Immagini della pagina

Of all those nations whose history has been preserved, the most distinguished are certainly the Greeks and the Romans; but, as far as can be judged at this remote period, the former were superior to the latter in point of invention. The Romans indeed seem to have known little, except what they borrowed from the Grecians; and it is evident, by their sending their young men of rank to finish their education in Greece, that they considered that country as the seat of the arts and the sciences, and as a school where genius would be excited by the finest models, while the taste was corrected and formed. From some hints given however by Pliny and other writers, we have reason to conclude that the Romans possessed more knowledge of the arts than the moderns perhaps are willing to allow, and that some inventions, considered as new, may be only old ones revived and again rendered useful.

When Rome, abandoned to luxury and vice, became an easy prey to those hordes of barbarians who overran the empire, her arts shared in the general wreck, and were either entirely lost, or for a time forgotten. The deplorable state of ignorance in which Europe was afterwards plunged during several centuries, retarded their revival; and it was not till a late period, when favoured and protected by a few men of superior genius, that they began to be again cultivated. It cannot however be denied, that several important discoveries, altogether unknown to the ancients, which must have had considerable influence on the general state of society, were made in ages that can hardly be exempted from the appellation of barbarous, As a proof of this may be mentioned the invention of paper,

* Montfaucon, notwithstanding all his researches in France and Italy, was not able to discover any charter or diploma written on

painting in oil,* the mariner's compass,† gunpowder, ‡ printing, and engraving on copper.

After the invention

common paper, older than the year 1270. Paper, however, made of cotton, is said to be much older, and to have been introduced into Europe by the Arabs. If we can believe an Arabian author, who wrote in the thirteenth century, quoted by Casiri, in Biblioth. Arabico-Hispana, vol. ii. p. 9, paper (doubtless of cotton) was invented at Mecca by one Joseph Amru, about the year of the Hegira 88, or of the Christian æra 706. According to other Arabian authors, quoted by Casiri and Abulfeda, the Arabs found a manufactory of paper at Samarcand in Bucharia, when they conquered that country in the year of the Hegira 85, or of our æra 704. The art of making paper from silk was, as some pretend, known to the Chinese 180 years before Jesus Christ. See a letter from Father de Mailla to Father Etienne Souciet, in Mémoires des inscript. et des belles lettres, vol. xv. 520.

* The oldest picture, known at present, painted in oil-colours on wood is preserved in the Imperial gallery at Vienna. It was painted in the year 1297, by a painter named Thomas de Mutina, or de Muttersdorf, in Bohemia. Two other paintings in the same gallery are of the year 1357; one of them is by Nicholas Wurmser of Strasburg, and the other by Thierry of Prague. It appears therefore that painting in oil was known long before the epoch at which that invention is generally fixed; and that it is erroneously ascribed to Hubert van Eyck and his brother and pupil, John van Eyck, otherwise called John of Bruges, who lived about the end of the fourteenth century, and not the beginning of the fifteenth, as is commonly supposed.

†The person who first speaks of the magnetic needle and its use in navigation, is a Provençal poet, who lived in the beginning of the thirteenth century, and who wrote a poem entitled Bible Guyot. This work is a satire, in which the author lashes with great freedom the vices of that age. Comparing the Pope to the polar star, he introduces a description of the compass, such as it appears to have been in its infancy. This invention however is claimed by the Italians, who maintain that we are indebted for it to a citizen of

of the compass and printing, two grand sources were opened for the improvement of science. In proportion as navigation was extended, new objects were discovered to

Amalphi, named Flavius Gioja, and in support of this assertion quote commonly the following line of Panormitanus:

Prima dedit nautis usum magnetis Amalfis.

