The Man Who Started a Movement

Tuesday, 10 December 1888 - Glasgow, Scotland

William Alexander Smith
Today I had the honor of meeting William Alexander Smith. You may not know his name, but you know his legacy. Indeed you may have been part of it.

William Smith came to Glasgow 1869 when he was just fifteen to work in his uncle’s soft goods wholesale business. His young heart must have yearned for more adventure than selling shawls, but he could not shirk duty. So he compromised. He stayed with Alex. Fraser & Co. and joined the local Rifle Volunteers, rising to the rank of lieutenant by the time he was 19.

That same year he joined the Church of Scotland. Eventually he became a Sabbath School (Sunday School) teacher. They gave him the older boys, hoping he could manage the scamps. It slowly dawned on Smith that the boys were unruly because they were bored silly. They didn’t want to sing hymns. They wanted action!

Sabbath School was suppose to teach the boys Christian values. Surely there had to be another way, a manner that could keep their attention and even be fun. He remembered how the Rifle Volunteers had filled that need for action for him. Perhaps he could combine the two activities.

So on 4 October 1883, Smith invited fifty boys to the Free Church Mission Hall on North Woodside Road here in Glasgow to form the Boys Brigade. The objective was to be: “The advancement of Christ's kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.” They would use semi-military discipline and order, drilling with dummy rifles, dressing in military style uniforms. There would be Christian services and lessons but also sports and games.

The First Boys Brigade with William Smith (center)
Then Smith came up with a radical idea--camping! In the summer of 1886 he took the boys to the small town of Tighnabruaich in Argyll to camp out in tents. Their mothers were horrified. The only people who slept in tents were people who had no choice. They hadn’t worked hard to put a roof over their sons heads just to have them sleep in tents! Smith however finally convinced the parents. The boys loved it! They felt it was a grand adventure. Many grew up to become avid campers. Smith may well be most responsible for introducing camping to Great Britain.

Smith always acted like the best of commanders, putting his “men” first. “Put the Boy first” was his motto. No officer was to expect the boys to do anything he wasn’t willing to do, too. The adult leaders had to sleep in tents and eat in the mess hall. No sneaking off from camp to go to a hotel.

Smith had to break that rule once in 1909, when he left camp for a couple of days. You see, he had to go down to London to be knighted for his work with children. But he came back as soon as he could. Needless to say, the boys forgave him.

Smith quit his business last year (1887) to devote himself full time to the Boys Brigade. He has been writing a rule book, editing a newsletter and taking care of paperwork. He keeps tabs on all the branches, giving advice, encouragement and occasional correction. Already there are other Boys Brigades around Great Britain. In a little over a decade there will be over 2000 companies attached to various churches throughout the British Empire and the United States.

I asked Smith about copycat organizations popping up. He said he gave his officers strict orders not to try to convert the boys to their own form of religion, however some Catholics and Jews felt the Boys Brigade too Presbyterian. If others wanted to create organizations like his to teach boys virtues, he saw no real problem. He didn’t see these clubs as competitors but allies.

In 1914, William Smith’s funeral will not only be attended by 7,000 acting and former Boys Brigade members, but by representatives of The Church Lads' Brigade, The London Diocesan Church Lads' Brigade, The Catholic Boys' Brigade, The Jewish Lads' Brigade, The Boys' Life Brigade, and The Boy Scouts. All of them acknowledged William Smith as the founder of the movement.
Sir William Smith's funeral
Sir William D. Boyce
The Boy Scouts, for instance, was started by Smith’s old friend, Robert Baden-Powell, war hero. He became a Boys Brigade officer himself in 1903. When it was discovered Baden-Powell’s military training manual, Aids to Scouting, was being read by boys, William Smith encouraged him to rewrite it for younger readers. Not long after that, Baden-Powell found out boys were starting their own “scout troops.” He was practically drafted into becoming the head of the Boy Scouts.

A few years later William D. Boyce, a Chicago publisher, got lost in a London fog,. A lad helped him find his way back to his hotel and refused a tip. He told Boyce it was his duty as a Boy Scout to help those in need. Boyce went in search of their leader hoping for a good story, but instead got a mission from Baden-Powell and started the Boy Scouts of America.

In 1909 Baden-Powell discovered girls at a scout rally. He talked his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, into starting the Girl Guides. He also encouraged his friend, Juliette Gordon Low, to return to America and start the Girl Scouts.

