon your
excited brain, it seems to you as if it undoubtedly were the back-door
to--the Tropics. It is the dial-room, in which the enamel is set. The
porcelain is made in London. It is reduced to a paste in this room, and
fused upon thin copperplates at white heat. When cooled, it is ground
off smoothly, then baked to acquire a smooth glaze. It is then ready for
painting with the figures.
When all the pieces of the watch-movement are thus prepared, they are
gathered in sets, and carried to the putting-up room, where each part
is thoroughly tested and regulated. The pieces move in processions of
boxes, each part by itself; and each watch, when put together, is as
good as every other. In an old English lever-watch there are between
eight and nine hundred pieces. In the American there are but about a
hundred and twenty parts. My friend the director says, that, if you put
a single American against a single European watch, the foreign may vary
a second less in a certain time; but if you will put fifty or a hundred
native against the same number of foreign watches, the native group will
be uniformly more accurate. In the case of two watches of exactly the
same excellence, the regulator of one may be adjusted to the precise
point, while that of the other may imperceptibly vary from that point.
But that is a chance. The true test is in a number.
"If now we add," ticked the faithful friend in my pocket, "that
watch-movements of a similar grade without the cases are produced here
at half the cost of the foreign, doesn't it seem to you that we have
Lancashire and Warwickshire in England and Locle and La Chaux de Fond in
Switzerland upon the hip?"
"It certainly does," I answered,--for what else could I say?
Five different sizes of watches are made at Waltham. The latest is the
Lady's Watch, for which no parent or lover need longer go to Geneva. And
the affectionate pride with which the manager took up one of the finest
specimens of the work and turned it round for me to see was that of a
parent showing a precious child.
While we strolled through every room, the workers were not less
interesting to see than the work. There are now about three hundred and
fifty of them, of whom nearly a third are women. Scarcely twenty are
foreigners, and they are not employed upon the finest work. Of course,
as the machinery is peculiar to this factory, the workers must be
specially instructed. The foremen are not only overseers, but teachers;
and I do not often feel myself to be in a more intelligent and valuable
society than that which surrounded me, a wondering, staring, smiling,
inquiring, utterly unskilful body in the ancestral halls of my tried
friend and trusty counsellor, The American Watch.
* * * * *
BENJAMIN BANNEKER, THE NEGRO ASTRONOMER.
In these days, when strong interests, embodied in fierce parties, are
clashing, one recalls the French proverb of those who make so much noise
that you cannot hear God thunder. It does not take much noise to drown
the notes of a violin; but go to the hill a fourth of a mile off, and
the noises shall die away at its base, whilst the music shall be heard.
Those who can remove themselves away from and above the plane of
party-din can hear God's modulated thunder in the midst of it, uttering
ever a "certain tune and measured music." And such can hear now the
great voice at the sepulchre's door of a race, saying, Come forth! This
war is utterly inexplicable except as the historic method of delivering
the African race in America from slavery, and this nation from the crime
and curse inevitably linked therewith in the counsels of God, which are
the laws of Nature. If the friends of freedom in the Government do
not understand this, it is plain enough that the myrmidons of slavery
throughout the land understand it. And hence it is that we are
witnessing their unremitting efforts to exasperate the prejudices of the
vulgar against the negro, and to prove degradation, and slavery to be
his normal condition. They point to his figure as sculptured on ancient
monuments, bearing chains, and claim that his enslavement is lawful as
immemorial custom; but as well point to the brass collars on our Saxon
forefathers' necks to prove _their_ enslavement lawful. The fact that
slavery belonged to a patriarchal age is the very reason why it is
impracticable in a republican age,--as its special guardians in this
country seem to have discovered. But this question is now scarcely
actual. The South, by its first blow against the Union and the
Constitution, whose neutrality toward it was its last and only
protection from the spirit of the age, did, like the simple fisherman,
unseal the casket in which the Afreet had been so long dwarfed. He is
now escaping. Thus far, indeed, he is so much escaped force; for he
might be bearing our burdens for us, if we only rubbed up the lamp which
the genie obeys. But whether we shall do this or not, it is very certain
that he is now emerging from the sea and the casket, and into it will
descend no more. Henceforth the negro is to take his place in the family
of races; and no studies can be more suitable to our times than those
which recognize his special capacity.
The questions raised by military exigencies have brought before the
public the many interesting facts drawn from the history of Hayti and
from our own Revolution, showing the heroism of the negro, though we
doubt whether they can surpass the stories of Tatnall, Small, and
others, which have led a high European authority to observe that in this
war no individual heroism among the whites has equalled that of the
blacks. But the forthcoming social questions concerning the negro will
be even more exciting than the military. What are we to expect from the
unsealed Afreet,--good or evil? It was whilst studying in this direction
that I came upon the few facts which relate to Benjamin Banneker,--facts
which, though not difficult of access, are scarcely known beyond the
district in Maryland where, on the spot where he was born, his unadorned
grave receives now and then a visit from some pilgrim of his own race
who has found out the nobleness which Jefferson recognized and Condorcet
Benjamin Banneker was born in Baltimore County, near the village of
Ellicott's Mills, in the year 1732. There was not a drop of the white
man's blood in his veins. His father was born in Africa, and his
mother's parents were both natives of Africa. What genius he had, then,
must be credited to that race. Benjamin's mother was a remarkable woman,
and of a remarkable family. Her name was Morton, before marriage, and a
nephew of hers, Greenbury Morton, was gifted with a lively and impetuous
eloquence which made its mark in his neighborhood. Of him it is related
that he once came to a certain election-precinct in Baltimore County
to deposit his vote; for, prior to the year 1809, negroes with certain
property-qualifications voted in Maryland. It was in this year, in which
the law restricting the right of voting to free whites was passed, that
Morton, who had not heard of its passage, came to the polls. When his
vote was refused, Morton in a state of excitement took his stand on
a door-step, and was immediately surrounded by the crowd, whom he
addressed in a strain of passionate and prophetic eloquence which bore
all hearts and minds with him. He warned them that the new law was a
step backward from the standard which their fathers had raised in
the Declaration, and which they had hoped would soon be realized in
universal freedom; that that step, unless retraced, would end in bitter
and remorseless revolutions. The crowd was held in breathless attention,
and none were found to favor the new law.
