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Etidorhpa, by John Uri Lloyd, [1897], at

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Story of the Life of Prof. Daniel Vaughn. *


Twelve Years’ Record in the Chair of Chemistry at the Cincinnati College of Medicine.

[A paper read before the Literary Club by Prof. Richard Nelson.]

Few men, if any, so eminent in science and philosophy have been known to live and die in such obscurity as the subject of this paper. A mathematician whose knowledge has never been fathomed, an original investigator in terrestrial and celestial chemistry, most of whose speculations are now accepted as law; a contributor to the philosophical journals of Europe, whose papers were received with distinguished favor; an astronomer, who, in those papers, ventured to differ with Laplace, and, too, as will be shown, a man skilled in classical scholarship, yet unknown to his nearest neighbors and recognized by only a few in his own city. He lived and died in obscurity and poverty in a city distinguished for its schools of science and art, and the liberality and public spirit of its men of wealth; who, if any, were to blame? One object of this paper is to unravel the mystery.


Daniel Vaughn was born in the year 1818 at Glenomara, four miles from Killaloe, County Clare, Ireland. His father's name was John, who had two brothers, Daniel and Patrick. John, like Daniel, was educated for the church, but, being the eldest son, remained on the farm. Daniel became, subsequently, the parish priest of Killaloe, and in 1845 was ordained Bishop.

John Vaughn had three children, Daniel (the subject of this paper), Owen and Margaret, afterward Mrs. Kent. The distance to the nearest school being four Irish miles, John had his sons educated by a tutor till they were prepared to enter a classical academy.

At the age of about sixteen Dan, as he was familiarly called, was placed under

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the care of his uncle and namesake at Killaloe, where he entered the academy. There the young student pursued the study of Greek, Latin and mathematics, giving some attention to certain branches of physics, for which he evinced peculiar aptitude.


About the year 1840 his uncle, desirous of having the young man enter the church, advanced him a sum of money to defray his expenses at a theological school in Cork, but on seeing the American liners when he reached Queenstown, the temptation to take the voyage to the land of promise was too great for the young adventurer to resist, so he secured a passage to New York. When at school he made wonderful advancement in study, especially in higher mathematics, and felt he ought to go to a country where he could be free to pursue his favorite line of thought and where attainments in science would not be circumscribed, as in the church.

Of his voyage and subsequent wanderings little is known until he reached Kentucky. That he visited many schools and paid his way in part by teaching there is no question. The college of the late Dr. Campbell, in Virginia, was one of the institutions visited, but he felt he must push on to Kentucky. About 1842 he had reached the Blue Grass region, near the home of the late Colonel Stamps, in Bourbon County. The Colonel saw him engaged at work and was quick to observe that the stranger was no common man. Taking him to his house and supplying his wants, the Colonel soon installed him as his guest, and eventually made him instructor of his children. Access to the Colonel's library was a boon to the stranger, developing in him traits of genius of which his host was very proud.

It was only a short time till the neighboring farmers heard of the distinguished young scholar, and desired to have the more mature members of their families under his care. A school was opened in the Colonel's house for instruction in the higher mathematics, the classics, geology, physical geography and astronomy. The young people were pleased with their teacher and made commendable progress, but the curriculum was too varied and comprehensive for an instructor, who, though far advanced in scholarship, had not yet studied the art of teaching.


In 1845 he accepted the chair of Greek in a neighboring college, which afforded him leisure for his scientific pursuits. After an absence of seven years the Professor returned to his old friend, Colonel Stamps and family, where he remained some two years, leaving them to settle in Cincinnati.

During his stay at the Colonel's (1851) he became a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1852 contributed to it his first article, entitled "On the Motions of Numerous Small Bodies and the Phenomena Resulting Therefrom." Having accumulated a valuable collection of books on science and philosophy and obtained access to several libraries, public and private, in the city, he was now in a condition to devote most of his time and energies to his favorite sciences. For subsistence he delivered lectures before teachers’ institutes and colleges till 1856, when an affection of the lungs compelled him to abandon the lecture field.

In the meantime he had offered papers for publication to Silliman's Journal,

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the principal scientific magazine of America at that time, but, receiving no response to his communications and being denied publication, he took the advice of a friend and sent his subsequent articles to the British Association for the Advancement of Science and to the Philosophic Magazine, where they were received with favor. He was much gratified to find his article on "Meteoric Astronomy" published in the report of the Liverpool meeting of the association in 1854. Six papers, which he subsequently sent in 1857, 1859 and 1861, met with similar favor.

