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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/128

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

might ensue if we did but realize that the ships that pass between this land and that are like the shuttle of a loom, weaving the web of concord among the nations, and that commerce is the most potent agent of civilization."

Mr. Atkinson is what is called a self-educated man, but he accepts the comment made by Dr. Francis Lieber on this phrase, that one might as rightly speak of a self-laid egg. What both gentlemen mean by this dictum doubtless is that men are inevitably the creatures of the conditions among which they are placed, over which they have no control. But, as it is usually applied, the expression "a self-made man" means no more than that his character and faculties have been developed independently of the artificial aid of schools and book-lore, by hard contact with the world and the experiences of active life; and Mr. Atkinson would hardly deny that he is a man of that kind. What he is, in character and modes of thought, is in the main the product of a life spent in the factory and counting-house, combined with habits of close, independent observation. A clew as to the turn which his seeking takes when knowledge is to be acquired, may be gained from the opening sentences of his paper on "Kentucky Farms," in "Harper's Magazine" for June, 1881: "Whenever a business man gets away from his affairs, and journeys into a far country for even a short time, he may see many things that he would entirely overlook if, with his mind filled with the everyday cares of life, he passed through the very same sections in the usual unobservant way. A pity it is that our commercial travelers could not become trained observers, ready and acute as they are in all that pertains to their work, often witty and full of good stories. If they could learn to spend the many hours which they are obliged to pass wearily in country taverns that are none of the best, and are often of the worst, in reporting what they might observe, what a resource against weariness it would be for them, and what a benefit to all who wish to know what the resources of this country really are, and how they could be developed! The business man who can write at all writes best for other business men." To this habit of sharply observing for himself, Mr. Atkinson adds, as he goes on to relate, what he calls a patent method of his own. He goes to persons—as for instance, in this case the State geologist, in studying the resources of Kentucky—who have special knowledge of the subject in hand, and becomes, for the time being, their student. By such means he has accumulated a vast fund of information about the resources of the United States, and the condition of the different parts of the country, which, having made himself familiar with the subject in hand, he can use with telling effect whenever he has a condition to account for, or a lesson to draw indicating a line of policy. His journey to Kentucky was