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as for a patient and unremitting care, extending even to the most trivial tasks and incidents." Is not this the type of man that the England of the twentieth century must also cherish?
Lyon Playfair was born in India, and sent home when little more than an infant, to St. Andrews, where his grandfather was Principal of the University, and one of his uncles became his guardian, placing him in the care of a widowed sister. Six years later his mother brought the younger children also home, and herself undertook the oversight of her family. He was a young man when he first made real acquaintance with his father, on his return from India, where he held high position in the medical service of the East India Company. Lyon was but a lad of fourteen when he was enrolled as a student in the University. One of his earlier recollections was a lecture on "Water."
I recollect copying the lecturer's description of water.-Water, said the philosopher, is composed of two abysmal elements, possible of only one in fundamental differentiation of molecular construction. It is a fluid of exquisite limpidity, capable of solidification on one side, and gasificaton on the other. In the solid state it belongs to the hexagonal system, and is a double six-sided pyramid with one axis of double refraction. Solid, liquid, gaseous, it is a type of matter.
When his mother returned to India, he was sent to an uncle's office in Glasgow, but was allowed to enter upon a course of study for medicine. Then he entered the Andersonian College and placed himself under Professor Graham, one of the most original investigators of his time. Amongst his fellow students were Livingstone and James Young, the founder of the paraffin-oil industry, who always ascribed his success in the world to a practical
suggestion from Playfair. Livingstone occasionally wrote to him from Africa on subjects of scientific interest, but it was not till twenty years later, when they met, that he identified the traveller with the shy companion of student days.
When his wife returned to Scotland, early in 1859, she came direct, and without notice, to my house in Edinburgh. There happened to be a large dinner party when Mrs. Livingstone, whom I had never seen, was ushered into the dining room, in naturally a travel-stained dress. The announcement of her name assured her the warmest reception from every one. Mrs. Livingstone was most anxious to join her children that night, but did not know their address, although she thought they lived in one of the longest streets of the city. I immediately got two or three porters to divide the street between them, and call at every house. In time we discovered the address of the lady to whom the children had come on a visit, and the anxious mother was able to join them.
To his great disappointment, Playfair was obliged to abandon his medical studies, the atmosphere both of the dissecting rooms and the hospital affecting his health. His father advised him to seek a career in India, but the scientific men in Calcutta were slow to perceive his true calling, and several of them, without saying anything to him, wrote to his father, who was in the Upper Provinces, advising that he should be sent back to Europe to finish his chemical studies. His father at once advised his going back to London, and joining his old teacher Graham, who had become professor at University College. Graham appointed him private assistant in his researches, and the next year sent him to Giessen in Germany, to study under Liebig, who greeted him with words that showed he was already acquainted with
his attainments. He gave in his name and introduced himself as a pupil of Graham's, when Liebig laughingly said, "You might have added that you are the discoverer of iodo-sulphuric acid," which he had recently described. This may be said to be the turning point in his career. Liebig set him quickly to work; sent him to be his representative at the next meeting of the British Association, and not long afterwards engaged him to translate his "Chemistry of Agriculture.” When, two years later, Liebig visited England, Playfair was his companion and cicerone in a series of visits which he made to the great agriculturists, and his name thus became closely associated with one of European fame.
While he was still at Geissen, he received an offer from Mr. Thompson, of Clitheroe, to become chemical manager of his calico printing works. He was to meet him in London at twelve o'clock that day week. Those were coaching days, the ice on the Rhine was breaking, and the villages through which the road ran were flooded; but Playfair got to London in time.
I reached Spring Gardens at a quarter to twelve on the day appointed; walking up and down the street till two minutes to the hour, I presented myself in the room just as the Horse Guards clock struck twelve. Mr. Thompson, a gentlemanly-looking old man, sat with a watch in his hand. He said, "You are very punctual," and explained the nature of the work. He then stated that his intention had been to offer me £300 a year, rising to £400, but on account of my punctuality on the day and hour named, he would make his offer £400, rising to £600.
His sojourn at Clitheroe gave him a manufacturing experience which was of service all his life; but the demand for these Clitheroe calicoes, which were used by the upper hundreds, was al
ready ceasing, and Playfair found it expedient to withdraw. Meanwhile, he had been appointed Honorary Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Manchester, a city foremost in large ideas. It was at this period that he received the invitation from Toronto forwarded by Faraday, and that Sir Robert Peel saw him. For a little time it seemed uncertain from what quarter he must look for an income, but he was not left long in darkness.