For several years he visited schools, colleges and teachers’ institutes in Oxforo, Lebanon, Cleveland and other cities, lecturing on his favorite branches of science. It had been his intention to popularize the science of physical astronomy by the publication of tracts or pamphlets.


In the year 1856, at the request of teachers before whom he had lectured at the institutes, and with a view to popularize scientific knowledge, the Professor commenced the publication of pamphlets. The first number treated of "The Geological Agency of Water and Subterranean Forces." Only two of these pamphlets came into the possession of the administrator. One of them was a good-sized volume, as may be inferred from the following articles it contained:

"The Influence of Magnitude on Stability."

"The Doctrine of Gravitation."

"Theory of Tides."

"Effects of Tides."

"Cases of Excessive Tidal Action and Planetary Instability."

"The Rings of Saturn."

"The Supposed Influence of Satellites in Preserving Planetary Rings."

"Movements of Comets."

"The Tails of Comets."

"Mass and Density of Comets."

"Cometary Catastrophes."

"Phenomena Attending the Fall of Meteors."

"The Origin of Solar and Meteoric Light."

"Variable Stars and the Sun's Spots."

"Temporary Stars."

"Electrical Light and the Aurora Borealis."

"Proof of the Stability of the Solar System," with an appendix.

Some of these subjects had been treated of at greater length and published by American and British associations for the advancement of science.

He sent to the British Association for the Advancement of Science:

"Cases of Planetary Instability Indicated by the Appearance of Temporary Stars."

"Appearance of Temporary Stars."

Other papers appeared:

"Note on the Sunspots," Philosophical Magazine for December, 1858.

"On the Solar Spots and Variable Stars, idem, Vol. 15, p. 359.

"Changes in the Conditions of Celestial Bodies," an essay.

"The Origin of Worlds," Popular Science Monthly, May, 1879.

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"Planetary Rings and New Stars," Popular Science Monthly, February, 1879.

"Astronomical History of Worlds," idem, September, 1878.

"On the Stability of Satellites in Small Orbits and the Theory of Saturn's Rings," Philosophical Magazine, May, 1861.

"On the Origin of the Asteroids." Contributed to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Static and Dynamic Stability in the Secondary Systems," Philosophical Magazine, December, 1861.

"On Phenomena which May be Traced to the Presence of a Medium Pervading all Space," idem, May 11, 1861.

The Professor contributed to other publications on both sides of the Atlantic, but as he failed to retain copies of the articles or of the magazines in which they were published, doubtless many papers of interest are among the number.

The year 1860 found the Professor possessed of a valuable collection of books, the accumulation of ten or fifteen years, all showing the marks of wear, some of them besmeared with the drippings from his candle. Among them were works of some of the most prominent authors in branches of theoretical and practical science. Those of Laplace, Kepler, Tycho-Brahe, Leibnitz, Herschel, Newton and others, together with many pamphlets and periodicals, composed his library. He possessed a familiar knowledge of the German, French, Italian and Spanish languages, and of ancient Greek and Latin. Many of his papers appeared in the continental languages. It may be here stated that for the eminent astronomer, Laplace, as a scientist and writer, Prof. Vaughn entertained great respect, though he could not accept his nebular hypothesis, because important parts of it would not bear mathematical investigation. [The proof is in the papers in my possession.—N.] In an article of the Professor to the Popular Science Monthly (February, 1879) is a case of the kind, showing that the distinguished astronomer ignored his own famous theory. The article reads: "In endeavoring to account for the direct motion in secondary systems Laplace contends that, in consequence of friction the supposed primitive solar rings would have a greater velocity in their outer than in their inner zones. Now, if friction is to counteract to such an extent the normal effects of gravitation, it must be an eternal bar against the origin of worlds by nebulous dismemberment, and if the ring of attenuated matter were placed under the circumstances suggested by the eminent astronomer, it would be ultimately doomed, not to form a planet, but to coalesce with the immense spheroid of fiery vapor it was supposed to have environed."

It is interesting to know that the theory of our Professor was the correct one, as proved by a recent discovery of Prof. James E. Keeler, astronomer of the Allegheny Observatory. As announced in a daily paper: "Prof. James E. Keeler, of the Allegheny Observatory, has made a wonderful discovery. It is a scientific and positive demonstration of the fact that the rings of Saturn are made up of many small bodies and that the satellites of the inner edge of the rings move faster than the outer."

As to satellites, Prof. Vaughn, in the paper quoted, page 466, states: "The matter spread over the wide annular fields is ever urged by its own attraction to collect together and form satellites, which are ever destroyed by attractive disturbance of the primary, and have their parts scattered once more over a wide space."

