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blocks gave the whole a decidedly architectural appearance. It is now used as a free library, and through the kindness of Miss Florence Neale, of Penarth, I am enabled to give a photographic reproduction of it.
This reminds me that the Mechanics' Institution was, I think, established by Mr. William Jevons, a retired merchant or manufacturer of Liverpool, and the uncle of William Stanley Jevons, the well-known writer on Logic and Political Economy. Mr. Jevons was the author of a work on “Systematic Morality,” very systematic and very correct, but as dry as its title. He had a good library, and was supposed in Neath to be a man of almost universal knowledge. I think my brother William had become acquainted with him after I left Neath, as he attended the funeral, and I and John spent the evening with him. When I came to live in Neath after my brother's death, I often saw him and occasionally visited him, and I think borrowed books, and the following winter, finding I was interested in science generally, he asked me to give some familiar lectures or lessons to the mechanics of Neath, who then met, I think, in one of the schoolrooms. I was quite afraid of undertaking this, and tried all I could to escape, but Mr. Jevons was very persistent, assured me that they knew actually nothing of science, and that the very simplest things, with a few diagrams and experiments, would be sure to interest them. At last I reluctantly consented, and began with very short and simple talks on the facts and laws of mechanics, the principle of the lever, pulley, screw, etc., falling bodies and projectiles, the pendulum, etc.
I got on fairly well at first, but on the second or third occasion I was trying to explain something which required a rather complex argument which I thought I knew perfectly, when, in the middle of it, I seemed to lose myself and could not think of the next step. After a minute's dead silence, Mr. Jevons, who sat by me, said gently—“Never mind that now. Go on to the next subject." I did so, and after a few minutes, what I had forgotten became clear to me, and I returned to it, and went over it with success. I gave these lessons for two winters, going through the
elementary portions of physics ; and after a week in Paris in 1847, I gave to the same audience a general account of the city, with special reference to its architecture, museums, and gardens, showing that it was often true that "they did these things better in France.” 1
There was also in Neath a Philosophical Society with a small library and reading room, in connection with which occasional lectures were given. Sir G. B. Airy, the Astronomer Royal, gave a lecture there on the return of Halley's Comet shortly before we came to Neath. He recommended them to purchase a good telescope of moderate size and have it properly mounted, so as to be able to observe all the more remarkable astronomical phenomena. A telescope was actually obtained with, I think, a four- or five- inch object glass, and as there was no good position for it available, a kind of square tower was built attached to the library, high enough to obtain a clear view, on the top of which it was proposed to use the telescope. But the funds for a proper mounting and observatory roof not being forthcoming, the telescope was hardly ever used, owing to the time and trouble always required to carry upstairs and prepare for observation any astronomical telescope above the very smallest size.
During the two summers that I and my brother John lived at Neath we spent a good deal of our leisure time in wandering about this beautiful district, on my part in search of insects, while my brother always had his eyes open for any uncommon bird or reptile. One day when I was insect hunting on Crymlyn Burrows, a stretch of very interesting sandhills, rock, and bog near the sea, and very rich in curious plants, he came upon several young vipers basking on a rock.
In 1895 I received a letter from Cardiff, from one of the workmen who attended the Neath Mechanics’ Institution, asking if the author of “ Island Life,” the “Malay Archipelago,” and other books is the same Mr. Alfred Wallace who taught in the evening science classes to the Neath Abbey artificers. He writes“I have often had a desire to know, as I benefited more while in your class—if you are the same Mr. A. Wallace-than I ever was taught at school. I have often wished I knew how to thank you for the good I and others received from your teaching:-(Signed) MATTHEW JONES."
They were about eight or nine inches long. As they were quite still, he thought he could catch one by the neck, and endeavoured to do so, but the little creature turned round suddenly, bit his finger, and escaped. He immediately sucked out the poison, but his whole hand swelled considerably, and was very painful. Owing, however, to the small size of the animal the swelling soon passed off, and left no bad effects. Another day, towards the autumn, we found the rather uncommon black viper in a wood a few miles from Neath. This he caught with a forked stick, to which he then tied it firmly by the neck, and put it in his coat pocket. Meeting a labourer on the way, he pulled it out of his pocket, wriggling and twisting round the stick and his hand, and asked the man if he knew what it was, holding it towards him. The man's alarm was ludicrous. Of course, he declared it to be deadly, and for once was right, and he added that he would not carry such a thing in his pocket for anything we could give him.
Though I have by no means a very wide acquaintance with the mountain districts of Britain, yet I know Wales pretty well; have visited the best parts of the lake district; in Scotland have been to Loch Lomond, Loch Katrine, and Loch Tay; have climbed Ben Lawers, and roamed through Glen Clova in search for rare plants ;—but I cannot call to mind a single valley that in the same extent of country comprises so much beautiful and picturesque scenery, and so many interesting special features, as the Vale of Neath. The town itself is beautifully situated, with the fine wooded and rockgirt Drumau Mountain to the west, while immediately to the east are well-wooded heights crowned by Gnoll House, and to the south-east, three miles away, a high rounded hill, up which a chimney has been carried from the Cwm Avon copperworks in the valley beyond, the smoke from which gives the hill much the appearance of an active volcano. To the southwest the view extends down the valley to Swansea Bay, while to the north-east stretches the Vale of Neath itself, nearly straight for twelve miles, the river winding in a level fertile valley about a quarter to half a mile wide, bounded on each side by abrupt hills, whose lower slopes are finely wooded,