Science was about to make new claims upon the nation, not only to unveil the wonders won from experiment, but to descend among the people, and insist upon a bonâ fide obedience to her laws. She was thus to become one of the greatest benefactors of the century, one of the surest and most vigorous of its reformers. When it was resolved to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the state of large towns and populous districts, Sir Robert Peel wrote to Playfair and offered him a seat on it. The President was to be the Duke of Buccleuch; Professor Owen Stephenson, the engineer, and other well-known men were amongst its members; Playfair was still a young man, but his selection was justified by his work. Edwin Chadwick's report as secretary of the Poor Law Commission on "The Sanitary Condition of the People" had prepared the way by arousing attention. We have come to another as serious crisis, and need as effective action to-day in dealing with the housing of the poor; it may be helpful to note what this earlier movement achieved. Playfair asked to have the large towns of Lancashire as his charge, and had Dr. Angus Smith as an assistant commissioner.
One-tenth of the population of Manchester at that time lived in cellars, and one-seventh of that of Liverpool. Infantile mortality was SO excessive that more than half of all the children born in the
manufacturing towns perished before they had reached five years of age. The health reforms which were at this time initiated wrought great changes throughout the country. At a later period, when a knowledge of the needs and laws of health was more general, Playfair estimated that the saving of life over the whole country was, in a single decade, 102,000.
While chemist of the Geological Survey, Playfair carried forward many useful researches, but there was scarcely a month in which the Government did not ask his services. One of the first demands upon him was to report on the condition of Buckingham Palace. It was found to be so bad that no one dare publish the report.
At that time a great main sewer ran through the court yard, and the whole palace was in untrapped connection with it. To illustrate this, I painted a small room on the basement floor with white lead, and showed that it was blackened next morning. The kitchens were furnished with batteries of charcoal fires without flues, and fumes went up to the royal nurseries. To prove this, I mixed pounded pastilles with gunpowder, and exploded the mixture in the kitchens. The smell of the pastilles pervaded the whole house, and brought down, as I wished, the High Court officials to see what was the matter. The architect was immediately called upon to prepare plans for putting Buckingham Palace into a proper condition.
The Board of Health required him to report on graveyards, and to analyze all the water proposed for the supply of towns. The Admiralty placed a sum of money at his disposal to determine the best coals suited for steam navigation. There was a terrible colliery explosion at Jarrow, and he was sent to investigate the cause. The descent was one of great peril, but it was accomplished in safety. He went down
accompanied by two volunteers; at the top of the shaft, when he returned, were three miners in working dress, who had prepared to go down and search for their bodies, believing they would not return. A short time afterwards there was a dispute in the Newcastle district, and a strike was imminent, when masters and men united to ask his arbitration; he was in Brittany, but at once came home, and was successful in effecting a settlement. At the time of the Irish Famine he was asked to select two men in whom he had confidence to unite with him in a commission of inquiry; and did all that was possible to make known the magnitude of the calamity, to meet which all remedial measures were insufficient. During the cholera epidemic he went as volunteer to several large towns to organize house-to-house visitations. Thus he passed in quick succession from one service to another, not balancing the choice of what was pleasant or profitable, but accepting each duty as it came to him in devotion to the common good. These applications of science to the needs of daily life were a form of philanthropy unknown to previous generations.
In 1848 Playfair was elected a member of the Royal Society. That was an annus mirabilis in the history of Europe. The famous 10th of April is still remembered, when the Duke of Wellington made arrangements to prevent an outbreak in London. We may break our narrative with a detailed incident of history, from Playfair's recollections of that day:
"The late Lord Salisbury was then Aide-de-camp to the Duke, and he told me that when the Chartists began their march he galloped in great anxiety to the Duke at the Horse Guards, and found him reading the morning paper. He lifted his head for a moment, and said, 'How far are they now from the Bridge?' (Westminster Bridge.)
Lord Salisbury replied, 'One mile and a-half, sir.' The great Duke said, "Tell me when they are within one-quarter of a mile,' and he became absorbed in his paper. The Marquis of Salisbury went back to observe. When the procession reached the appointed distance he galloped back to the Horse Guards, and again found the Iron Duke quietly reading. 'Well?' said the Duke. Lord Salisbury reported that the procession was breaking up, and that only small detached bodies of Chartists were crossing the bridge. 'Exactly what I expected,' said the Duke, and returned to his paper."
