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These bases were connected by the system of triangulation already referred to, the angles at all the stations being taken with the best available instruments and often repeated by different observers, while allowance had also to be made for height above the sea-level, to which all the distances had to be reduced. In this way, starting from any one base, the lengths of the sides of all the triangles were calculated, and ultimately the length of the other bases; and if there had been absolutely no error in any of the measurements of baselines or of angles, the length of a base obtained by calculation would be the same as that by direct measurement. The results obtained showed a quite marvellous accuracy. Starting from the base measured on Salisbury Plain, the length of another base on the shore of Lough Foyle in the north of Ireland was calculated through the whole series of triangles connecting them, and this calculated length was found to differ from the measured length by only five inches and a fraction. The distance between these two base-lines is about three hundred and sixty miles.
These wonderfully accurate measurements and calculations impressed me greatly, and with my practical work at surveying and learning the use of that beautiful little instrument the pocket-sextant, opened my mind to the uses and practical applications of mathematics, of which at school I had been taught nothing whatever, although I had learnt some Euclid and algebra. This glimmer of light made me want to know more, and I obtained some of the cheap elementary books published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. The first I got were on Mechanics and on Optics, and for some years I puzzled over these by myself, trying such simple experiments could, and gradually arriving at clear conceptions of the chief laws of elementary mechanics and of optical instruments. I thus laid the foundation for that interest in physical science and acquaintance with its general principles which have remained with me throughout my life.
It was here, too, that during my solitary rambles I first
began to feel the influence of nature and to wish to know more of the various flowers, shrubs, and trees I daily met with, but of which for the most part I did not even know the English names. At that time I hardly realized that there was such a science as systematic botany, that every flower and every meanest and most insignificant weed had been accurately described and classified, and that there was any kind of system or order in the endless variety of plants and animals which I knew existed. This wish to know the names of wild plants, to be able even to speak of them, and to learn anything that was known about them, had arisen from a chance remark I had overheard about a year before. A lady, who was governess in a Quaker family we knew at Hertford, was talking to some friends in the street when I and my father met them, and stayed a few moments to greet them. I then heard the lady say, “We found quite a rarity the other day—the Monotropa; it had not been found here before.” This I pondered over, and wondered what the Monotropa was. All
father could tell me was that it was a rare plant; and I thought how nice it must be to know the names of rare plants when you found them. However, as I did not even know there were books that described every British plant, and as my brother appeared to take no interest in native plants or animals, except as fossils, nothing came of this desire for knowledge till a few years later.
Barton was a rather large straggling village of the oldfashioned, self-contained type, with a variety of small tradesmen and mechanics, many of whom lived in their own freehold or leasehold houses with fair-sized gardens. Our landlord was a young man fairly educated and intelligent. One of his brothers was a tailor, and made such good clothes that my brother remarked upon the excellent cut and finish of a suit worn by our host. Their eldest brother lived in a very good old roomy cottage in the village, and was, I think, a wheelwright, and I was sometimes asked to tea there, and found them very nice people, and there was a rather elderly unmarried sister who was very talkative and satirical. Most
of the villagers, and some of the farmers around, used to come to the house we lived in, and among them was a painter and glazier, who was married while I was there, and who was subjected to good-humoured banter when he came to the house soon afterwards. These, with the necessary blacksmith and carpenter, with a general shop or two and a fair number of labourers, made up a little community, most of whom seemed fairly well off.
Our landlord was a Radical, and took a newspaper called The Constitutional, which was published at Birmingham, and contained a great deal of very interesting matter. This was about the time when the dean and chapter refused to allow a monument to be erected to Byron in Westminster Abbey, which excited much indignation among his admirers. One of these wrote some lines on the subject which struck me as being so worthy of the occasion that I learnt them by heart, and by constant repetition (on sleepless nights) have never forgotten them. They were printed in the newspaper without a signature, and I have never been able to learn who was the author of them. I give them here to show the kind of poetry I admired then and still enjoy
“Away with epitaph and sculptured bust!
Leave these to decorate the mouldering dust
The very earth with joy. Still thrills the heart
Of sunshine flashing o'er life's troubled stream !” The last eight lines of this poem form a passage characterized by deep feeling and poetic beauty of a high order. My brother was an admirer of Byron, and he used to say that his description of Satan, in the “ Vision of Judgment,” was finer than anything in Milton. This poem, which is essentially a satirical parody of Southey's poem with the same title, yet contains some grand passages on behalf of political and religious liberty. The lines my brother thought so fine (and I agree with him) are the following :
“But bringing up the rear of this bright host,
A Spirit of a different aspect waved
Whose barren beach with frequent wrecks is paved ;
Fierce and unfathomable thoughts engraved
And where he gazed a gloom pervaded space."
Those who only know Byron by his more romantic or pathetic poems, and who may think the panegyric of the anonymous writer in The Constitutional* to be overdrawn, should read “The Age of Bronze,” which is pervaded
* This newspaper-The Constitutional—appears to have existed only two years. The Daily News, referring to a sale of Thackeray rarities last year, states that he contributed several articles to that paper as Paris correspondent, and that, in consequence, a set of the paper sold in 1899 for two hundred guineas. A friend informs me that it does not exist in the Bodleian Library. VOL. I.
throughout with the detestation of war, with admiration of those who fought only for freedom, and with scorn and contempt for the majority of English landlords, who subordinated all ideas of justice or humanity to the keeping up of their rents. Even if it stood alone, this one poem would justify the poet as an upholder of the rights of man and as a truly ethical teacher.
Returning from this digression to the villagers who came within my range at the little tavern where we lodged, I had an opportunity of seeing a good deal of drunkenness, inevitably brought on by the fact that only in the public-house could any one with enforced leisure have the opportunity of meeting friends and acquaintances and of hearing whatever news was to be had. Sometimes a labourer out of work, and having perhaps a week's wages in his pocket, would have a pint of beer in the morning, and while waiting alone for some one to come in, would, of course, require another to pass away the time; and sometimes, if a young unmarried man, he would remain quietly drinking beer the whole day long. On one such occasion the landlord told me that a man had consumed twenty-two pints of beer during the day. At that time there was no temperance party, no body of people who thought drinking intoxicants altogether wrong; while deliberately aiding a man to get drunk was often a mere amusement. My brother was a great smoker but a small drinker, and he used to say that as he neither drank nor expectorated while smoking it did him no harm-a view which seems very doubtful. He was, however, accustomed to take a glass of spirits and water in the evening, and usually kept a gallon jar of gin in a cupboard by the fireplace, not only for his own use, but to have something besides beer to offer any friend who called. He had several acquaintances at Silsoe, the architect of the mansion then being built for Earl Cowper being an old friend of about his own age, a Mr. Clephan. One day, I remember, a young farmer whose acquaintance we had made while surveying gave us a call, and my brother hospitably invited him to take a glass of gin, which he