HENRY EDWARD ARMSTRONG, 1848-1937by J. Vargas Eyre

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  • HENRY EDWARD ARMSTRONG, 1848-1937 by J. Vargas EyreReview by: E. H. RODDJournal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 106, No. 5026 (SEPTEMBER 1958), pp. 807-808Published by: Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and CommerceStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41366339 .Accessed: 25/06/2014 06:16

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  • SEPTEMBER 1958 NOTES ON BOOKS makes us aware of his physical presence and see just what he must have looked like, with his slightly pock-marked face, his scarred lip, and rather ungraceful figure, yet we are left in no doubt that his charm and simple sincerity much more than over- weighed these less attractive features.

    He gives many examples of Reynolds' extreme caution, sometimes amounting to meaness, in money matters - this no doubt was a survival from the early days (short as they were) when pennies had to be counted - and of his continuing careful- ness and canniness in business; but he shows how exceptionally openhanded and generous he could also be. Those who revere Reynolds will not like to be reminded (though it was common practice in his day) of his so very business-like way of running his copying business, where his poor assistants ground out copies of the Royal pictures at 20 guineas a time. Reynolds, without a qualm, pocketed the remaining 30 guineas. But Johnson, I think, saw him in this, as in other matters, in a true per- spective when he said, 'to a hand so liberal in distributing I hope nobody will envy the power of acquiring'.

    From Mr. Hudson's study, Reynolds emerges a more admirable and far more to-be-loved figure than we knew. We are all the more ready to credit his leading characteristics of impartiality, love of truth, courage, and magnanimity when we are told also of his human failings.

    If this excellent book goes into further editions, it is to be hoped that the publishers will pay more regard to the quality, and to the placing on the page, of the illustrations. Also, there are a number of key pictures omitted which, had they been included, would have enhanced the value of this book to the general reader.


    henry edward Armstrong, 1848-1937. By J. Vargas Eyre. London , Butterworths Scientific Publications , 1958. 30s net

    It was urgent that an authoritative account of the life of Armstrong should be written before all those who knew him to any intimate degree had passed away. Already, for he was born one hundred and ten years ago, his true contemporaries have gone, but so great was his length of days and so vigorous and active was he even to the closing years of his last and ninth decade that he still lives vividly in the memory of many people. He linked the mid-nineteenth century chemistry, the chemistry of Kekul, Kolbe, Hofmann and the elder Perkin and the beginnings of the organic chemical industry with the modern plastic and atomic age. Dr. Eyre, who served on his teaching staff at the Central Technical College in the early years of this century and became a trusted friend, has produced a notable book which, besides giving a fascinating account of a rare personality, is a valuable contribution to the history of technical education in this country.

    From an early age Armstrong showed a mercurial temperament and he never attempted to follow the advice given him by Tilden in 1884, on his appointment to the chair of chemistry at the 'Central', that 'he should now concentrate on this work and not try to keep so many things going at once'. His mind wanted to range far and get the world into true perspective. Of his many interests, chemistry and education were his passions, the former all-pervading, the latter fundamental to all progress. His conviction that methods of education called for drastic reform came during his first appointment, when he was trying to teach unresponsive medical students at St. Bartholemew's Hospital the rudiments of chemistry. At the same time he was, at the London Institution, giving evening instruction to earnest young artisans who wanted to apply a knowledge of chemistry in their own jobs. He became convinced of the necessity to teach young people from an early age to think for


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  • JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF ARTS SEPTEMBER I958 themselves, and began to work out methods of introducing science and scientific methods to the young by leading them on to find out things for themselves by experiment. His development and application of what came to be known as the heuristic method of instruction forms one of the major themes of Dr. Eyre's book, set against a historic background depicting the state of chemical science and of education in schools and colleges in the mid-nineteenth century. The story embraces the formation first of the Finsbury Technical College and subsequently of the Central Technical College by the City and Guilds Institute. The aim of the latter was to produce broadly trained engineers and chemists with enough engineering to fit them to the needs of chemical industry, and it is clear that Armstrong's ideas had a big influence on the courses of instruction. He was ahead of his time in realizing the coming need of chemical engineers, but his efforts were largely frustrated by the lack of vision of chemical manufacturers, and the demand for industrial chemists remained very small up to the time of the absorption of the 'Central' into the Imperial College of Science and Technology in 1908.

    Lower down the educational ladder Armstrong, who never lacked the courage of his convictions, experimented with his own large family of children (illuminating examples of some of their work are reproduced) and in schools, at St. Dunstan's and at Christ's Hospital when the removal of that school from Newgate Street to West Horsham in 1902 provided a wonderful opportunity for trying out new methods in spacious new laboratories. The writer of this review had the good fortune to be one of the 'guinea pigs' under the head science master, Chas. E. Browne, who is still well at the age of 93.

    Dr. Eyre has not neglected to refer to his hero's many other activities, his work for learned societies, for the British Association for the Advancement of Science, for the Lawes Agricultural Trust, and to his development into a trenchant critic and witty writer. Armstrong was himself something of a hero worshipper, of Faraday for example, and if some of his admirers also put him on a pedestal, who shall blame them? An honour which gave him the greatest satisfaction was the award of the Albert Medal by the Royal Society of Arts in 1930 'for his discoveries in Chemistry and his services to education'. Of these discoveries, which earned him world-wide recognition, the book gives a good account and a bibliography. But why no index ?

    E. H. RODD


    VOLUME VI. 24 th September , 1858 PEAT GAS

    It is stated in the Dublin Freeman that a village has recently been succesfully lighted by gas made from bog peat. More than a year ago John Wilson, Esq., J. P., Daramona, Westmeath, had gas works erected at his private residence to light up that building, the out-offices, farm-yards, & c. Since that time he has used no other kind of artificial light than what was made from the turf of his locality. Within the last four months Mr. Wilson arranged with Mr. Johnson, the patentee of the process employed for the erection of a second and more extensive apparatus, in order to light with turf gas a village on his property. The gas produced gives a pure and brilliant light. The enthusiasm of the people who had assembled to see the ceremony of first lighting the gas became loudly enthusiastic - cheers and every possible demonstration of gladness were vented at the success of the undertaking, and the indelible proof given of the fact that there is something in the bogs of Ireland.


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    Article Contentsp. 807p. 808

    Issue Table of ContentsJournal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 106, No. 5026 (SEPTEMBER 1958), pp. 739-808SECRETARY'S VISIT TO NORTH AMERICA [pp. 739-739]CHRISTMAS CARD FOR 1958 [pp. 740-740]BRITISH TRADEI. TRADE WITH LATIN AMERICA [pp. 741-756]II. TRADE WITH THE COMMONWEALTH [pp. 757-770]III. TRADE WITH WESTERN EUROPE [pp. 771-784]


    NOTES ON BOOKSReview: untitled [pp. 806-807]Review: untitl