This man, we have said, was the nephew of Benjamin's mother. She was a
woman of remarkable energy, and after she was seventy years of age was
accustomed to run down the chickens she wished to catch. Her husband was
a slave when she married him, but it was a very small part of her life's
task to purchase his freedom. Together they soon bought a farm of one
hundred acres, which we find conveyed by Richard Gist to Robert Bannaky,
(as the name was then spelt,) and Benjamin Bannaky, his son, (then five
years old,) on the tenth of March, 1737, for the consideration of seven
thousand pounds of tobacco. The region in which Benjamin was born was
almost a wilderness; for in 1732 Elkridge Landing was of more importance
than Baltimore; and even in 1754 this city consisted only of some twenty
poor houses straggling on the hills to the right of Jones's Falls. The
residence of the Bannekers was ten miles into the wilderness from these.
It was under these unpromising circumstances that little Benjamin grew
up, his destiny being apparently nothing more than to work on the little
farm beside his poor and ignorant parents. When he was approaching
manhood, he went, in the intervals of toil, to an obscure and remote
country-school; for, until the cotton-gin made negroes too valuable on
the animal side for the human side to be allowed anything so perilous as
education, there were to be found here and there in the South fountains
whereat even negroes might slake their thirst for learning. At this
school Benjamin acquired a knowledge of reading and writing, and
advanced in arithmetic as far as "Double Position." Beyond these
rudiments he was entirely his own teacher. After leaving school he had
to labor constantly for his own support; but he lost nothing of what he
had acquired. It is a frequent remark that up to a certain point the
negroes learn even more rapidly than white children under the same
teaching, but that afterward, in the higher branches, they are slow,
and, some maintain, incapable. Young Banneker had no books at all, but
in the midst of his labor he so improved upon and evolved what he had
gained in arithmetic that his intelligence became a matter of general
observation. He was such an acute observer of the natural world, and had
so diligently observed the signs of the times in society, that it
is very doubtful whether at forty years of age this African had his
superior in Maryland.
Perhaps the first wonder amongst his comparatively illiterate neighbors
was excited, when, about the thirtieth year of his age, Benjamin made
a clock. It is probable that this was the first clock of which every
portion was made in America; it is certain that it was as purely his own
invention as if none had ever been made before. He had seen a watch, but
never a clock, such an article not being within fifty miles of him. The
watch was his model. He was a long time at work on the clock,--his chief
difficulty, as he used often to relate, being to make the hour, minute,
and second hands correspond in their motion. But at last the work was
completed, and raised the admiration for Banneker to quite a high pitch
among his few neighbors.
The making of the clock proved to be of great importance in assisting
the young man to fulfil his destiny. It attracted the attention of the
Ellicott family, who had just begun a settlement at Ellicott's Mills.
They were well-educated men, with much mechanical knowledge, and some of
them Quakers. They sought out the ingenious negro, and he could not have
fallen into better hands. It was in 1787 that Benjamin received from
Mr. George Ellicott Mayer's "Tables," Ferguson's "Astronomy," and
Leadbetter's "Lunar Tables." Along with these, some astronomical
instruments, also, were given him. Mr. Ellicott, prevented from telling
Benjamin anything concerning the use of the instruments for some time
after they were given, went over to repair this omission one day, but
found that the negro had discovered all about them and was already quite
independent of instruction. From this time astronomy became the great
object of Banneker's life, and in its study he almost disappeared from
the sight of his neighbors. He was unmarried, and lived alone in the
cabin and on the farm which he had inherited from his parents. He had
still to labor for his living; but he so simplified his wants as to
be enabled to devote the greater portion of his time to astronomical
studies. He slept much during the day, that he might the more devotedly
observe at night the heavenly bodies whose laws he was slowly, but
And now he began to have a taste of that persecution to which every
genius under similar circumstances is subject. He was no longer seen in
the field, where formerly his constancy had gained him a reputation for
industry, and some who called at his cabin during the day-time found him
asleep; so he began to be spoken of as a lazy fellow, who would come to
no good, and whose age would disappoint the promise of his youth. There
was a time when this so excited his neighbors against him that he had
serious fears of disturbance. A memorandum in his hand-writing, dated
December 18, 1790, states:--
"------ ------informed me that ------ stole my horse and great-coat,
and that the said ------ intended to murder me when opportunity
presented. ------ ------ gave me a caution to let no one come into my
house after dark."
The names were originally written in full; but they were afterward
carefully cancelled, as though Banneker had reflected that it was wrong
to leave on record an unauthenticated assertion against an individual,
which, if untrue, might prejudice him by the mere fact that it had been
Very soon after the possession of the books already mentioned, Banneker
determined to compile an almanac, that being the most familiar use that
occurred to him of the information he had acquired. To make an almanac
was a very different thing then from what it would be now, when there is
an abundance of accurate tables and rules. Banneker had no aid whatever
from men or tables; and Mr. George Ellicott, who procured some tables
and took them to him, states that he had advanced far in the preparation
of the logarithms necessary for his purpose. A memorandum in his
calculations at this time thus corrects an error in Ferguson's
"It appears to me that the wisest men may at times be in error: for
instance, Dr. Ferguson informs us, that, when the sun is within 12 deg. of
either node at the time of full, the moon will be eclipsed; but I find,
that, according to his method of projecting a lunar eclipse, there will
be none by the above elements, and yet the sun is within 11 deg. 46' 11" of
the moon's ascending node. But the moon being in her apogee prevents the
appearance of this eclipse."
Another memorandum makes the following corrections:--
"Errors that ought to be corrected in my Astronomical Tables are
these:--2d vol. Leadbetter, p. 201, when [symbol] anomaly is 4^s 30 deg.,
the equation 3 deg. 30' 41" ought to have been 3 deg. 28' 41". In [symbol]
equation, p. 155, the logarithm of his distance from [symbol] ought to
have been 6 in the second place from the index, instead of 7, that is,
from the time that his anomaly is 3^s 24 deg. until it is 4^s O deg.."
