Page images

the means of giving it effect when it was seen to be feasible.

His first heliostat is the only contrivance which looks as if it had been reached by a process of reasoning. It was a solution by construction of a problem in geometry -the construction done in delicate machinery. His other contrivances were all hits; the conception of them must have flashed on his mind. The idea of placing a small lime-ball in the focus of a reflector as a source of light, was an exceedingly happy one. The device for regulating the rates of expansion in the measuring bars was novel, and almost as ingenious as that for marking the compensation points. The second heliostat, with its accompanying ring, must have presented itself to his imagination in a flash of thought. Nothing could be more simple or perfect for its objects.

It cannot be said, however, in regard to any of his principal contrivances that the germal idea belonged to him. The principle of compensation is the honour of Graham and Harrison. Drummond's merit, assuming it to have been his, was that he made a novel application of it. The use of the solar reflection to mark a station was as old as General Roy—probably, as Larcom remarks, coeval with the earliest geodetical operations of any magnitude. Drummond made its use easy and certain, superseding the difficult computations that had previously been required for each station.* The oxyhydrogen light was known before Drummond gave to it celebrity and his name; yet in this, as in the preceding cases, the merit of what he did was of a high order.

It consisted,” says Herschel, “ in the ready seizure of

* Gauss, in Germany, was earlier than Drummond in constructing a heliostat, but Drummond was quite unacquainted with the instrument of Gauss, or the fact that it existed.

fact precisely bearing on his own case, and its perfectly effective application to a particular object in view.” “ His merit,” says Larcom," was in rendering practically useful a recondite experiment—by devising a means of procuring and using without danger agents so turbulent as the mixed gases, making the apparatus sufficiently portable and simple to be employed in the circumstances of exposure required for the Survey, and, perhaps more than all, for the happy idea of using the minute spherule of concentrated light as the radiating focus of a parabolic mirror.” After every limitation has been stated, it remains that his applications of preexisting elements affect the mind with the full impression of originality.

The power of contrivance is essentially one with the faculty of discovery. Both depend on the perception of secret relations. In which way the faculty may manifest itself, is a matter of circumstances. In Drummond's case it was exercised in the sphere of duty in which he was placed, and to which he devoted his energies. It can scarcely be doubted that the same power exercised in a different sphere would have won for him a high place in the list of names celebrated in the history of scientific discovery.





MR DRUMMOND now enjoyed the friendship of Lord Brougham. It was of still greater importance that he had earned the confidence of the whole Ministry. Having done so, it was unlikely that he would be long left unemployed. In April 1833 he was solicited by Lord Althorp, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to become his private secretary.

He did not accept the post at once. The dissuasions from a political career were renewed with increased force. There were other reasons for hesitation. Should he give up professional certainty for temporary political employment ? He was not rich. To accept might be to desert military for civil pursuits, to forego the “standing” which he now had in the Engineers—he was still Lieutenant Drummond-and, as it were, to begin life again in a sphere remarkable for its uncertainties and vicissitudes.

One whom he consulted as to his course was his friend Mr Bellenden Ker. Miss Martineau, who often met him in the pleasant society of the Kers, gives some account of the conference. “One evening,” she says, “stands out clear in my memory among many which I spent in Mr Drummond's company. I was spending a day and night at the Kers'. After dinner Lieutenant Drummond called, and presently he asked for a private interview with Mr Ker. They just stayed with us for tea, and retired ; and it was very late before they looked in upon us.

On his part it was only to say, “Good night,' and then Mr Ker told us what it was about. Lord Althorp, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had sent for Mr Drummond to ask him to be his private secretary, dwelling much on this being the united wish of the Cabinet.' Mr Drummond also dwelt much on this, and so did Mr Ker in telling us—repeating the words again and again. Mr Ker's answer to the request for advice was not advice, but setting forth the alternative choice of scientific and political life. Mr Drummond was quite sure that he could hold by his profession, and return to it at pleasure. Mr Ker insisted that, whatever Mr Drummond now believed and intended, he would pass over entirely into political life, and live and die in it. They left off, differing as to the liberty which would remain if the office were accepted, but both evidently wishing that it should be accepted. Mr Ker fully believed that night that it would be, and he certainly desired it.”* In the end he did accept the office, and became for a time the right hand of Lord Althorp.

Lord Althorp (afterwards Earl Spencer) was leader of the House of Commons as well as Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that Drummond's attention was now directed to all the political questions of the time. He was at once doing good work and serving an appren

* Letter to Mr Robert Cox of Edinburgh, June 17, 1865.

“ This gives

ticeship “ The duties of his office,” says General Larcom,“

gave him much valuable insight into the details of public life, but were chiefly useful in enabling him to cement the esteem in which he was held by the members of the Government, and by none more than his noble chief, to whom the clearness of his conceptions and the straight-forward honesty of his mind were eminently congenial. There could be no greater compliment paid to him than was paid by Lord Spencer. 'One of the most pleasing recollections of his political life,' he is stated to have said, 'was that it made him acquainted with Mr Drummond.'”

The friendship which sprang up between his lordship and Mr Drummond continued till death interrupted it. In 1839 Lord Spencer, hearing that Drummond was in London, wrote to him to come to Althorp. me a chance of seeing you again once more before I die.” Death was, however, to overtake the younger man first. When it did, the noble lord hastened to address to the bereaved mother words of comfort and consolation. It would be unfair to cite the tribute be then paid to the amiable qualities and indefatigable energy of his friend; a tribute in which, to enhance the merit of another, he made a surrender of much that was his own. The language of consolation is apt to be exaggerated, and eulogy in such a case to be strained to yield comfort. There must, however, have been a substantial foundation for the great regard, admiration, and appreciation which that letter expressed.

During 1833, Drummond's mother and sister were residing in London or its vicinity, and the correspondence, by means of which his course of action has so often been tracked, was suspended. From Miss Martineau, however, we have some notes of his occupations. “As

« PreviousContinue »