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SCIENCE, LITERATURE, AND ART.
Sketch of the Life of the late Samuel Parkes, Esq.
Burton Crescent, Feb. 26, 1827.
Thinking that a short sketch of the life of a man so generally known and deservedly esteemed, and whose chemical works had become so universally popular, as those of the late Mr. Samuel Parkes, would not be uninteresting to the readers of your valuable publication, I have examined his diaries, and endeavoured to compress within as small a compass as possible, those facts and circumstances which appear likely to afford the most correct delineation of his character.
I remain, your's faithfully,
J. W. HODGetts.
MR. PARKES was the eldest son of Mr. Samuel Parkes, of Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, where he was born on the 26th of May, 1761. At the age of ten he was sent to a classical school, kept by Dr. Addington, of Market Harborough, in Leicestershire. For this gentleman, whom he describes as having possessed" considerable oratorical talents," "and great attainments, classical and literary," Mr. Parkes always expressed strong feelings of respect, and acknowledged that, to his instructions and care, he was indebted for that love of literature, and those habits of application which never deserted him in after-life.
He continued at this school four years, when he was taken away in order to be apprenticed to an ironmonger at Ross, in Herefordshire; in consequence of whose failure he
returned home, and remained in his father's business, that of a grocer, till he settled for himself.
During this period of eighteen years, he appears to have devoted himself assiduously to literary pursuits, and to have spent much time in perusing standard works upon almost every subject necessary to the completion of a liberal education. He neglected no opportunity of collecting portraits for his illustrations of Grainger, or of purchasing scarce and valuable books; indeed he seems then to have commenced those collections which he afterwards brought to such perfection. His diaries contain a minute detail of each day's employment, and a list of the books which he was reading; and in common-place books, of the same dates, are inserted his opinions of the contents, and transcriptions of every passage which he deemed worthy of preservation. I can find no diary preceding 1783; but as others are referred to, am inclined to believe that he commenced writing them at a considerably earlier period.
In 1786, he seems to have given up a good deal of time in concert with Mr. Isaac Hawkins Browne, late member for Bridgnorth, in devising measures for the suppression of counterfeit halfpence throughout the kingdom; and soon afterwards I find, from the Earl of Stamford's letter, accepting the office of patron, that, after great labour, he succeeded in establishing a public library at Stourbridge. About this time, too, he wrote many papers for the Gentleman's Magazine, chiefly upon subjects of Theology, which was a favourite topic with him in early life, and occupied a considerable portion of his
The large intervals of leisure which he enjoyed during the time of his residence under his father's roof, being devoted exclusively to the acquisition of knowledge, laid the solid foundation of those attainments, which in after-life rendered his name so eminent.
In 1793, he settled at Stoke-upon-Trent, as a soap-maker, and from this time he dated the commencement of his chemical pursuits. He soon succeeded in obtaining his alkali from the decomposition of the sulphates in a way very superior to any which had previously been adopted, and introduced great im
provements into every branch of the manufacture. In 1794, he married Miss Twamley, of Dudley, and remained at Stoke, pursuing earnestly the study of chemistry, till 1802, when, wishing to make his only child a proficient in his favourite pursuit, and unable to find an elementary work calculated to teach the rudiments of the science, he began to compile, with great assiduity and care, what he thought better adapted for a young person than any treatise which he had seen. Such was the origin of the Chemical Catechism, its author not having at that time the slightest view towards publication.
Being, from unforeseen events, unnecessary here to detail, unfortunate at Stoke, where he paid but a small dividend to his creditors, he came to London in 1803, and commenced business as a manufacturing chemist, as he frequently used to relate, with 30%. of his own, and 100l. borrowed of a friend; and with this trifling capital was so successful, that, within three years, he was enabled to obey the dictates of his honourable feelings, by remitting to his creditors the amounts of their debts, with interest from the time they had been due. This business he continued during the remainder of his life; and his rapid and uniform success may, perhaps, be in great measure ascribed to the very accurate knowledge which he acquired of almost every manufacture which is at all dependant upon chemistry, and consequently of the precise nature of those substances which might be beneficially employed. Soon after his arrival, a much-esteemed friend, wishing to instruct his children in chemistry, and not approving of any work which he had been able to procure, applied to Mr. Parkes for advice, who told him that he had himself been in a similar difficulty, but willingly lent him the manuscript which he had written to obviate it.
