Friday, August 15, 2003

WHO AM I?

You probably don't know my name, but that's all right. In all of the books that I wrote, my name was almost never put on them, and never my full name. I understood many things of my time and world, including the prejudice that I would face.

My books were very popular. My book on chemistry, for example, went through dozens of reprints in England and abroad (at least two in French and at least 16 editions in America alone) and it is estimated that there were 160,000 copies printed and was considered the most popular book on chemistry in the first part of the nineteenth century. If you count the copies that were slightly modified and put under others' names, there were many more printed. My technical drawings were printed in other books for nearly a century after my first edition in 1806. I set forth the discoveries of scientists including Lavoisier, Cavendish and Davy and provided the most modern interpretations of chemistry available. For people who wanted to learn about science, Thomas Jefferson would recommend my book on chemistry and it became one of America's most important science textbook.

Another thing that I might also mention about this book on chemistry. A young son of an out-of-work blacksmith, very poor and, to be honest, quite dyslexic, happened to become apprenticed to a bookbinder. He read it and became fascinated with science. He went on to develop the concepts of electricity that you use in your day. He would use an electric field to spin a magnet. That led to the invention of electric motors. He went on to explain induction, electrolysis, dielectric constants. He eventually set the stage for Maxwell's field theory. He would go on to say that I was "a good friend to me, as ... must have been to many of the human race... [I]t was in those books I found the beginning of my philosophy...and ... which gave me my foundation in that science...I felt that I had got hold of an ancor [sic] in chemical knowledge, and clung fast to it. Hence my deep veneration ...: first, as one able to convey the truth and principle of those boundless fields of knowledge which concern natural things, to the young, untaught, and inquiring mind."

Centered on my book on physics, I created a home liberal education course. I set the pattern for the physics courses of your day. I wrote about materials and motion; Newton's laws; hydraulics; heat, light, and electricity. Its beautiful pedagogy by any measure, as in all of my books, used a fresh narrative, a pleasing style, and beautiful drawings that were both instructional and entertaining, new editions would come out for 40 years. It was said to have been "the best introduction to science that has yet appeared." William James was one who was influenced by my exposition of physics.

I was interested in a wide range of science and, partly because of my father's involvement in banking, I wrote a popular book on economics (1816) , which also went to sixteen editions, was translated into Dutch, German and Spanish and was also published in America. Longman's, my publisher, wanted more. Again, as in all of my other books, I presented the ideas and principles of the most modern writers in the field: Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, Robert Malthus and David Ricardo (who I knew personally). The book was praised by Jean Baptiste Say, the leading 19th century economist, as the best work on political economy that he had ever read. That first book on economics was published a year before my friend, the millionaire stockbroker and entrepreneur David Ricardo brought out his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. My book contained a clear exposition of his 'Theory of Comparative Advantage', on which his great fame and influence as an economist were to rest. The theory still forms part of economic orthodoxy in your day. But the fact that I grasped the idea first and published before him has been given no credit.

I would write two more popular books on free market economics (in 1833 and 1851). My economics books inspired other popular writers in economics, who were proud to credit me with the style and structure of writing clearly and understandably and modeled their books on mine. Many of the later writers in economics, as well as in other scientific endeavors, would come to visit me first before they would pay homage to any other intellectual in London.

I was a member of Ricardo's famous and influential Political Economy Club, whose membership was restricted to 30 members. It has been said that I, "[i]n writings of political economy, mostly explained Ricardo's ideas to a lay public (with an astonishing talent) and may have been the most widely read of the classicals and most responsible for popularizing their ideas. Has since settled into nearly complete obscurity while lesser minds are remembered." I was very proud of being an individualist and free market economist--classical economist, if you will, even though you probably don't know who I am, and will seldom find my name in books on the history of any of the sciences that I popularized.

My book on science was published in 1819, on mineralogy in 1829, on botany in 1841, all of which were very popular and read throughout the world. I even wrote a book on Christianity in 1826, which focused on the credibility of the New Testament, looking at both internal and external evidence to support the text. My book on the history of England was published in 1842 and my book on language in 1844. There were many scientists and writers of my time that would never accept that my books were more popular or more easily read than theirs. It was true, nonetheless, and my strength was always to speak truly and honestly to all those who listened--and they were legion. Although I wrote no fiction, I have been compared to a woman writer of your age by the odd name of Ayn Rand.

Now, Who Am I? Do you know? Here is a hint. These are the names of some of my books:

Conversations on Chemistry, 1806.
Conversations on Political Economy, in which the elements of the science are familiarly explained, 1816.
Conversations on Natural Philosophy, an exposition of the first elements of science for very young children, 1819.
Conversations on Evidences of Christianity, 1826.
Conversations on Vegetable Physiology, 1829.
Bertha's Visit to Her Uncle in England, 1830.
Essays, 1831.
John Hopkins's Notions of Political Economy, 1833.
The Ladies' companion to the Flower Garden, 1841.
Conversations on the History of England, 1842.
Conversations on Language for Children, 1844.
Rich and Poor, 1851.

Now do you know? If not, try these links to various websites that discuss my life:

1 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22

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