Just about every youth organization was either inspired by William Smith, or inspired by an organization he inspired. Sir William Smith is the granddaddy of them all whether they know it or not. The Boy’s Brigade was the first and it started here in Glasgow.

I think the generations of boys and girls whose lives he will inspire would mean more to William Smith than fame anyway.


Kelvin - More Than Just a Unit of Heat

Wednesday, 5 December 1888 - Glasgow, Scotland

Sir William Thomson, soon to be Lord Kelvin
This afternoon I attended a lecture by Professor William Thomson--SIR William Thomson. He is now 64-years-old. Last time I saw Thomson was 32 years ago (my basetime) eight years from now in 1896 at the 50th Anniversary of his professorship here at the University of Glasgow.

2500 guest attended, many of them predominate scientists of the day. The university library was filled with his inventions and awards. The Eastern, the Anglo-American and the Commercial Cable companies united to send a telegraph message from the university to the major cities of America and back, traveling 20,000 miles in only seven and a half minutes! Why did they do this? Because Thomson had made it possible.

By then Sir William Thomson was Lord Kelvin, the first scientist to be made a Lord. He took the title 1st Baron Kelvin for the river Kelvin that flows by the University of Glasgow campus. He will teach here for 53 years, despite generous offers from other universities.

Thomson is considered the greatest chemist of the 19th century and the father of modern physics. (It was still called Natural Philosophy, in his day.) He was a scientist, who believed science was useless without practical application, so he was also an inventor. Watching him lecture to a hall full of students, hanging on his every word, I think his role as teacher has been downplayed. He will inspire many budding scientists.

I carefully recorded his lecture. Afterwards I went up to Thomson to get a closer scan of him. Thomson is a charming, humble man with twinkling eyes despite a painful limp. I approached him as he was cleaning off the chalkboard and was able to record this short interview.

Excuse me, Sir William. My name is Dr. Howe. I would like to say I enjoyed your lecture.
Why thank you, sir. Are you a scientist?

Only of anthropology.
Ah! Have you been following Max Muller’s lectures on Natural Religion? Quite brilliant.

James Thomson, Sr.
It’s why I’m in town. Lovely city.
I always thought so, ever since my family moved here when I was nine.

You weren’t born in Glasgow?
No, my family is from Belfast. My father, James Thomson, decided to become a Presbyterian minister and University of Glasgow was one of the few colleges open to a farmer‘s son. Father returned to Ireland after he graduated. It turned out he was really a mathematician and eventually was given the Chair of Mathematics here at Glasgow.

James Thomson, Jr.
So you are not the only professor in the family?
By no means. My eldest brother, James, Jr. is teaching here now as a professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics. However, his eyesight is failing him. I’m not sure how much longer he can teach. Pity. He is really quite a genius. He has done a lot to improve turbines, water wheels and water pumps. He’s also done research on glacier motion.

So you two attended Glasgow University?
Yes, I first enrolled when I was ten.

It’s not that extraordinary. They had program at the time for able young students. However I tried to work as hard as the older students. My brother James also enrolled. He was then twelve. When I was 17 father sent me to Cambridge.

University of Cambridge? That’s my alma mater. How did you like it?
I enjoyed it. I was on the sculling team. We rowed our way to victory in the Colquhoun Sculls of 1843. The only disappointment was the science department. It really hadn’t developed past the teachings of Isaac Newton. There really weren’t any facilities for study of experimental science. So when Glasgow offered me a position as professor of Natural Philosophy, I jumped at it. They had a school of thermodynamics here, which by the way my father had helped form.

What did you do between your appointment to Glasgow and graduating from Cambridge?
I took the train to Glasgow.

They made you a professor of one of the oldest, most prestigious universities in Great Britain right after you graduated?
Yes, I was only 22. My class wasn’t much younger than myself. I think it was my work in the mathematical analysis of electricity that convinced the University. However my youth did work against me. The next year when I attended the British Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting at Oxford, the other scholars there saw me as a precocious child. I had ideas on heat and temperature they found radical.

Yes, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics and the absolute zero scale you invented.
Proposed. I was only able to calculate absolute zero. Some one else hopefully will fill in the rest.

[They will only be able to start on that in the mid-twentieth century. They will call the units “Kelvin” in honor of Lord Kelvin.]

