Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct
By Samuel Smiles
It is an interesting question to ask oneself how the ideas of academic economists, like Adam
Smith or Jean-Baptiste Say for example, were made available to the ordinary person who does not normally read multi-volume academic tracts. In the first half of the 19th century we see this role of popularizer of economic ideas being taken up by a number of people who wrote what we would now call economic journalism or who gave popular lectures to working class audiences or who wrote what might be called “economic stories or tales” which were sold in a cheap and popular book format. In France, Frédéric Bastiat was a good example of the economic journalist who took complex economic theory and rendered it down for a more popular audience. In Britain there was Thomas Hodgskin who gave lectures on free trade to “mechanics institutes” (what we might now call adult education groups) and who wrote articles for the recently founded “Economist” magazine (the forefather of the “Economist” which continues to this day). In the United States, we see William Leggett defending free market ideas in a number of newspapers in the Jacksonian era. Women too were involved in this important task. Harriet Martineau and Jane Marcet wrote semi-fictional “moral tales” with a strong economic component which were aimed at convincing working class audiences of the benefits of free trade, industrialization, and the free market in general. One of the best selling authors in this vein was Samuel Smiles (1812-1904). A Scot who originally trained as a doctor before turning to journalism fulltime, Smiles wrote for a popular audience to show people how best to take advantage of the changes being brought about by the industrial revolution which was sweeping Britain and other parts of the world in the first half of the 19th century. In his best known work, “Self-Help” (published in 1859, the same year as Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and John Stuart Mill’s“On Liberty”) he combines Victorian morality with sound free market ideas into moral tales showing the benefits of thrift, hard work, education, perseverance, and a sound moral character. He drew upon the personal success stories of the emerging self-made millionaires in the pottery industry (Josiah Wedgwood), the railway industry (Watt and Stephenson), and the weaving industry (Jacquard) to make his point that the benefits of the market were open to anyone.
Dr. David M. Hart
First Pub. Date
Boston: Ticknor and Fields
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Samuel Smiles: frontispiece, courtesy of Liberty Fund, Inc.
“Neither the naked hand, nor the understanding, left to itself, can do much; the work is accomplished by instruments and helps, of which the need is not less for the understanding than the hand.”—
“Opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald; if you seize her by the forelock you may hold her, but if suffered to escape, not Jupiter himself can catch her again.”—
From the Latin.
ACCIDENT does very little towards the production of any great result in life. Though sometimes what is called “a happy hit” may be made by a bold venture, the old and common highway of steady industry and application is the only safe road to travel. It is said of the landscape-painter Wilson, that when he had finished a picture in a tame, correct manner, he would step back to some distance, with his pencil fixed at the end of a long stick, and after gazing earnestly on his work, he would suddenly dash up, and by a few bold touches give a brilliant finish to his painting. But it will not do for every one who would produce an effect, to throw his brush at the canvas in the hope of producing a picture. The capability of putting in these last vital touches is acquired only by the labor of a life; and the probability is, that the artist who has not carefully trained himself beforehand, in attempting to produce a brilliant effect at a dash, will only produce a blotch.
Sedulous attention and painstaking industry always
mark the true worker. The greatest men are not those who “despise the day of small things,” but those who improve them the most carefully. Michael Angelo was one day explaining to a visitor at his studio, what he had been doing at a statue since his previous visit. “I have retouched this part,—polished that,—softened this feature,—brought out that muscle,—given some expression to this lip, and more energy to that limb.” “But these are trifles,” remarked the visitor. “It may be so,” replied the sculptor, “but recollect that trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” So it was said of Nicholas Poussin, the painter, that the rule of his conduct was, that “whatever was worth doing at all was worth doing well;” and when asked, late in life, by his friend Vigneul de Marville, by what means he had gained so high a reputation among the painters of Italy, Poussin emphatically answered, “Because I have neglected nothing.”
Although there are discoveries which are said to have been made by accident, if carefully inquired into, it will be found that there has really been very little that was accidental about them. For the most part, these so-called accidents have only been opportunities, carefully improved by genius. The fall of the apple at Newton’s feet has often been quoted in proof of the accidental character of some discoveries. But Newton’s whole mind had already been devoted for years to the laborious and patient investigation of the subject of gravitation; and the circumstance of the apple falling before his eyes was suddenly apprehended only as genius could apprehend it, and served to flash upon him the brilliant discovery then bursting on his sight. In like manner, the brilliantly-colored soap-bubbles blown from a common tobacco-pipe,—though “trifles light as air” in most eyes,—suggested
to Dr. Young his beautiful theory of “interferences,” and led to his discovery relating to the diffraction of light. Although great men are popularly supposed only to deal with great things, men such as Newton and Young were ready to detect the significance of the most familiar and simple facts; their greatness consisting mainly in their wise interpretation of them.
The difference between men consists, in a great measure, in the intelligence of their observation. The Russian proverb says of the non-observant man, “He goes through the forest and sees no firewood.” “The wise man’s eyes are in his head,” says Solomon, “but the fool walketh in darkness.” “Sir,” said Johnson, on one occasion, to a fine gentleman just returned from Italy, “some men will learn more in the Hampstead stage than others in the tour of Europe.” It is the mind that sees as well as the eye. Where unthinking gazers observe nothing, men of intelligent vision penetrate into the very fibre of the phenomena presented to them, attentively noting differences, making comparisons and detecting their underlying idea. Many, before Galileo, had seen a suspended weight swing before their eyes with a measured beat; but he was the first to detect the value of the fact. One of the vergers in the cathedral at Pisa, after replenishing with oil a lamp which hung from the roof, left it swinging to and fro; and Galileo, then a youth of only eighteen, noting it attentively, conceived the idea of applying it to the measurement of time. Fifty years of study and labor, however, elapsed before he completed the invention of his Pendulum,—an invention, the importance of which, in the measurement of time and in astronomical calculations, can scarcely be overvalued. In like manner, Galileo, having casually heard that one
Lippershey, a Dutch spectacle-maker, had presented to Count Maurice of Nassau an instrument by means of which distant objects appeared proximate to the beholder, addressed himself to the cause of such a phenomenon, which led to the invention of the telescope, and thus proved the commencement of important astronomical discoveries. Discoveries such as these could never have been made by a negligent observer, or by a mere passive listener.
While Captain (afterwards Sir Samuel) Brown was occupied in studying the construction of bridges, with the view of contriving one of a cheap description to be thrown across the Tweed, near which he lived, he was walking in his garden one dewy autumn morning, when he saw a tiny spider’s net suspended across his path. The idea immediately occurred to him, that a bridge of iron ropes or chains might be constructed in like manner, and the result was the invention of his Suspension Bridge. So James Watt, when consulted about the mode of carrying water by pipes under the Clyde, along the unequal bed of the river, turned his attention one day to the shell of a lobster presented at table; and from that model he invented an iron tube, which, when laid down, was found effectually to answer the purpose. Sir Isambert Brunel took his first lessons in forming the Thames Tunnel from the tiny shipworm: he saw how the little creature perforated the wood with its well-armed head, first in one direction and then in another, till the archway was complete, and then daubed over the roof and sides with a kind of varnish; and by copying this work exactly on a large scale, Brunel was at length enabled to accomplish his great engineering work.
