Monday, March 9, 2009

Reminiscences of an Active Life #14 -- March 9, 2009

Doctor Peter Henri Van Der Weyde was born in Nymegen, Holland in 1813. He went on to live a remarkable life of achievement in the sciences and the arts. He died in America in 1895.

While serving as editor of Manufacturer and Builder Magazine, he wrote many articles, including the ones which gave this blog its name. In 1893 and 1894, he published a 23-part (!) memoir in the same periodical. Here is the fourteenth part. He talks about his career as a teacher.

I don't know for sure, but New Brunswick Dutch Reformed College may be the New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

The American Institute held an annual fair in New York City "for the encouragement of agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and the arts." When the Army stopped using Castle Clinton, a fort which defended New York Harbor, it became Castle Garden, a site for entertainments.

Horace Waters manufactured keyboard instruments.

The Cooper Institute may be the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a college specializing in adult education. Peter Cooper was an inventor and philanthropist.

Joseph Henry was a scientist and the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

The image comes from the first installment, in the February, 1893 issue.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

Part Nine

Part Ten

Part Eleven

Part Twelve

Part Thirteen

Reminiscences of an Active Life.


From Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 26, Issue 3, March1894

(Continued from page 41.)

8th. Career as a Teacher. -- Of all the careers which I have followed, either simultaneously or successively, that of a teacher has been the most lucrative to me, and, what is more important, the most useful. This teaching was done by different means.

(a). By giving lessons as a private instructor.

(b). By lectures, either public or private.

(c). By writing articles on different branches of theoretical or practical science, and publishing them in scientific or technical periodicals.

(d). By giving a good example as a practical man, who did not confine himself to book learning.

(e). By editing and publishing in Holland a scientific magazine of my own.

(f). By editing, without salary, a daily paper in the interest of the working classes.

(a). As private instructor. The circumstances which made this business very lucrative, were that the government of the Netherlands concluded to raise the standard of all colleges and universities, by establishing a board of experts, the duty of which was to examine all candidates who sought admission to any institution for higher education, and which board was especially charged to see that all candidates had a fair knowledge of geometry and algebra; of geometry as far as the first six books of Euclid, and in algebra the ability to solve equations of the second degree.

This, of course, was very favorable to all teachers in those branches, and I had as many private pupils as I could attend to, and this all among the rich aristocracy, as, of course, poor people did not send their sons to universities, while the free instruction in the public schools did not include geometry, but sometimes only the first steps in algebra as a continuation of arithmetic.

For this very reason the general government made appropriations for the benefit of cities where there were no free schools for higher mathematical instruction, and ordered the local government in the city of my residence to appoint a teacher in descriptive geometry in the school of design. I was appointed as such, and occupied this position until 1849, when I removed to New York city, where I at once found all the private pupils that I could attend to. I gave private lessons in anything which I understood myself such as French, German, and even Dutch to some of the students of the New Brunswick Dutch Reformed College, who wanted to understand the language in which the fundamental documents of that sect had been written.

As by the efforts of my pious orthodox aunt I had received special private instruction in the meaning of those very documents, the Dutch Reformed students were much pleased with my explanations, and I believe that if my tendency had been in that direction, I might have obtained some position in that college, which some of my theological friends suggested, and offered to make efforts to that end, but my conscience induced me to decline respectfully teaching orthodoxy, and confine my religious labors to playing the organ, which I did to the very great satisfaction of all concerned; and by this means an opportunity was offered to obtain pupils in organ and piano playing, which occupation became so prosperous that very soon it overshadowed my other subjects of instruction. There were two reasons for this, first, that I had been thoroughly trained as a pianist, in which, at that time (1849), most piano teachers were lamentably deficient. In the fall of that year the American Institute had its yearly exhibition in Castle Garden, and making a visit there, I tried some of the pianos, when, to my surprise, several ladies and gentlemen gave me their addresses, with the request to call for the purpose of making arrangements to give piano lessons to their children. I became then first acquainted with the late Horace Waters, who engaged me to play every day for a few hours on his pianos; he said that I was just the man to show off a piano, as he usually sold the very piano which I had tried. He wanted me to play on no other piano than his, but this request I refused.

After the fair, he requested me to call at the piano store he had established in Broadway, where I taught pupils living outside the city, while soon parties clubbed together to have me come to teach eight or ten pupils. One day each week I spent in this way in Paterson, and another day in Kingston, which I reached by the night boat, and returned in the same way to New York, where I gave lessons in piano, organ, harmony and composition for four days, and played the organ on Sunday; so my time was well occupied. In addition to this, some teachers who had heard me improvise on the organ in church, took lessons in harmony and composition. This was during the first two or three years of my residence in New York (1849-1851), when I had rented rooms in the New York University.

So much for what relates to teaching music. Details relating to music in general, and not to its teaching, will be treated of under the head of Career as a Musician.

(b). Teaching by lectures, either public or private. My usefulness as a teacher was without doubt at its maximum while I was lecturing and teaching natural philosophy and chemistry in the Cooper Institute in New York for five years (1859-1864). I gave a lecture every night except Saturday and Sunday, and as I lived in the Institute building, I could be found any time by my students in case they had any question to ask, as well as by other callers wishing scientific information. As I considered myself as belonging to the Institute, which gave me salary and lodgings, I never charged anything for such services. This was very much approved of by Peter Cooper, who said that I acted in the spirit for which the Institute was established -- namely, to be useful to all.

I had my lodging-room immediately adjoining the laboratory and apparatus, and found this exceedingly time saving as well to myself as to others, who very frequently called to exhibit to me certain inventions they had made, and which, when practically applied, did not work as well as expected, and often did not work at all. It was useful to myself, and especially to the visitor, who often had to be convinced of his error by practical experiment, for which purpose all the apparatus was at hand, and could be used without cost to the Institute.

My old friend, Prof. Joseph Henry, secreiary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, followed the same manner of life as I did. He lived in the Smithsonian building, of which a portion was arranged for himself and family, with a separate entrance, and almost as often as I visited him, he was busy with some new subject of physical investigation.

A farmer once came to me with a bulky contrivance, which, according to his reasoning, should make water run up hill. He wanted me to try if I could not make it work. I put it in operation, and explained his false reasoning, and why it could not do what he intended. He supposed that a thicker pipe containing more water, should exert more pressure than a thinner pipe. I made him understand his error, and he left crestfallen. After a month he returned, and in answer to my question what he had now, he said: "Of course I must make water run up hill." It was an error similar to the previous one, which I again explained to him, and told him, in conclusion, that he ought to exercise his ingenuity in another direction. He promised to do so.

It was remarked to me that I should not lose my time with cranks. I answered that to convince a crank of his error, was almost as praiseworthy an act as to improve a sinner, and that, anyhow, my time belonged to the Cooper Union.

In regard to experimenting, I frequently impressed upon my class the advantages Providence has given to these who want to investigate nature, and the gratefulness we must feel for the gift, always adding the confession that, personally, it was with a feeling of deep gratefulness that I tried experiments, and that with profound reverence I watched the result. I felt as if I were preparing to ask a question of the divine power which governs all matter ; and it was with still greater reverence that I watched the result, and observed this carefully and respectfully. It always made the impression upon me that the divine creator of all things knew my desire and gave me the answer to my question by the facts which I observed.

(To be continued.)

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