Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/417

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I HAVE been asked to write a sketch of the life of Professor Langley, to accompany his portrait in this number of "The Popular Science Monthly."

Something of the life of every scholar and of every public man belongs to his audience; while most of that personality which endears him to his friends is their private possession, not to be set forth, except within narrow limits.

Professor Langley was born at Roxbury (now Boston), August 22, 1834. Like many another Boston boy, he was sent to the Boston Latin School, where Latin and Greek and little else was taught.

Latin and Greek was reputed to be the sum and end of learning, and Harvard College seemed to show dim perspectives of more Latin and Greek. It was no wonder that young Langley, whose genius lay in quite another direction, should look about him, after his graduation from the school, to see if there were not some practicable way in which he could pursue those mechanical and astronomical studies that already had fascinated him. He had little inclination to enter college, and the openings in astronomy proper were very rare in those years, even rarer than now. Since he was ten years old, he had been reading and studying astronomy, making small telescopes, using these and others, with various success, but always with ardor. The practical question of how to shape his life was one that had to be solved, and a variety of causes led to his determination not to go to college, but to become a civil engineer. Here at least was a profession whose basis was mathematical, and in which mechanical tastes and acquirements would have scope. So the practice of engineering was begun; special circumstances forced him into architecture, and for some years this was his pursuit. These were dull years, mostly spent in the West, where at that time there were few opportunities to display any real ability in this special calling.

There is little doubt but that the long and dreary hours spent over the drawing-table were an admirable though tedious preparation for the series of astronomical delineations which have been of so solid a use to science. But, finally, in the lack of real opportunities, architecture ceased to be a profession, and became a business, a means to live simply.

In 1864 Langley felt the need of some marked change in his life, and he spent the greater part of the years 1864 and 1865 in Europe.

In 1865 he returned to America, then thirty years old, and found himself entirely free, for the first time in his life, to follow his own inclinations. So, at thirty, instead of twenty, we find him as one of