Both Ferguson and Leadbetter would have been amazed, had they been
informed that their elaborate works had been reviewed and corrected by a
negro in the then unheard-of valley of the Patapsco.
The first almanac prepared by Banneker for publication was for the year
1792. By this time his acquirements had become generally known, and
amongst those who were attracted by them was James McHenry, Esq. Mr.
McHenry wrote to Goddard and Angell, then the almanac-publishers of
Baltimore, and procured the publication of this work, which contained,
from the pen of Mr. McHenry, a brief notice of Banneker. In their
editorial notice Goddard and Angell say, "They feel gratified in the
opportunity of presenting to the public through their press what must
be considered as an extraordinary effort of genius,--a complete and
accurate Ephemeris for the year 1792, calculated by a sable son of
Africa," etc. And they further say that "they flatter themselves that a
philanthropic public, in this enlightened era, will be induced to give
their patronage and support to this work, not only on account of its
intrinsic merits, (it having met the approbation of several of the most
distinguished astronomers of America, particularly the celebrated Mr.
Rittenhouse,) but from similar motives to those which induced the
editors to give this calculation the preference, the ardent desire
of drawing modest merit from obscurity, and controverting the
long-established illiberal prejudice against the blacks."
Banneker was himself entirely conscious of the bearings of his case
upon the position of his people; and though remarkable for an habitual
modesty, he solemnly claimed that his works had earned respect for
the African race. In this spirit he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, then
Secretary of State under Washington, transmitting a manuscript copy of
his almanac. The letter is a fervent appeal for the down-trodden negro,
and a protest against the injustice and inconsistency of the United
States toward that color. Mr. Jefferson's reply is as follows:--
"_Philadelphia, Pa._, August 30, 1791.
"Sir,--I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th instant, and
for the almanac it contained. Nobody wishes more than I do to see such
proofs as you exhibit, that Nature has given to our black brethren
talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the
appearance of a want of them is owing only to the degraded condition of
their existence both in Africa and America. I can add with truth that no
one wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the
condition both of their body and mind to what it ought to be, as fast as
the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances which
cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending
your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of
Sciences at Paris, and Member of the Philanthropic Society, because I
considered it a document to which your whole color had a right for their
justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them.
"I am, with great esteem, Sir,
"Your most obedient serv't,
When his first almanac was published, Banneker was fifty-nine years of
age, and had received tokens of respect from all the scientific men
of the country. The commissioners appointed after the adoption of the
Constitution in 1789 to run the lines of the District of Columbia
invited the presence and assistance of Banneker, and treated him as an
equal. They invited him to take a seat at their table; but he declined,
and requested a separate table.
Banneker continued to calculate and publish almanacs until the year
1802. Besides numerous valuable astronomical and mathematical notes
found amongst his papers are observations of passing events, showing
that he had the mind of a philosopher. For instance:--
"_27th Aug. 1797._ Standing at my door, I heard the discharge of a gun,
and in four or five seconds of time the small shot came rattling about
me, one or two of which struck the house; which plainly demonstrates
that the velocity of sound is greater than that of a cannon-bullet."
"_23d Dec. 1790._ About 3 o'clock A.M., I heard a sound and felt a shock
like unto heavy thunder. I went out, but could not observe any cloud.
I therefore conclude it must be a great earthquake in some part of the
In April, 1800, he writes:--
"The first great locust year that I can remember was 1749. I was then
about seventeen years of age, when thousands of them came creeping up
the trees. I imagined they came to destroy the fruit of the earth, and
would occasion a famine in the land. I therefore began to destroy
them, but soon saw that my labor was in vain. Again, in the year 1766,
seventeen years after their first appearance, they made a second. I
then, being about thirty-four years of age, had more sense than to
endeavor to destroy them, knowing they were not so pernicious to the
fruit as I had imagined. Again, in the year 1783, which was seventeen
years later, they made their third appearance to me; and they may be
expected again in 1800. The female has a sting in her tail as sharp and
hard as a thorn, with which she perforates the branches of trees, and in
the holes lays eggs. The branch soon dies and falls. Then the egg, by
some occult cause, immerges a great depth into the earth, and there
continues for the space of seventeen years, as aforesaid."
The following is worthy of Pliny:--
"In the month of January, 1797, on a pleasant day for the season, I
observed my honey-bees to be out of their hives, and they seemed to be
very busy, excepting one hive. Upon examination, I found all the bees
had evacuated this hive, and left not a drop behind them. On the 9th of
February ensuing, I killed the neighboring hives of bees, and found a
great quantity of honey, considering the season,--which I imagine the
stronger had taken from the weaker, and the weaker had pursued them
to their home, resolved to be benefited by their labor, or die in the
Mr. Benjamin H. Ellicott, who was a true friend of Banneker, and
collected from various sources all the facts concerning him, wrote in a
letter as follows:--
"During the whole of his long life he lived respectably and much
esteemed by all who became acquainted with him, but more especially
by those who could fully appreciate his genius and the extent of his
acquirements. Although his mode of life was regular and extremely
retired,--living alone, having never married, cooking his own victuals
and washing his own clothes, and scarcely ever being absent from
home,--yet there was nothing misanthropic in his character; for a
gentleman who knew him thus speaks of him: 'I recollect him well. He
was a brave-looking, pleasant man, with something very noble in his
appearance. His mind was evidently much engrossed in his calculations;
but he was glad to receive the visits which we often paid him.' Another
writes: 'When I was a boy I became very much interested in him, as his
manners were those of a perfect gentleman: kind, generous, hospitable,
humane, dignified, and pleasing, abounding in information on all the
various subjects and incidents of the day, very modest and unassuming,
and delighting in society at his own house. I have seen him frequently.
