Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/17

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EDWARD LIVINGSTON YOUMANS.

from countless ages of brutality, can somehow be made over all in a moment, just as one would go to work with masons and carpenters and revamp a house. There are many good people who still labor under such a delusion.

Though Mr. Youmans was brought into frequent contact with reformers of this sort, it does not seem to me that his mind was ever deeply impressed with such ways of thinking. Science is teaching us that the method of evolution is that mill of God, of which we have heard, which, while it grinds with infinite efficacy, yet grinds with wearisome slowness. It was Mr. Darwin's discovery of natural selection which first brought this truth home to us; but Sir Charles Lyell had in 1830 shown how enormous effects are wrought by the cumulative action of slight and unobtrusive causes, and this had much to do with turning men's minds toward some conception of evolution. It was about 1847 that Mr. Youmans was deeply interested in the work of geologists, as well as in the nebular theory, to which recent discoveries were adding fresh confirmation. Some time before this he had read that famous book, Vestiges of Creation, and, although Prof. Agassiz truly declared that it was an unscientific book crammed with antiquated and exploded fancies, I suspect that Mr. Youmans felt that amid all the chaff there was a very sound and sturdy kernel of truth.

Among the books which Mr. Youmans projected at this time, the first was a compendious history of progress in discovery and invention; but, after he had made extensive preparations, a book was published so similar in scope and treatment that he abandoned the undertaking. Another work was a treatise on arithmetic, on a new and philosophical plan; but, when this was approaching completion, he again found himself anticipated, this time by the book of Horace Mann. This was discouraging enough, but a third venture resulted in brilliant success. We have observed the eagerness with which, as a school-boy, Mr. Youmans entered upon the study of chemistry. His interest in this science grew with years, and he devoted himself to it so far as was practicable. For a blind man to carry on the study of a science which is preeminently one of observation and experiment might seem hopeless. It was at any rate absolutely necessary to see with the eyes of others if not with his own. Here the assistance rendered by his sister was invaluable. During most of this period she served as amanuensis and reader for him. But, more than this, she kept up for some time a course of laboratory work, the results of which were minutely described to her brother and discussed with him in the evenings. The lectures of Dr. John William Draper on chemistry were also thoroughly discussed and pondered.

The conditions under which Mr. Youmans worked made it