they have communicated, that the “ Mechanics' MAGAZINE” chiefly owes its pre-eminent usefulness among the publications of the day. We have to congratulate our Correspondents of this class, generally, on the marked improvement which has taken place in their style of writing since they were first encouraged to avail themselves of this medium of conveying their thoughts and observations to the world. In some instances it has been such as to excite our astonishment. We could mention more than one or two well-informed individuals whose first rude attempts at composition saw the light in the pages of the Mechanics' MAGAZINE, and who already write with a facility, exactness, and even elegance, that would do honour to any work. Be these our triumphs! Be results like these our defence when blamed, as we have been, for giving too ready admission to the imperfect essays of young and uncultivated genius! The magnates of science may lord it, without invasion from us, over the domains of the erudite and profound; we shall be content to have it acknowledged that, by the encouragement of simple and useful inquiry, we have added to the number of practical philosophers !", "SILO!desitiis

November 1st, 1825.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

Tak late Mr. John Rennie, the first civil engineer in this country since the death of Smeaton, Mr. John Brown, perhaps the first scientific and practical agriculturist in Scotland, and Mr. Nicholson, the subject of this Memoir, were all born within half a mile, and within a few years, of each other; they learned to read and write at the same school, and under the same master. The place of their birth was the parish of Prestonkirk, in the county of East Lothian; and the name of their schoolmaster Richardson, the brother of an architect of that name, who published several works, consisting of designs, a treatise on the different Orders of Architecture, &c. Mr. Nicholson was the youngest of the three; when he went to school, Mr. Brown had left, and Mr. Rennie was just about leaving it. -Young Nicholson, at a very early age, even before he went to school, evinced a strong mechanical genius, and also a turn for drawing whatever presented itself to him, whether of animated nature, or of works of art.

On the opposite side of a small river, on the northern bank of which his father's house stood, was a small mill for dressing barley ; and at no great distance, on the same small river, were a saw, flour, and snuff mills ; from which the ingenious boy was enabled to model many sorts of machines with considerable exactness and skill.

It is to be regretted, that while every attention is paid to the education of some young persons, who undervalue opportunity and refuse instruction, others, who have both the capacity and inclination to learn, are often deprived of the means, or, at least, but very scantily supplied with them. Young Nicholson was in the latter situation; three years' instruction being the most he ever had at the before-mentioned country school, which he left at the age of twelve. Although his scholastic instructions were very limited, yet being bent on inquiry, and decidedly of a mathematical turn, he made by his own efforts considerable progress. Having borrowed from another boy, much older than himself, a copy of Commandine's Euclid, translated by Cunn he soon made himself master of the first and second Books, and got as far as the 18th Proposition in the third; but the plate which contained the diagrams to which the demonstrations refer being wanting, he constructed the figures from the problems without the assistance of any copy.

At about the age of twelve, he assisted his father at his business of a stone-mason ; but as he never could relish that occupation, his parents had too much good sense and natural affection to force his inclination, and he was, at the end of a year, bound apprentice to a cabinet-maker, in the neighbouring village of Linton, for four years, during which time he employed every spare moment in improving himself,



At the expiry of his apprenticeship he went to Edinburgh, to work as a journeyman, where he studied mathematics more generally from Ward's Introduction. As a reference from some of the books he had read excited an uncommon desire to acquire a knowledge of the fuxionary calculus, he went to a then noted bookseller, Mr. Bell, in Parliament-square, and looked over the prefaces and contents of several books, when the Introduction to Emerson's Fluxions determined him to give it the preference; but the scanty wages which he received for his labour being scarcely sufficient for necessaries, he had not the means of paying for it. Mr. Bell, however, wishing to give every encouragement to a young man in pursuit of knowledge, although a mere stranger, told him to take the book, and pay for it at his convenience, which accordingly was done.

Emerson's Treatise on Fluxions has been generally allowed to be the most difficult on this branch of analytical science ; it was not long, however, before Mr. Nicholson obtained a complete knowledge of the first principles, and the pleasure which resulted from their application to so many sublime problems, so encouraged him as to make him surinount every other difficulty, in whatever part of the work his inclination led him to study. · Mr. Nicholson came to London about the age of twenty, and for some time pursued his favourite studies of the mathematical sciences at his leisure hours in the evenings; at length, however, he dropped the pursuit of analytical subjects, and continued to study geometry only, as being more congenial to his views. ..