It is the intelligent eye of the careful observer which
gives these apparently trivial phenomena their value. So trifling a matter as the sight of sea-weed floating past his ship, enabled Columbus to quell the mutiny which arose amongst his sailors at not discovering land, and to assure them that the eagerly sought New World was not far off. There is nothing so small that it should remain forgotten; and no fact, however trivial, but may prove useful in some way or other if carefully interpreted. Who could have imagined that the famous “chalk cliffs of Albion” had been built up by tiny insects,—detected only by the help of the microscope,—of the same order of creatures that have gemmed the sea with islands of coral! And who that contemplates such extraordinary results, arising from infinitely minute operations, will venture to question the power of little things?
It is the close observation of little things which is the secret of success in business, in art, in science, and in every pursuit in life. Human knowledge is but an accumulation of small facts, made by successive generations of men, the little bits of knowledge and experience carefully treasured up by them growing at length into a mighty pyramid. Though many of these facts and observations seemed in the first instance to have but slight significance, they are all found to have their eventual uses, and to fit into their proper places. Even many speculations seemingly remote, turn out to be the basis of results the most obviously practical. In the case of the conic sections discovered by Apollonius Pergæus, twenty centuries elapsed before they were made the basis of astronomy,—a science which enables the modern navigator to steer his way through unknown seas, and traces for him in the heavens an unerring path to his appointed haven. And had not mathematicians toiled for so long, and, to
uninstructed observers, apparently so fruitlessly, over the abstract relations of lines and surfaces, it is probable that but few of our mechanical inventions would have seen the light.
When Franklin made his discovery of the identity of lightning and electricity, it was sneered at, and people asked, “Of what use is it?” To which his apt reply was, “What is the use of a child? It may become a man!” When Galvani discovered that a frog’s leg twitched when placed in contact with different metals, it could scarcely have been imagined that so apparently insignificant a fact could have led to important results. Yet therein lay the germ of the Electric Telegraph, which binds the intelligence of continents together, and probably before many years elapse will “put a girdle round the globe.” So too, little bits of stone and fossil, dug out of the earth, intelligently interpreted, have issued in the science of geology and the practical operations of mining, in which large capitals are invested and vast numbers of persons profitably employed.
The gigantic machinery employed in pumping our mines, working our mills and manufactories, and driving our steam-ships and locomotives, in like manner depends for its supply of power upon so slight an agency as little drops of water expanded by heat,—that familiar agency called steam, which we see issuing from the common teakettle spout, but when pent up within an ingeniously contrived mechanism, displays a force equal to that of millions of horses, and contains a power to rebuke the waves and to set even the hurricane at defiance. The same power at work within the bowels of the earth has been the cause of many of those semi-miraculous catastrophes,—
volcanoes and earthquakes,—which have played so mighty a part in the history of the globe.
It is said that the Marquis of Worcester’s attention was first accidentally directed to the subject of steam power, by the tight cover of a vessel containing hot water having been blown off before his eyes, when confined a prisoner in the Tower. He published the result of his observations in his “Century of Inventions,” which formed a sort of text-book for inquirers into the powers of steam for several generations, until Savary, Newcomen, and others, applying it to practical purposes, brought it to the state in which Watt found it when called upon to repair a model of Newcomen’s engine, which belonged to the University of Glasgow. This accidental circumstance was an opportunity for Watt, which he was not slow to improve; and it was the labor of his life to bring the steam-engine to perfection.
This art of seizing opportunities and turning even accidents to account, bending them to some purpose, is a great secret of success. Dr. Johnson has defined genius to be “a mind of large general powers accidentally determined in some particular direction.” Men who are resolved to find a way for themselves, will always find opportunities enough; and if they do not lie ready to their hand, they will make them. It is not those who have enjoyed the advantages of colleges, museums, and public galleries, that have accomplished the most for science and art; nor have the greatest mechanics and inventors been trained in mechanics’ institutes. Necessity, oftener than facility, has been the mother of invention; and the most prolific school of all has been the school of difficulty. Some of the very best workmen have had the most indifferent tools to work with. But it is not tools that make the
workman, but the trained skill and perseverance of the man himself. Indeed it is proverbial that the bad workman never yet had a good tool. Some one asked Opie by what wonderful process he mixed his colors. “I mix them with my brains, sir,” was his reply. It is the same with every workman who would excel. Ferguson made marvellous things,—such as his wooden clock, that accurately measured the hours,—by means of a common penknife, a tool in everybody’s hand; but then everybody is not a Ferguson. A pan of water and two thermometers were the tools by which Dr. Black discovered latent heat; and a prism, a lens, and a sheet of pasteboard enabled Newton to unfold the composition of light and the origin of colors. An eminent foreign
savant once called upon Dr. Wollaston, and requested to be shown over his laboratories, in which science had been enriched by so many important discoveries, when the doctor took him into a little study, and, pointing to an old tea-tray on the table, containing a few watch-glasses, test papers, a small balance, and a blowpipe, said, “There is all the laboratory that I have!”
Stothard learned the art of combining colors by closely studying butterflies’ wings; he would often say that no one knew what he owed to these tiny insects. A burnt stick and a barn-door served Wilkie in lieu of pencil and canvas. Bewick first practised drawing on the cottage walls of his native village, which he covered with his sketches in chalk; and Benjamin West made his first brushes out of the cat’s tail. Ferguson laid himself down in the fields at night in a blanket, and made a map of the heavenly bodies by means of a thread with small beads on it stretched between his eye and the stars. Franklin first robbed the thunder-cloud of its lightning by means
of a kite made with two cross sticks and a silk handker-chief. Watt made his first model of the condensing steam-engine out of an old anatomist’s syringe, used to inject the arteries previous to dissection. Gifford worked his first problem in mathematics, when a cobbler’s apprentice, upon small scraps of leather, which he beat smooth for the purpose; whilst Rittenhouse, the astronomer, first calculated eclipses on his plough handle.
The most ordinary occasions will furnish a man with opportunities or suggestions for improvement, if he be but prompt to take advantage of them. Professor Lee was first attracted to the study of Hebrew by finding a Bible in this language in a synagogue, while working as a common carpenter at the repairs of the benches. He became possessed with a desire to read the book in the original, and, buying a cheap second-hand copy of a Hebrew grammar, he set to work and soon learnt the language for himself. As Edmund Stone said to the Duke of Argyle, in answer to his Grace’s inquiry, how he, a poor gardener’s boy, had contrived to be able to read Newton’s Principia in Latin, “One needs only to know the twentyfour letters of the alphabet in order to learn everything else that one wishes.” Application and perseverance, and the diligent improvement of opportunities, will do the rest.