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The Professor was elected to the chair of chemistry in the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery in 1860, where he served with distinction for twelve years. His scholarly valedictory at that institution is one of the papers reserved for publication in his memoirs.

While in the college he continued his investigations in science, applying his knowledge of terrestrial chemistry to the chemistry of the heavens, as shown in nearly all his writings. Besides the position held in the college, he gave lessons in schools and seminaries in geology, astronomy, chemistry, Latin and Greek.

In 1873 he visited Lexington, where he met his old friend, Dr. J. C. Darby, and delivered lectures in public, at the Sayre Institute and the Baptist School, returning to Cincinnati the following spring. Except from his writings, he seemed to have no source of revenue for several years. How he managed to exist his most intimate friends could only conjecture. True, he contributed papers to monthly publications, but they appeared at such long intervals they could not be relied on for support, so, in the autumn of 1878 his friends organized for him a course of lectures, which were well patronized by physicians and others versed in science. In the meantime, negotiations were opened with prominent citizens of suburban towns for other lectures, and efforts were made to retire the Professor on an annuity.


Enfeebled health, which confined him to his room for several weeks, prevented him from entering on the suburban course, so a second course was projected for the city and one of the lectures delivered. From what transpired after that lecture his friends were again anxious regarding his health, and, as the time approached for the delivery of the second, determined to see him. For reasons stated elsewhere it was with some difficulty he was found. Prostrated on a couch, he was suffering from a hemorrhage of the lungs of a few days previous, with evidences all around of a state of extreme destitution. No time was lost in having him removed to comfortable quarters in the Good Samaritan Hospital, where his friends arranged for his care as a private patient. Next day, April 3, he expressed himself as greatly benefited by the change and talked cheerfully and hopefully of the future. Next day, Friday, he continued to improve, but on Saturday proof of his forthcoming article in the Popular Science Monthly reached him, and, feeling that he ought to return it promptly, he sat up to do the work, The effort was too great. Overcome with exhaustion after its completion, he sank to sleep and a little after two o'clock next morning, April 6, his weary spirit peacefully took its flight. Born in 1818, the Professor was then in the sixty-first year of his age.


A committee of the more intimate friends of the deceased was formed, consisting of the late Jacob Traber, his nephew, J. C. Sproull, Drs. J. J. and William Taft and the writer.

Funeral services were held in the chapel of the Hospital, where, considering the suddenness of the Professor's demise, many mourners were present. The interest

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evinced was profound, while the floral tributes that covered the casket were eloquent of affection and esteem.

The remains were interred in a burial lot of Jacob Traber, who generously tendered its use until a separate place of interment and a monument could be procured. The remains of the two friends now lie side by side.


After the funeral the committee referred to visited the room occupied by the Professor prior to his decease, and had the writer, as his nearest friend, procure letters of administration, so that papers of value, if any, would be cared for. A few letters, some private relics, unsalable remnants of books and pamphlets and scraps of manuscript constituted the effects. The scarcity of manuscript was easily accounted for, as it was the habit of the deceased for years to print articles designed for publication and have them mailed to magazines and to savants in different parts of Europe and America.


A prominent characteristic of Prof. Vaughn was shyness—a shrinking from familiarity or conspicuousness. He never was the first to salute a casual acquaintance on the street, and when introduced to a stranger would extend his hand with apparent diffidence or reserve—not with the warmth of a hearty shake, but rather with a cautious presentation of the finger tips. Undemonstrative in manner, and inexperienced in the customs of social life, his diffidence was taken for coldness, yet he was kind and tender hearted almost to a fault, and a most grateful recipient of a favor. In his poverty he would part with money or personal property to people whom he considered more necessitous than himself. Of the proceeds of his last course of lectures he gave to one such a sum so large as to almost discourage his friends from helping him.

Then, too, he was glad to render service to professional and public men. He made translations for writers and wrote lectures for others and made chemical analyses for the city when payment was not expected. As to his placing a commercial value upon his services he never learned to do it, though they often cost him both time and money that he could not well spare.

His waking hours were always fully occupied in writing or study, either in his laboratory, the libraries or in open-air observations. He was thoroughly familiar with the geology of the neighborhood and the physical geography of the entire continent, as may be seen by his articles on "Volcanoes," "The Origin of Lakes and Mountains," "The Absence of Trees on Prairies," "Malaria," etc. His ingenuity in the construction of apparatus for his illustrations in chemistry was remarkable. Given a few tubes of glass and rubber, a piece of tin, some acid and alkali, a blow-pipe, soldering iron and a pair of pinchers, he could construct at will enough apparatus for a lesson, a lecture or an analysis.

