Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/16

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

streets, at other times the blindness was almost total, and this state of things lasted for nearly thirteen years.

This dreadful calamity seemed to make it impossible to continue any systematic course of study, and the outlook for satisfactory work of any sort was extremely discouraging. The first necessity was medical assistance, and in quest of this Mr. Youmans came in the autumn of 1839 to New York, where for the most part he spent the remainder of his life. Until 1851 he was under the care of an oculist. Under such circumstances, if a man of eager energy and boundless intellectual craving were to be overwhelmed with despondency, we could not call it strange. If he were to become dependent upon friends for the means of support, it would be ungracious if not unjust to blame him. But Edward Youmans was not made of the stuff that acquiesces in defeat. He rose superior to calamity, he won the means of livelihood, and in darkness entered upon the path to an enviable fame. At first he had to resign himself to spending weary weeks over tasks that with sound eye-sight could have been dispatched in as many days. He invented some kind of writing-machine which held his paper firmly and enabled his pen to follow straight lines at proper distances apart. Long practice of this sort gave his hand-writing a peculiar character which it retained in later years. When I first saw it in 1863 it seemed almost undecipherable; but that was far from being the case, and, after I had grown used to it, I found it but little less legible than the most beautiful chirography. The strokes, gnarled and jagged as they were, had a method in their madness, and every pithy sentence went straight as an arrow to its mark.

While conquering these physical obstacles Mr. Youmans began writing for the press, and gradually entered into relations with leading newspapers which became more and more important and useful as years went on. He became acquainted with Horace Greeley, William Henry Channing, and other gentlemen who were interested in social reforms. His sympathies were strongly enlisted with the little party of abolitionists, then held in such scornful disfavor by all other parties. He was also interested in the party of temperance, which, as he and others were afterward to learn, compounded for its essential uprightness of purpose by indulging in very gross intemperance of speech and action. The disinterestedness which always characterized him was illustrated by his writing many articles for a temperance paper which could not afford to pay its contributors, although he was struggling with such disadvantages in earning his own livelihood and carrying on his scientific studies. Those were days when leading reformers believed that by some cunningly contrived alteration of social arrangements our human nature, with all its inheritance