Is that why they knighted you?
No, that was for my work on the Trans-Atlantic Cable. They said it couldn’t be done, and indeed it couldn’t with the current material. So I had to invent better cables and equipment. I started out as a scientific advisor and wound up as the head engineer. I never considered myself an engineer, but discovered I had a talent for it. I think I have my father and brother to thank for that. Apparently engineering runs in our blood.

So you made it possible for people in New World to communicate with those in the Old World almost instantaneously.
I wasn’t the only one who made that happen. Several of my colleagues were knighted after the completion of the project.

Are there any projects you are working on currently?
Yes, perfecting the marine compass. Since they started using so much iron in ships it has caused magnetic deviation in the old compasses. I think I‘ve solved the problem.

How did you get involved in that?
I’m quite the sailor, don’t you know. All right, I’m captain of a 126 foot schooner, the Lalla Rookh. I got interested in seafaring I think after laying all that cable in the Atlantic. When poor Margaret, my first wife, finally succumbed to her very long illness. I was quite distraught. So I took a mistress--the sea.

The Lalla Rookh
Seemed wiser than taking to the bottle, I must say. I do hope you have found another life mate.
Yes, Fanny. Lovely woman. I had become good friends with Mr. Charles Blandy and his three daughters. So one day as I approached there home by ship, I signaled “Will you marry me?” Fanny signaled back “Yes.” I figured any women that sea savvy and with a sense of humor was the woman for me.

That is a charming story. She sounds like a delightful woman.
She is indeed. Excuse me, for my rudeness but I have a meeting to attend to. It was very nice to meet you, Dr. Howe.

And very nice to meet you, too, Lord Kel--erm, I mean, Sir William Thomson.
[I nearly got in hot water that time--373.15 Kelvin!]

Future Monument to Lord Kelvin
erected by Glasgow right after his death in 1908


Mither Tongue (Mother Tongue)

Tuesday, 27 November 1888 - Glasgow, Scotland

I haunted the bookstores today, taking a trip back in time from 1888 as it were. I have a long list of books to look for from the University of Glasgow and Strathclyde. Many are lost textbooks, but they also have me on the look out for first editions of classics by David Hume, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, George MacDonald and others. I found a copy of Study in Scarlett by Arthur Conan Doyle published last year. And of course anything by Robert Burns.

Robert Burns
I mentioned yesterday that Robert Burns has a statue in George Square with other illustrious Scots. It was only erected in 1877 I think as a reaction to his being censored by the Victorian English when they figured out what some of his poems actually meant. The Scots no doubt see it only as a slam against the Scots.

You see back in the 1700s, after the Union of Scotland and England and the creation of the Great Britain, the Scots decided to make the most of the situation. (I mentioned that in a previous blog The Industrial Age and Other Scottish Inventions.) Unfortunately trying to speak to the English proved to be a problem. While the Highlanders continued to speak Gaelic like their ancestors from Ireland, the Lowlanders had been speaking English for centuries--at least they thought it was English. Why did the people of London just stare at them confused when they talked?

True, the Scots spoke English with a Gaelic accent, and had borrowed many words not only from Gaelic, but from Norse, French and anyone else they came into contact with. Apparently the words that sounded oddest to the English were in fact English words--they were just words the folks down south no longer used.

Scot had become it’s own language. (Yes, some contend it’s only a dialect, but most agree it’s a bonified language.) The Scots had to learn modern English, which they did so well that many of the great “English” writers of the 1700s and 1800s are in fact Scottish. However, while they wrote impeccable English, they continued to speak Scots, or at least English with a thick Scottish borough. The Londoners looked down their noses at these “bumpkins” much like New Yorkers look down their noses at people speaking with an Appalachian accent (which by the way, has a strong Scottish influence from Scottish immigrants.)

Robert Burns also learned to write English well, but he preferred to write in his native tongue of Scots. He was a romantic who was proud of his roots and not afraid to thumb his nose at the people south of Hadrian‘s Wall. He was a rebel who stood up for the lower classes, which might be why he later became so popular in Soviet Russia.

Burns message was “you can be Brits if you want, but remember, you are Scots first!” Since 1803, only six years after his death, his countrymen have been celebrating Burns Night with a Burns Supper. On the twenty-fifth of January, people throw a birthday party for Robbie. They dress in kilts, play bagpipes, drink whisky, eat haggis and recite Burns, all the time speaking their native tongue. If anything it has only gotten stronger over the years, since it is still celebrated in the twenty-fifth century as an international day of Scottish pride.