Considering his poverty, it may be questioned how he was able to maintain a laboratory. For twelve years he found a room at the Medical College. At other times he extemporized quarters at his humble lodgings, where the same apartment was to him laboratory, study and living room. Such a room he could not find in a private house, so he sought it elsewhere, as in the tenement in which he was found

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in his last illness. That life necessarily isolated him from society, its pleasures and advantages before he became familiar with the laws by which it was governed.

Having acquired a mastery of Greek and Latin in his youth, he had a good preparation for the acquisition of the modern languages; besides, to prosecute his studies and investigations, he found it necessary to understand most of the languages of Europe.

Exception has been taken to the Professor's manner as a lecturer. When we consider his natural diffidence in the presence of strangers we are surprised that he attempted to lecture at all. Take his case when he last lectured,—his lecture hall, the operating room of the Dental College, and his platform that of the operator with his audience around but elevated a few feet above him. The position was an exceedingly trying one, and some time elapsed before he was able to make a good start. While hesitating, on such occasions, his eyes would wander around the audience till they rested on those of a familiar friend. Immediately he addressed himself to that person, and confidence was restored. Like other public speakers we know of, he continued to address himself chiefly to the one selected, however embarrassing it might be to that individual.


The Professor was a Bible student, if we judge from fragments found among his effects and a well-worn Bible, now a relic in possession of a former student. The book is a curiosity, worn as is the cover with marks of his fingers as he held it, often with a candle in his hand, as shown by occasional drippings on the page and cover.

He was not a member of any church. At least, had not been up to a month before his decease, though he visited churches of all denominations and was familiar with their doctrines and polity. His religion consisted in his living up to his highest ideas of right and truth; hence he was charitable almost to a fault. When he had not money to give, he parted with his books.

An eloquent public speaker, referring to his private life, has said: "He was social, kind and humane. He took pleasure in instructing the children and communing with friends—good men and women, who loved and admired him—and his humanity was gratified in bestowing what he valued most—knowledge. To him nothing seemed more precious than truth, and to shed the light of it abroad. His heart was in his work, and without a glance to the right or left, he pursued his arduous quest."

Of the works of creation which occupied so much of his thoughts, the Professor's views may be had by reading the following concluding remarks found in his "Physical Astronomy:"

"Whatever doubts may hang over all speculations respecting distant events, either of past or future time, we have reason to believe that our universe will ever exhibit great and useful operations throughout its extensive domains. From the ruins of some celestial bodies others will rise to act a part in the drama of the physical creation in future ages. Though nature's work may all decay, her laws remain the same, and numerous agencies, obedient to their control and aided by occasional interventions of creative power, must maintain the heavens forever in a harmonious condition and transform innumerable spheres into seats of light and

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intelligence. While the laws of nature have been thus widely ordained for such great ends, their simplicity renders them intelligible to the limited powers of the human mind, and the immense universe thus becomes a vast field of intellectual enjoyment for man."


The late Dr. Hancock, in writing to Mrs. J. W. McLaughlin, stated that he attended institute lectures of Prof. Vaughn, making his acquaintance at a meeting of the Southwestern Ohio Normal Institute. The Professor was engaged to lecture on his favorite specialties, physical geography and astronomy. "It is my recollection," says the doctor, "that Prof. Vaughn was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. However that may be, there can be no doubt as to his wide and profound scholarship. He was not only deeply versed in the physical sciences, but was equally proficient in the classics and mathematics. It is said by competent judges that he read Greek and Latin as he would English, as though he thought in those languages, and he was one of the few Americans who read through Laplace's 'Mechanique Celeste.' He had a prodigious memory. At the Oxford Institute, to which I have referred, some dozen of the leading members, Prof. Vaughn among them, got up some literary games requiring wide reading and retentive memories for successful rivalry. In these games the Professor showed a wealth of reading and an ability to use it on the instant that I have never seen approached by any other scholar. It is needless to say that he was first in the game and the rest nowhere.

"Some ten years afterward, when connected with Nelson's Commercial College, I edited a little educational paper, the News and Educator, of which Mr. Nelson was proprietor. In this relation I came much more frequently in contact with Prof. Vaughn than I ever did before. To this paper he contributed a number of articles on scientific subjects, but, being printed in an obscure local paper, they attracted little attention."


Mrs. Eliza Stamps, widow of the late Colonel Stamps, in giving her experience with the Professor, said: "He was a very industrious student, in his profound researches pursuing them to the exclusion of every thing else. He would frequently forget the demands of hunger and disregard the summons to his meals. As to his engaging in innocent amusements, he considered it a sacrifice of valuable time; yet, lest he should be accused of selfishness or wanting in social etiquette, he sometimes left his books to unite with the children in their games, and, diffident though he was, would occasionally take part in the dance.

