Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/11

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7
PASTEUR: A STUDY IN GREATNESS

"We are but stage-coaches in which all of our ancestors ride." By listening attentively we can hear at any time "ancestral voices prophesying war." This is why the heroic, in act or representation, moves us so profoundly. And this is my explanation of our racial ideal of greatness.

The man whose life sketch I now lay before you differed apparently from the traditional hero as widely as the dove from the eagle. He was no sower of dragon's teeth. Instead of sending sword and fire on every side, life, health and prosperity attended his career as the beneficent effects of light accompany the sun. And yet the recital of his bloodless wars and peaceful victories touches the same chords and thrills us with the same emotions as do the exploits of an Alexander.

Louis Pasteur was born at the village of Arbois, near Dole, in the province of Jura, France, on the twenty-seventh day of December, 1822. He died at St. Cloud, near Paris, on the twenty-eighth of September, 1895.

Like Napoleon, Pasteur was the first ancestor of his stock. His grandfather was a serf who purchased his own freedom. His father was a tanner who rose to no higher rank than sergeant in the service of the first consul. But he was a man of ability and fine instincts. Believing in the capability of his child to achieve something in the world, he studied diligently in order to assist the lad with his primary studies, and conducted his household with an economy that touched closely upon sacrifice that thereby a collegiate education might be made available for his son.

At fourteen, Pasteur was sent to College of Besançon. He remained there but a half year. Translated suddenly to a wholly strange environment, the shy country boy suffered so much from homesickness that he made little progress in his studies; and his health became so affected that his life was actually endangered. His father was compelled to bring him home. And now for the first time the self denial which had been practised on his account became apparent to the youth. Filled with an agony of shame that he should have so illy requited the love of his family, he resolved that he would spare no resource of his being in an endeavor to retrieve the consequences of his childish folly. The next year he requested his father to enter him at the home college of Arbois, a rural lycée little better than a grammar school.

Here he studied diligently, but received no instruction in the subjects which appealed to his nature. The old master assigned to teach the sciences frankly acknowledged that he knew nothing about them. But he allowed the young student access to the limited equipment; and young Pasteur spent much time in laboriously teaching himself some of the elementary principles of physics and chemistry. His teachers considered him slow. Drawing was the only subject in which he attained "honorable mention."