Count Rumford

IN 1871, I prepared for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences a Memoir of Count Rumford, to accompany an edition of his writings. During the twenty years which have elapsed since its publication very many interesting additional papers have come into my hands, either written by or relating to Count Rumford, some of which I may now put to use. As this article, however, may find readers who know little or nothing about the remarkable man here recalled, it may be well to inweave the new material into a summary of his lift.

Our concern is with Rumford first as Benjamin Thompson. He came of the yeoman stock of the first company of the Massachusetts colonists under the lead of Winthrop. He was born March 26, 1753, under his grandfather’s roof, in a modest but substantial farmhouse, still standing, in what is now North Woburn. His father died when he was but twenty months old, and when he was three years old, his mother marrying again, he was taken to his stepfather’s home. There he was treated even indulgently, with wise and friendly oversight and guardianship. His early lot was that of the children of farmers with frugal means, whether orphaned or not, who, as soon as they could do any kind of helpful work about house or farm, did it as a matter of course. The law, in those simple times, in our village communities, took wise heed for the fatherless and the widowed, and secured to them kindly provision even from slender inheritances. Through, the many years of separation from his mother, whom he never saw after he left her in early manhood, he preserved for her the tenderest affection, writing to her as a grateful child, and, through an early friend with whom he was in correspondence in his prosperity, sending to her the most generous remittances for her comfort and ease. Like all Massachusetts boys, he was entitled to and received “ a grammar school education,” which was supplemented not only by private tuition, which he paid for by labor in the woods, but by kindly offices of many friends whom he won to himself. For from his boyhood he showed the proclivities of genius in some erratic eccentricities, in discursive reading, in a keen inquisitiveness, and in ingenuity with tools and experiments. He put every one around him who could add to his gain of knowledge to some helpful service to him. He was soon found to be fitted for something better than the “ chores ” of a farmhouse, and in his thirteenth year was apprenticed for three years, 1766—69, to Mr. John Appleton, of Salem, a merchant in the miscellaneous local traffic of those days. Here, as at home, he was something of a puzzle to observers, as he busied himself, under the counter as well as upon it, with his fiddle and his experiments, once receiving severe injuries from the explosion of some rockets which he was making. Here, too, as at every period of his earlier life, his affable, engaging, and inquisitive traits won him friends. The minister of Salem fostered and aided him.

Among the papers which have come to my hands since I first wrote the Memoir of Count Rumford are some relating to this period in the life and work of the future count. They were found among the papers of Dr. Levi Hedge, professor in Harvard College 1811-27, the father of the late Dr. F. H. Hedge, and they show the interest attaching here to the early years of Rumford when his fame had been established in Europe.

SALEM, 25 March, 1817.


MY DEAR SIR, — You have probably learned the death of my aged and very worthy father. It took place on the 4th inst.

Benjamin, Count Rumford (family name Thompson) was, while a lad, a clerk in my late father’s store. Enclosed are a few papers relative to that circumstance, and as he is called a liberal benefactor to Harvard University you may think them worthy of being preserved among its curiosities.

Your friend, etc., etc.,


You know that. Count Romford’s first wife was the widow Rolfe, Paul’s mother. On the cover of a “ Memorandum Book of Goods,” in Thompson’s own hand, is written, “ B. Thompson came to Mr. J. Appleton’s to Apprentice, Oct. 14,1766.”

BOSTON, 11th October, 1769.


I understand that you have had a young Ladd not long since, that lived with you named Benja. Thompson. He now offers himself to live with me, saying that he was sick was the occasion of his comeing away from you, and that now Business is Dull you don’t want him. I should be greatly obliged to you if you will Inform me by the first opportunity. If he be clear from you or not, if he is, please to give me his True Character, as to his Honesty, Temper and Qualifications, as a Shop - Keeper. Such a Ladd will suit me if he can be well Recommended, and as he is a Stranger to me, I know of nobody Else that can be so good a Judge of him as you: Which I hope you will favour me, till which I am your most obedient Humble Serv.t


The writer dealt as a merchant in miscellaneous traffic in Union Street, Boston. It appears by the letter of the “ Ladd ” which follows that he received a good character, and was taken into service by Capen. He was there a fellow - apprentice with Samuel Parkman, afterwards a most prosperous Boston merchant, who left a numerous progeny of Tuckermans, Blakes, Sturgises, and Shaws. The boy’s spelling and punctuation are retained in this letter, addressed to “ Mr. John Appleton, Merch’t, Salem.”

BOSTON, Oct. 19th, 1769.

SIR, I take this oppertunity to inform you that I am come to Live with Mr. Hopestill Capen. I like him and his Family very well as yet. I am Greatly obliged to you for your kind Recommendation of me to Mr. Capen, and shall always retain a Gratefull Sense of the many other Kindnesses I always Received wildest I remained with you. Never shall I live at a place again that

I delighted so much as at your house, nor with a Kinder Master. My Guardian says he will come to Salem and pay you some money very soon, which he expects dayly. Sir, I would beg of you not to Give yourself any Concern or Trouble about it, as you may depend upon having the Money very soon.

Sir, if you would give yourself the Trouble to send Round my things that remain at your house, I shall [be] obliged to you, and if you will send down the

2 trunks which I improved wildest at your house and charge them to me I will send you the money ; please to put up all my small things you can find, viz.t scales, paint-box, some Blue paper, a box of Crayons, or dry Colours, some Books, together with all my things remaining at your house; please to stow them in the Trunk that stands in the Kitchen Chamber, and please to put that, that stands in the Garret on Board Mr. West with it, and desire him to bring them down on the first oppertunity. I shall come to Salem the first that I can be spared. Heartily Wishing you all Prosperity and Happiness, I remain your much obliged Humble Servant,


It must have required some time and patience on the part of Mr. Appleton to hunt up and pack the curious gathering of tools, implements, artistic and scientific materials, which this volatile and inquisitive boy had collected when he was in his earliest teens, and which he had left behind when going home. The minister of Salem and his son, the schoolmaster, discerning the gifts and zeal of the youth, had initiated him in algebra, geometry, astronomy, and the higher mathematics. While at Mr. Capen’s, Thompson took lessons in French.