His head was covered with a thick suit of white hair, which gave him
a very dignified and venerable appearance. His dress was uniformly of
superfine drab broadcloth, made in the old style of a plain coat, with
straight collar and long waistcoat, and a broad-brimmed hat. His color
was not jet-black, but decidedly negro. In size and personal appearance,
the statue of Franklin at the library in Philadelphia, as seen from the
street, is a perfect likeness of him. Go to his house when you would,
either by day or night, there was constantly standing in the middle of
the floor a large table covered with books and papers. As he was an
eminent mathematician, he was constantly in correspondence with other
mathematicians in this country, with whom there was an interchange of
questions of difficult solution.'"
Banneker died in the year 1804, beloved and respected by all who knew
him. Though no monument marks the spot where he was born and lived a
true and high life and was buried, yet history must record that the most
original scientific intellect which the South has yet produced was that
of the pure African, Benjamin Banneker.
* * * * *
THE SLEEPING SENTINEL.
When the great Theban, in his midnight tramp,
A sleeping guard beside the postern saw,
He slew him on the instant, that the camp
Might read in blood a soldier's swerveless law.
"Blame not your General!"--pointing to the slain,--
The wise, severe Epaminondas said,--
"I was not cruel, comrades, for 't is plain
I only left him, as I found him, dead!"
IRON-CLAD SHIPS AND HEAVY ORDNANCE.
The new system of naval warfare which characterizes the age was proposed
by John Stevens of Hoboken during the War of 1812, recommended by
Paixhans in 1821, made the subject of official and private experiment
here and in Europe during the last ten years especially, subjected to
practical test at Kinburn in 1855, recognized then by France and England
in the commencement of iron-clad fleets, first practised by the United
States Government in the capture of Fort Henry, and at last established
and inaugurated not only in fact, but in the principle and direction of
progress, by the memorable action of the ninth of March, 1862, in the
destruction of the wooden sailing-frigates Cumberland and Congress by
the steam-ram Merrimack, and the final discomfiture of that powerful and
heavily armed victor by the turreted, iron, two-gun Monitor.
The consideration of iron-clad vessels involves that of armor, ordnance,
projectiles, and naval architecture.
_Material_. In 1861, the British iron-plate committee fired with
68-pounders at many varieties of iron, cast-steel and puddled-steel
plates, and combinations of hard and soft metals. The steel was too
brittle, and crumbled, and the targets were injured in proportion to
their hardness. An obvious conclusion from all subsequent firing at
thick iron plates was, that, to avoid cracking on the one hand, and
punching on the other, wrought-iron armor should resemble copper more
than steel, except that it should be elastic, although not necessarily
of the highest tensile strength. Copper, however, proved much too soft.
The experiments of Mr. E.A. Stevens of Hoboken, with thick plates,
confirm this conclusion. But for laminated armor, (several thicknesses
of thin plates,) harder and stronger iron offers greater resistance to
shot, and steel crumbles less than when it is thicker. The value of hard
surfaces on inclined armor will be alluded to.
_Solid and Laminated Armor compared. Backing_. European experimenters
set out upon the principle that the resistance of plates is nearly as
the square of their thickness,--for example, that two 2-inch plates are
but half as strong as one 4-inch plate; and the English, at least, have
never subjected it to more than one valuable test. During the last year,
a 6-inch target, composed of 5/8-inch boiler-plates, with a 1-1/2-inch
plate in front, and held together by alternate rivets and screws 8
inches apart, was completely punched; and a 10-inch target, similarly
constructed, was greatly bulged and broken at the back by the 68-pounder
(8 inch) smooth-bore especially, and the 100-pounder rifle at 200
yards,--guns that do not greatly injure the best solid 4-1/2-inch plates
at the same range. On the contrary, a 124-pounder (10 inch) round-shot,
having about the same penetrating power, as calculated by the ordinary
rule, fired by Mr. Stevens in 1854, but slightly indented, and did not
break at the back, a 6-5/8-inch target similarly composed. All the
experiments of Mr. Stevens go to show the superiority of laminated
armor. Within a few months, official American experiments have confirmed
this theory, although the practice in the construction of ships is
divided. The Roanoke's plates are solid; those of the Monitor class are
laminated. Solid plates, generally 4-1/2 inches thick and backed by 18
inches of teak, are exclusively used in Europe. Now the resistance of
plates to punching _in a machine_ is directly as the sheared area, that
is to say, as the depth and the diameter of the hole. But, the argument
is, in this case, and in the case of laminated armor, the hole
is cylindrical, while in the case of a thick armor-plate it is
conical,--about the size of the shot, in front, and very much larger in
the rear,--so that the sheared or fractured area is much greater. Again,
forged plates, although made with innumerable welds from scrap which
cannot be homogeneous, are, as compared with rolled plates made with
few welds from equally good material, notoriously stronger, because the
laminae composing the latter are not thoroughly welded to each other,
and they are therefore a series of thin plates. On the whole, the facts
are not complete enough to warrant a conclusion. It is probable that the
heavy English machinery produces better-worked thick plates than have
been tested in America, and that American iron, which is well worked in
the _thin_ plate used for laminated armor, is better than English iron;
while the comparatively high velocities of shot used in England are more
trying to thin plates, and the comparatively heavy shot in America prove
most destructive to solid plates. So that there is as yet no common
ground of comparison. The cost of laminated armor is less than half that
of solid plates. Thin plates, breaking joints, and bolted to or through
the backing, form a continuous girder and add vastly to the strength of
a vessel, while solid blocks add no such strength, but are a source of
strain and weakness. In the experiments mentioned, there was no wooden
backing behind the armor. It is hardly possible,--in fact, it is nowhere
urged,--that elastic wooden backing prevents injury to the _armor_ in
any considerable degree. Indeed, the English experiments of 1861 prove
that a rigid backing of masonry--in other words, more armor--increases
the endurance of the plates struck. Elastic backing, however, deadens
the blow upon the structure behind it, and catches the iron splinters;
it is, therefore, indispensable in ships.
