« EelmineJätka »
some of his friends with whom he discussed it, and, of course, in my then frame of mind it seemed equally conclusive to me, and helped to complete the destruction of whatever religious beliefs still lingered in my mind. It was not till many years afterwards that I saw reason to doubt this whole argument, and to perceive that it was based upon pure assumptions which were not in accordance with admitted historical facts.
My brother never went to church himself, but for the first few years I was with him he sent me once every Sunday; but, of course, the only effect of this was to deepen my spirit of scepticism, as I found no attempt in any of the clergymen to reason on any of the fundamental questions at the root of the Christian and every other religion. Many of our acquaintances were either church- or chapel-goers, but usually as a matter of form and convention, and, on the whole, religion seemed to have no influence whatever on their conduct or conversation. The majority, especially of the younger men, were either professors of religion who thought or cared nothing about it, or were open sceptics and scorners.
In addition to these influences my growing taste for various branches of physical science and my increasing love of nature disinclined me more and more for either the observances or the doctrines of orthodox religion, so that by the time I came of age I was absolutely non-religious, I cared and thought nothing about it, and could be best described by the modern term “agnostic.”
The next four years of my life were also of great importance both in determining the direction of my activity, and in laying the foundation for my study of the special subjects through which I have obtained most admiration or notoriety. This period will be dealt with in another chapter, as it proved to be that which, through a series of what may be termed happy accidents, laid the foundation for everything of importance that succeeded them.
As I came of age in January, 1844, and there was nothing doing at Neath, I left my brother about the middle of December so as to spend the Christmas with my mother and sister at Hoddesdon, after which I returned to London, sharing my brother John's lodging till I could find some employment. At that time the tithe-commutation surveys were nearly all completed, and the rush of railway work had not begun : surveying was consequently very slack. As my brother William, who had a large acquaintance among surveyors and engineers all over the south of England, could not find employment, except some very small local business, I felt it to be quite useless for me to seek for similar work, I therefore determined to try for some post in a school to teach English, surveying, elementary drawing, etc. Through some school agency I heard of two vacancies that might possibly suit. The first required, in addition to English, junior Latin and algebra. Though I had not looked at a Latin book since I left school, I thought I might possibly manage; and as to algebra, I could do simple equations, and had once been able to do quadratics, and felt sure I could keep ahead of beginners. So with some trepidation I went to interview the master, a rather grave but kindly clergyman. I told him my position, and what I had been doing since I left school. He asked me if I could translate Virgil, at which I hesitated, but told him I had been through most of it at school. So he brought out the book and gave me a passage to translate, which, of couse, I was quite unable to do properly. Then he set me a simple equation, which I worked easily. Then a quadratic, at which I stuck. So he politely remarked that I required a few months' hard work to be fitted for his school, and wished me good morning. My next attempt was more hopeful, as drawing, surveying, and mapping were required. Here, again, I met a clergyman, but a younger man, and more easy and friendly in his manner. I had taken with me a small coloured map I had made at Neath to serve as a specimen, and also one or two pencil sketches. These seemed to satisfy him, and as I was only wanted to take the junior classes in English reading, writing, and arithmetic, teach a very few boys surveying, and beginners in drawing, he agreed to engage me. I was to live in the house, preside over the evening preparation of the boarders (about twenty in number), and to have, I think, thirty or forty pounds a year, with which I was quite satisfied. I was to begin work in about a fortnight. My employer was the Rev. Abraham Hill, headmaster of the Collegiate School at Leicester. I stayed at the school a little more than a year, and should probably have remained some years longer, and perhaps even have been a junior school assistant all my life, but for a quite unexpected event—the death of my brother William. I was very comfortable at the school, owing to the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Hill, and of the opportunities afforded me for reading, study, and the observation of nature. In my duties I got on fairly well, as the boys were mostly well-behaved, though, of course, my ignorance and shyness led to some unpleasantness. The first evening I sat with the boys at their work, one of the older ones came to me to ask me to explain a difficult passage to him in some classic—I forget which—evidently to test my knowledge or ignorance. So I declined even to look at it, and told him that I taught English only, and that for all other information they were to go to Mr. Hill himself. On another occasion the classical assistant master asked me to take the lowest class in Greek for him, and I was obliged to tell him I did not even know the Greek alphabet. But these little unpleasantnesses once got over did not recur. There were two assistant masters in the school, both pleasant men, but as they did not live in the house I did not see a great deal of them. In drawing, I had only beginners; but I soon found I had to improve myself, so I sketched a good deal, but could never acquire the freedom of touch of my brother William, and before I left, one of my scholars drew very nearly, if not quite, as well as I did. I had a very comfortable bedroom, where a fire was lit every afternoon in winter, so that with the exception of one hour with the boys and half an hour at supper with Mr. and Mrs. Hill, my time after four or five in the afternoon was my own. After a few weeks, finding I knew a little Latin, I had to take the very lowest class, and even that required some preparation in the evening. Mr. Hill was a good mathematician, having been a rather high Cambridge wrangler, and finding I was desirous of learning a little more algebra, offered to assist me. He lent me Hind's algebra, which I worked all through successfully, and this was followed by the same author's trigonometry, which I also went through, with occasional struggles. Then I attacked the Differential Calculus, and worked through that; but I could never fully grasp the essential principle of it. Finally, I began the Integral Calculus, and here I found myself at the end of my tether. I learnt some of the simpler processes, but very soon got baffled, and felt that I wanted some faculty necessary for seeing my way through what seemed to me an almost trackless labyrinth. Whether, under Mr. Hill's instruction, I should ultimately have been able to overcome these difficulties I cannot positively say, but I have good reason to believe that I never should have done so. Briefly stated, just as no amount of teaching or practice would ever have made me a good musician, so, however much time and study I gave to the subject, I could never have become a good mathematician. Whether all this work did me any good or not, I am rather doubtful. My after-life being directed to altogether different studies, I never had occasion to use my newly acquired knowledge, and soon forgot most of the processes. But it gave me an interest in mathematics which I have never lost; and I rarely come across a mathematical investigation without looking through it and trying to follow the reasoning, though I soon get lost in the formulae. Still, the ever-growing complexity of the higher mathematics has a kind of fascination for me as exhibiting powers of the human mind so very far above my own.
There was in Leicester a very good town library, to which I had access on paying a small subscription, and as I had time for several hours' reading daily, I took full advantage of it. Among the works I read here, which influenced my future, were Humboldt's “Personal Narrative of Travels in South America,” which was, I think, the first book that gave me a desire to visit the tropics. I also read here Prescott's “History of the Conquests of Mexico and Peru,” Robertson's “History of Charles V.” and his “History of America,” and a number of other standard works. But perhaps the most important book I read was Malthus's “Principles of Population,” which I greatly admired for its masterly summary of facts and logical induction to conclusions. It was the first work I had yet read treating of any of the problems of philosophical biology, and its main principles remained with me as a permanent possession, and twenty years later gave me the long-sought clue to the effective agent in the evolution of
It was at Leicester that I was first introduced to a subject which I had at that time never heard of, but which has played an important part in my mental growth—psychical research, as it is now termed. Some time in 1844 Mr. Spencer Hall gave some lectures on mesmerism illustrated by experiments, which I, as well as a few of the older boys, attended. I was greatly interested and astonished at the phenomena exhibited, in some cases with persons who volunteered from the audience; and I was also impressed by the manner of the lecturer,