About his twenty-fourth year he had given such proofs among his fellowworkmen of his knowledge in the geometrical constructions of carpentry and joinery, that many of them solicited to become his pupils; he therefore opened a school in Berwick-street for the instruction of young workmen. His success in teaching soon brought him a very great influx of pupils, raising him above the level of a mere journeyman ; and this gave him leisure to invent and arrange the materials for a new and original treatise on carpentry and joinery, called “ The Carpenter's New Guide,” and published in 1792. The plates of this work were engraved by himself. Besides the improvement in various kinds of groins which are to be found in this work, he introduced the construction of spherical niches, both upon straight and circular plans: Before that publication appeared, no work on the practical parts of building had shown, generally, how the sections and coverings of solids were obtainable from their definitions. The principles went only to find the section of a right cylinder, perpendicular to a given plane, parallel to its axis and to the covering of such a cylinder, and that of the frustrum of a right cone. Some attempts to obtain the same result had, indeed, previously been made, but they were erroneous and abortive; and as they had not succeeded with the plane sections and coverings of simple solids, they could scarcely be expected to give rules for the construction of the intersection of any two surfaces, or curves of double curvature, of which the variety is almost infinite.

Besides Mr. Nicholson's own inventions, he has both simplified and generalized the old methods, which were only applicable to particular circumstances. His rules for finding the sections of a prism, cylinder, or MEMOIR OF MR. PETER NICHOLSON.

cylindroid, through any three given points, whether in or out of the surface of the body to be cut, enable workmen to execute hand-rails without difficulty, and from the least possible quantity of material. His principles on the intersection of solids extend to groins and arches of almost every description. The coverings of polygonal and circular domes had been exhibited in several prior publications on Carpentry and Building, but no author had ever shown how these coverings were to be formed without the actual plan, which might be very inconvenient to draw, on account of the great space it required: nor had any method for covering domes upon an elliptic plan been given. The “ Carpenter's New Guide” is one of his first and most useful works : it has gone through seven editions, and is, we believe, still as much in request as ever.

The “ Student's Instructor” was published immediately after the “ Carpenter's New Guide,” and was followed by the “ Joiner's Assistant,” a work abounding with useful information, either to those who might be employed to make working drawings, or in the superintendence of buildings. Here several of the articles which were slightly treated of in the “ Carpenter's Guide,” are more fully explained, and extended to sufficient length. Besides the designs of roofs actually executed which it contains, it was the first work that treated on the methods of forming the joints, hinging and hanging doors and shutters. It has now reached to the fourth edition.

The “ Principles of Architecture,” in three volumes, octavo, appeared in 1779; till which time, all publications on that subject were greatly deficient in mathematical principles. In the latter publication was introduced a System of Practical Geometry, containing many new problems of great utility to builders.

Mr. Nicholson was the first who noticed, in this publication, that Grecian mouldings are conic sections, and that the volutes of the Ionic capital ought to be composed of logarithnic spirals, for which he accordingly gave rules for the describing of arches, mouldings, and spirals, of so general a nature as to be applicable in all cases. He is considered to have been the first to show how to describe any number of revolutions between any two giren points in a given radius, in which the centre of the spiral was given ; and thus he generalized the principles of De L'Orme and Goldman, whose methods were limited to three revolutions, and the eye of each of their volutes to one-eighth part of the whole length. This work was also the first that contained universal methods for projecting plans and elevations, with the method of finding their shadows.

Mr. Nicholson returned to Scotland in the year 1800, and, after staying a few months in his native village, went to Glasgow, where he practised with honour and reputation as an architect. Among the numerous edifices executed in and about that city from his designs, and which are esteemed classical models of taste by those who are best qualified to judge, were Carlton Place, an addition to the College Buildings, the wooden bridge over the River Clyde, and the town of Ardrossan, in Ayrshire, designed as a bathingplace at the request of the Earl of Eglinton.

In the year 1808, Mr. Nicholson renioved to Carlisle, in Cumberland, having been appointed architect for the new Court Houses, then begun,

« ForrigeFortsett »