The Philosopher of the Pool

I ran across this old stereoscopic picture in a random walk through the interwebs just now. Titled “The Philosopher of the Pool”, it got my mind running down lots of interesting tracks as to what could have dubbed this man with so grand a title.

Philosopher of the Pool

The truth is often not as grand as the fictions of the mind. But there are aspects of the truth here that certainly are fascinating. While information regarding this man is scant, I did find this (I’ve bolded what I think is the most interesting paragraph, but the whole story is worth a read):

In the annals of the little town of Pardeeville, picturesquely situated on the Fox River and two lakes, John Merrill, a settler from New Hampshire, who was related to S.S. Merrill, an early resident of Milwaukee, and to Henry Merrill, sutler at Old Fort Winnebago, occupies a conspicuous niche.

In John Merrill’s life were many unique incidents. He had a fair education, was widely read of an ingenious turn of mind, with a bent for natural science. While living in New Hampshire he wrote a book entitled “Cosmogony or Thoughts on Philosophy” which contained a refutation of Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. Mr. Merrill contended that the center of the earth consists only of space and that our globe consists is composed of various layers, earth, air, and water in regular order. He held that at each pole there is a large hole, and that into the one at the North Pole the ships of missing Artic explorers sank. He described the agricultural activities of the inhabitants of the interior of our planet and the way in which the sun’s rays reached the region…

Mr. Merrill’s manuscript was polished and copied with pen and ink by a woman resident of Pardeeville and printed in pamphlet form in New Hampshire. Many copies were sold in those early days especially in his native state, where he owned a celebrated nook in the White Mountains called the Pool. It was situated at Franconia Notch, at the foot of Mount Lafayette, in a canyon on the Pemigewasset River. Each summer after settling in Pardeeville he made a trip to his pool, where from tourists he gathered a harvest of dollars for the use of his boats.

Naturally John Merrill did a flourishing business in his books, as well as his boats. He gave lectures on his theory before many famous persons, including a number from abroad, and he wrote a letter to Queen Victoria and sent her a copy of his scientific work.

One eventful day he received what purported to be a reply from the ruler of the British Empire. A copy was made by a printer in New Hampshire and is in the possession of Charles W Merrill of Pardeeville, John Merrill’s grandson. It is yellowed by age. The original is supposed to have been lost or inadvertently destroyed after the death of John Merrill at the home of his daughter in Pardeeville.

The printed copy read as follows:

Royal Despatch of her Majesty to Ho. John Merrill, Flume House NH – Her Seal & N
By Lord Napier British Minister Aerial Mansior
High Picacoddy Royal Ramparts, Thames Tunnel July 4th Anno Domini 1857,Albertus Princeps

To his August Highness Hon John Merrill director of the pool, artic philosopher, practical philanthropist etc, etc

Monsieur: I am commissioned by her most gracious majesty’s royal high butler to communicate to your obsequious highness the most transatlantic compliments of Alid el Kader; and to acknowledge the receipt of your most learned, antiloquent and circumambient state document dated Aug 28, 1854; which has been under profound consideration of the grand lama ever since. The grand lama fully concurs in your new views of the hole in the earth; and believes it was caused by a derangement of the north pole — affected by the scintillations of the hyperborean aurora borealis, which have ” shaken the bark of Sir John Franklin from outside into the inside of the pole,” as you say.

The grand lama takes this opportunity to express to your obsequious highness the great satisfaction which the most grand butler of her majesty feels after the perusal of so learned a document and begs to salute you as a man of transcendental prognostications.

By royal command and my own royal pleasure. Signed in the grand culinary department with a royal goose quill.

By Albert

What could be thought of a document like that? Among the early Pardeevillians it aroused considerable amazement; on the part of some, hilarity. It is left to the reader to guess its source. Although a few unsuspecting individual marveled at the peculiarity of the royal phraseology, it was generally y considered as being the composition of jokesters, who in some way had learned of the sending of the book and letter to Queen Victoria. As to whether the original document showed evidence of having been sent from England, Charles W Merrill is unable to say. He remembers, however, that it bore impressive looking seals and other fancy touches. The supposed reply may have been the production of American college students who heard of the letter to Queen Victoria and who took great pains to make the document resemble an official one from a European monarchy.

In 1888 an eastern newspaper und the caption “The Philosopher of the Pool” printed a complimentary mention of John Merrill with the following letter from him:

Mr. Editor: Please say to my friends that I have retired from The Pool, after being there 34 years, and concluded to spend the rest of my days on the homestead in Pardeeville, Wis. Where I can sit and see the 100 acres of crops almost ready for harvest. Crops never looked better. Give my best and respects to all, till we meet in heaven. I am almost home. This is my eighty-seventh year. Am well, only old age says stay with my children. Yours in love, JOHN MERRILL

The editor adds: Thus after having paddles his skiff so many years, the old philosopher drops his oars with this plaintive strain, and thus too, a rugged landmark, second only in importance to his more aged rival, the “Old Man of the Mountains,” disappears from view.

The author philosopher died in 1892 at the age of 90 years and was buried in the Pardeeville cemetery. On his monument is inscribed a map of our globe, on which he spent so much time and thought. He is remembered as one of the picturesque figures in Wisconsin history.

The Milwaukee Journal Sunday September 23, 1928