It is evident that the situation of a shopboy was not suited to the fancy or the health of the youth, so in 1771 we find him at home, absorbed in very many tentative occupations. He made an electrical machine. He studied anatomy and medicine, and obtained permission to attend the philosophical lectures of Professor Winthrop, walking to and from Cambridge. His companion and friend in these walks and in all his diverse ingenuities was Loammi Baldwin, afterwards the eminent civil engineer, who was also his devoted admirer and correspondent through his later life.

Thompson’s strange versatility and restlessness made him a perplexity to his guardian and his rural associates. But he was never idle, however inconstant in his scattering occupations. While not eighteen years old, he was probably better fitted than his competitors for the employment which engaged him for two years as a teacher in two or three country schools. His good repute led to his being invited to a higher and permanent position as such to the then flourishing town, now the capital of New Hampshire, which at various periods in its history has borne the names of Penacook, Rumford, and Concord. It was from the second of these names, given to it by some of its early settlers coming from Romford in England, that, Thompson, from a prompting of gratitude, chose his title when ennobled by the elector of Bavaria. In Rumford he had found his start in life.

The two foremost men in the town were the Reverend Timothy Walker, its first minister, an able man, distinguished for public service, and Benjamin Rolfe, the squire of the village, the wealthiest citizen, with a large estate, who built, in 1764, a fine provincial mansion, still standing. Rolfe had married the daughter of Walker, half his own age, and in two years had left her a widow with a son to inherit his property. His wife died in his house in January, 1792, at the age of fifty-two, but not as his widow. The young schoolmaster, handsome and of winning manners, found the way made easy for him by the widow of one year, and, as he afterward stated the case, “she married him rather than he her” in November, 1772. He had not reached his twentieth year, and she was thirty-three. A daughter, Sarah, afterwards allowed to take the title of countess, was born October 18, 1774. After several visits to and residences in Europe, she returned to die in the house in which she was born. She had become the heiress of her childless stepbrother, Paul Rolfe, who died in 1819.

Of course the young husband dropped his school-teaching, and gave himself for two happy years to the oversight of a large farm and other property. But with his prosperity began his troubles, which were those of the distracted Revolutionary times.

Thompson, with his fine presence, had the manners and polish of a gentleman, and his acquisitions gave him superiority over most of those around him. After his engagement and before his marriage, Mrs. Rolfe had taken him on the sixtymile journey to Boston, in the curricle of her late husband, the only one in the village, sharing the hospitality of friends on the way. In the town she purchased for him the outfit of a gentleman, putting him in the hands of hairdresser and tailor, who set him in gay array, his favorite color being scarlet. On the return journey, the pair stopped at the house of Thompson’s mother in Woburn. She, not being aware of the relation into which her son had entered, looked somewhat dubiously upon the lady, and chided her son thus: “ Why, Ben, my son, how could you go and lay out all your winter’s earnings in finery ? ” The bridal tour was made to agree with a military display in Portsmouth, then a wealthy and flourishing place, where the wife had acquaintances. The royal governor of the province, Wentworth, struck by the fine appearance of the young man on horseback, and pleased with his address on an introduction, at once took a fancy to him, and by mere favoritism commissioned him as major in a vacancy in the second provincial regiment. This was the beginning of Thompson’s woes, as it at once roused against him the pique, jealousy, and enmity of veterans, his superiors, proud of their rank and titles, as this seeming upstart, who in their view “ put on airs,” was not of legal age, and had no military training and experience. Thus began an intimacy with the royal governor which proved prejudicial to Thompson in the breach soon to open ; for though the governor had strong sympathies with the patriot cause, he remained loyal to his king.

In the summer of 1773 and for the year following, Thompson devoted himself to experimental farming, sending to England for seeds. Like many older and wiser men than himself, he looked dubiously upon the vigorous outbursts and measures, especially the mobs and riots evoked by the rising spirit of liberty ; and by word or deed, though no particular charges in either case are on record, he had evidently laid himself open to suspicion and distrust. One of the more characteristic incidents in the fomenting of the opening acts of our Revolution was the coming into prominence in political and social influence of popular leaders, so called, a class of persons in private, generally in humble life, not before noticeable in public affairs, but who suddenly and spontaneously asserted themselves ; and the method then imposed by popular tribunals for clearing a suspected person from the charge of enmity to the cause of liberty was very humiliating to one of an independent spirit. The only offense on record against Thompson is one that might easily have been misunderstood and exaggerated. While carrying on his farm in the summer of 1773, among the laborers he employed were four deserters from the British army in Boston, who he found were very desirous of getting back into the ranks. With his wife he had made occasional visits to Boston, and had shared the hospitality of Gage and other British officers. He solicited the general to allow these deserters to return unharmed, concealing, however, his agency in the matter. When challenged for this act, he justified it on the ground of simple humanity. But the time had come when neutrality or any friendly relations with the enemy, open till the closing in of Boston by the siege after the affairs of Concord and Lexington, were unallowable.

In the summer of 1774, Major Thompson was summoned before a self-constituted committee in Concord, and charged with being " unfriendly to the cause of liberty.” He denied the charge, and as no proof was alleged he was dismissed. But he was still under a cloud ; for in November, 1774, his house was surrounded by a mob with threatening demonstrations. Having been warned of this proceeding, he had just left the town, and his wife and brother-in-law addressing the mob, it dispersed. The experience was harassing and irritating to this young man of twenty-two. He looked for a speedy Subsidence of the excitement, and offered to return home if he could be assured against indignity and violence. In the mean while he went to his mother’s in Woburn, where his wife with her infant joined him temporarily. During her visit occurred the skirmishes at Concord and Lexington. Thompson was occasionally with friends in Charlestown, busying himself with military affairs as a study. But suspicion and odium still pursued him. In May, 1775, he was put under arrest at Woburn, and, courting a free public examination, passed through the process under a committee which in form, but not effectually, acquitted him ; his friend Baldwin standing loyally by him, and endeavoring, at his request, to obtain service for him in the patriot army, but in vain.