"He enjoyed the Colonel's library, but soon exhausted its resources and those of the neighbors; so, to obtain a supply, he would go on foot to Cincinnati, one hundred miles distant, and return in the same manner, loaded with new books."

Throughout his after life he gave evidence of his great respect and affection for Colonel Stamps, his benefactor, and his family, and the young ladies and gentlemen who had been his pupils, who never ceased to venerate him for his learning, or to love and cherish his memory. Some such were among the mourners at his funeral.

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The late Jacob Traber, one of the most intimate friends of the Professor, has written: "In the year 1858 I was in the office of John Sayre, bookseller, High Holborn, where I made the purchase of books that were yet in the hands of the printer. I gave my address and directions for shipping. When in the act of leaving the office I was accosted by an elderly gentleman who, with the apology, 'Beg pardon, I overheard you when you gave your address, Cincinnati, and desire to make inquiry about one of your distinguished citizens. Daniel Vaughn. Assuming that you know him, may I ask how long it is since you have seen him?' I replied that I had known the Professor some four years, and had met him but a few months ago. At that time I regarded the Professor as a mechanical genius of the speculative type, and so expressed myself. A quick rejoinder came in that broad and forcible accent of an Englishman: 'If you Cincinnati people vote Vaughn as a speculative mechanic, the ripest and profoundest mathematical scholar in England may be marked as his apprentice. You have a treasure in that man. Why, sir, we send him problems that fail to be mastered here, and speedily have them back not only with a solution, but with the demonstration.' The speaker proved to be one of the ablest scholars and scientists in Europe."


The subject of this paper, it will be inferred, did not inherit a patrimony, yet he contributed his valuable services to many worthy objects without pecuniary compensation. As has been stated, his great pleasure, next to the investigation of truth, was to impart useful knowledge and help the needy. When in the medical college he was paid with shares of stock on which a dividend was never declared, and when engaged in lecturing and teaching his diffidence prevented him from placing a sufficient value on his services. Living the life of a recluse, he concealed his poverty from his nearest friends, who were ignorant even of his address. Then, he never sought a gratuity, and his friends could only learn by conjecture when he was in need. When asked if his privations did not cause him much anxiety, he said they gave him no concern.

On more than one occasion the writer, at the request of men of wealth and influence, proposed to retire him on an annuity, but he modestly but firmly declined to accept, and it was not until after the announcement of his last course that he consented. Then the proposition was to pay his expenses at a hotel of his choice and advance him money for his personal expenses, for which he was to lecture when and where he might choose. The gentlemen most active in this project were the following, now deceased: Henry Peachy, William F. Corry, Jacob Traber, Colonel Geoffrey and others. Favorably known to the public were Drs. J. J. and William Taft, Dr. Thad Reamy, J. C. Sproull, etc.

The project had so far matured that the writer and another had arranged with Mr. Peachy to make the Lafayette National Bank the custodian of the funds. Had the Professor survived, he would have enjoyed a life of leisure and comfort, at one of the most prominent hotels in the city.

The people of Cincinnati were, therefore, not responsible for the poverty of our friend, nor for the state of destitution in which he was found prior to his removal to the hospital.

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[Concerning the last days of Professor Vaughn, the following from the pen of Father Brady, pastor of St. Xavier's Church, is of special interest. This is peculiarly appropriate by reason of the fact that Father Brady, while a boy, attended the college during the time Professor Vaughn taught in Bardstown, Kentucky, and finally comforted him in his last moments.—J. U. L.]


"Concerning the foot-note on page 160 of Etidorhpa. The description of Daniel Vaughn is correct. The story of his privations is quite true. He was so absorbed in science as to be self-neglectful. Moreover, he was grossly neglected by those who made use of his labors.

"A servant girl told the venerable Sister Anthony that a poor lodger was dying in destitution in the west end of the city. The lodger was Professor Vaughn. The Sister had the good man conveyed to the Good Samaritan Hospital on April 1, 1879. She made him comfortable, as he repeatedly declared. He died on April 6, 1879. Thoroughly conscious up to the last moment, it was at his request that the undersigned had the melancholy pleasure of administering to him the last rites of the Catholic Church. It was neither delirium nor senility that revived his faith. He was but sixty-one years of age, and as rational as ever in life."—Eugene Brady, S. J.


371:* Reprinted from the Cincinnati Tribune.

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