Haggis - the star of the Burns Supper
Luckily people I’ve met have been tolerant of me when I stare at them uncomprehending. I tell them I’m just an ignorant foreigner from down south and to speak slowly like I’m an idiot. They find that amusing--until they have to repeat it slowly three times. I’ve had to look up more than a few words in my Scot Dictionary.

So cheery-bye the nou and mey the moose ne'er lea' yer girnal wi the tear drap in its ee. [Translation: So goodbye for now and may the mouse never leave your grain store with a tear drop in its eye.]

A handy collection of Scots phrases

A dictionary of Lowland Scotch, with an introductory chapter on the poetry, humour, and literary history of the Scottish language and an appendix of Scottish proverbs (1888)
I’ve been carrying this about in my pocket, and it’s quite useful.

Recipe for Haggis


The Man Who Poured the World a Cup of Tea

Friday, 16 November 1888 - Glasgow, Scotland

Today I was on a merry chase, but I managed to track down one of Glasgow’s favorite sons. Thomas Lipton was on his way to the train station, but I managed to have a short conversation with him which I recorded. The University of Glasgow back in the 27th century will be pleased, I’m sure.

Sir Thomas Lipton
Ask anyone--especially an American--who Thomas Lipton was and they will tell you he was a sea captain who invented tea bags and instant tea. Wrong on all three accounts. His contribution to the culture of tea is far more important than that. Lipton made tea available to all.

Sir Thomas Lipton is a true rags to riches story. He was born in Glasgow in 1848 to Ulster Scots who had immigrated back to the land of their ancestors. Poor but hard working, they struggled to keep open the small grocery shop they owned. Thomas quit school when he was thirteen to help in the store, then decided to make his own way in the world.

When he was fourteen he became a cabin boy on a line between Belfast and Glasgow. He took his money from this job to buy a ticket to America. Once there he took on several jobs and eventually ended up in A.T. Stewart's huge dry goods store in Manhattan. Stewart focused on presentation and variety and knew the importance of advertising. After five years, Thomas returned to Glasgow to show his parents everything he had learned in America.

In 1871 he opened his own store that offered good products at reasonable prices. The store was always clean, well stocked and well lit. He also wasn’t afraid to use any advertising scheme he could come up with. From his mother he learned to wisdom of buying eggs and milk directly from the farmers, rather than through a middleman. He worked hard, putting in 18 hour days, sleeping under the counter.

Soon Thomas had several stores in Glasgow. He branched out to the rest of Scotland and then the British Isles. I believe he currently has 300 stores! He is a very rich man. He will soon be even richer.

Thomas doesn’t just buy from local farmers. He bought a meat packing plant in Omaha, Nebraska in America, as well as several farms. This year he has decided to branch out into what he will be remembered for the most--tea.

Tea, once the luxury of the rich, is now drunk by the middle-class. But Thomas has not forgotten his working class roots and also sees an untapped market. By buying his own tea plantations in Ceylon, he can provide decent tea at ridiculously low prices. Thanks to him everyone will be able to afford to drink tea every day.

But he won’t stop there. He will also open a packaging plant in New Jersey to sell directly to the Americans, making tea popular again. (The barbarians had thrown the last batch in Boston Harbor back in 1773.) Lipton is will no longer just supply tea to his own stores; he will supply it to the world.

Perhaps Thomas Lipton’s greatest failure became his greatest advertising campaign. He had been in love with ships since boyhood and loved sailing. For thirty years he tried to win the America’s Cup in his yacht “Shamrock” and every time he failed. But he had fun and was such a good sport, America fell in love with him. They will present him with a specially designed cup for "the best of all losers". He will also be inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of fame in 1993. For decades “Captain Lipton” was featured on the Lipton tea packages in America.

Nurse on deck of Lipton's yacht
(This is no pleasure cruise.)
In World War I his yachts will be used to transport medical staff and supplies to Serbia to fight a typhus epidemic that killed thousands of civilians. Despite the danger, Thomas will go himself to lend aid. By now, Thomas was a celebrity, and he used that to bring Serbia’s plight to the attention of the world. Serbia loved him because he didn’t expect to be given red carpet treatment, which they were in no position to give. Modest lodgings and peasant food was good enough for him. This was just one of many charitable works he performed throughout his life. In 1897 he contributed £25,000 to provide dinners to the poor during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. He will be knighted in 1898 for his charitable works.