Thompson, wounded in spirit and exasperated as he was, still showed nothing of vengefulness. It would seem that as he soon left Woburn it was without any settled plan for the future. He was to be guided by circumstances. Those circumstances, rather than a purpose, led him to commit himself to the side of the king. He remained in Woburn two months after he had determined to leave the country, paying dues and collecting debts, taking leave of neighbors and making deliberate preparations for his departure. On October 13, 1775, in a country vehicle, accompanied by a fondly attached stepbrother, son of his mother by her second husband, he was driven to the shore of Narragansett Bay, and taken by a boat to the British frigate Scarborough, in Newport harbor. Thompson’s friends were for a time uncertain of his whereabouts, till a rumor came in February, 1776, that he was acting as clerk to some military officer in Boston. Doubtless, with his ability and activity, he made friends, but he could not have been in the town quite four months before its evacuation by the British army, of which humiliating event he carried the official tidings to Secretary Lord George Germaine, May 3, 1776. Thompson was proscribed as a refugee by the New Hampshire legislature in 1778, and his little property in Massachusetts was confiscated.

The marked characteristic of this seeming adventurer all through his remarkable career was his facility in turning opportunity to the best account. His first interview with Germaine made an impression which put him at once upon eminent and rewarding service. Floundering in bewildered ignorance as British officials, civil and military, then were as to the conditions of the warfare they had undertaken against the colonies, they gladly welcomed and availed themselves of any seemingly trustworthy information coming thence at first hand. The affability, self - possession, intelligence, and ready communicativeness of Thompson at once won him attention, confidence, and further opportunity. A place was found for him in the secretary’s office as a clerk, and all his faculties and accomplishments were at once engaged in advancing, by some form of appreciated service, the situation secured by the hap of having made a pleasant impression. There were much wiser men in London than he, who could have given the wholly incompetent secretary judicious advice and useful information, but the charming manners of his clerk led to his rapid advancement in position and influence. He took his meals at the lodgings of Germaine in the city, and was a favored guest at his country house. The worst advisers which the secretary and the administration had, and whose advice, though misleading, had a prevailing influence, were some of the Crown officers and other refugees who cherished a vengeful spirit from having been driven with insults from the colonies, with confiscation of their estates. Many of these had held the highest social position. Thompson’s official position and known influence naturally brought him into embarrassing and often delicate relations with many of these importunate refugees, who came to him for sympathy, advice, or direct help, though very few of them could have been personally known to him. They were variously received, and the estimate which they formed of the sympathy or sincerity of this always affable if sometimes plausible young man depended for the most part upon the pecuniary result of their appeals. I have given in the Memoir of the count some individual cases of his intercourse with these keen solicitants. One of them, perhaps the only one who had had personal acquaintance with Thompson, was the melancholy exile Judge Curwen, of the admiralty in Salem, who, in his journal, which when published attracted the notice of Dickens, quaintly refers to Thompson as once a shopboy in the store of his neighbor Appleton. In the recently published journal, written in England, of the greatly misjudged Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts, are references to his intercourse with Thompson. In the additional papers which have come to my notice are some which reflect severely upon Thompson. Among the Trumbull Papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society are some letters written to his father by the painter Colonel John Trumbull, who in 1777 had resigned in the American army an office corresponding to that held in the British army by the unfortunate Major André. Having sailed from America on a French armed ship in May, 1780, he had ventured to make his way to London, to become a pupil in art of Benjamin West. He says he had secured through his friend Sir John Temple, British consul in New York, an assurance from Lord George Germaine that if he chose to visit London for purposes of art, though he would he carefully watched, his military career would be unnoticed, and he would not be molested if he abstained from all political intermeddling. He was occupying in London lodgings with a fellow-passenger, Major Tyler, of Boston, also of the American army, when tidings came, November 15, 1780, of the execution of Major André. Intense excitement and passion followed. The jealousy of some of the resident refugees had already been turned against the immunity of the two lodgers, and Germaine was warned of the presence of a plausible and dangerous man, “ doubtless a spy,” in the person of Tyler, who was arrested. Trumbull charges that Thompson gave additional information against him as perhaps the move dangerous of the two. His papers were therefore searched, and on a Sunday, at midnight, he was committed to a lock-up, sleeping in the same bed with a highwayman. Frankly avowing, on his examination, who he was, and referring to his understanding with Germaine, he most unwisely, in his indignation, threatened that Washington would retaliate on some in his power for any ill treatment of himself. He was kept in prison for seven months. Benjamin West interceded in his behalf with the king, who, though expressing pity on his account, and promising safety to his life, said the law must take its course. Finally, through the influence of powerful friends, including Fox, Burke, Rockingham, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Copley, he was liberated by warrant, June 12, 1781 ; West and Copley giving bonds for £200 that he should leave the kingdom in thirty days. Trumbull accuses Thompson, “ a Woburn lad,” with stopping and reading his letters to Germaine, with trying to prevent his being set at liberty, and with telling West that he was injuring himself by his interference. After his release he says, “ I remained only ten days to settle my affairs, in which time I saw Mr. Thompson, who treated me now with as much politeness as he had insolence before, and returned me most of my papers.”

In the mean while, the “ Woburn lad ” had been made secretary of the province of Georgia. He steadily pressed himself into personal, social, and professional relations with persons of acquirements and station. He drew notice to himself for that interest in science and philosophy which had been so helpful to Franklin, the most distinguished of all Americans in Europe. He busied himself with economical, utilitarian, and military investigations in naval artillery and naval architecture. He introduced bayonets for the fusees of the horse guards, experimented in explosives, and devised a system of sea signals. He made himself favorably known by communications to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, of which, as a result, he was chosen a Fellow in 1779, as “a gentleman well versed in natural knowledge and many branches of polite learning.” This was good advancement for one twenty-six years of age. He constantly attended the meetings, and was a zealous working associate.

In 1780 Thompson was made undersecretary of state for the Northern Department, in which office, signing all official papers, he continued for thirteen months, in charge of all details for recruiting, equipment, transport, and victualing of the British forces. He was never charged with greed or accumulation, was economical and simple in personal habits, and lavishly generous with his honest means.

