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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/126

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A FEW years before the middle of the present century the condition of science in America was far from inspiring. Although this country had long since ceased to be a dependency of Great Britain politically, it still seemed unable to rise out of such a position intellectually. In science and letters English authority was paramount. To the generality of American scholars a grudging mention in an English publication outweighed domestic honors of a much higher grade. Scientific treatises emanating from Great Britain were accepted as gospel, while the science of the rest of Europe was known only through British translations. There were a few men of science who were independent in the midst of dependency. The above description shows the general character of a period happily long since brought to an end, and among those most active in bringing about its end was the subject of the present article.

Sears Cook Walker was born March 28, 1805, in Wilmington, a small town of Massachusetts, about sixteen miles northwest of Boston, where four generations of his ancestors had lived and died. His father's mother was descended in a direct line from the celebrated Elder Brewster, who came over in the Mayflower. Sears was a delicate child and so precocious intellectually that he early became the wonder of the village. His father had died when he was a mere infant, so that his whole care and training devolved upon his mother. She fortunately realized the importance of providing for his physical welfare and checking his too great fondness for books. It was a constant struggle with the boy's natural inclinations to do this, but the effort was successful. He joined heartily in many of the sports of his companions, and gradually gained a good measure of health and strength.

Young Walker took the studies preparatory for college at the academies of Andover, Tyngsborough, and Billerica; then went to Harvard, where he was graduated in the class of 1825. Immediately after his graduation he took up teaching as an occupation and followed it for ten years—the first two years in the vicinity of Boston and the rest of the time in Philadelphia. From 1836 to 1845 he was actuary of the Pennsylvania Company for the Insurance of Lives and Granting Annuities. His life in Philadelphia was a period of prosperity and comfort; he, moreover, early took on a corpulent habit of body, so that whatever influence his circumstances exerted was adverse to any strenuous intellectual exertions, and to the obtaining of adequate physical exercise. Yet his mind was one that could not be idle. "While engaged with his school," says Benjamin A. Gould, in his memorial ad-