Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/630

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PROF. NEWCOMB was born in the Province of Nova Scotia, March 12, 1835. Both of his parents were of New England descent, their families having emigrated to the Provinces at various times. His father pursued the avocation of village schoolmaster, and from this circumstance the son during his childhood enjoyed educational advantages which were good for the time and place, but exceedingly scanty when measured by any other standard. A taste for arithmetic was developed at a very early age, and before he was twelve years old the embryo astronomer had completed the (restricted) course taught by his father.

From this time he was thrown upon his own resources, reading and studying at random the few books which Providence threw in his way. A traveling peddler sold him Latin and Greek grammars and readers. For a short time he studied the rudiments of French, with a teacher, but acquired a better knowledge of the language from the descendants of the old French settlers, while at the same time an algebra, borrowed from a clergyman, was his constant companion.

At the age of eighteen we find him in the State of Maryland, teaching school—his ancestral calling—but with his active mind constantly engaged in mathematical pursuits. In 1856 Mr. Newcomb was so happy as to make the acquaintance of Prof. Henry, of the Smithsonian Institution, with whom he had corresponded on a scientific subject, and who soon took an active interest in the welfare of his newly-discovered young friend. In conjunction with Mr. Hilgard. Prof. Henry secured for young Newcomb a position as computer for the "American Nautical Almanac," the office of which was then located at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here Mr. Newcomb found both the material and the incentive to pursue his mathematical studies of the theories of the celestial motions. He enrolled himself a student of the Lawrence Scientific School, and attended the lectures of Prof. Peirce. After making a study of the works of Laplace and La Grange, he started on the line of original investigation, and has ever since pursued it, with uniform success. In 1861 he was appointed Professor of Mathematics in the Navy, and assigned to duty at the Naval Observatory, Washington, with which he is still connected.

In 1863 he married Miss M. C. Hassler, daughter of the late Surgeon Hassler, United States Navy, and granddaughter of the late Prof. Hassler, the originator and first Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey.

It may seem surprising that, while Prof. Newcomb's name is not