Canton Historical Society


Obituary Of
James A. Bazin

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On the fifth of January, 1883, there passed from this earth, at his quiet home in the village of Ponkipog one of our oldest and most esteemed citizens, whose long life had been a credit to his adopted town and fellow-citizens.

James Amireaux Bazin was born in Boston, in an old house still standing and known as Comer's Blue Store, on the twenty-ninth of March, 1798. He received his education in the public schools of Boston until the age of fourteen years, when he removed with his parents to this town of which he has since been a resident. He was an ingenious lad and early developed a taste for mathematics and the mechanical arts, the former of which he pursued with avidity, making estimates and models as to the movements of celestial bodies. He devised many curious musical instruments. He invented a new pitch pipe capable of being carried in the vest pocket which superceded the old fashioned affair of the ancient choirs. He also made a reed trumpet. Mr. Bazin thua describes this instrument: "It was composed of a set of twenty-two small square pipes, producing the natural scale of three octaves. These pipes were placed in a series of boxes, forming a cap over each reed, the whole being put in a wooden case about four and one half inches long by two inches wide and three-fourths of an inch thick, in such a manner as to allow a free passage for the wind through the pipes, and for a mouth-piece to slide on the end of the boxes. As this could only be played in the natural scale, or in that to which it was tuned, I made another with twelve pipes to the octave, and so contrived that the key notes could be instantly changed to any one of the twelve semi-tones.

This was called a revolving reed trumpet, the pipes -- thirty in all -- being in a circle and radiating from the center. Thus by turning the circle each pipe could be brought in succession between the mouth-piece and bell." This instrument was invented by Mr. Bazin in 182, and for many years the worshipers in the Church at Canton Corner listened to it accompanying the choir. On January 26, 1875, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the Church, Mr. Bazin favored the present generation with a specimen of his skill on this sonorous instrument.

Some persons assert that they heard it a mile away. Those who have heard it will never forget it.

In the summer of 1831, Mr. Bazin made a small instrument resembling the harmonica. The pipes were similar but were stationary. The wind was let into them by means of valves and knobs arranged in two parallel lines, there being twelve pipes to the octave, and only seven valves. There was an arrangement for changing the key as well as for sounding the accidental flats and sharps when required with some light modifications, and the addition of a tilting bellows, something like those subsequently called melodeons. Mr. Bazin soon afterwards made an instrument with swining bellows, with square knobs for keys, with the semi-tones placed in a row back of the regular notes.

He was the inventor also of the art of making a new kind of cordage, by the braiding of the strands in such a manner that they were useful for halyards never kinking. These goods are now manufactured in Newtonville by the Silver Lake Co., and this was the only invention of his many schemes that ever brought him any pecuniary renumeration.

The manner in which Mr. Bazin's inventions have been appropriated and many of his ideas stolen and bought out afresh, is not new in the experience of inventors. The melodeons of his manufacture, which had been on sale in Boston for some time, were purchased by a music dealer in Concord, N.H., copied, and duplicates soon appeared in the Boston market for sale. Others took up the business and made fortunes out of it.

He was not only an excellent mechanic, but a great reader, well informed on politics, religion, history and general literature. He composed sermons which were preached by his Pastor in the old Church at the Corner.

He tried his hand at composing music and wrote some poems. He could sketch with his pencil. As a writer he expressed clearly and intelligently his thoughts. The following sketch of old times is from his pen, and gives us an excellent idea of the customs in Canton when he was a boy:

"There is a singular custom at this meeting house, which is rather startling to a stranger. The pews are all provided with jointed seats and double jointed arm-rests, and all appear to vie with each other as to which shall produce the greatest noise, by throwing them up and down, when any change of position is required. Thus at the beginning of a prayer the whole congregation rise at once, when the seats are thrown up and all the arm-rests down. But at the ending of the prayer the reverse motion takes place, each time with such force as to produce an effect like the volley of musketry. There is also a peculiar etiquette observed at this meeting house, the seat of honor for man being that next the pew door, while that for a woman is farthest from it. This custom seems to have originated when the inhabitants were subject to attacks from the Indians, each man being obliged to start at the first alarm, and was continued like many other customs when the occasion for it had been forgotton."

Mr. Bazin was, in the prime of his life, an active, public spirited man.

He took an interest in the affairs of the town, and for some years, from 1842 to 1845 was town clerk. He sung in the choir until he was unable to sing any more. He took an interest in the Public Library and presented --during the past year--many ancient books, both English and French, which our townspeople can have the benefit of during the ages to come.

He was interested in the history of Canton and was always willing to impart the information he had acquired during the seventy years of his sojourn among us. Only last Fast Day he accompanied the Canton Historical Society on their annual walk joining them after descent from Blue Hill, and pointed out some of the ancient landmarks. From his father he inherited his love of flowers, and his garden was a blessing to the passer-by. He placed in his house a camera obscura, and was always delighted to his friends and the children into his sanctum and show them the village, as in a painted picture. His house was a perfect museum, filled with antique furniture, rare old books, of which the French Bible had the…

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