Of the use of gunpowder in Europe no certain traces occur till towards the middle of the fourteenth century. It seems pretty well proved, that artillery was known in France after the year 1345. In 1356, the city of Nuremberg purchased the first gunpowder and cannon. The same year the city of Louvain employed thirty cannon at the battle of Santfliet against the Flemings. In 1361, a fire broke out at Lubec, occasioned by the negligence of those employed in making gunpowder. In 1363, the Hanse-towns used cannon for the first time, in a naval combat which they fought against the Danes. After 1367, the use of fire-arms became general throughout Italy, into which they had been introduced from Germany.

§ The invention of printing has given rise to many researches. Meermann in his Origines Typographica, published in 1768, endeavours to prove that Laurence Coster of Harlem was the inventor, about the year 1430. Most authors however agree that John Gutenberg was the inventor of moveable types, but they differ respecting the place of the invention. Some make it to be Strasburg, others Mentz, and some fix the epoch of the invention at 1440, and others at 1450.

Vasari, in Vite de' Pittori, vol. iv. p. 264, ascribes the invention of engraving on copper to a goldsmith of Florence, named Maso Finiguerra, about 1460. The oldest engravers whose names and marks are known, were Israel de Mecheln, of Bokholt in the bishopric of Munster; Martin Schoen, who worked at Colmar in Alsace, where he died in 1486; and Michael Wolgemuth of Nuremberg, who was preceptor to the famous Albert Durer. It may be proper here to observe, that the art of engraving on wood seems to be older than the invention of printing, to which perhaps it gave rise. The names of the first engravers on wood are however not known.

awaken the curiosity and excite the attention of the learned; and the ready means of diffusing knowledge, afforded by the press, enabled the ingenious to make them publicly known. Ignorance and superstition, the formidable enemies of philosophy in every age, began soon to lose some of that power which they had usurped; and states, forgetting their former blind policy, adopted improvements which their prejudice had before condemned.

Though it might be expected that the great share which new inventions and discoveries have at all times had in effecting such happy changes among mankind, would have secured them a distinguished place in the annals of nations; we find with regret, that the pen of history has been more employed in recording the crimes of ambition and the ravage of conquerors, than in preserving the remembrance of those who, by improving science and the arts, contributed to increase the conveniences of life, and to heighten its enjoyments. So little indeed has hitherto been done towards a history of inventions and discoveries, that the rise and progress of part of those even of modern times is involved in considerable darkness and obscurity :* of some the names of the inventors are not so much as known, and the honour of others is disputed by different nations; while the evidences on both sides are so imperfect, that it is almost impossible to determine to which the palm is due. To professor Beckmann, therefore, those fond of such researches are much indebted for the pains he has been at to collect information on this subject; and


* The authors who treat expressly on this subject are not numeWe have Polydore Vergil, Pancirollus, and his commentator Salmuth, D'Origny, and a few others; but the information they give limited and defective.



though he has perhaps not been able to clear up every doubt respecting the objects on which he treats, he has certainly thrown much light on many curious circumstances hitherto buried in oblivion.


The author, with much modesty, gives to this work in the original the title of only Collections towards a History of Inventions but as he has carefully traced out the rise and progress of all those objects which form the subject of his inquiry, from the earliest periods of. their being known, as far as books supplied information, and arranged his matter in chronological order, the original title may admit, without being liable to much criticism, of the small variation adopted in the translation. The author, indeed, has not in these volumes comprehended every invention and discovery, but he has given an account of a great many, most of them very important; and it is not improbable that his labours in this respect may be continued. Should that be the case, and should the present work be favourably received, the rest of the original, when a sufficiency is published to form another volume, will be translated, and presented to the public in the like manner.

Should any one be disposed to find fault with the author for introducing into his work some articles which on the first view may appear trifling, his own words, taken from the short preface prefixed to the first volume of the original, will perhaps be considered as a better exculpation than any thing the translator might advance in his favour. "I am sensible," says he, "that many here will "find circumstances which they may think unworthy of "the labour I have bestowed upon them; but those who "know how different our judgments are respecting utility, "will not make theirs a rule for mine. Those whose

« IndietroContinua »