Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/14

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When Edward was but six months old, his parents moved to Greenfield, near Saratoga Springs. With a comfortable house and three acres of land, his father kept a wagon-shop and smithy. In those days, while it was hard work to wring a subsistence out of the soil or to prosper upon any of the vocations which rural life permitted, there was doubtless more independence of character and real shiftiness than in our time, when cities and tariffs have so sapped the strength of the farming country. In the family of Vincent Youmans, though rigid economy was practiced, books were reckoned to a certain extent among the necessaries of life, and the house was one in which neighbors were fond of gathering to discuss questions of politics or theology, social reform or improvements in agriculture. On all such questions Vincent Youmans was apt to have ideas of his own; he talked with enthusiasm, and was also ready to listen; and he evidently supplied an intellectual stimulus to the whole community. For a boy of bright and inquisitive mind listening to such talk is no mean source of education. It often goes much further than the reading of books. From an early age Edward Youmans seems to have appropriated all such means of instruction. He had that insatiable thirst for knowledge which is one of God's best gifts to man; for he who is born with this appetite must needs be grievously ill-made in other respects if it does not constrain him to lead a happy and useful life.

After ten years at Greenfield the family moved to a farm at Milton, some two miles distant. Until his sixteenth year Edward helped his father at farm-work in the summer and attended the district school in winter. It was his good fortune for some time to fall into the hands of a teacher who had a genius for teaching—a man who in those days of rote-learning did not care to have things learned by heart, but sought to stimulate the thinking powers of his pupils, and who in that age of canes and ferules never found it necessary to use such means of discipline, because the fear of displeasing him was of itself all-sufficient. Experience of the methods of such a man was enough to sharpen one's disgust for the excessive mechanism, the rigid and stupid manner of teaching, which characterize the ordinary school. In after-years Youmans used to say that "Uncle Good"—as this admirable pedagogue was called—first taught him what his mind was for. Through intercourse and training of this sort he learned to doubt, to test the soundness of opinions, to make original inquiries, and to find and follow clews.

But even the best of teachers can effect but little unless he finds a mind ready of itself to take the initiative. It is doubtful if men of eminent ability are ever made so by schooling. The school offers opportunities, but in such men the tendency to the