This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
The following is a very Surprising Instance of Skill in Numbers.
Jedidiah Buxton, was a prodigy, with respect to skill in numbers. His father, William Buxton, was schoolmaster of the parish where he was born, in 1704 : yet Jedediah's education was so much neglected, that he was never taught to write; and with respect to any other knowledge but that of 'umbers, seemed always as ignorant as a boy of ten years of age. How he came first to know the relative proportions of numbers, and their progressive denominations, he did not remember; but to this he applied the whole force of his mind, and upon this his attention was constantly fixed, so that he frequently took no cognizance of external objects, and, when he did it, it was only with respect to their numbers. If any space of time was mentioned, he would soon after say it was so many minutes ; and if any distance of way, he would assign the number of hair-breadths, without any question being asked, or any calculation expected by the company. When he once understood a question, he began to work with amazing facility, after his own method, without the use of a pen, pencil, or chalk, or even understanding the common rules of arithmetic, as taught in the schools. He would stride over a piece of land, or a field, and tell the contents of it almost as exactly as if one had measured it by the chain. In this manner he measured the whole lordship of Elmton, belonging to Sir John Rhodes, and brought him the contents, not only of some thousands in acres, roods, and perches, but even in square inches. After this, for his own amusement, he reduced them into square hair-breadths, computing 48 to each side of the inch. His memory was so great, that while resolving a question, he could leave off, and resume the operation again, where he left off, the next morning, or at a week, a month, or several months, and proceed regularly till it was completed. His memory would doubtless have been equally retentive with respect to other objects, if he had attended to them with equal diligence; but his perpetual application to figures prevented the smallest acquisition of any other knowledge. He was sometimes asked, on his return from church, whether he remembered the text, or any part of the sermon: but it never appeared that he brought away one sentence ; his mind, upon a closer examination, being found to have been busied, even during divine service, in his favourite operation, either dividing some time, or some space, into the smallest known parts, or resolving some question that had been given him as a test of his abilities. As this extraordinary person lived in laborious poverty, his life was uniform and obscure. Time, with respect to him, changed nothing but his age ; nor did the seasons vary his employment, except that in winter he used a flail, and in summer a ling-hook. In 1754, he came to London, where he was introduced to the Royal Society, who, in order to prove his abilities, asked him several questions in arithmetic; and he gave them such satisfaction, that they dismissed him with a handsome gratuity. In this visit to the metropolis, the only object of his curiosity, except figures, was to see the king and royal family; but they being at Kensington, Jedidiah was disappointed. During his stay in London, he was taken to see King Richard III. performed at Drury-Lane playhouse ; and it was expected, either that the novelty and the splendour of the show would have fixed him in astonishment, or kept his imagination in a continual hurry, or that his passions would, in some degree, have been touched by the power of action, though he did not perfectly understand the dialogic But Jedidiah's mind was employed in the playhouse just as it was employed in every other place. During the Jance, he fixed his attention upon the number of steps ; he declared, after a fine piece of music, that the innumerable sounds produced by the instruments had perplexed him beyond measure; and he" attended even to Mr. Garrick, only to count the words that he uttered, in which, he said, he perfectly succeeded. Jedidiah returned to the place of his birth, where, if his enjoyments were few, his whales did not seem to be greater. He applied to his labour with cheerfulness ; he re-gretted nothing that he left behind him in London; and it continued to be his opinion, that a slice of rusty bacon afforded the most delicious repast.