Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/426

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.





THE readers of this magazine will, we are sure, appreciate the satisfaction with which we have lately hailed the appearance of a biography, done by a most competent hand, of the late Prof. E. L. Youmans. This biography is one which all who were measurably acquainted with the late professor's work in the cause of science felt must be given to the world. Many biographies are not much more than tributes to the interest which a man's personal friends take in his character and career; but in the case of the late Prof. Youmans a chapter in the history of the intellectual development of this country would have been missing had his biography not been written. He came at a critical time; he was the man for the crisis; he saw his work, and he did it. That work was preparing the public mind on this side of the Atlantic for the reception of a new order of ideas in science and philosophy, and then transplanting those ideas into the soil so prepared. Prof. Fiske, whose literary skill never appeared to greater advantage than in the production of this biography, quotes a country clergyman as having said to him in 1857, "There is a great intellectual movement going on in Europe of which scarcely anything is known or even suspected in this country." The professor himself adds: "Lyell's great work on geology was published in 1830; a quarter of a century later I do not believe there were five men in our town who had ever heard of 'uniformitarianism'; it was only a very bold spirit that ventured to allude to the earth as more than six thousand years old. Science in general was regarded as a miscellaneous collection of facts and rules. some useful, some curious or even pretty; as for looking upon it as a vast coherent body of truths concerning the universe and its interdependent provinces, few minds, indeed, had grappled with such a conception." As late as the year 1860 one of the most enterprising and liberal publishing houses in Boston declined to republish Spencer's essays on education. "The Americans at that time," says Prof. Fiske again, "were excessively provincial. There was much intellectual eagerness, along with very meager knowledge."

Edward L. Youmans was born in the year 1821. We need not recite any of the incidents of his life, which are given in the most interesting manner by Prof. Fiske, and were also sketched last month in another department of this magazine. What we wish to point out is that, born in what his biographer calls a "provincial" society, he had an intellectual eagerness which was not satisfied with meager knowledge, nor yet with meager scientific conceptions. There was in him a singular and happy union of practicality and philosophic breadth. He was utilitarian in his aims, but he loved a wide expanse for his thoughts. Domestic economy was with him a favorite field of investigation and study, but at another moment he would take the keenest delight in seeing the plowshare of a vigorous criticism ripping up the clods of old philosophical systems. He did not himself claim to be an original investigator—nor does his biographer make the claim for him in any important sense; but he was ever on the watch for some enlargement of human knowledge or some improvement in the instruments of intellectual research. His was a pre eminently open mind, and he loved science because, though it might have