Next year Thomas will move his office to London, after his parents pass away. But he will never forget Glasgow that gave him his start. He will leave much of his fortune to her. when he dies at the ripe old age of 83 in 1931. He will be buried in Glasgow per his request.

Sir Thomas Lipton cheerfully losing yet
another America's Cup race
So let’s all raise a cup to the man who brought tea to the deprived working class and to foolish Americans who didn’t know what they were missing--to Sir Thomas Lipton!

Sir Thomas in a Lipton Tea commercial
(All right, Sir Thomas was never in a telly commercial, but he certainly would have if he could have.)


The Very First Gifford Lecture

Monday, 12 November 1888 - Glasgow, Scotland

I am quite excited. Today will be the very first Gifford Lecture and I will be there to witness it! The famous and illustrious Gifford Lectures, which every scholar and scientist dreams of being invited to, one of the greatest honors any person can hope to attain.

Adam Lord Gifford
The Gifford Lectures are the legacy of Adam Gifford, the son of an Edingurgh merchant. Adam went into law and made a fortune as an advocate (lawyer) and then as a judge. Judge’s are given the title “Lord” in this time and place, so Adam is remembered as Lord Gifford. As a judge he tried to make his rulings based on common sense and fairness.

Lord Gifford had another life though. By day he was a judge, and by night a student of philosophy and metaphysics. After he retired he gave popular lectures on such subjects as Ralph Waldo Emerson, St. Bernard and Hindu reincarnation. He was an advocate for Natural Religion--religion based on common sense rather than on miracles. It is a marriage of science and religion. The Scots don’t see them as opposites any more than they see industry and art as opposites.

University of Glasgow as it looks now in 1888
When Lord Gifford died in 1887 he left £80,000 to the four Scottish universities (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and St. Andrews) to establish a series of lectures on Natural Religion. The first will be given here at the University of Glasgow. Over the centuries, famous scientists, philosophers and theologians will address eager crowds on a multitude of subjects.

The first lecture will be given by Friedrich Max Müller, the famous philologist and Orientalist. His interests turned from poetry and music to philosophy early on. He did his doctoral dissertation on Spinoza’s Ethics. (Spinoza was a favorite of Lord Gifford’s, too.)

Müller always had a gift for languages, perhaps because his father was a poet. He learned Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. He left Leipzig University to go to Berlin to study with philosopher Friedrich Schelling and to translate the Upanishads for him.

From there he went to Paris to further his studies and then on the England to get access to the Sanskrit collection of the East India Company. (Learning French and English posed no problem for Müller.) He eventually became Oxford's first Professor of Comparative Theology and is considered one of the father’s of comparative religion. Müller is currently working as editor and one of the translators for Oxford University Press’ massive 50 volume Sacred Books of the East, a monument to Victorian scholarship.

Anthropology is in its infancy in the 19th century. Too many are using it to prove that their people are more civilized than everyone else who thinks differently. Personally I just find it fascinating that our species came up with so many ways to survive and to view the world. While Müller is a devout Lutheran, he respects the religions of others. For instance, he is a great admirer of Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-1886) and has authored several books and essays on the Indian Hindu mystic.

Friedrich Max Müller
Müller’s respect for others has earned him the condemnation of conservative ministers, who see him as attacking Christianity, which was never his intent. Even more disturbing to him are the racists using his research to “prove” their own distorted theories. If anything he felt that the Indo-European language roots proved that the “blackest Hindu and “fairest Scandinavian” were in fact descended from a common ancestor and thus an argument against racism.

And of course modern scholars could tear apart some of Müller’s theories--including ones he himself has long since abandoned by 1888. Others might find him a little too smug of his own culture. One must remember Müller was brought up in another time and didn’t have all the knowledge we now have. A thousand years from now, people will probably laugh at us, too, for being ignorant and too homo sapien-centric. Remember it was only in the 26th century that the study of sentient aliens was considered anthropology and not zoology.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Müller is how the Indians regard him. He is seen as an enlightened sage and his Oxford home is a place of pilgrimage for gurus traveling westward who want to meet the mahatman or “great soul.” While other Englishman belittle Indian traditions, Müller introduces them to the British and the rest of the English speaking world so they can really see India for the first time. The job of an anthropologist is not to pass judgment on another culture but to show it to the folks back home with all its beauty and ugliness. In other words, to show we are all human after all.

A list of Gifford Lectures speakers from 1888 to 2010
Sacred Books of the East for your perusal.