Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/15

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EDWARD LIVINGSTON YOUMANS.

initiative is so strong that if opportunities are not offered they will somehow contrive to create them. When Edward Yonmans was about thirteen years old he persuaded his father to buy him a copy of Comstock's Natural Philosophy. This book he studied at home by himself, and repeated many of the experiments with apparatus of his own contriving. "When he made a centrifugal water-wheel, and explained to the men and boys of the neighborhood the principle of its revolution in a direction opposite to that of the stream which moved it, we may regard it as his earliest attempt at giving scientific lectures. It was natural that one who had become interested in physics should wish to study chemistry. The teacher (who was not "Uncle Good") had never so much as laid eyes on a text-book of chemistry; but Edward was not to be daunted by such trifles. A copy of Comstock's manual was procured, another pupil was found willing to join in the study, and this class of two proceeded to learn what they could from reading the book, while the teacher asked them the printed questions—those questions the mere existence of which in text-books is apt to show what a low view publishers take of the average intelligence of teachers! It was not a very hopeful way of studying such a subject as chemistry; but doubtless the time was not wasted, and the foundations for a future knowledge of chemistry were laid. The experience of farm-work which accompanied these studies explains the interest which in later years Mr. Youmans felt in agricultural chemistry. He came to realize how crude and primitive are our methods of making the earth yield its produce, and it was his opinion that, when men have once learned how to conduct agriculture upon sound scientific principles, farming will become at once the most wholesome and the most attractive form of human industry.

Along with the elementary studies in science there went a great deal of miscellaneous reading, mostly, it would appear, of good solid books. Apparently there was at that time no study of languages, ancient or modern. At the age of seventeen the young man had shown so much promise that it was decided he should study law, and he had already entered upon a more extensive course of preparation in an academy in Saratoga County when the event occurred which changed the whole course of his life. He had been naturally gifted with keen and accurate vision, was a good sportsman and an excellent shot with a rifle, but at about the age of thirteen there had come an attack of ophthalmia which left the eyes weak and sensitive. Perpetual reading probably increased the difficulty and hindered complete recovery. At the age of seventeen violent inflammation set in, the sight in one eye was completely lost, while in the other it grew so dim as to be of little avail. Sometimes he would be just able to find his way about the