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Art. I.--Biographical Notice of David Rittenhouse. DURING the progress of this work, we have presented
our read. ers, with a series of biographical sketches of many of the most distinguished American warriors and statesmen.
In the present number, we introduce an American philosopher, and one who has honoured our country, equally by his genius and his virtues. In the active operations of war and of government, it is comparatively easy, for a man of talents, to place himself in a prominent point of view, and to command the notice of his fellow-citizens. But how few are the men of science, who have been able, by the quiet labours of the closet, thus to attract the public attention: in our own country, alas, how very
few! The first of the ancestors of Dr. Rittenhouse, of whom we have any certain information, was his grandfather Nicholas Rittenhouse, who migrated from Holland to New York, about the year 1690, and soon afterwards, removed with his family to the neighbourhood of Germantown, about eight miles from Philadelphia; where he had the merit of establishing the first paper-mill, ever erected in America. Matthias, the youngest son of this respectable man, was the father of our philosopher. He was born at the paper-mills, in the year 1703, and continued there until he was 29 years of age; when, in consequence of his father's death, he abandoned the occupation of a paper-maker, removed to a piece of land which he had purchased in the township of Norriton, about twenty miles from Philadelphia, and commenced the business of a farmer. About three years prior to this removal, he married Elizabeth Williams, who was born in 1704, and was the daughter of Evan Williams, a native of Wales. By this wife, he had four sons and six daughters. The three eldest of the children were born at the place of their father's nativity, the others at Norriton. Of the former number, was David, the eldest son, and the subject of the present biography, who was born on the eighth day of April, 1732.
The early part of the life of Dr. Řittenhouse was spent in agri. cultural employments, under the direction of his father. Yet, even amid the obscurity of these humble labours, proofs of his peculiar genius were not wanting. His younger brother, Benjamin, has re;
lated, that, while David was employed in the fields, he repeatedly observed the fences, and even the plough with which he had been working, marked over with mathematical figures. The construction of a wooden clock exhibited the first evidence of his mechanical talents. He was then but seventeen years of age, and had never received any instructions either in mathematics or mechanics. As the delicacy of his constitution and the irresistible impulse of his genius unfitted him for the labours of husbandry, his parents, soon after this period, consented to his abandoning this employment, and procured for him the necessary tools for the business of a clock and mathematical instrument maker, which he then adopted as his profession.
From the age of eighteen to twenty-five, Mr. Rittenhouse applied himself with the greatest assiduity, both to his trade and to his studies. Engaged throughout the day in his attention to the former, it was only the time commonly assigned to rest, or, to use his own expression, his idle hours, that he could devote to the latter. Yet his success was astonishing. With sọ little time at his command, with but two or three books, and without the least instruction, he acquired so considerable a knowledge of the mathematical sciences, as to be able to read the Principia of sir Isaac Newton. It is even asserted, that, by the force of his own profound meditations, he was enabled to discover the method of fluxions; and that he did not know, until some years afterwards, that two of the greatest philosophers of Europe, Newton and Leibnitz, had contested the honour of an invention, of which he had once believed himself the author.
It was during this double employment of his time, in , labour and in study, that Mr. Rittenhouse planned and executed an instrument, in which his mathematical knowledge and his mechanical skill were equally required. This instrument was the ORRERY. Machines intended to give to the student of astronomy a general conception of the relative motions of the heavenly bodies had been constructed before: but this was not the object contemplated by Mr. Rittenhouse. The great mechanical problem which he proposed to solve, was infinitely more difficult and more worthy of his ambition. It was to construct an instrument, by means of which he could exhibit, with accuracy, the positions of the planets andtheir satellites at any given period of the world past, present or future. It was, in fact, to make a kind of perpetual astronomical almanac, in which the results, instead of being given in tables, were to be actually exhibited to the eye. In this noble attempt, he succeeded. Two of these orreries were made by his own hands. One belongs to the university of Pennsylvania, the other to the college of New Jersey.
Every person, at all acquainted with astronomy, has heard of the transit of Venus over the sun's disk, which happened on the third of June, 1769, and has been made acquainted with the very great importance of this phenomenon. In order to observe so rare