The blunders and failures in the conduct of the war foreboded the disaster which closed it. Germaine, now Lord Sackville, about to fall from place and power, finding Thompson desirous of doing military service (he had always retained his title of major), obtained for him a commission as lieutenant-colonel in command in America of a body of provincial loyalists, with the purpose of raising a cavalry corps of such on Long Island. Thompson’s pay was to be twenty-four shillings and sixpence a day. We have no space and little interest to follow him in this bootless and one might wish to believe uncongenial errand in behalf of an object already doomed to failure. The surrender of Cornwallis, which substantially closed the war, occurred while he was on his passage here, and became known to him on his arrival at Charleston, South Carolina, in January, 1782, where he performed some desultory but useless service. This was continued in that and early in the following year, till peace came, on Long Island. The distance of three thousand miles which had separated him from his deserted family and friends was reduced while he was here to less than three hundred, but there is no evidence that he opened any communication with them, withheld either by indifference or alienation. Resumption of intercourse, and that of the heartiest kind, was to be left to a later and more serene period of his life. He had so approved himself to General Carleton, in command at New York to close up the strife, as to obtain from him leave of absence, April 11, 1783, to return to England, with high recommendations to the king. He was advanced to a colonelcy on the permanent British establishment, from which he drew half-pay for the remainder of his life.

Having conceived a temporary ambition for military service, even if under another power, he obtained special permission from the king to visit the Continent, September, 1783, with a view to be a volunteer in the Austrian army in a war against the Turks. With the singular felicity of what seemed luck in so many incidents of his extraordinary career, while attending a military parade at Strasburg he drew the notice, the curious interest, and then the proffer of hospitality, of the French field marshal, Prince Maximilian of Deux-Ponts, in 1799 made elector, and in 1805 king, of Bavaria. This was the decisive hour in Thompson’s splendid fortune. The prince asked him to visit Munich with a letter to his uncle, Elector Charles Theodore, who proved, till his death in 1799, the devoted admirer, constant friend, and grateful patron of Thompson. The elector invited the handsome and accomplished officer of the age of thirty years, trained in workshop, cabinet, and field, to enter his service, both military and civil, at a most critical period in the condition of Bavaria, which was a prize in contest by the then contending imperial Continental powers. Thompson needed to obtain the permission of his sovereign, and, on a visit to England for the purpose, he not only received it, but also the honor of knighthood, February 23, 1784. With the prestige of honors, title, and his half-pay, this soldier of fortune, in the best sense of the epithet, returned to Bavaria; his abilities, marvelous versatility, and high ambition, accompanied by fidelity and unwearied zeal in most exacting labors for works of reform and improvements, adapting him to the elector’s pressing needs in his own imperiled and convulsed dominion. It may be that Thompson had the repute of the then deceased Franklin to inspire him, if he needed anything beyond the capacities and purpose found in himself. Radical and extensive reforms, all excellent in intent and effect; sage devices and schemes of homely benevolence curiously connected with severely scientific inventions and experiments ; shrewdly sagacious measures for grappling with the evils and frauds of tramps and mendicancy and the mischiefs of a standing army ; the invention and first practical and successful trial of plans for dealing with poverty and almsgiving, which have since been adopted, and are now followed to such purpose in every well-ordered community, — these, briefly and most inadequately stated in condensed summary, were the directions of Thompson’s zeal and transcendent success. To these he gave eleven years of the closest application, exhaustive of his own fine constitution. before he made another visit to England. He mastered the French and German languages, was regarded as a man of rare and universal accomplishments, and by his prudence and affability conciliated the jealousy of those who might grudge the trusts and honors bestowed on a foreigner. The elector’s confidence and gratitude knew no bounds. He gave Thompson a palatial edifice, a military staff, servants and blood-horses, and constituted him major-general of cavalry, privy councilor, chamberlain, and head of the war and police departments. When, in an interval of vacancy, the elector was Vicar of the Empire, he made Sir Benjamin Count of the Holy Roman Empire, with the order of the White Eagle. It is pleasant to repeat that Thompson, whom we must now call Count Rumford, should have chosen for title the name of the modest New England village where his first advancement came to him as a rural schoolmaster. He was also laden with titular, civic, and academic honors. As he was exhausted by his manifold and severe labors, the elector released him for sixteen months of travel on the Continent in 1793-94, in which he visited and introduced his ingenuities and improvements in many cities, as in Verona, Naples, and Florence.

Among other employments, Thompson had written, in Munich, his first series of essays. By leave of the elector, — to whom he most gratefully dedicated them, — he left Munich in September, 1795, to publish them in England, where, his fame and success being widely current, they gained popularity and interest.

It is cheering, at this point, to renew the connection of this eminent man with his deserted American home, where his signal career and honors were well known. There are evidences that, availing himself of some transient visitors, he had sent messages and pecuniary remittances to those whom he had not forgotten. He was now in correspondence, most hearty and genial on both sides, with his early and ever-constant friend Baldwin, through whom he made generous provision for his again widowed mother, with four additional children. For her he expressed the very tenderest affection and gratitude. His wife, at Concord, having died in 1792, he had sent for his motherless daughter, at the age of twentytwo, to meet him, as she did, on this his visit to London. The meeting was at first rapturous, and more than satisfactory on both sides ; but the satisfaction was largely qualified, also on both sides, on intimate relations and intercourse revealing each to the other their very marked individualities and idiosyncrasies. The daughter accompanied her father back to Munich, and, having spent three and a half years abroad, returned home, to join him afterwards under changed circumstances.

During this errand to England, which occupied less than a year, the count’s presence was marked in the honors and visits which he received, and in the exercise of his benevolent and ingenious activity. He regulated hundreds of smoking chimneys and ill-devised kitchens for hospitals and for nobles and peasants, and gave directions for the preparation of economical and nutritive food, even himself assuming the garb and functions of a cook. His most signal service, which will always perpetuate his fame as a man of science and a philanthropist, was the endowment of the Royal Society of London and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences each with a fund of $5000, the income to be awarded, in premium or medal, once in two years to him who, on either continent or its islands, should make and publish an invention or discovery in the application of light or heat to useful ends. It should be mentioned here that during the count’s absence from Munich, and without his knowledge, his grateful and admiring friends had erected that fine monumental tribute to him, of such interest to American visitors, in the “English Gardens,” or Park, which Rumford had redeemed from a bog.