Sir Walter Scott found opportunities for self-improvement in every pursuit, and turned even accidents to account. Thus it was in the discharge of his functions as a writer’s apprentice that he first penetrated into the Highlands, and formed those friendships among the surviving heroes of 1745 which served to lay the foundation of a large class of his works. Later in life, when employed as quartermaster of the Edinburgh Light Cavalry,
he was accidentally disabled by the kick of a horse, and confined for some time to his house; but Scott was a sworn enemy to idleness, and he forthwith set his mind to work, and in three days composed the first canto of “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,”—his first great original work.
The attention of Dr. Priestley, the founder of a new department of science, and the discoverer of many gases, was accidentally drawn to the subject by the circumstance of his residing in the neighborhood of a large brewery. Being an attentive observer, he noted, in visiting the brewery, the peculiar appearances attending the extinction of lighted chips in the gas floating over the fermented liquor. He was forty years old at the time, and knew nothing of chemistry; he obtained access, however, to books, which taught him little, for as yet nothing was known on the subject. Then he commenced experimenting, devising his own apparatus, which was of the rudest description. The curious results of his first experiments led to others, which in his hands shortly became the science of pneumatic chemistry. About the same time, Scheele was obscurely working in the same direction in a remote Swedish village; and he discovered several new gases, with no more effective apparatus at his command than a few apothecaries’ phials and pigs’ bladders.
Sir Humphry Davy, when an apothecary’s apprentice, performed his first experiments with instruments of the rudest description. He extemporized the greater part of them himself, out of the motley materials which chance threw in his way. The pots and pans of the kitchen, and the phials and vessels of his master’s surgery, were remorselessly put in requisition. It happened that a French vessel was wrecked off the Land’s End, and the
surgeon escaped, bearing with him his case of instruments, amongst which was an old-fashioned clyster apparatus; this article he presented to Davy, with whom he had become acquainted. The apothecary’s apprentice received it with great exultation, and forthwith employed it as part of a pneumatic apparatus which he contrived, afterwards using it to perform the duties of an air-pump in one of his experiments on the nature and sources of heat.
In like manner Professor Faraday, Sir Humphry Davy’s scientific successor, made his first experiments in electricity by means of an old bottle, while he was still a working bookbinder. And it is a curious fact that Faraday was first attracted to the study of chemistry by hearing one of Sir Humphry Davy’s lectures on the subject at the Royal Institution. A gentleman, who was a member, calling one day at the shop where Faraday was employed in binding books, found him poring over the article “Electricity” in an Encyclopædia placed in his hands to bind. The gentleman, having made inquiries, found he was curious about such subjects, and gave him an order of admission to the Royal Institution, where he attended a course of four lectures delivered by Sir Humphry. He took notes of the lectures, which he showed to the lecturer, who acknowledged their scientific accuracy, and was surprised when informed of the humble position of the reporter. Faraday then expressed his desire to devote himself to the prosecution of chemical studies, from which Sir Humphry at first endeavored to dissuade him; but the young man persisting, he was at length taken into the Royal Institution as an assistant; and eventually the mantle of the brilliant apothecary’s boy fell upon the worthy shoulders of the equally brilliant bookbinder’s apprentice.
The words which Davy entered in his note-book, when about twenty years of age, working away in Dr. Beddoes’s laboratory at Bristol, were eminently characteristic of him: “I have neither riches, nor power, nor birth, to recommend me; yet, if I live, I trust I shall not be of less service to mankind and my friends, than if I had been born with all these advantages.” Davy possessed the capability, as Faraday does, of devoting all the powers of his mind to the practical and experimental investigation of a subject in all its bearings; and such a mind will rarely fail, by dint of mere industry and patient thinking, in producing results of the highest order. Coleridge said of Davy, “There is an energy and elasticity in his mind, which enables him to seize on and analyze all questions, pushing them to their legitimate consequences. Every subject in Davy’s mind has the principle of vitality. Living thoughts spring up like turf under his feet.” Davy, on his part, said of Coleridge, whose abilities he greatly admired, “With the most exalted genius, enlarged views, sensitive heart, and enlightened mind, he will be the victim of a want of order, precision, and regularity.”
Cuvier, when a youth, was one day strolling along the sands near Fiquainville, in Normandy, when he observed a cuttle-fish lying stranded on the beach. He was attracted by the curious object, took it home to dissect, and began the study of the mollusca, which ended in his becoming one of the greatest among natural historians. In like manner, Hugh Miller’s curiosity was excited by the remarkable traces of extinct sea-animals in the Old Red Sandstone, on which he worked as a quarryman. He inquired, observed, studied, and became a geologist. “It was the necessity,” said he, “which made me a quarrier, that taught me to be a geologist.”
Sir Joseph Paxton was acting as gardener to the Duke of Devonshire when the Committee of the Exhibition of 1851 advertised for plans of a building. The architects and engineers seem to have been very much at fault when Paxton submitted his design, and its novelty and remarkable suitability for the purposes intended at once secured its adoption. The first sketch was made upon a sheet of blotting-paper in the rooms of the Midland Railway Company at Derby; and this first rough sketch indicated the principal features of the building as accurately as the most finished drawings which were afterwards prepared. The great idea of the Crystal Palace was as palpable on the blotting-paper as if it had been set forth in all the glory of water-color and gold framing. Was it a sudden idea,—an inspiration of genius,—flashing upon the mind of one who, though no architect, must at least have been something of a poet? Not at all. The architect of the Crystal Palace was simply a man who cultivated opportunities,—a laborious, painstaking man, whose life had been a life of labor, of diligent self-improvement, of assiduous cultivation of knowledge. The idea, as Sir Joseph Paxton himself has shown, in a lecture before the Society of Arts, was slowly and patiently elaborated by experiments extending over many years; and the Exhibition of 1851 merely afforded him the opportunity of putting forward his idea,—the right thing at the right time,—and the result was what we have seen.
It is not accident, then, that helps a man in the world, but purpose and persistent industry. These make a man sharp to discern opportunities, and turn them to account. To the feeble, the sluggish, and purposeless, the happiest opportunities avail nothing,—they pass them by, seeing no meaning in them. But if we are prompt to seize and
improve even the shortest intervals of possible action and effort, it is astonishing how much can be accomplished. Watt taught himself chemistry and mechanics while working at his trade of a mathematical instrument-maker; and he availed himself of every opportunity to extend his knowledge of languages, literature, and the principles of science. Stephenson taught himself arithmetic and mensuration while working as an engineman during the night shifts, and he studied mechanics during his spare hours at home, thus preparing himself for his great work—the invention of the passenger locomotive. Daiton’s industry was the habit of his life. He began from his boyhood, for he taught a little village school when he was only about twelve years old; keeping the school in winter, and working upon his father’s farm in summer. He would sometimes urge himself and companions to study by the stimulus of a bet, though bred a Quaker; and on one occasion, by his satisfactory solution of a problem, he in this way won as much as enabled him to buy a winter’s store of candles. He went on indefatigably, making his meteorological observations until a day or two before he died,—having made and recorded upwards of 200,000 in the course of his life.
