Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/504

This page has been validated.
488
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

are forthcoming as required. Eminent among these is the subject of the present sketch, who has come over from England to lecture upon astronomical subjects. Ten years ago he was unknown, but within that time he has won a prominent position both as an investigator of celestial phenomena, and as an eloquent and instructive writer upon the most modern phases of the science. Of his wonderful industry and remarkable versatility the following sketch will furnish abundant evidence, but we were hardly prepared to expect that Mr. Proctor would sustain his eminent reputation in the new field of popular lecturing, yet such is the fact. He is an easy and fluent extemporaneous speaker, enthusiastic over his themes, and wielding his large resources of knowledge with the utmost facility and readiness. Dealing with the sublimest of all subjects in its latest and most novel aspects, he carries his audience with him, and occupies their attention so completely that they lose the sense of time, and reach the close of a long lecture under the impression that it is but fairly begun.

Richard Anthony Proctor was born at Chelsea, March 23, 1837, and is consequently not yet thirty-seven years of age. He was educated in his boyhood chiefly at home, being delicate in health. He was a diligent reader, his tastes inclining to history, literature, and theology, more than to mathematics or the sciences. He showed a great liking for the construction of maps, and still regards charting not only as an important aid in scientific investigation, but as a very instructive mental exercise. At the age of twelve he began to read Euclid in school, and at once took to geometrical study. At thirteen his father died, and the boy soon after left school. He was now a ward in chancery; and it affords a good illustration of the system attacked by Dickens in "Bleak House" that, although there was not any "suit" properly so called, Mrs. Proctor was engaged for three or four years in an expensive series of legal processes, the sole object of which was to assign to her formally on behalf of her children the proceeds of a certain estate of which they were heirs.

In 1854 young Proctor obtained a clerkship in a bank to aid him in getting the means of going to the university, as he was designed for a clergyman in the English Church. But little time was allowed for study; but when, in 1855, he went to King's College, London, he succeeded in taking first place in seven subjects—classics, mathematics, history, literature, divinity, French, and German. In 1856 he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself in mathematics. In 1857 he lost his mother, for whose sake alone he had valued college successes; and he no longer pursued his mathematical studies, though he remained at Cambridge, and took the degree of B. A. in 1860.

Although he went into the Cambridge Senate House for examination, after two years of mathematical idleness, and without any acquaintance with the higher and more important branches of mathemati-