_Vertical and Inclined Armor_. In England, in 1860, a target composed of
4-1/2-inch plates backed with wood and set at 38 deg. from the horizon was
injured about one-half as much by round 68-pounder shot as vertical
plates of the same thickness would have been. In 1861, a 3-1/4 plate at
45 deg. was more injured by elongated 100-pounder shot than a 4-1/2 vertical
plate, both plates having the same backing and the weights of iron being
equal for the same vertical height. When set at practicable angles,
inclined armor does not glance flat-fronted projectiles. Its greater
cost, and especially the waste of room it occasions in a ship, are
practically considered in England to be fatal objections. The result of
Mr. Stevens's experiments is, substantially, that a given thickness of
iron, measured on the line of fire, offers about equal resistance to
shot, whether it is vertical or inclined. Flat-fronted or punch shot
will be glanced by armor set at about 12 deg. from the horizon. A hard
surface on the armor increases this effect; and to this end, experiments
with Franklinite are in progress. The inconvenience of inclined armor,
especially in sea-going vessels, although its weight is better situated
than that of vertical armor, is likely to limit its use generally.
_Fastening Armor_. A series of thin plates not only strengthen the whole
vessel, but fasten each other. All methods of giving continuity to thick
plates, such as tonguing and grooving, besides being very costly,
have proved too weak to stand shot, and are generally abandoned. The
_fastenings_ must therefore be stronger, as each plate depends solely on
its own; and the resistance of plates must be decreased, either by more
or larger bolt-holes. The working of the thick plates of the European
vessels Warrior and La Gloire, in a sea-way, is an acknowledged defect.
There are various practicable plans of fastening bolts to the backs of
plates, and of holding plates between angle-irons, to avoid boring
them through. It is believed that plates will ultimately be welded.
Boiler-joints have been welded rapidly and uniformly by means of light
furnaces moving along the joint, blowing a jet of flame upon it, and
closely followed by hammers to close it up. The surfaces do not oxidize
when enveloped in flame, and the weld is likely to be as strong as the
solid plate. Large plates prove stronger than small plates of equally
good material. English 4-1/2-inch armor-plates are generally 3-1/2 feet
wide and to 24 feet long. American 4-1/2-inch plates are from 2 to 3
feet wide and rarely exceed 12 feet in length. Armor composed of light
bars, like that of the Galena, is very defective, as each bar, deriving
little strength from adjacent, offers only the resistance of its own
small section. The cheapness of such armor, however, and the facility
with which it can be attached, may compensate for the greater amount
required, when weight is not objectionable. The 14-inch and 10-inch
targets, constructed, without backing, on this principle, and tested in
England in 1859 and 1860, were little damaged by 68-and 100-pounders.
The necessary thickness of armor is simply a question of powder, and
will be further referred to under the heads of Ordnance and Naval
ORDNANCE AND PROJECTILES.
_Condition of Greatest Effect_. It is a well-settled rule, that the
penetration projectiles is proportionate directly to their weight
and diameter, and to the square of their velocity. For example, the
10-1/2-inch Armstrong 150-pound shot, thrown by 50 pounds of powder at
1,770 feet per second, has nearly twice the destructive effect upon
striking, and four times as much upon passing its whole diameter through
armor, as the 15-inch 425-pound shot driven by the same powder at 800
feet. The American theory is, that very heavy shot, at necessarily low
velocities, with a given strain on the gun, will do more damage, by
racking and straining the whole structure than lighter and faster shot
which merely penetrate. This is not yet sufficiently tested. The late
remarkable experiments in England--firing 130-and 150-pound Whitworth
steel shells, holding 3 to 5 pounds of powder, from a 7-inch Armstrong
gun, with 23 to 27 pounds of powder, through the Warrior target, and
bursting them in and beyond the backing--certainly show that large
calibres are not indispensable in fighting iron-clads. A destructive
blow requires a _heavy charge of powder_; which brings us to
_The Strain and Structure of Guns, and Cartridges_. The problem is, 1st,
to construct a gun which will stand the heaviest charge; 2d, to reduce
the strain on the gun without reducing the velocity of the shot. It
is probable that powder-gas, from the excessive suddenness of its
generation, exerts a percussive as well as a statical pressure, thus
requiring great elasticity and a certain degree of hardness in the
gun-metal, as well as high tensile strength. Cast-iron and bronze are
obviously inadequate. Solid wrought-iron forgings are not all that could
be desired in respect of elasticity and hardness, but their chief defect
is want of homogeneity, due to the crude process of puddling, and to
their numerous and indispensable welds. Low cast-steel, besides being
elastic, hard, tenacious, and homogeneous, has the crowning advantage of
being produced in large masses without flaw or weld. Krupp, of Prussia,
casts ingots of above 20 tons' weight, and has forged a cast-steel
cannon of 9 inches bore. One of these ingots, in the Great Exhibition,
measured 44 inches in diameter, and was uniform and fine-grained
throughout. His great success is chiefly due to the use of manganesian
iron, (which, however, is inferior to the Franklinite of New Jersey,
because it contains no zinc,) and to skill in heating the metal, and to
the use of heavy hammers. His heaviest hammer weighs 40 tons, falls 12
feet, and strikes a blow which does not draw the surface like a light
hammer, but compresses the whole mass to the core. Krupp is now
introducing the Bessemer process for producing ingots of any size at
about the cost of wrought-iron. These and other makes of low-steel
have endured extraordinary tests in the form of small guns and other
structures subject to concussion and strain; and both the theory and all
the evidence that we have promise its superiority for gun-metal. But
another element of resistance is required in guns with thick walls. The
explosion of the powder is so instantaneous that the exterior parts of
the metal do not have time to act before the inner parts are strained
beyond endurance. In order to bring all parts of a great mass of metal
into simultaneous tension, Blakely and others have hooped an inner tube
with rings having a successively higher initial tension. The inner tube
is therefore under compression, and the outer ring under a considerable
tension, when the gun is at rest, but all parts are strained
simultaneously and alike when the gun is under pressure. The Parrott and
Whitworth cannon are constructed on this principle, and there has been
some practice in winding tubes with square steel wire to secure the most
uniform gradation of tension at the least cost. There is some difficulty
as yet in fastening the wire and giving the gun proper longitudinal
strength. Mr. Wiard, of New York, makes an ingenious argument to show
that large cannon burst from the expansion of the inner part of the gun
by the heat of frequent successive explosions. In this he is sustained
to some extent by Mr. Mallet, of Dublin. The greater the enlargement of
the inner layer of metal, the less valuable is the above principle of
initial tension. In fact, placing the inner part of the gun in initial
tension and the outer part in compression would better resist the
effect of internal heat. But Mr. Wiard believes that the _longitudinal_
expansion of the inner stratum of the gun is the principal source of
strain. A gun made of annular tubes meets this part of the difficulty;
for, if the inner tube is excessively heated, it can elongate and slip
a little within those surrounding it, without disturbing them. In fact,
the inner tube of the Armstrong gun is sometimes turned within the
others by the inertia of the rifled projectile. On the whole, then,
hooping an inner steel tube with successively tighter steel rings, or,
what is better, tubes, is the probable direction of improvement in heavy
ordnance. An inner tube of iron, cast hollow on Rodman's plan, so as to
avoid an inherent rupturing strain, and hooped with low-steel without
welds, would be cheaper and very strong. An obvious conclusion is,
that perfect elasticity in the metal would successfully meet all the
foregoing causes of rupture.