With perseverance, the very odds and ends of time may be worked up into results of the greatest value. An hour in every day withdrawn from frivolous pursuits, would, if profitably employed, enable a person of ordinary capacity to go far towards mastering a complete science. It would make an ignorant man a well-informed man in ten years. We must not allow the time to pass without yielding fruits, in the form of something learnt worthy of being known, some good principle cultivated, or some good habit strengthened. Dr. Mason
Good translated Lucretius while riding in his carriage in the streets of London, going his rounds among his patients. Dr. Darwin composed nearly all his works in the same way, while driving about in his “sulky,” from house to house in the country,—writing down his thoughts on little scraps of paper, which he carried about with him for the purpose. Hale wrote his “Contemplations” while travelling on circuit. Dr. Burney learned French and Italian while travelling on horseback from one musical pupil to another in the course of his profession. Kirke White learned Greek while walking to and from a lawyer’s office; and we personally know a man of eminent position in a northern manufacturing town, who learned Latin and French while going messages as an errand-boy in the streets of Manchester.
Elihu Burritt attributed his first success in self-improvement, not to genius, which he disclaimed, but simply to the careful employment of those invaluable fragments of time, called “odd moments.” While working and earning his living as a blacksmith, he mastered some eighteen ancient and modern languages, and twenty-two European dialects. Withal, he was exceedingly modest, and thought his achievements nothing extraordinary. Like another learned and wise man, of whom it was said that he could be silent in ten languages, Elihu Burritt could do the same in forty. “Those who have been acquainted with my character from my youth up,” said he, writing to a friend, “will give me credit for sincerity when I say, that it never entered into my head to blazon forth any acquisition of my own…All that I have accomplished, or expect, or hope to accomplish, has been and will be by that plodding, patient, persevering process of accretion which builds the ant-heap,—particle
by particle, thought by thought, fact by fact. And if ever I was actuated by ambition, its highest and warmest aspiration reached no further than the hope to set before the young men of my country an example in employing those invaluable fragments of time called ‘odd moments.'”
Daguesseau, one of the great Chancellors of France, by carefully working up his odd bits of time, wrote a bulky and able volume in the successive intervals of waiting for dinner; and Madame de Genlis composed several of her charming volumes while waiting for the princess to whom she gave her daily lessons. Jeremy Bentham in like manner disposed of his hours of labor and repose, so that not a moment should be lost, the arrangement being determined on the principle that it is a calamity to lose the smallest portion of time. He lived and worked habitually under the practical consciousness that man’s days are numbered, and that the night cometh when no man can work.
What a solemn and striking admonition to youth is that inscribed on the dial at All Souls, Oxford,—”Periunt et imputantur,”—the hours perish and are laid to our charge. For time, like life, can never be recalled. Melancthon noted down the time lost by him, that he might thereby reanimate his industry, and not lose an hour. An Italian scholar put over his door an inscription intimating that whosoever remained there should join in his labors. “We are afraid,” said some visitors to Baxter, “that we break in upon your time.” “To be sure you do,” replied the disturbed and blunt divine. Time was the estate out of which these great workers, and all other workers, carved a rich inheritance of thoughts and deeds for their successors.
The mere drudgery undergone by some men in carrying on their undertakings has been something extraordinary; but the drudgery they regarded as the price of success. Addison amassed as much as three folios of manuscript materials before he began his “Spectator.” Newton wrote his “Chronology,” fifteen times over before he was satisfied with it; and Gibbon wrote out his “Memoir” nine times. Hale studied for many years at the rate of sixteen hours a day, and when wearied with the study of the law, he would recreate himself with philosophy and the study of the mathematics. Hume wrote thirteen hours a day while preparing his “History of England.” Montesquieu, speaking of one part of his writings, said to a friend, “You will read it in a few hours; but I assure you it cost me so much labor that it has whitened my hair.”
The practice of writing down thoughts and facts for the purpose of holding them fast, and preventing their escape into the dim region of forgetfulness, has been much resorted to by thoughtful and studious men. Lord Bacon left behind him many manuscripts, entitled “Sudden thoughts set down for use.” Erskine made great extracts from Burke; and Eldon copied Coke upon Littleton twice over with his own hand, so that the book became, as it were, part of his own mind. The late Dr. Pye Smith, when apprenticed to his father as a book-binder, was accustomed to make copious memoranda of all the books he read, with extracts and criticisms. This indomitable industry in collecting materials distinguished him through life, his biographer describing him as “always at work, always in advance, always accumulating.” These note-books afterwards proved, like Richter’s “quarries,” the great storehouse from which he drew his illustrations.
The same practice characterized the eminent John Hunter, who adopted it for the purpose of supplying the defects of memory; and he was accustomed thus to illustrate the advantages which one derives from putting one’s thoughts in writing: “It resembles,” he said, “a tradesman taking stock, without which he never knows either what he possesses or in what he is deficient.” John Hunter,—whose observation was so keen that Abernethy was accustomed to speak of him as “the Argus-eyed,”—furnished an illustrious example of the power of patient industry. He received little or no education till he was about twenty years of age, and it was with difficulty that he acquired the arts of reading and writing. He worked for some years as a common carpenter at Glasgow, after which he joined his brother William, settled in London as a lecturer and anatomical demonstrator. John entered his dissecting room as an assistant, but soon shot ahead of his brother, partly by virtue of his great natural ability, but mainly by reason of his patient application and indefatigable industry. He was one of the first in this country to devote himself assiduously to the study of comparative anatomy, and the objects he dissected and collected took the eminent Professor Owen no less than ten years to arrange. The collection contains some twenty thousand specimens, and is the most precious treasure of the kind that has ever been accumulated by the industry of one man. Hunter used to spend every morning from sunrise till eight o’clock in his museum; and throughout the day he carried on his extensive private practice, performed his laborious duties as surgeon to St. George’s Hospital, and deputy surgeon-general to the army; delivered lectures to students, and superintended a school of practical
anatomy at his own house; finding leisure, amidst all, for elaborate experiments on the animal economy, and the composition of various works of great scientific importance. To find time for this gigantic amount of work, he allowed himself only four hours of sleep at night, and an hour after dinner. When once asked what method be had adopted to insure success in his undertakings, he replied, “My rule is, deliberately to consider, before I commence, whether the thing be practicable. If it be not practicable, I do not attempt it. If it be practicable, I can accomplish it if I give sufficient pains to it; and having begun, I never stop till the thing is done. To this rule I owe all my success.”
