Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 1


J~IQGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 172 No. LXXV. DR. HENRY MOYES, LECTURER ON CHEMISTRY, ETC. DR. MOYES was born in the year 1750 at Kirkcaldy, in the county of Fife. What station in society his father held, and even what profession he followed, we are not told. It seems probable, however, that he was possessed of some property, because his son was sent to college and enjoyed the behefit of a liberal education. He lost his sight, when about three years old, by the small-pox, so that he hardly retained any recollection of having ever seen. Yet he stated that he remembered having once observed a water-mill in motion, and that, even at that early age, his attention was attracted by the circumstance of the water flowing in one direction, while the wheel turned round in the opposite. This he represented as having staggered his infant mind before he could comprehend it. He was sent to school, but what was his progress there is unknown, From thence he was removed to the University, where, judging from his subsequent acquirements, it is to be presumed he made considerable progress. One thing is certain, that in early life he undoubtedly acquired the fundamental principles of mechanics, music, and the languages ; and displayed a knowledge of geometry, algebra, optics, astronomy, chemistry, and in short of most of the branches of the Newtonian philosophy. He seems to have delighted in, and to have had a great taste for mechanics, for we are told that at a very early age he made himself acquainted with the use of edge-tools so perfectly that he was able to make little wind-mills, and even constructed a loom with his own hands. His first attempt at delivering public lectures commenced at Edinburgh, where he lectured on the theory and practice of music, but not meeting with the encouragement he expected, he relinquished the design. What was the more immediate cause of his resolving to deliver a course of lectures on chemistry is unknown ; but it was probably the interesting and miscellaneous nature of the subjects treated of, the reputation of Dr. Black, professor of that science in Edinburgh, who was then in his zenith, and the uncommon avidity with which his class was attended by the students. As he was the first blind man who proposed to lecture on chemistry, the novelty of the proposal naturally excited curiosity and attention.' But so careless have been his biographers, that they Dr, Moyes' lectures were usually well attended. During his stay in Edinburgh a curious mistake occurred betwixt two ladies. The one being from the country, and having heard of the celebrated conjuror, Doctor Boaz, who was at the same t i e giving lectures on the art of legerdemain, her curiosity was on edge to witness his sleight-of-hand. The city dame, who of come was her cicerone on 2 A
Volume 8 Page 251
  Enlarge Enlarge  
128 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. have not mentioned in what year he commenced, ho< many courses he delivered, nor whether he made any attempt at this time in any other city or town of his native country. There was nothing very remarkable in his manner. Hia voice was good, and his articulation excellent. There was no appearance of affectation or cbnceit, nor of that impudent forwardness which gives offence and creates disgust. Nevertheless, he never seemed in the least degree embarrassed, but handled his subject in such a way as to convince his audience that he was well prepared The accuracy of his language, considering the disadvantages with which he ' had to contend, was wonderful ; and if there were any defect, it consisted in sometimes making use of very bold metaphors, which could have been as well spared. His epithets were in general well applied, and seldom had a tendency towards bombast. The address which he discovered in performing experiments excited great interest in the company present, and afforded them the highest pleasure. He left Scotland in 1779, and directed his route towards England; but in what part of the country he commenced his career is not known. From the strong partiality to Manchester which he retained during the whole subsequent part of his life, it is conjectured he made his debut in that place. As a proof of the liberal manner in which he was treated in England, it is sufficient to mention that he spent six years in making a tour through it, He delivered lectures not only in the capital, but almost in every city and considerable town. The introductions which he carried from one part of the country to another, were from persons of the first character and influence in society, and he had the art of rendering himself so agreeable to those whom he visited, that he was much courted, and every person was proud to do him a service. In most places which he visited it was reckoned a distinguished honour to be admitted into his company, and have an opportunity of listening to the conversation of so uncommon a genius, who, though blind from his infancy, had acquired so large a stock of curious, useful, and miscellaneous knowledge. His audience consisted of the most respectable people of the towns through which he passed. Dr. Moyes did not rest satisfied with having accomplished many laborious journeys through South Britain. His aspiring temper and enterprising genius contemplated with ardour the idea of crossing the Atlantic, and pushing his fortune in America. He was received with open arms by the Americans. His fame had gone before him, and in his progress through the continent of America he conversed with such persons as were distinguished for their learning and love of science. In some places the crowds that repaired to his lectures were exceedingly great. The churches-that is, the places generally appropriated to the purposes of public all occasions, misunderstood the expression of her friend, and thought she meant the blind lecturer, Dr. Moyes. Chairs being ordered for the two ladies, they were accordingly set down at the lectureroom of the philosopher. The country lady anxiously waited for a display of those wonderful tricks she had anticipated ; but wag at last astonished, although not the less gratified, to find that she had been made an unintentional auditor.of an interesting experimental lecture on chemistry. We have heard him lecture. Accordingly, for this purpose, he set sail in 1785.
Volume 8 Page 252
  Enlarge Enlarge