« PreviousContinue »
ORIGINAL MEMOIRS OF BENJAMIN,
COUNT OF RUMFORD,
I HE interesting account, with which Major Thompson entertained his acquaintance at London, reša pecting the then critical affairs of America, was a necessaty and fortunate prelude to his further advancement. His engaging manners, the perspicuity, and above all the neatness and ease, with which he related any fact, or manceuvre of either army, rendered him a pleasant and instructive companion. With such advantages he soon became the intimate acquaintance of the principal officers at the court of St. James'. His chief patron and assistant was Lord George Sackville Germaine, who, the year before Major Thompson's arrival in England, had been appointed secretary of state for the American department.
His time was ocupied in viewing the wonders, which such a metropolis may naturally be supposed to present to a mind of such a texture, and in examining the civil and military institutions of England. In the last he discovered some defects, for which he soon found a remedy, and such deference was paid to his judgment and ingenuity, that few embarrassments occurred in procuring his suggested improves ments to be adopted. One of these was the supplying the royal horse guards with bayonets in such a manner, that the fusees, though much smaller and shorter, than the common muskets, should place the horse guards, when reduced to use them on foot, on an equality with those, who used the common bayonet. The stocks of the horse guard guns were so constructed, as to receive, in addition to the ramrod, a bayonet as much longer, than the old ones, as, when put upon the mouth of the gun, both should be equal in length to
those of the foot guards. When it was necessary to use this new bayonet, it was drawn out, like the rod; and fixed in the usual manner, so that the horse guards, or any other dragoons, furnished with them, should never be defenceless, in whatever mode they might be called to fight. A contrivance so simple and so important was a very favorable essay of his genius, and, while every body was pleased with the improvement, the author was caressed and admired.
Admitted to a free intercourse with the chief members of the cabinet, it was impossible, that many of his opinions should not be followed, and that some arrangements should not be under his own direction. In the month of September 1780* he was appointed by the king under secretary of state for the northern department. His appointment, by giving him an employment regular and lucrative, was such, as suited his wishes. His acuteness and penetration enabled him to foresee the consequences and effects of any transaction or experiment, through all the remote and most minute parts of its execution.
Toward the close of the American war and just before Lord George Germaine left his office, Major Thompson, through the influence of that nobleman, was appointed colonel of a regiment of the queen's royal, American dragoons. By this commission he was obliged to return to America, and arrived at New York for the purpose of raising and forming his regiment; but the termination of hostilities at the peace prevented the execution of his commission, and he returned to England, without having accomplished his object.
* It is impossible to give a very particular account of the life and employment of Major Thompson from year to year. The distance of the subject, the few documents, which are afforded on this side the Atlantic, and the plan of this memoir, render our wishes useless. We can only trace him by those transactions, the accounts of which have reached us in his own works, or the relation of travellers ; and which will be remembered, when those, who have witnessed, can no longer relate them. He has prepared for his own amusement a short sketch“ of the vicissitudes of a life, chequered by “ a great variety of incidents.” If this were within our reach, we should have the ground work of an extensive biography.
Vol. II, No. I.
He remained in England till the year 1784, where he pursued his favorite studies, and began a course of philosophical experiments on such subjects, as immediately concern the economy of human life. His free and communicative turn of mind, and the deep interest, which he discovered for the promotion of useful science, induced all parties to cherish him, as the greatest assistant to the increase of public happiness. He introduced a revision of the military exercise, and in some parts worked a reformation in the military establishment, which were acknowledged to be of the utmost consequence. He was knighted by the king of England in the year 1784, before he left that country to make the tour of Europe.