John Hunter occupied a great deal of his time in collecting definite facts respecting matters which, before his day, were regarded as exceedingly trivial. Thus it was supposed by many of his contemporaries that he was only wasting his time and thought in studying so carefully as he did the growth of a deer’s horn. But Hunter was impressed with the conviction that no accurate knowledge of scientific facts is without its value. By the study referred to, he learned how arteries accommodate themselves to circumstances and enlarge as occasion requires; and the knowledge thus acquired emboldened him, in a case of aneurism in a branch artery, to tie the main trunk where no surgeon before him had dared to tie it, and the life of his patient was saved. Like many original men, he worked for a long time as it were underground, digging and laying foundations. He was a solitary and self-reliant genius, holding on his course without the solace of sympathy or approbation,—for but few of his contemporaries perceived the ultimate object of his pursuits. But like all true workers, he did not fail in securing his best
reward,—that which depends less upon others than upon one’s self,—that approval of conscience, which in a rightminded man invariably follows the honest and vigorous performance of duty.
Harvey was another laborer of great perseverance in the same field of science. He spent not less than eight long years of investigation and research before he published his views of the circulation of the blood. He repeated and verified his experiments again and again, probably anticipating the opposition he would have to encounter from the profession on making known his discovery. The tract in which he at length announced his views, was a most modest one,—but simple, perspicuous, and conclusive. It was nevertheless received with ridicule, as the utterance of a crack-brained impostor. For some time, he did not make a single convert, and gained nothing but contumely and abuse. He had called in question the revered authority of the ancients; and it was even averred that his views were calculated to subvert the authority of the Scriptures and undermine the very foundations of morality and religion. His little practice fell away, and he was left almost without a friend. This lasted for some years, until the great truth held fast by Harvey amidst all his adversity, and which had dropped into many thoughtful minds, gradually ripened by further observation, and after a period of about twenty-five years, it became generally recognized as an established scientific truth.
The difficulties encountered by Dr. Jenner in promulgating and establishing his discovery of vaccination as a preventive of smallpox, were even greater than those of Harvey. Many, before him, had witnessed the cowpox, and had heard of the report current among the
milkmaids in Gloucestershire, that whoever had taken that disease was secure against smallpox. It was a trifling, vulgar rumor, supposed to have no significance whatever; and no one had thought it worthy of investigation, until it was accidentally brought under the notice of Jenner. He was a youth, pursuing his studies at Sodbury, when his attention was arrested by the casual observation made by a country girl who came to his master’s shop for advice. The smallpox was mentioned, when the girl said, “I can’t take that disease, for I have had cow-pox.” The observation immediately riveted Jenner’s attention, and he forthwith set about inquiring and making observations on the subject. His professional friends, to whom he mentioned his views as to the prophylactic virtues of cow-pox, laughed at him, and even threatened to expel him from their society, if he persisted in harassing them with the subject. In London he was so fortunate as to study under John Hunter, to whom he communicated his views. The advice of the great anatomist was thoroughly characteristic: “Don’t think, but
try; be patient, be accurate.” Jenner’s courage was greatly supported by the advice, which conveyed to him the true art of philosophical investigation. He went back to the country to practise his profession, and carefully to make observations and experiments, which he continued to pursue for a period of twenty years. His faith in his discovery was so implicit that he vaccinated his own son on three several occasions. At length he published his views in a quarto of about seventy pages, in which he gave the details of twenty-three cases of successful vaccination of individuals, to whom it was found afterwards impossible to communicate the smallpox either by contagion or inoculation. It was in 1798
that this treatise was published; though he had been working out his ideas as long before as 1775, when they began to assume a definite form.
How was the discovery received? First with indifference, then with active hostility. He proceeded to London to exhibit to the profession the process of vaccination and its successful results; but not a single doctor could be got to make a trial of it, and after fruitlessly waiting for nearly three months, Jenner returned to his native village. He was even caricatured and abused for his attempt to “bestialize” his species by the introduction into their systems of diseased matter from the cow’s udder. Cobbett was one of his most furious assailants. Vaccination was denounced from the pulpit as “diabolical.” It was averred that vaccinated children became “ox-faced,” that abscesses broke out to “indicate sprouting horns,” and that the countenance was gradually “transmuted into the visage of a cow, the voice into the bellowing of bulls.” Vaccination, however, was a truth, and notwithstanding the violence of the opposition, belief in it spread slowly. In one village, where a gentleman tried to introduce the practice, the first persons who permitted themselves to be vaccinated were absolutely pelted, and were driven into their houses if they appeared out of doors. Two ladies of title,—Lady Ducie and the Countess of Berkeley,—to their honor be it remembered,—had the courage to vaccinate their own children; and the prejudices of the day were at once broken through. The medical profession gradually came round, and there were several who even sought to rob Dr. Jenner of the merit of the discovery, when its vast importance came to be recognized. Jenner’s cause at last triumphed, and he was publicly honored and rewarded.
In his prosperity he was as modest as he had been in his obscurity. He was invited to settle in London, and told that he might command a practice of 10,000
l. a year. But his answer was, “No! In the morning of my days I have sought the sequestered and lowly paths of life,—the valley, and not the mountain,—and now, in the evening of my days, it is not meet for me to hold myself up as an object for fortune and for fame.” In Jenner’s own lifetime the practice of vaccination had been adopted all over the civilized world; and when he died, his title as a Benefactor of his kind was recognized far and wide. Cuvier has said, “If vaccine were the only discovery of the epoch, it would serve to render it illustrious forever.”
Not less patient, resolute, and persevering, was Sir Charles Bell in the prosecution of his discoveries relating to the nervous system. Previous to his time, the most confused notions prevailed as to the functions of the nerves, and this branch of study was little more advanced than it had been in the times of Democritus and Anax-agoras three thousand years before. Sir Charles Bell, in the valuable series of papers the publication of which was commenced in 1821, took an entirely original view of the subject, based upon a long series of careful, accurate, and oft-repeated experiments. Elaborately tracing the development of the nervous system up from the lowest order of animated being, to man,—the lord of the animal kingdom,—he displayed it, to use his own words, “as plainly as if it were written in our mother-tongue.” His great discovery consisted in the fact, that the spinal nerves are double in their function, and arise by double roots from the spinal marrow,—volition being conveyed by that part of the nerves springing from the one root, and sensation by the other. The whole subject occupied the mind
of Sir Charles Bell for a period of forty years, when, in 1840, he laid his last paper before the Royal Society. As in the cases of Harvey and Jenner, when he had lived down the ridicule and opposition with which his views were first received, and their truth came to be recognized, numerous claimants for priority in making the discovery were set up both at home and abroad. Like them, too, he lost practice by the publication of his valuable papers; and he left it on record that, after every step in his discovery, he was obliged to work harder than ever to preserve his reputation as a practitioner. The great merits of Sir Charles Bell were, however, at length fully recognized; and Cuvier himself, when on his death-bed, finding his face distorted and drawn to one side, pointed it out to his attendants as a proof of the correctness of Sir Charles Bell’s theory.