In August, 1796, the count and his daughter, by a circuitous route, and with many embarrassing difficulties and annoyances, reached Munich. The whole continent was distracted by war. Bavaria was endeavoring to maintain its neutrality between the French and the Austrians. The elector himself, abandoning his capital, left all the measures for its defense in the hands of the count, whom he put in command of the military. By his successful strategy the count saved the city, increasing the gratitude of the elector, but drawing upon himself the jealousy and enmity of others in place and power which finally impaired his popularity and influence. For two years and a half father and daughter lived here together, indulging their quite different tastes and habits, and learning, without conforming themselves to, each other’s strong wills and alienating temperaments. The count seemed intent, by espionage and discipline, on guarding his daughter from some of the dubious conformities in which he himself indulged. Her most frank and communicative journal, from which I have drawn largely in the Memoir, has in it many charming touches, naive and suggestive, of the qualities of her early girlhood, as she was try ing to get used to certain “ ways of the world ” around her. She gives us what we have from no other source, curious disclosures of her father’s private habits, his martinet stiffness of order and discipline, his domestic routine, and the formalities and dignities of his official administration. He detected, or at least suspected, some gallantries of intercourse between her and a nobleman, one of his aids, for which, she tells us weepingly, he " boxed her ears,” and sent off the aid to other service.

The daughter, meanwhile, was having her full share in the game of life. She was allowed to take the title of countess, and received a life pension of about £200 a year. She had learned some things which she ought not to have known, and perhaps was glad, though with the renewed difficulties and annoyances of travel, through scenes of war, to return with her father to London in September, 1798. The count had been appointed by the elector his minister to the British court, but was most grievously and bitterly disappointed that, being a British-born subject, the king would not receive him in a diplomatic capacity. But he found a most congenial and exacting subject for his untiring zeal in inventiveness and large schemes for extended usefulness, and in planning and establishing what he regarded as the great enterprise of his life, the Royal Institution of London, which has now for nearly a century been a centre of diffusive influence in the highest ranges of science and popular advancement. The conception of this Institution had been formed by him in Munich, and he had corresponded concerning it with those in London whose cooperation he desired.

While giving his energies of ingenuity and practical scheming to the Institution, and seeing it generously supported, chartered, and beginning most hopefully its work, the count provided a residence for himself and daughter at Brompton, near London. This private dwelling became an object of curious interest to visitors. It was planned by the count, and in all its details, architectural, domestic, ornamental, and in all the materials, shapes, and devices of its furnishing, and especially its culinary arrangements, it showed the ingenuity, the love of method and order, and, it must be added, the eccentricities of the count.1

Sarah, during this last year of the three and a half years of her first visit to her not always approbatory father, was finding high enjoyments of her own in social intimacy with people of rank. She had another suitor in Sir Charles Blagden, a friend and correspondent of her father and herself, then and after her return to America. Many of the letters are in my hands. But the count, not approving, told Sarah something which, though not revealed in her journal, had the effect of a warning. She was then twenty-five years of age.

Before leaving Munich the count had a vague intention of visiting America, and even of providing for himself a residence there. Afterward, when he was in England, a rumor had been spread that he had left the service of Bavaria, and had been invited by the United States government to return to his native country, with the promise of official position there. By the action of both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Rumford was a proscribed and banished citizen. Although, smarting under his rejection as the minister of Bavaria, a visit to America might have been agreeable to him, his absorption in his Institution precluded it. By an initiative letter of Rumford to his friend Rufus King, our minister in England, and by subsequent correspondence with officials of our government, the way had been made easy and attractive to the count to return and find honored employment in the United States. Rumford sent some valuable military models to our Secretary of War, and had many correspondents in this country. Recalled by necessary business to Munich, and not wishing to take his daughter there again, he parted with her the last of August, 1799, and sent her home. Twelve years were to elapse before she should, under quite different circumstances, rejoin him in Europe. In the interval, father and daughter were in frequent correspondence. But she had in this interval a most wise and faithful counselor in her unsuccessful suitor, Sir Charles Blagden. Though from some real or fancied ill treatment Blagden afterwards ceased all intercourse with the count, he took the place of a guardian and most discreet adviser to the daughter, wholly disinterested and sincere, and gave her cautious counsels as to some of her many suitors of whom she wrote him. I cannot but infer from letters in my hands that lie was a more judicious guide than was her father.

Leaving Munich after discharging his public duties there and renewing order in his various establishments, which had suffered from the lack of his close supervision, the count made his first visit to Paris in October, 1801. He was received in Paris with warm and demonstrative enthusiasm, and was visited and applauded by men of science and the highest of the nobility, which of course ministered to whatever of weakness of vanity and self-conceit was justly charged against him. Here, too, he first met the lady, the rich, accomplished, and admired widow of the eminent chemist Lavoisier, with whom his subsequent married life was to prove so uncongenial. During the earlier years of the count’s residence in Paris, when both the nonintercourse between England and the Continent enforced by war and the honors paid in France to Rumford roused suspicions and ill feelings in his English associates, his course seemed inexplicable. In occasional letters, which with difficulty crossed the sea, he had expressed his desire and intention to return to England and look to his Institution. While the Memoir was in progress, the writer, having knowledge that the count retained his friendly relations with Sir Joseph Banks, inferred that letters to him from the count would probably explain what was mysterious or suspicious in this matter. These letters, not then within my reach, have since become available, and yield the desired information. It seems that Bonaparte had given Rumford permission to reside in France, and had allowed him to retain his Bavarian pension of £1200, on condition of his keeping aloof from all political intermeddling.

I copy here a letter of the count to Banks: —


November 11, 1801.