Pleased with the perusal, and convinced that it was exactly the book that had so long been required, he became urgent in his importunities with Mr. Parkes to publish it. At length, though opposed by the fears and objections of his family, and notwithstanding his retiring habits, so averse to appearing before the public, he succeeded in persuading him. The work was carefully revised, the notes, tables, experiments, and index added; and, indeed, whatever indefatigable assiduity
could attain to render it at once amusing and instructive, was done. This edition of 1500 copies (the smallest that he ever printed) was published in May, 1806, and sold so rapidly as to make a second necessary in October, 1807. From that period to the present, the demand has been incessant, eleven editions having been called for within eighteen years; none of them were mere reprints, Mr. Parkes having always materially altered and enlarged them, and indeed several were almost rewritten. The sale abroad has kept pace with that at home, and copies have been transmitted to the author of editions published in several of the States of North America, in various parts of Germany, in France, Spain, and Russia.
Perceiving how much a still more elementary work was required, particularly by schools and young persons, which might by its bulk and price be easily accessible to all classes of readers, he wrote the Rudiments of Chemistry, in which the arrangement of the Catechism is preserved, and indeed the whole of the substance of the text, the catechetical form being, for the sake of brevity, dispensed with, as are also the notes and tables; the principal facts and axioms are printed in a large type, and under each, in a smaller letter, the experiments and illustrations necessary to elucidate them. He published the first edition in 1809, and so much was a book of this nature wanted, and with such avidity was it received, that, in the autumn of 1825, a fourth edition was called for; besides which, it has been reprinted in New York and Philadelphia.
His other principal work is the Chemical Essays, which were written in furtherance of the great object of which he never lost sight, viz., the application of chemical science to the arts and manufactures of the country; they have passed through two editions, and have been republished in France and elsewhere. The essays are on various subjects, and contain detailed accounts of all the processes employed in many of those manufactures which are most dependent on a correct knowledge of the principle of chemistry: he takes every opportunity of suggesting improvements in the different methods of procedure, and had the satisfaction of hearing that many manufacturers had profited by his suggestions, the adop
tion of which had been attended with the most successful and beneficial results.
Besides these standard works, he was a frequent contributor of papers to the different periodical scientific publications, and to the numerous societies of which he was a member. The readers of this Journal must be familiar with his articles, as it is a work for which he always professed the highest regard; and perhaps the Royal Institution possessed no member more warmly attached to its interests, or a more zealous supporter of the objects for which it was established.
The Highland Society of Scotland presented him with a silver inkstand for his essay "On the comparative value of Kelp and Barilla, describing the component parts of each, and the various uses to which they may be advantageously applied." The Caledonian Horticultural Society also awarded him a silver cup, in token of their approbation of his "Essay on the use of Salt in Horticulture."
In June, 1808, he was examined before the West Indian Committee of the House of Commons, relative to the uses of sugar in fattening cattle; but more particularly on the prevention of frauds upon the revenue, by the mixture of different substances with it, to hinder it from being used for domestic purposes, or for distillation, but at the same time without injuring its nutritive qualities. His evidence, detailing at length his experiments and opinions on this subject, was afterwards published in the Philosophical Magazine: the paper contained much very interesting and novel matter, and gained him great credit with the public.
The investigation of the various uses of salt, and his anxious wish for the abolition of the salt duties, were objects of his most persevering and unremitting attention for a long series of years. In 1817, he first turned the notice of the public seriously to the subject, by the publication of his "Thoughts on the Laws relating to Salt." In this work he describes the numerous and important uses of salt in agriculture, in feeding cattle, and in the manufactures of muriatic acid, oxymuriatic acid, soap, and soda, with the great advantages which would be derived if it were lawful to fabricate barilla and alkali by the decomposition of sea-salt, without payment of duty he