- Historic Sites
Protégé Of Cornwallis, Guest Of Washington
August 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 5
The next day Dr. Ross, an English physician, called to take him to visit Dr. Joseph Priestley, “a celebrated man of whom I had heard a great deal when a boy at school.” A scientist and nonconformist minister, Fellow of the Royal Society and frequent lecturer at the American Philosophical Society, renowned for his discoveries in electricity and chemistry, Priestley had expressed such unorthodox political and religious views, and such sympathy for the French revolutionists, that an infuriated Birmingham mob broke into his house, pillaged his library, burned his notes and manuscripts, and destroyed his “philosophical apparatus.” He received compensation for the damage, but in 1794 he emigrated to the United States. Dr. Ross, in his friendly zeal, introduced me [to Priestley] somewhat in the style of a showman at a country fair: “Mr. Twining—just arrived from Bengal—a great traveller on the Ganges—has been received by the Great Mogol,” etc. The Doctor, his simplicity unchanged by this recital, received me with hearty kindness. He placed me near the fire and took a chair by my side. I soon found that he was as inquisitive as Dr. Ross had represented him to be. Fortunately his inquiries were directed to such subjects respecting India as were familiar to me, such as the castes, customs, and character of the ,inhabitants; climate, productions, etc. The Doctor related, in his turn, many anecdotes. … He had a way, when telling his stories, of asking you to guess how a thing happened, saying, “Now, sir, how do you think this was?” waiting a few moments for an answer. Among other things, he spoke of the great sheep in Mr. Bingham’s garden, expressing his intention of seeing it, and then alluded to the great improvement lately made by Mr. Bakewell of Leicestershire in the breed and management of animals. He said he once visited Mr. Bakewell, who showed him … his fine bulls, remarkable for their size and symmetry. He saw two of these animals grazing peaceably in the same pasture. “I can,” said Mr. Bakewell, “immediately make these bulls as furious as they are now quiet, and again make them friends.” “And how,” said the Doctor, addressing himself to me,”… do you think this was done? Why, sir, Mr. Bakewell ordered one of his men to drive a cow into the field, and the two bulls rushed at each other, and fought with great fierceness. Whilst they were thus engaged, the cow was driven out of the field, and the two champions grazed together quietly as before.”
The Tibetan goat had died shortly before the arrival in Philadelphia, but Twining had saved the skin, and Priestley expressed a desire to examine it. Accordingly, he appeared next day with his son Joseph and went with Twining to the India , which was still discharging its cargo. He studied the skin with much care, turning back the long hair and feeling the downy wool beneath, and finally allowed that cashmere was indeed the produce of a goat. “I thought I could not dispose of this curiosity better than by placing it in his possession,” Twining wrote, “and requested the Doctor to allow one of the sailors to carry it to his house. Although he yielded to this proposal with reluctance, I had the satisfaction of perceiving that it afforded him pleasure.” Upon separating from Dr. Ross, I went to the house where the Congress held its meetings, situated in Chestnut Street. It is a large and handsome building, occupying the area of an extensive court, by the side of the street. … … Mr. Gallatin was speaking. Mr. Gallatin is a native of France or Switzerland, but had long resided in America
Twining had occasion to meet with Gallatin when the latter appeared at breakfast at the Francis house on April 13 along with members of Congress, “with whom,” Twining wrote, “I was now upon easy terms.” Gallatin examined Twining’s muslin neckcloth and was surprised at what it had cost in India. That touched off a spirited discussion about both the quality and the prices of Indian fabrics, but mostly about the prices, which Twining noted “suggested the idea of a profitable speculation, the object of almost every American at this period.”
Three days later Twining began a “rough and fatiguing” four-week journey to Baltimore and on to Washington, the new Federal City then under construction. He rode in a long ten-passenger “waggon” with a light roof and side curtains made of leather that might be raised or lowered, but without backs to the unpadded wood benches. Despite the wretched roads and the intolerable jolting of the springless wagon, Twining observed approvingly that “everywhere the progress of improvement was visible; everything had advanced and was advancing. … It would be unreasonable to expect perfection in the arrangements of a new country. … I believe there is no nation that would have done more in so short a time, and most nations would assuredly have done infinitely less.” And : Every settler in a new country labors less for the present than for the future, for himself than for his posterity, and it is this honourable consciousness that invigorates his toil, cheers his solitude, and alleviates his privations. It was not [in America] as in India, where the surplus revenue of the country was sent out of it, without being counterbalanced by any return. Here, this surplus would be expended in the country, whose property indeed it was, in national improvements. America was a farm, in which the produce was spent upon the land; India, one in which even stubble was carried from it.