In America, where guns made entirely of cast-iron, and undoubtedly the
best in the world for horizontal shell-firing, are persisted in, though
hardly adequate to the heavy charges demanded by iron-clad warfare, the
necessity of decreasing the strain on the gun without greatly reducing
the velocity of the shot has become imperative. It would be impossible
even to recapitulate the conflicting arguments of the experts on this
subject, within the limits of this paper. It does appear from recent
experiments, however, that this result can be accomplished by
compressing the powder, so that, we will suppose, it burns slowly and
overcomes the inertia of the shot before the whole mass is ignited; and
also by leaving an airspace around the cartridge, into which the gases
probably expand while the inertia of the shot is being overcome, thus
avoiding the excessive blow upon the walls of the gun during the first
instant of the explosion. Whatever the cause may be, the result is of
the highest importance, not only as to cast-iron guns, but as to all
ordnance, and warrants the most earnest and thorough investigation. The
principles of the Armstrong gun differ in some degree from all those
mentioned, and will be better referred to under the head of _Heavy
Ordnance Described_. The Armstrong gun is thus fabricated. A long bar of
iron, say 3 by 4 inches in section, is wound into a close coil about 2
feet long and of the required diameter,--say 18 inches. This is set upon
end at a welding heat under a steam-hammer and "upset" into a tube which
is then recessed in a lathe on the ends so as to fit into other tubes.
Two tubes set end to end are heated to welding, squeezed together by
a heavy screw passing through them, and then hammered lightly on the
outside without a mandrel. Other short tubes are similarly added. Five
tubes of different lengths and diameters are turned and bored and shrunk
over one another, without successively increasing tension, however, to
form a gun. The breech-end of the second tube from the bore is forged
solid so that its grain will run parallel with the bore and give the
gun longitudinal strength. Both the wedge and the screw breech-loading
apparatus are employed on guns of 7 inches bore (110-pounders) and
under. It will thus be seen that the defects of large solid forgings are
avoided; that the iron may be well worked before it is formed into a
gun; and that its greatest strength is in the direction of the greatest
strain; and on the other hand, that the gun is weak longitudinally and
excessively costly, (the 7-inch gun costs $4,000, and tin 10-1/2-inch,
$9,000,) and that the material, although strong and pretty trustworthy
in the shape of bars, has insufficient elasticity and hardness. Still,
it is a formidable gun, especially when relieved of the weak and complex
breech-loading apparatus, and used with a better system of rifling and
projectiles than Armstrong's. The 110-pounder Armstrong rifle has 99-1/2
inches length and 7 inches diameter of bore, 27 inches maximum diameter,
and weighs 4-1/3 tons. The "300-pounder" smooth-bore has 11 feet length
and 10-1/2 inches diameter of bore, 38 inches maximum diameter, and
weighs 10-1/2 tons. The Mersey Iron-Works guns are of wrought-iron, and
are forged solid like steamboat-shafts, or hollow by laying up staves
into the form of a barrel and welding layers of curved plates upon
them until the whole mass is united. But few of these guns have
been fabricated. The most remarkable of them are, 1st, the Horsfall
smooth-bore, of 13 inches bore, 44 inches maximum diameter, and 24
tons weight,--price, $12,500; 2d, the "Alfred" rifle, in the recent
Exhibition, of 10 inches bore,--price, $5,000; 3d, the 12-inch
smooth-bore in the Brooklyn Navy-Yard, which, though very light, has
fired a double 224-pound shot with 45 pounds of powder: if properly
hooped, it would make the most formidable gun in America. Blakely has
constructed for Russia two 13-inch smooth-bore guns, 15 feet long and 47
inches maximum diameter, of cast-iron hooped with steel: price, $10,000
each. He has also fabricated many others of large calibre, on the
principles before mentioned. The 15-inch Rodman smooth-bore cast-iron
gun is of 48 inches maximum diameter, 15 feet 10 inches long, and weighs
25 tons. The cost of such guns is about $6,000. The Dahlgren 15-inch
guns on the Monitors are about four feet shorter.
_Results of Heavy Ordnance_. The 10-1/2-inch Armstrong gun sent a round
150-pound shot, with 50 pounds of powder, through a 5-1/2-inch solid
plate and its 9-inch teak backing and 5/8-inch iron lining, at 200
yards, and one out of four shots with the same charge through the
Warrior target, namely, a 4-1/2-inch solid plate, 18-inch backing, and
5/8-inch lining. The Horsfall 13-inch gun sent a round 270-pound shot,
with 74 pounds of powder, entirely through the Warrior target at 200
yards, making an irregular hole about 2 feet in diameter. The same
charge at 800 yards did not make a clean breach. The Whitworth
shell burst in the backing of the same target has been referred to.
Experiments on the effect of the 15-inch gun are now in progress. Its
hollow 375-pound shot (3-inch walls) was broken without doing serious
damage to 10-1/2-inch laminated armor backed with 18 inches of oak.