MY DEAR SIR JOSEPH, — I arrived here from Munich about a fortnight ago, and I purpose staying here three weeks longer. My reception has been very flattering, and I find many interesting objects of curiosity that engage my attention. I have already made the personal acquaintance of most of the men of eminence in science, and I have attended several of the meetings of the National Institute. At the last meeting of the mathematical and physical class the First Consul came In, and, fortunately for the complete gratification of my curiosity, he happened to come and seat himself very near me. One person only (Lagrange) was between us. He stayed about an hour, — till the meeting was over. Volta read a memoir on galvanism, and explained his theory of the action of the voltaic pile or battery. His opinion is that all the appearances that are called galvanic are owing to the action of an electric fluid, and he says that the simple tact of two metals — silver and zinc, for instance — is sufficient to set the electric fluid in motion ; and if the metals are insulated, one of them will become electrified positively, and the other negatively. This assertion was proved by an experiment which was made before the assembly, and this fact is the foundation on which his explanation of the phenomena of the galvanic pile is established. After Volta had finished his memoir, the First Consul demanded leave from the president to speak, which being granted, he proposed to the meeting to reward M. Volta with a gold medal, and to appoint a committee to confer with M. Volta on the subject of his experiments and investigations respecting galvanism, and to make such new experiments as may bid fair to lead to further discoveries. He delivered his sentiments with great perspicuity, and displayed a degree of eloquence which surprised me. He is certainly a very extraordinary man, and is possessed of uncommon abilities. The expression of his countenance is strong, and it is easy to perceive by his looks that be can pronounce the magic words “ Je le veux ” with due energy. I was presented to him by the Bavarian minister at his last public audience, and was received by him with marked attention. He gave me to understand that he knew me by reputation very well, and intimated that the French nation had adopted several of the improvements I had recommended. A few minutes after I came home from the audience, I received a note from him, inviting me to come and dine with him that day. The foreign ministers dined with him, but no other stranger except myself was invited ; consequently, my being invited was considered as a marked distinction. It was the next day that I saw him again at the National Institute.

I have had opportunities of making the acquaintance of several of the most distinguished characters now in power in this country. I am very intimate with Chaptal, the Minister of the Interior, and frequently see Talleyrand, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I have dined with both of them, and visit them often. La Place and Berthollet are very civil and attentive to me, and have each of them given me a dinner, where I met most of the men of science of the first distinction in Paris. Fourcroy has also given me a dinner. In short, I am treated with the utmost civility, and I spend my time very agreeably and very usefully.

I hope to see you in London about the 6th or 8th of December.

Ever yours most faithfully,


This was soon followed by another : —

PARIS, November 22, 1801.

MY DEAR SIR JOSEPH, — I do wrong, perhaps, but I cannot help telling you that your name is at the head of the list of those ten persons whom the class of mathematics and physics have resolved to present to the National Institute at their next general meeting, in order to their being elected foreign members of the Institute. You were proposed to the class by the section of botany. Your name is followed by those of Maskelyne, Cavendish, Hersehel, Priestley, Pallas, Volta, and three others. I was present when the ballot of the class was taken, and had the satisfaction to see that all the votes agreed in placing your name at the head of the list. I was politely told that my name would have been near that of my friend, had it not been that the second class of the Institute had claimed me as belonging to them, and had placed After this pleasant life in Paris, the count returned to his home in Brompton, December 20. He left England, for the last time, as it proved, May 9, 1802. From this date, the count’s interest and concern in the Institution, for which he had labored with such energy and zeal, of which he had been the master spirit and acknowledged head, and which had been so richly endowed, popular, and successful, with noble and fashionable patrons, ceased, though the Institution had passed but two years of its existence. The matter seems inexplicable. But there were reasons that throw light upon it. His daughter, in her infirm old age, destroyed a large package of letters from her father, written during this period, and giving full details of the opposition and conflicts which he had encountered. But we have glimmers of light from other

me on their list. The three first names on that list are, I am told, Mr. Jefferson, President of the United States, Count Rumford, and Major Rennell; the others I did not learn. sources. The plan of the Institution, from its first working, proved impracticable, because of its combination of purely scientific with mechanical and utilitarian objects, mechanism, model rooms and workshops. The scheme was too comprehensive and diffusive. A genius like Davy, in his conspicuous and wonderful service of it, though he was put in place by Rumford, turned it within the two years from its original design. Then, too, friction, lack of harmony, variance of purpose soon rising to discord, alienated from Rumford, one by one, nearly all his first associates. His temperament and proclivity led him to wish to be not only leader, but dictator. He was opinionative and imperious. Though he had exercised such almost absolute authority and individual administrative power in Bavaria, he could not, even with his affability and persuasiveness, override the differing judgments of men socially influential and individually tenacious of their own rights and opinions. His best friends began at this time to allege that he was irritable and irascible. Of this something may be said in extenuation. His bodily health and vigor were now seriously and, as it proved, hopelessly impaired. He was dyspeptic, splenetic, and consequently regarded as hypochondriacal. He was abstemious, notional, and whimsical in his self-imposed regimen and diet. It was a matter of marvel, and even of humor, among his intimates, that one who had written with such minuteness of detail and with such Apician skill about relishing and appetizing food as, it was said, provoked a craving for banqueting in his readers, would never partake of such viands, nor more than raise his glass to his lips. Visiting watering-places, he made that morbid study of symptomatic feelings and those testing experiments in dieting which seem about equally to indicate and to induce a failure of healthful vitality. This irritability of temper first manifested itself under the disappointment and mortification of his rejection as Bavarian minister to England. It may have been that the extreme prostration which he had suffered from overwork and exhaustion at Munich, when he himself expected that his life was closing, had caused a chronic cerebral weakness. Nor was the count, laden as he had been with success, eulogy, and applause, by any means insensible to the stings of ridicule to which he and his scientific associates were mischievously subjected. As the Royal Society had, from its origin through its subsequent course, been the butt for all sorts of satires, gibes, and badinage, forthe freaks of nature and oddities in its collections, and for its unintelligible scientific discussions, so the Royal Institution furnished rich provocatives to such merriment. Gillray, perhaps the most ingenious of England’s unbroken line of caricaturists, made frequent sport of the Institution. In his number 459, issued June 12, 1800, is a plate, the indecency of which will not allow of its description, in which Rumford figures in an experiment on air, with the following text : " It is

I was proposed to the class by the section of political economy. The classes propose to the Institute, and the Institute elects at a general meeting. The number of foreign members is limited to twenty-four. As the election will not take place for some weeks to come, I beg you would make the most prudent use of the information I have given you. I shall not mention the subject to anybody but yourself.

