Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/19

This page has been validated.
9
EDWARD LIVINGSTON YOUMANS.

ence were set forth, in such a way as to charm the student and make him wish for more. The book had an immediate and signal success; in after-years it was twice rewritten by the author, to accommodate it to the rapid advances made by the science, and it is still one of our best text-books of chemistry. It has had a sale of about one hundred and fifty thousand copies.

The publication of this book at once established its author's reputation as a scientific writer, and in another way it marked an era in his life. The long, distressing period of darkness now came to an end. Sight was so far recovered in one eye that it became possible to go about freely, to read, to recognize friends, to travel, and make much, of life. I am told that his face had acquired an expression characteristic of the blind, but that expression was afterward completely lost. When I knew. him it would never have occurred to me that his sight was imperfect, except perhaps as regards length of range.

Mr. Youmans's career as a scientific lecturer now began. His first lecture was the beginning of a series on the relations of organic life to the atmosphere. It was illustrated with chemical apparatus, and was given in a private room in New York to an audience which filled the room. Probably no lecturer ever faced his first audience without some trepidation, and Mr. Youmans had not the main-stay and refuge afforded by a manuscript, for his sight was never good enough to make such an aid available for his lectures. At first the right words were slow in finding their way to those ready lips, and his friends were beginning to grow anxious, when all at once a happy accident broke the spell. He was remarking upon the characteristic instability of nitrogen, and pointing to a jar of that gas on the table before him, when some fidgety movement of his knocked the jar off the table. He improved the occasion with one of his quaint bons mots, and, as there is nothing that greases the wheels of life like a laugh, the lecture went on to a successful close.

This was the beginning of a busy career of seventeen years of lecturing, ending in 1868; and I believe it is safe to say that few things were done in all those years of more vital and lasting benefit to the American people than this broadcast sowing of the seeds of scientific thought in the lectures of Edward Youmans. They came just at the time when the world was ripe for the doctrine of evolution, when all the wondrous significance of the trend of scientific discovery since Newton's time was beginning to burst upon men's minds. The work of Lyell in geology, followed at length, in 1859 by the Darwinian theory; the doctrine of the correlation of forces and the consequent unity of nature; the extension and reformation of chemical theory; the simultaneous advance made in sociological inquiry, and in the conception of the