His reception upon the first visit, he made to the continent, was so flattering, and involved so many interesting scenes, thatit deserves a particular relation, especially the manner, in which he became acquainted with Charles Theodore, the then elector of Bavaria. In the year 1784 Col. Thompsen, while under half pay of the king, obtained liberty of his majesty to make a visit to Vienna. His object was to acquire a thorough knowledge of the civil, military, and statistical establishments of Europe. On his journey he passed through Flanders into Germany with the design of taking a different rout from the one, which he afterwards was induced to pursue. He arrived at Manheim, where the Duke De Deux Ponts, the present elector, happened to be reviewing some troops, belonging to the army of his uncle. Col. Thompson was mounted on a large, beautiful, English horse, which he had brought from England with him, and clad in a full dress uniform of a British officer. When he appeared, as a stranger, whom curiosity had induced to visit the parade, the Duke De Deux Ponts was struck with his fine appearance, and resolved not to let the opportunity escape of being acquainted with him. His inquiries, were yain, and no other resource was found but to address himself personally to hin. This first accidental interview was followed by a lasting friendship and esteem. The duke inquired the ob
ject of his visit to the continent, and whether he had determined upon the route, he should take to Vienna. He was informed of the direction, but prevailed upon Col. Thompson to pass through Munich, instead of the course, he had proposed, with a promise of letters of introduction to the elector. .
He went to Munich, and with the good fortune, which seemed to watch him in all his steps, he was received by his Serene Highness with the greatest kindness and friendship.
After many fruitless endeavors to detain him at Munich, and numerous flattering offers made to reconcile him to de lay, he left the elector to complete his journey to the capital of Germany. While he resided here, a correspondence was kept up between him and the duke of Bavaria, until he obtained a promise from Col. Thompson to come and reside with him at Munich. Having been absent a few weeks, he returned to Munich, where he began that regular and wonderful system of improvements, hitherto unequalled in the annals of philosophy and humanity.
The first honor, conferred upon him by the elector on his return from Vienna, was making him Chamberlain in 1784 or 1785. About the same time also he was admitted a mem. ber of the academies of science of Munich and Manheim.
His attention was directed to the inquiries of the political and military state of the elector's circle. This knowledge was necessary to the effecting his benevolent plans for meliorating the condition of the poor, who thronged the metropolis, and for whose service he volunteered himself, and suffered no circumstance to be omitted, which could possibly aid the project.
The motives, which influenced him to undertake the reformation of the police, &c. in Bavaria, and the principles, which were adopted to carry it into effect, are stated by himself, as follow in his essays, published at London 1796.
“ Having in the year 1984 with his majesty's gracious “ permission engaged myself in the service of his most sem " rene highness, the elector Palatine, reigning duke of “ Bavaria, I have since been employed by his electoral highness “ in various public services, and particularly in arranging his “ military affairs, and introducing a new system of order, disa
cipline, and economy among his troops.”
“ In the execution of this commission, ever mindful of " that great and important truth, that no political arrange“ment can be really good, except in so far, as it contrib6 utes to the general good of society, I have endeavored in « all my operations to unite the interest of the soldier with “ the interest of civil socieiy, and to render the military forc"es, even in time of peace, subservient to the public good.”
The king of Poland conferred upon him the order of St. Stanislaus in the year 1786 ; and on his journey to Prussia the year following he was elected member of the academy of Berlin ; and, as if it were impossible to stop the course of honors, literary, civil, and military, which were flowing upon him, in 1788 he was appointed major general of cavalry, and privy counsellor of state. To complete for the present this progress of promotions, he was placed at the head of the war department, and directed by the elector to adopt the necessary measures for executing his various plans for improving the condition of the army and of the poor, and render them complete.
In the year 1789 Sir Benjamin established the house of industry at Manheim.* This was the first experiment of the kind, to which he had directed his attention, and was the result of several years'study and close application to the interest of the military system. We cannot obtain a correct account of the different parts of this establishment, because, as he himself says, “ it was his first attempt, or coup d'essai ;” therefore in his essays he has chosen to give a description of that, which was erected a few months after at Munich, which, he does not hesitate to say, may be taken for a perfect model for any similar institution. '
* Among the lamentable consequences of the late war in Europe is to be ranked the destruction of this institution. The building was burnt by the Austrians, while beseiging that city in 1795. The number of poor and indie gent people, who were supported in it, was generally about 800,