I hope to see you in London in about three weeks from this time.

My health is much improved, and is still improving every day. My stay in Paris has afforded me much amusement, but I begin to be impatient to see my friends in England. I hope everything is going on well at the Royal Institution.

I am, my dear Sir Joseph, with unalterable esteem and attachment, yours most faithfully, RUMFORD.

hardly necessary to state that Count Rumford is one of the most remarkable pretenders to science of his time, though not deficient in ingenuity, as his stoves and his various contrivances for the improvement and simplifying of kitchen operations proved. Peter Pindar has well recorded his fame : —

‘Knight of the dish-clout, wheresoe’er I walk,
I hear thee, Rumford, all the kitchen talk:
Note of melodious cadence on the ear,
Loud echoes, “ Rumford ” here, and “ Rumford ” there.
Lo ! every parlor, drawing-room, I see,
Boasts of thy stoves, and talks of naught but thee.’ ”

It was said that “ this portrait of the titled inventor of stoves gave great amusement to the original.” This statement may be doubted, for Rumford was extremely sensitive and " touchy.” The caricature number 520, issued May 23, 1802, is, “ Scientific Researches ! New Discoveries in Pneumatics ! Or an Experimental Lecture on the Powers of Air.” This is a burlesque on the Royal Institution. Many figures are the portraits of the more distinguished members. The gentleman ludicrously and indecently experimented upon is Sir J. C. Hippesley ; the operator is Dr. Garnett ; young Humphry Davy holds the bellows; Count Rumford, D’Israeli, Earl Gower, Lord Stanhope, Earl Pomfret, etc., appear. I find in one of Rumford’s letters to Banks from Paris that the latter had sent this coarse caricature to the count, drawing from him the following reply: “ The print you sent me has afforded me much amusement, and, even more than that, it has given me real satisfaction. It is just that ‘ those who take up the sword should perish by the sword.’ I never had a doubt who was the author of another print which certainly was not designed to give me pleasure. Although it has long been said, and I believe with truth, that those who render themselves conspicuous by their superior genius, their talents, and above all by their usefulness to society must necessarily be exposed to the shafts of envy and to the hatred of all bad men; yet, much as I am desirous of deserving the approbation of mankind, so far from feeling any secret satisfaction at seeing myself distinguished by those miscreants who may justly be considered as the vermin of society, I lamentthat I am not permitted to finish my days in peace and quietness. But the established order of things cannot be changed and I must endeavor to support with patience and dignity all those evils which cannot be avoided.”

He speaks in this letter of the many objects of pleasure and interest which he finds in Paris, and of the congenial and instructive delights which are afforded him by his membership and attendance upon the meetings of the Institute. Of one of these occasions, the subject being a proposed canal from Cambray to St. Quentin, he says : “ The First Consul was present, and took a very active part in the debate. He displayed very uncommon abilities. He is indeed a very extraordinary man. He hears with patience and with the utmost attention every argument opposed to his own opinions, and he states the question in dispute in so clear a light, and divests it so completely from every consideration that is not essential, that every difficulty seems to be removed, and the decision rendered quite plain and obvious. I was at the public audience on the 14th of July, and dined with the First Consul, and also stayed and spent the evening at the Tuileries. We sat down to table about two hundred and forty persons, and about sixty or eighty of the company stayed and spent the evening. There were a few card-tables, not more than four or five. The First Consul did not play, but walked about and talked to the company. He went out two or three times upon an elevated terrace to see the illuminations of the gardens. As often as he appeared the crowd below saluted him by clapping hands. He went to the opera the next evening, and instead of occupying his private box, which is grillé, he went and took his place in front of Madame Bonaparte’s box, where lie was exposed to the view of the whole house. The applause he received was quite enthusiastic, and lasted near a quarter of an hour. ‘ Vive Bonaparte ! ’ was heard from every part of the theatre, and the actors were obliged to stop for some time. He came to the meeting of the Institute on Saturday without any guards,” etc.

I have letters from Sir Charles Blagden— not yet alienated from the count — in which he informs Banks of their visit in company to Bavaria, and of the “ respect and affection with which Rumford is treated by all ranks of people. I do not mean to say that he is without enemies, for surely he has many, but all, as far as I can learn, from envy, jealousy, or competition of interests. The great mass of the people consider him as a public benefactor, and would rejoice to see the government of the country thrown into his hands. We called at a convent in Bavaria, and it was surprising to see how much attachment the monks show to him, though they must consider him as a heretic. In spite of the religious differences, he has found the means to persuade them of his general good intentions. The elector and every person in his family behave to the count with great respect,” etc. Blagden says the count declined all public trusts, and wished to be “ simply the elector’s friend.” This elector was the nephew of the count’s original and deceased patron.

The count still professed his intention of returning to England to look after his Institution. He wrote from Bavaria that he had been refused permission to go there through France. Blagden says that this was through fear " that he would act the spy,” a charge that had been alleged against Blagden. I suspect that the breach between the two onceattached friends arose from Blagden’s suspicion that the count had not effectually vindicated him from this charge.

Through the whole period of the count’s agreeable experiences in France and Bavaria, as well as in the sharp domestic troubles which followed, he continued diligently and ardently his studies and experiments in light and heat, and his economical and benevolent ingenuity and zeal in a large variety of subjects. While on a tour in Switzerland he wrote his paper on the Glaciers of Chamouni.