The late Dr. Marshall Hall was an equally devoted pursuer of the same branch of science. He was the son of Mr. Robert Hall, of Basford, near Nottingham, to whom the manufacturing industry of this country owes so much, as the inventor of bleaching by chlorine on a large scale, by which a process was accomplished in a few hours that had formerly required as many weeks. It is remarkable that Mr. Hall’s neighbors designated the place where he first made his attempt by the name of “Bedlam,” which it still retains.
*5 To Mr. Hall’s second
son, Samuel, Nottingham owes in a great measure its present commercial prosperity and importance, arising from his inventions of the process of gassing lace, and the bleaching of starch, by which the Nottingham cotton fabrics are scarcely distinguishable from the linen-thread lace of the Continent. Mr. Hall’s fourth son was the celebrated physician and physiologist, Dr. Marshall Hall, whose name posterity will rank with those of Harvey, Hunter, Jenner, and Bell. During the whole course of his long and useful life he was a most careful and minute observer; and no fact, however apparently insignificant, escaped his attention. His important discovery of the diastaltic nervous system, by which his name will long be known amongst scientific men, originated in an exceedingly simple circumstance. When investigating the pneumonic circulation in the Triton, the decapitated object lay upon the table; and on separating the tail and accidentally pricking the external integument, he observed that it moved with energy, and became contorted into various forms. He had not touched a muscle nor a muscular nerve; what then was the nature of these movements? The same phenomena had probably often before been observed, but Dr. Hall was the first to apply himself perseveringly to the investigation of their causes; and he exclaimed on the occasion, “I will never rest satisfied until I have found all this out, and made it clear.” His attention to the subject was almost incessant; and it is estimated that in the course of his life he devoted not less than 25,000 hours to its experimental and chemical investigation; at the same time he was carrying on an extensive private practice, and officiating as a lecturer at
St. Thomas’s Hospital and other Medical Schools. It will scarcely be credited that the paper in which he embodied his discovery was rejected by the Royal Society, and was only accepted after the lapse of seventeen years, when the truth of his views had become acknowledged by scientific men both at home and abroad. A character so manly and beautiful as that of Dr. Marshall Hall, so hopeful and persevering under difficulties, so truth-loving and sincere in all things, is so profitable a subject for contemplation and study, that we rejoice to learn there is a probability of his memory being shortly embalmed in a biography, which we doubt not will be worthy of him.
The life of Sir William Herschel affords another remarkable illustration of the force of perseverance in another branch of science. His father was a poor German musician, who brought up his four sons to the same calling. William came over to England to seek his fortune, and he joined the band of the Durham Militia, in which he played the oboe. The regiment was lying at Doncaster, where Dr. Miller first became acquainted with Herschel, having heard him perform a solo on the violin in a surprising manner. The Doctor entered into conversation with the youth, and was so pleased with him, that he urged him to leave the militia band and take up his residence at his house for a time. Herschel did so, and while at Doncaster was principally occupied in violin-playing at concerts, availing himself of the advantages of Dr. Miller’s library to study in his leisure hours. A new organ having been built for the parish church of Halifax, an organist was advertised for, on which Herschel applied for the office, and was selected. While officiating as organist and music-teacher at Halifax, he began to study mathematics, unassisted by any
master. Leading the wandering life of an artist, he was next attracted to Bath, where he played in the Pump-room band, and also officiated as organist in the Octagon chapel. Some recent discoveries in astronomy having arrested his mind, and awakened in him a powerful spirit of curiosity, he sought and obtained from a friend the loan of a two-foot Gregorian telescope. So fascinated was the poor musician by the science, that he even thought of purchasing a telescope, but the price asked by the London optician was so alarming, that he determined to make one. Those who know what a reflecting telescope is, and the skill which is required to prepare the concave metallic speculum which forms the most important part of the apparatus, will be able to form some idea of the difficulty of this undertaking. Nevertheless, Herschel succeeded, after long and painful labor, in completing a five-foot reflector, with which he had the gratification of observing the ring and satellites of Saturn. Not satisfied with this triumph, he proceeded to make other instruments in succession, of seven, ten, and even twenty feet. In constructing the seven-foot reflector, he finished no fewer than two hundred specula before he produced one that would bear any power that was applied to it,—a striking instance of the persevering laboriousness of the man. While sublimely gauging the heavens with his instruments, he continued patiently to earn his bread by piping to the fashionable frequenters of the Bath Pump-room. So eager was he in his astronomical observations, that he would steal away from the room during an interval of the performance, give a little turn to his telescope, and contentedly return to his oboe. Thus working away, Herschel discovered the Georgium Sidus, the orbit and rate of motion of which he carefully
calculated, and sent the result to the Royal Society; when the humble oboe-player found himself at once elevated from obscurity to fame. He was shortly after appointed Astronomer Royal, and by the kindness of George III. was placed in a position of honorable competency for life. He bore his honors with the same meekness and humility which had distinguished him in the days of his obscurity. So gentle and patient, and withal so distinguished and successful a follower of science under difficulties, perhaps does not occur in the whole range of biography.
The career of William Smith, the father of English geology, though perhaps less known, is no less interesting and instructive as an example of patient and laborious effort, and the diligent cultivation of opportunities. He was born in 1769, the son of a yeoman farmer at Churchill, in Oxfordshire. His father dying when he was but a child, he received a very sparing education at the village school, and even that was to a considerable extent interfered with by his wandering and somewhat idle habits as a boy. His mother having married a second time, he was taken in charge by an uncle, also a farmer, by whom he was brought up. Though the uncle was by no means pleased with the boy’s love of wandering about, collecting “pound-stones,” “pundips,” and other stony curiosities which lay scattered about the adjoining land, he yet enabled him to purchase a few of the necessary books wherewith to instruct himself in the rudiments of geometry and surveying; for the boy was already destined for the business of a land-surveyor. One of his marked characteristics even as a youth, was the accuracy and keenness of his observation; and what he once clearly saw he never forgot. He began to draw, attempted
to color, and practised himself in the arts of mensuration and surveying, all without regular instruction; and by his own efforts in self-culture, he shortly became so proficient, that he was taken on as assistant to a local surveyor of some ability, himself self-taught, who was engaged in extensive surveys of the neighborhood. This position introduced William Smith to considerable experience as a surveyor, and in the course of his business he was constantly under the necessity of traversing Oxfordshire and the adjoining counties. One of the first things that he seriously pondered, was the position of the various soils and strata that came under his notice on the lands which he surveyed or travelled over; more especially the position of the red earth in regard to the lias and superincumbent rocks. The surveys of various collieries which he was called upon to conduct in the course of his business in 1792 and 1793, gave him further experience; and even at this early period, when he was only twenty-three years of age, he seems to have contemplated making a model of the strata of the earth.