The comparative test of solid and laminated armor has already been
mentioned. The best 4-1/2-inch solid plates, well backed, are
practically proof against the guns of English iron-clads, namely,
68-pounder smooth-bores and Armstrong 110-pounder rifles, the service
charge of each being 16 pounds.
_Rifling and Projectiles_. The spherical shot, presenting a larger area
to the action of the powder, for a given weight, than the elongated
rifle-shot, has a higher initial velocity with a given charge; and all
the power applied to it is converted into velocity, while a part of the
power applied to the rifle-shot is employed in spinning it on its axis.
But, as compared with the rifle-shot, at long ranges, it quickly loses,
1st, velocity, because it presents a larger area to the resisting air;
2d, penetration, because it has to force a larger hole through the
armor; and 3d, accuracy, because the spinning of the rifle-shot
constantly shifts from side to side any inaccuracy of weight it may
have on either side of its centre, so that it has no time to deviate in
either direction. Practically, however, iron-clad warfare must be
at close quarters, because it is almost impossible to _aim_ any gun
situated on a movable ship's deck so that it will hit a rapidly moving
object at a distance. It is believed by some authorities that elongated
shot can be sufficiently well balanced to be projected accurately
from smooth-bores; still, it is stated by Whitworth and others that a
spinning motion is necessary to keep an elongated shot on end while
passing through armor. On the whole, so far as penetrating armor is
concerned, the theory and practice favor the spherical shot. But a more
destructive effect than mere penetration has been alluded to,--the
bursting of a shell within the backing of an iron-clad vessel. This
can be accomplished only by an elongated missile with a solid head for
making the hole and a hollow rear for holding the bursting charge. The
rifle-shot used in America, and the Armstrong and some other European
shot, are covered with soft metal, which in muzzle-loaders is expanded
by the explosion so as to fill the grooves of the gun, and in
breech-loaders is planed by the lands of the gun to fit the
rifling,--all of which is wasteful of power. Whitworth employs a solid
iron or steel projectile dressed by machinery beforehand to fit the
rifling. But as the bore of his gun is hexagonal, the greater part of
the power employed to spin the shot tends directly to burst the gun.
Captain Scott, R.N., employs a solid projectile dressed to fit by
machinery; but the surfaces of the lands upon which the shot presses are
radial to the bore, so that the rotation of the shot tends, not to split
the gun, but simply to rotate it in the opposite direction.
_Mounting Heavy Ordnance_, so that it may be rapidly manoeuvred on
shipboard and protected from the enemy's shot, has been the subject of
so much ingenious experiment and invention, that in a brief paper it can
only be alluded to in connection with the following subject:--
THE STRUCTURE OF WAR-VESSELS.
_Size_. To attain high speed and carry heavy armor and armament,
war-vessels must be of large dimensions. By doubling all the lineal
dimensions of a vessel of given form, her capacity is increased eight
fold, that is to say, she can carry eight times as much weight of
engines, boilers, armor, and guns. Meanwhile her resistance is only
quadrupled; so that to propel each ton of her weight requires but half
the power necessary to propel each ton of the weight of a vessel of
half the dimensions. High speed is probably quite as important as
invulnerability. Light armor is a complete protection against the most
destructive shells, and the old wooden frigates could stand a
long battle with solid shot. But without superior speed, the most
invulnerable and heavily armed vessel could neither keep within
effective range of her enemy, nor run her down as a ram, nor retreat
when overpowered. And a very fast vessel can almost certainly run past
forts, as they are ordinarily situated, at some distance from the
channel, without being hit. Indeed, the difficulty of hitting a moving
object with heavy cannon is so great that slow wooden ships do not
hesitate to encounter forts and to reduce them, for a moving ship can be
so manoeuvred as to hit a stationary fort.
The disadvantages of large ships are, first, great draught. Although
draught need not be increased in the same degree as length, a stable
and seaworthy model cannot be very shallow or flat-bottomed. Hence the
harbors in which very large vessels can manoeuvre are few, and there
must be a light-draught class of vessels to encounter enemies of light
draught, although they cannot be expected to cope very successfully with
fast and heavy vessels. Second, a given sum expended exclusively in
large vessels concentrates coast-defences upon a few points, while, if
it is devoted to a greater number, consisting partly of small vessels,
the line of defences is made more continuous and complete.
_System of Protection_. But the effectiveness of war-vessels need not
depend solely upon their size. First, twice or thrice the power may
be obtained, with the same weight of boilers and machinery, and with
considerable economy, by carrying very much higher steam, employing
simple surface-condensers, and maintaining a high rate of combustion and
vaporization, in accordance with the best commercial-marine practice.
Second, _the battery may be reduced in extent_, and the armor thus
increased rather than diminished in thickness, with a given buoyancy. At
the same time, _the fewer guns may be made available in all directions
and more rapidly worked_, so that, on the whole, a small ship thus
improved will be a match in every respect for a large ship as ordinarily
constructed. Working the guns in small revolving turrets, as by
Ericsson's or by Coles's plan, and loading and cooling them by
steam-power, and taking up their recoil by springs in a short space,
as by Stevens's plan, are improvements in this direction. The plan of
elevating a gun above a shot-proof deck at the moment of aiming and
firing, and dropping it for loading or protection by means of hydraulic
cylinders, and the plan of placing a gun upon the top of the armor-clad
portion of the ship, covering it with a shot-proof hood, and loading it
from below, and the plan of a rotating battery, in which one gun is in a
position to fire while the others attached to the same revolving frame
are loading,--all these obviously feasible plans have the advantages of
avoiding port-holes in the inhabited and vital parts of the vessel, of
rendering the possible bursting of a gun comparatively harmless to the
crew and ship, and of rapid manoeuvring, as compared with the turret
system, besides all the advantages of the turret as compared with the
casemate or old-fashioned broadside system. The necessity of fighting
at close quarters has been remarked. At close quarters, musket-balls,
grape, and shells can be accurately thrown into ordinary port-holes,
which removes the necessity of smashing any other holes in the armor.
