Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/270

This page has been validated.

present in definite equivalents. He had not found this recorded anywhere, and had, therefore, taken great pains to establish the accuracy of his observations. When the investigation was finished, he went one morning early to M. de la Rive, and timidly submitted to him the manuscript embodying the results of his inquiry. While glancing over it, M. de la Rive could not conceal his surprise. When he had come to the end he said to the young student, "Is it you, my boy, who have made these experiments?" "Certainly." "And they have taken you a good deal of time to perform?" "Of course they have." "Then I must tell you that you have had the good fortune to meet Berzelius on the same field of research. He has preceded you, but he is older than you, and so you ought not to bear him ill will on this account." Dumas, not a little embarrassed, was unable to utter a single word. It was, in fact, his first interview with M. de la Rive, whose lectures he had attended, but whom he had never personally accosted. But his perplexity was not to last long. With the utmost good nature M. de la Rive put an end to his gloomy reflections by taking his arm and saying, "Come along and breakfast with me." Before long the conversation had become animated and cheerful. The acquaintance was made, and the kindly feeling of his teacher won by Dumas at this breakfast never subsequently failed him.

This was when Dumas was eighteen years of age. For the next four years he worked with great assiduity in experimental chemistry, and especially, in association with Prevost, upon the problems of organic chemistry, in which they were pioneers.

In 1822 Dumas might have settled at Geneva, and many circumstances led him to think seriously of doing so. An incident, however, which happened at that time, and which at first sight seemed in no way likely to influence a well-matured plan of life, induced him within a few days to change his mind. He made the acquaintance of a man, among whose varied gifts the fascinating sway he exercised over youthful minds was not the least. Let me try to give the story in the very words in which I heard it from Dumas's mouth.

"One day," he said, "when I was in my study completing some drawings at the microscope, and, it must be added, rather negligently attired, in order to enable me to move more freely, some one mounted the stairs, stopped on my landing, and gently knocked at the door. 'Come in,' said I, without looking up from my work. On turning round I was surprised to find myself face to face with a gentleman, in a bright blue coat with metal buttons, a white waistcoat, nankeen breeches, and top-boots. This costume, which might have been the fashion under the Directory, was then quite out of date. The wearer of it, his head somewhat bent, his eyes deep-set but keen, advanced with a pleasant smile, saying, ‘Monsieur Dumas?’ ‘The same, sir; but excuse me.’ ‘Don't disturb yourself. I am M. de Humboldt, and did not wish to pass through Geneva without having had the pleasure