About this time many plans for new canals were on foot, and Mr. Smith, with a keen eye for business, took steps to qualify himself for canal surveying. It was while engaged in levelling for a proposed canal in Gloucestershire, that the idea of a general law occurred to him, relating to the strata of the district. He conceived that the strata lying above the coal were not laid horizontally, but inclined, and in one direction, towards the east; resembling on a large scale, “the ordinary appearance of superposed slices of bread and butter.” The correctness of this theory he shortly after confirmed by the levelling processes executed by him in two parallel valleys, the strata of “red ground,” “lias,” and “freestone” or “oolite,”
being found to come down in an eastern direction, and to sink below the level, yielding place to the next in succession. He was shortly after enabled to verify the truth of his views on a larger scale, having been appointed to examine personally into the management of canals in England and Wales, immediately on the passing of the Canal Bill on which he had been engaged. During his journey, which extended from Bath to Newcastle-on-Tyne, returning by Shropshire and Wales, his keen eyes were never idle for a moment. He rapidly noted the aspect and structure of the country through which he passed with his companions, treasuring up his observations for future use. His geologic vision was so acute, that though the road along which he passed from York to Newcastle in the postchaise was from five to fifteen miles distant from the hills of chalk and oolite on the east, he was satisfied as to their nature, by their contours and relative position, and their ranges on the surface in relation to the lias and “red ground” occasionally seen on the road.
The general results of his observation seem to have been these. He noted that the rocky masses of country in the western parts of England generally inclined to the east and southeast; that the red sandstones and marls above the coal-measures passed beneath the lias, clay, and limestone, that these again passed beneath the sands, yellow limestones, and clays, forming the table-land of the Cotteswold Hills, while these in turn passed beneath the great chalk deposits, occupying the eastern parts of England. He further observed that each layer of clay, sand, and limestone, held its own peculiar classes of fossils; and pondering much on these things, he at length came to the then unheard-of conclusion, that each distinct deposit of marine animals, in these several strata, indicated
a distinct sea-bottom, and that each layer of clay, sand, chalk, and stone, marked a distinct epoch of time in the history of the earth.
This idea took firm possession of his mind, and he could talk and think of nothing else. At canal boards, at sheep-shearings, at county meetings, and at agricultural associations, “Strata Smith,” as he came to be called, was always running over with the subject that possessed him. He had indeed made a great discovery, though he was as yet a man utterly unknown in the scientific world. He now projected the preparation of a map of the stratification of England; but he was for the present deterred from proceeding with it, his time being wholly occupied in carrying out the works of the Somersetshire coal canal, which engaged him for a period of about six years. He continued, nevertheless, to be unremitting in his observation of facts, and he became so expert in apprehending the internal structure of a district, and detecting the lie of the strata, from its external configuration, that he was often consulted respecting the drainage of extensive tracts of land, in which, guided by his geological knowledge, he proved remarkably successful, and acquired an extensive reputation.
One day, when looking over the cabinet collection of fossils belonging to the Rev. Samuel Richardson, at Bath, Smith astonished his friend by suddenly disarranging his classification, and rapidly rearranging the fossils in their stratigraphical order,—”These came from the blue lias, these from the overlying sand and freestone, these from the fuller’s-earth, and these from the Bath building stone.” A new light flashed upon Mr. Richardson’s mind, and he shortly became a convert to, and believer in, William Smith’s doctrine. But the geologists of that day were not
so easily convinced; and it was scarcely to be tolerated that an unknown country land-surveyor should pretend to teach them the science of geology. But William Smith had an eye and mind to penetrate deep beneath the skin of the earth; he saw its very fibre and skeleton, and as it were divined its organization. His knowledge of the strata in the neighborhood of Bath was so accurate, that one evening, when dining at the house of the Rev. Joseph Townsend, he dictated to Mr. Richardson the different strata according to their order of succession in descending order, twenty-three in number, commencing with the chalk and descending in continuous series down to the coal, below which the strata were not then sufficiently determined. To this was added a list of the more remarkable fossils which had been gathered in the several layers of rock. This was printed and extensively circulated in 1801.
He next determined to trace out the strata through districts as remote from Bath as his means would enable him to reach. For years he journeyed to and fro, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback, riding upon the tops of stage-coaches, often making up by night travelling the time he had lost by day, so as not to fail in his ordinary business engagements. When he was professionally called away to any distance from home,—as for instance, when travelling from Bath to Holkham, in Norfolk, to direct the irrigation and drainage of Mr. Coke’s land in that county,—he rode on horseback, making frequent
détours from the road to note the geological features of the country which he traversed.
For several years he was thus engaged in his journeys to distant quarters in England and Ireland, to the extent of upwards of ten thousand miles yearly; and it was amidst
this incessant and laborious travelling, that he contrived to commit to paper his fast-growing generalizations on what he rightly regarded as a new science. No observation, howsoever trivial it might appear, was neglected, and no opportunity of collecting fresh facts was overlooked. Whenever he could, he possessed himself of records of borings, natural and artificial sections, drew them to a constant scale of eight yards to the inch, and colored them up. Of his keenness of observation take the following illustration. When making one of his geological excursions about the country near Woburn as he was drawing near to the foot of the Dunstable chalk hills, he observed to his companion, “If there be any broken ground about the foot of these hills, we may find
sharks’ teeth;” and they had not proceeded far, before they picked up six from the white bank of a new fenceditch. As he afterwards said of himself, “The habit of observation crept on me, gained a settlement in my mind, became a constant associate of my life, and started up in activity at the first thoughts of a journey; so that I generally went off well prepared with maps, and sometimes with contemplations on its objects, or on those on the road, reduced to writing before it commenced. My mind was, therefore, like the canvas of a painter, well prepared for the first and best impressions.”
Notwithstanding his courageous and indefatigable industry, many circumstances contributed to prevent the promised publication of William Smith’s “Map of the Strata of England and Wales,” and it was not until 1814 that he was enabled, by the assistance of some friends, to give to the world the fruits of his twenty years’ incessant labor. To prosecute his inquiries and collect the extensive series of facts and observations requisite for his purpose,
he had to devote the profits of all his professional labors during that period; he even sold off his small property to obtain the means of visiting remote parts of the island. He had also entered on a quarrying speculation near Bath, which proved unsuccessful, and he was under the necessity of even selling off his valuable geological collection (which was purchased by the British Museum), his furniture, and library, reserving only his papers, maps, and sections, which were useless save to himself. He bore his losses and misfortunes with exemplary fortitude; and amidst all, he went on working with cheerful courage and untiring patience. The later years of his life were spent in engineering and surveying pursuits in the north of England, acting also as land-steward to Sir J. V. B. Johnstone, of Hackness, near Scarborough. He died at Northampton, in August, 1839, while on his way to attend the meeting of the British Association at Birmingham.