Protection at, and extending several feet below the water-line, is
obviously indispensable around the battery of a vessel. It is valuable
at other points, but not indispensable, provided the vessel has numerous
horizontal and vertical bulkheads to prevent too great a loss of
buoyancy when the vessel is seriously damaged between wind and water.
Harbor-craft may be very low on the water, so that only a little height
of protection is required. But it is generally supposed that sea-going
vessels must be high out of water. Mr. Ericsson's practice, however, is
to the contrary; and it may turn out that a low vessel, over which the
sea makes a clean breach, can be made sufficiently buoyant on his plan,
If high sides are necessary, the plan of Mr. Lungley, of London, may be
adopted,--a streak of protection at the water-line, and another
forming at the top of the battery at the top of the structure, with an
intermediate unprotected space. A shot-proof deck at the water-line, and
the necessary shot-proof passages leading from the parts below water to
the battery, would of course be necessary.
Considering the many expedients for vastly increasing the thickness of
armor, the idea, somewhat widely expressed, especially in England,
that, in view of the exploits of Armstrong, Clay, and Whitworth,
iron-protection must be abandoned, is at least premature. The manner in
which the various principles of construction have thus far been carried
out will be noticed in a brief.
_Description of Prominent Iron-Clad Vessels_. CLASS I. Classified with
reference to the protection, the dimensions of the English Warrior
and Black Prince are, length 380 feet, beam 58 feet, depth 33 feet,
measurement 6,038 tons. Their armor (previously described) extends from
the upper deck down to 5 feet below water, throughout 200 feet of the
length amidships. Vertical shot-proof bulkheads joining the side armor
form a box or casemate in the middle of the vessel, in which the 26
casemate-guns, mostly 68-pounder smooth-bores, are situated and fired
through port-holes in the ordinary manner. Their speed on trial is about
14 knots,--at sea, about 12. The Defence and Resistance, of 275 feet
length and 3,668 tons, and carrying 14 casemate-guns, are similarly
constructed, though their speed is slow. All these vessels are built
entirely of iron.
CLASS II. This differs from the first mentioned in having protection all
around at the water-line. The New Ironsides, (American,) of 3,250 tons,
240 feet length, 58-1/2 feet beam, 28-1/2 feet depth, and 15 feet
draught, and built of wood, has 4-1/2-inch solid armor with 2 feet
backing, extending from the upper deck down to 4 feet below water, with
vertical bulkheads like the Warrior, making a casemate 170 feet long, in
which there are sixteen 11-inch smooth-bores and two 200-pounder Parrott
rifles. A streak of armor, 4 feet below water and 3 feet above, runs
from this forward and aft entirely around the vessel. Her speed is 8
knots. The Stevens Battery, (American,) 6,000 tons, constructed of iron
and nearly completed, is 420 feet long, 53 feet wide, and 28 feet deep
from the top of the casemate, and is iron-clad from end to end along the
water-line. As proposed to the last Congress, the central casemate was
to be about 120 feet long on the top, its sides being inclined 27-1/2
degrees from the horizon, and composed of 6-3/4 inches of iron, 14
inches of locust backing, and a half-inch iron lining. Upon the top of
it, and to be loaded and manoeuvred from within it, were to be five
15-inch smooth-bores and two 10-inch rifled guns clad with armor. The
actual horse-power of this ship being above 8,000, her speed would be
much higher than that of any other war-vessel. Congress, declining to
make an appropriation to complete this vessel, made it over to Mr.
Stevens, who had already borne a considerable portion of its cost, and
who intends to finish it at his own expense, and is now experimenting to
still further perfect his designs. The Achilles (English) now building
of iron, about the size of the Warrior, and of 6,039 tons, with a
casemate 200 feet long holding 26 guns, belongs to this class. The
Enterprise, 180 feet length, 990 tons, 4 casemate-guns, and the
Favorite, 220 feet length, 2,168 tons, 8 casemate-guns, are building in
England on the same plan. The Solferino and Magenta, (French,) built
of wood, and a little longer than the Royal Oak, (see Class III.,) are
iron-clad all round up to the main deck, and have two 13-gun casemates
CLASS III. The Minotaur, Agincourt, and Northumberland, 6,621 tons, and
390 feet length, resembling, but somewhat larger than the Warrior, in
all their proportions, and now on the stocks in England; are built of
iron, and are to have 5-1/2-inch armor and 9-inch backing extending
through their whole length from the upper deck to 5 feet below water,
forming a casemate from stem to stern, to hold 40 broadside-guns. Five
vessels of the Royal-Oak class, 4,055 tons, building in England, 277
feet long and 58-1/2 feet wide, are of wood, being partially constructed
frigates adapted to the new service, and are iron-clad throughout their
length and height to 5 feet below water. They are to carry thirty-two
68-pounders. The Hector and Valiant, 4,063 tons, and 275 feet long, are
English iron vessels not yet finished. They are completely protected,
and carry 30 casemate-guns. All the above vessels are to carry two or
more Armstrong swivel-guns fore and aft. Four vessels of La Gloire
class, (French,) 255 feet long and built of wood, resembling the Royal
Oak, carry 34 guns, and are completely clad in 4-1/2-inch solid armor.
Ten French vessels, of a little larger dimensions, are similarly
constructed. The Galena (American) is of this class as to extent of
protection. The quality of her armor has been referred to.
CLASS IV. _Ships with Revolving Turrets_. The Roanoke, (American,) a
razeed wooden frigate of 4,500 tons, is 265 feet long, 521/2 feet wide,
and 32 feet deep, and will draw about 21 feet, and have a speed of 8 to
9 knots. This and all the vessels to be referred to in this class are
iron-clad from end to end, and from the upper deck to 4 or 5 feet below
the water-line. The Roanoke's plates (solid) are 4-1/2 inches thick,
except at the ends, where they are 3-1/2, and are backed with 30 inches
of oak. She has three turrets upon her main-deck, each 21 feet in
diameter inside, 9 feet high, and composed of 11 thicknesses of 1-inch
plates. Her armament is six 15-inch guns, two in each turret. Of the
Monitors, which are all constructed of iron, two now building are to
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