It would be pleasant if one might here close a sketch of the career of this remarkable man. In 1804 the new elector had settled upon him an additional pension, and though Iris health and flesh and cheerfulness were reduced by his splenetic habit, he seemed to have the prospect of many years of usefulness and enviable privileges. As already stated, among the strong attachments felt by the count on first coming to Paris was that for Madame Lavoisier, whom he then described in glowing terms, even if she was not to be regarded as handsome. Four years were to pass before they were married. In the interval, by constantly increasing intercourse and intimacy, and by making the tour of Switzerland together, he had had the fairest and fullest opportunity for understanding as well as appreciating her brilliant qualities, her tastes, habits, and views of life, and for knowing her strong social cravings and preferences in entertaining at dinner and tea parties and in her Salon men and women of talents and distinction. His own letters and those of Sir Charles Blagden, —who seems at the time to have been keeping a close watch on him, — written to the daughter and preserved by her, are now before me. Blagden did not believe the intimacy would result in a match, and he regarded ominously the consummation, for he well understood the peculiarities and the self-assertive imperiousness of the count, fixed in his temperament and in his independent bachelor life. Even the count, in his first infatuation, although avowing his admiration of the lady in the warmest terms, gave expression to some misgivings as to the wisdom and the possible results of the venture. The marriage took place October 24, 1805, he being fifty-two and she fortyseven years of age. The count’s first prompting was to send for his daughter to make her home with him. “ But madame did not wish to have a stepdaughter.” She sent Sarah some very rich and costly presents of jewelry and laces, which are still to be seen. Only two months had passed when the count informed his daughter that he feared he had acted unwisely. On June 30, 1809, three and a half years after the marriage, a period shorter than that of the previous

acquaintance of the discordant couple, an amicable separation was arranged by friends, though occasional intercourse was maintained between them by visits. On each anniversary of their wedding, till the rupture, the count wrote an especial letter to Sarah, in which, with increasing bitterness of tone and with sharply objurgatory epithets, he relates his miseries and wrongs in a “ hornet’s nest,” tormented by “a female dragon.”

Among the materials which have come to my hand since the composition of the Memoir is the charming autobiography of the eminent botanist De Candolle.2 In this there is a piquant reference to Count Rumford, both while living with and after his separation from madame. De Candolle was interested in the same inventive and philanthropic objects as the count, for whom, he says, he had conceived the highest admiration and veneration, as a philosopher and benefactor. On his arrival in Paris, De Candolle and bis friend Delessert eagerly sought out Rumford. “ The sight of him,” writes De Candolle, “very much reduced our enthusiasm. We found him a dry, precise man, who spoke of beneficence as a sort of discipline, and of the poor as we had never dared to speak of vagabonds.3 It was necessary, he said, to punish those who dispensed alms; we must compel the poor to work, etc. Our amazement was great on hearing such maxims. M. de Rumford established himself in Paris, where he married Madame Lavoisier, the widow of the celebrated chemist. I had relations with each of them, and never saw a more bizarre connection. Rumford was cold, calm, obstinate, egotistic, prodigiously occupied with the material element of life and the very smallest inventions of detail. He wanted his chimneys, lamps, coffee-pots, windows, made after a certain pattern, and he contradicted his wife a thousand times a day about the household management. Madame Lavoisier-Rum ford (for so she was called during his life, and did not begin to bear the name of Rumford till after his death) was a woman of a resolute and willful character. A widow during twelve or fifteen years, she had the habit of following her own inclination, and with difficulty bore opposition. Her spirit was high, her soul strong, her character masculine. Her second marriage was very soon vexed by the most grotesque scenes. Their separation was more of a blessing to both of them than was their union.4

The lady outlived her husband twentytwo years, continuing her former mode of life as the centre around which gathered a distinguished circle, charmingly described by Guizot. She died in 1836, aged seventy-eight.

Before purchasing a house at Auteuil, the count had intended to return to England, to his house at Brompton, which had been leased. His wife released her legal rights in that estate in favor of his daughter. But the war impeded his movements, and even interfered with the regular transmission of his half-pay. So he wrote to his daughter to join him at Auteuil. She gladly responded, and, facing the perils of the sea with the added dangers of war and capture upon it, sailed from New York on July 24,1811. The vessel, being captured as a suspected blockade runner, was carried into Plymouth, England, September 7, the countess being deprived of her jewels and other property. Sir Charles Blagden came to her advice and relief. After many difficulties, she readied Auteuil in December, 1811. She had a qualified comf ort and happiness with her father in his pleasant surroundings, and formed cordial relations with his " separated wife.” The father had his changing moods, and continued to make elaborate communications to the Institute and the Royal Society. But his life was soon to close, for he died August 21, 1814, his daughter being absent at the time. The many tributes, with a variety of tone and estimate, paid to him are given in the Memoir. In view of the many conspicuous services he had rendered to Bavaria, King Maximilian, at his own charge, erected in 1867, in the finest street in Munich, a superb bronze statue in commemoration of the count.5

The countess remained abroad in England and France till 1844, when she returned to America. I recall her, from occasional interviews with her, as an interesting rather than an attractive person. Though burdened with infirmity, she had been making preparations again to visit Europe, when her life closed, December 2, 1852, in her seventy-ninth year. She died in the house in which site was born, and which now, with an adequate fund for its support, provided in her will, serves as the “ Rolfe and Rumford Asylum ” for the poor, especially women and girls.

George E. Ellis.

  1. There has come into my possession a little book, written by his own hand, containing a full inventory of every article in this house, and in itself also an inventory of many of the qualities and notions of the count.
  2. Mémoires et Souvenirs de Augnstin-Pyramus de Candolle, etc. Genève, Cherbuliez, 1862.
  3. This reproach of the count is in keeping’ with the seemingly paradoxical estimate of him pronounced by Guizot, that, though Rumford’s life was devoted to beneficence, he had acknowledged that he did not love his fellow-men.
  4. Another very serviceable reference to husband and wife I have found in an Autobiography of A. B. Granville, M. D., F. K. S., being Eighty-Eight Years of the Life of a Physician. King & Co., London, 1874.
  5. The noble public library in the city of Woburn stands in a park which seems to invite a memorial of the most eminent person born in that place. By proper application to the authorities at Munich, I had sought and had obtained permission for a replica of that statue, which was to be provided for by a generous citizen, whose sudden death occurred as he was about to execute his will. It is to be hoped that the project will yet be successful.