It is difficult to speak in terms of too high praise of the first geological map of England, which we owe to the industry of this courageous man of science. An accomplished writer says of it, “It was a work so masterly in conception and so correct in general outline, that in principle it served as a basis not only for the production of later maps of the British Islands, but for geological maps of all other parts of the world, wherever they have been undertaken. In the apartments of the Geological Society, Smith’s map may yet be seen,—a great historical document, old and worn, calling for renewal of its faded tints. Let any one conversant with the subject compare it with later works on a similar scale, and he will find that in all essential features it will not suffer by the comparison,—the intricate anatomy of the silurian
rocks of Wales and the north of England by Murchison and Sedgwick being the chief additions made to his great generalizations.”
*6 But the genius of the Oxfordshire surveyor did not fail to be duly recognized and honored by men of science during his lifetime. In 1831 the Geological Society of London awarded to him the Wollaston medal, “in consideration of his being a great original discoverer in English geology, and especially for his being the first in this country to discover and to teach the identification of strata, and to determine their succession by means of their embedded fossils.” William Smith, in his simple earnest way, gained for himself a name as lasting as the science he loved so well. To use the words of the writer above quoted, “Till the manner as well as the fact of the first appearance of successive forms of life shall be solved, it is not easy to surmise how any discovery can be made in geology equal in value to that which we owe to the genius of William Smith.”
Hugh Miller was a man of similar calibre, of equally simple tastes and observant faculties, who also successfully devoted himself to geological pursuits. The book in which he has himself told the story of his life, (“My Schools and Schoolmasters,”) is extremely interesting, and calculated to be eminently useful. It is the history of the formation of a truly noble and independent character in the humblest condition of life,—the condition in which a large mass of the people of this country are born and brought up; and it teaches all, but especially poor men, what it is in the power of each to accomplish for himself. The life of Hugh Miller is full of lessons of self-help and self-respect, and shows the efficacy of these in working out for a man an honorable competence
and a solid reputation. His father was drowned at sea when he was but a child, and he was left to be brought up by his widowed mother. He had a school training after a sort, but his best teachers were the boys with whom he played, the men amongst whom he worked, and the friends and relatives with whom he lived. He read much and miscellaneously, and gleaned pickings of odd knowledge from many odd quarters,—from workmen, carpenters, fishermen, and sailors, old women, and above all, from the old boulders strewed along the shores of the Cromarty Frith. With a big hammer which had belonged to his great-grandfather, an old buccaneer, the boy went about chipping the stones, and thus early accumulating specimens of mica, porphyry, garnet, and such like. Sometimes he had a day in the woods, and there, too, the boy’s attention was excited by the peculiar geological curiosities which lay in his way. While searching among the stones and rocks on the beach, he was sometimes asked in humble irony, by the farm-servants who came to load their carts with sea-weed, whether he “was gettin’ siller in the stanes,” but was so unlucky as never to be able to answer their question in the affirmative. His uncles were anxious that he should become a minister; for it is the ambition of many of the aspiring Scotch poor, to see one of their family “wag his pow in a poopit.” These kind uncles were even willing to pay his college expenses, though the labor of their hands formed their only wealth. The youth, however, had conscientious objections: he did not feel
called to the ministry; and the uncles, confessing that he was right, gave up their point. Hugh was accordingly apprenticed to the trade of his choice,—that of a working stonemason; and he began his laboring career in a quarry looking out upon
the Cromarty Frith. This quarry proved one of his best schools. The remarkable geological formations which it displayed awakened his curiosity. The bar of deep-red stone beneath, and the bar of pale-red clay above, were noted by the young quarryman, who even in such unpromising subjects found matter for observation and reflection. Where other men saw nothing, he detected analogies, differences, and peculiarities, which set him a-thinking. He simply kept his eyes and his mind open; was sober, diligent, and persevering; and this was the secret of his intellectual growth.
His curiosity was excited and kept alive by the curious organic remains, principally of old and extinct species of fishes, ferns, and ammonites, which lay revealed along the coasts by the washings of the waves, or were exposed by the stroke of his mason’s hammer. He never lost sight of this subject; went on accumulating observations, comparing formations, until at length, when no longer a working mason, many years afterwards, he gave to the world his highly interesting work on the Old Red Sandstone, which at once established his reputation as a scientific geologist. But this work was the fruit of long years of patient observation and research. As he modestly states in his autobiography, “the only merit to which I lay claim in the case is that of patient research,—a merit in which whoever wills may rival or surpass me; and this humble faculty of patience, when rightly developed, may lead to more extraordinary developments of idea than even genius itself.”
The late John Brown, the eminent English geologist, was, like Miller, a stone-mason in his early life, serving an apprenticeship to the trade at Colchester, and afterwards working as a journeyman mason at Norwich. He afterwards
commenced business as a builder on his own account at Colchester, where by frugality and industry he secured an independency. It was while working at his trade that his attention was first drawn to the study of fossils and shells; and he proceeded to make a collection of them, which afterwards grew into one of the finest in England. His researches along the coasts of Essex, Kent, and Sussex brought to light some magnificent remains of the elephant and rhinoceros, the most valuable of which were presented by him to the British Museum. During the last few years of his life he devoted considerable attention to the study of the Foraminifera in chalk, respecting which he made several interesting discoveries. His life was useful, happy, and honored; and he died at Stanway, in Essex, in November 1859, at the ripe age of eighty years.
Sir Roderick Murchison is another illustrious pursuer of the same branch of science. A writer in the “Quarterly Review” cites him as “a singular instance of a man who, having passed the early part of his life as a soldier, never having had the advantage, or disadvantage as the case might have been, of a scientific training, instead of remaining a fox-hunting country gentleman, has succeeded by his own native vigor and sagacity, untiring industry and zeal, in making for himself a scientific reputation that is as wide as it is likely to be lasting. He took first of all an unexplored and difficult district at home, and, by the labor of many years, examined its rock-formations, classed them in natural groups, assigned to each its characteristic assemblage of fossils, and was the first to decipher two great chapters in the world’s geological history, which must always henceforth carry his name on their title-page. Not only so, but he applied the knowledge thus acquired to the dissection of
large districts, both at home and abroad, so as to become the geological discoverer of great countries which had formerly been ‘terræ incognitæ.'” But Sir Roderick Murchison is not merely a geologist. His indefatigable labors in many branches of knowledge, have contributed to render him among the most accomplished and complete of scientific men.