In his various expeditions he collected large numbers of minerals and geological specimens. His collection was much increased by exchanges with American and foreign geologists, and at his death contained about twenty-six thousand specimens. At present it is owned by his son Richard, of Ironton, Ohio.
Mr. Austin thus describes his character: “Equable in his disposition and gentle in his manners, considerate of others and just in his judgment of them, modest, but manly and self-reliant, thoroughly versed in the branches of science to which he devoted himself, he had neither dogmatism nor ostentation. As he observed in a letter to a personal friend, who differed from him in regard to a geological question, ‘I am not wedded to any theory, but seek the truth—and when found adopt it.’ ” He was not inclined to court popularity, neither was his manner forbidding. Letters preserved by his family and friends give abundant evidence of his gentle disposition, firm principles, and high sense of honor.
The supremacy of his will-power over physical pain is illustrated in the following anecdote: “While making an examination of coal lands near Pomeroy, in Ohio, he was wounded in the second finger of his right hand. This wound induced a partial paralysis, and required an amputation of the finger. The cause of it was supposed to be a snake bite. As soon as he was convinced by the examination that amputation was inevitable, he directed the surgeon to procure a block, a chisel, and a mallet, and, placing his finger on the block, told him to sever the finger at one blow. This was attempted, but proved a sad failure. The chisel was too thin and highly tempered, and the edge crumbled. Nevertheless, he directed the surgeon to go on, and several blows were required before a complete severance could be made; although in this painful operation the bone was crushed instead of being cut, he bore it without flinching.”
The substantial national reputation as a geologist won by William W. Mather was the result of the steady and conscientious application of a natural aptitude. “Not possessing the genius which dazzles,” says his friend Austin, “he had the intellect which, continually improved by exercise, achieved valuable results by patient and conscientious industry. What duty demanded, that he performed regardless of consequences, either to himself or others. Not indifferent to fame, he never sought it by doubtful or devious courses. His object was not to enhance his reputation, but faithfully to do the work before him. Through the whole of his active and laborious life of thirty years in the cause of science, in all the various and important public positions which he occupied, no breath of censure assailed his integrity, which was a law of Nature with him, rather than a choice or a principle.”