Playfair was still on the thresholdonly thirty-two-when a greater work opened before him. Surely it was good for England that he had accepted the Prime Minister's hint, and not gone to Canada, but his course was not for one day really dependent on patronage. To how few, has it fallen to leave such a record of the years between twenty and thirty! The Great Exhibition of 1851 was now being planned. "I had nothing to do," says Playfair, in his Autobiography, "with the inception or original preparations for this undertaking. Various persons claim the merit of suggesting that an exhibition, which was at first started as one for national industries, should be made international, and embrace the manufactures of all nations. My own belief is that the suggestion originated with the Prince Consort in consultation with Sir Henry Cole." There was a certain greatness of conception and elevation of hope about this first Exhibition which makes it still memorable, though the world has seen other displays more comprehensive and magnificent. The committee organized by the Society of Arts to carry it out soon saw that the enterprise was too great for it. A Royal Commission was instituted to support it, including the most eminent statesmen of both parties. Still the industrial classes hung back. To facili
tate working it was proposed to have a "Special Commissioner," who should be a member of the Executive Committee, and at the same time attend the meetings of the consultative Royal Commission. The choice fell upon Playfair. He was introduced without delay to the Prince Consort, and then began a relationship of the happiest omen. Playfair made the round of the manufacturing districts, saw the leading men and did much to remove difficulties. One great service he rendered in devising a new system of classification.
"This classification, the first attempted of industrial work, met with great success, and had the good fortune to be highly recommended by Whewell and Babbage, both masters in classification. Ultimately, it was thoroughly adopted by the Prince Consort and the Royal Commission. It had still to be approved by the foreign commissions. France alone made some objections, as the French Commission had drawn out a logical and philosophical classification for itself. In discussing the two classifications with the French Commission, I pointed out that the best must be the one which the manufacturers could most readily understand, and I suggested that we should fix upon any common object, and see who could most quickly find it in an appropriate division. My French colleague had a handsome walking-stick in his hand, and proposed that this should be the test. Turning to my class of 'miscellaneous objects' under the subsection, 'Objects for personal use,' I readily found a walking-stick. The French commissioner searched his logical classification for a long time in vain, but ultimately found the familiar object under a subsection, 'Machines for the propagation of direct motion.' He laughed heartily and agreed to work under the English classification.
When Paxton's proposal of a palace of iron and glass had carried the day, the building rose with wonderful rapidity.
"But even then the croakers would not cease to frighten the public. Alarms which now seem puerile and absurd were seriously entertained, and had to be dissipated. The great influx of people from abroad was to produce frightful epidemics-perhaps black death, certainly cholera; the large immigration of foreigners, on the pretence of seeing the Exhibition, was to be used as a conspiracy to seize London, and sack the great capital. Our industries were to be destroyed by a taste for foreign goods being created, and England's future greatness was to be imperilled to gratify the wish of the foreign Prince who had married the Queen."
At the close of the Exhibition, Playfair was made a C.B. He was also invited to become a gentleman usher of the Prince Consort's household. As one of the Exhibition Commissioners he had a large share in their subsequent duties, in the organization of the College of Science, the promotion of technical education and other developments. We may not attempt to follow him through all the various occupations of the busy years, full to the last as they were with the same spirit of tactful service. It was while professor of chemistry at Edinburgh that he gave his advice in aid of the education of the Prince of Wales and other of the princes; his chief idea being to acquaint them with the practical application of science to industry, for the better understanding of national needs.
It was during the time that the Prince was living in Edinburgh as Playfair's pupil that the following incident occurred.
"The Prince and Playfair were standing near a cauldron containing lead which was boiling at white heat. 'Has your Royal Highness any faith in science?' said Playfair. 'Certainly,' replied the Prince. Playfair then carefully washed the Prince's hand with ammonia to get rid of any grease that
might be on it. 'Will you now place your hand in this boiling metal, and ladle out a portion of it?' he said to his distinguished pupil. 'Do you tell me to do this?' asked the Prince. 'I do,' replied Playfair. The prince instantly put his hand into the cauldron, and ladled out some of the boiling lead without sustaining any injury.
"It is a well-known scientific fact that the human hand, if perfectly cleansed, may be placed uninjured in lead boiling at white heat, the moisture of the skin protecting it under from these conditions any injury. Should the lead be at a perceptibly lower temperature, the effect would of course be very different."
It must suffice us in one sentence to mention his entry into Parliament, first as representing the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews, and afterwards Leeds; his term of office as Chairman and Deputy Speaker, and as Postmaster-General; and his elevation to the peerage as Baron Playfair of St. Andrews. Afterwards he was a lord-in-waiting to the Queen at Wind
Honors like duties crowded upon him through the later years. The services which he rendered during his long life that bore fruit permanently are more than we can enumerate; they were of various kinds from the first suggestion of open half-penny letters or the postcard, to the "Playfair Scheme," which remodelled the Civil Service. He died within a few days of Mr. Gladstone, having filled out the fourscore years.
To Lady Playfair the Prince of Wales wrote: "I have had the advantage of knowing your distinguished husband even before I was ten years old, and during those many years I was on the terms of the most intimate friendship with him. In him I have lost a Master (as I am proud to say I was his pupil), an adviser and a friend."
"He was one of the wisest, fairest and most loyal men," said Lord Rose