Michael Angelo was one day explaining to a visitor at his studio, what he had been doing at a statue since his previous visit. "I have retouched this part - polished that - softened this feature - brought out that muscle - given some expression to this lip, and more energy to that limb." "But these are trifles," remarked the visitor. "It may be so," replied the sculptor, "but recollect that trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." So it was said of Nicholas Poussin, the painter, that the rule of his conduct was, that "whatever was worth doing at all was worth doing well;" and when asked, late in life, by his friend Vigneul de Marville, by what means he had gained so high a reputation among the painters of Italy, Poussin emphatically answered, "Because I have neglected nothing."
The idea immediately occurred to him, that a bridge of iron ropes or chains might be constructed in like manner, and the result was the invention of his Suspension Bridge. So James Watt, when consulted about the mode of carrying water by pipes under the Clyde, along the unequal bed of the river, turned his attention one day to the shell of a lobster presented at table; and from that model he invented an iron tube, which, when laid down, was found effectually to answer the purpose. Sir Isambert Brunel took his first lessons in forming the Thames Tunnel from the tiny shipworm: he saw how the little creature perforated the wood with its well- armed head, first in one direction and then in another, till the archway was complete, and then daubed over the roof and sides with a kind of varnish; and by copying this work exactly on a large scale, Brunel was at length enabled to construct his shield and accomplish his great engineering work.
together, and, probably before many years have elapsed, will "put a girdle round the globe." So too, little bits of stone and fossil, dug out of the earth, intelligently interpreted, have issued in the science of geology and the practical operations of mining, in which large capitals are invested and vast numbers of persons profitably
Dr. Johnson has defined genius to be "a mind of large general powers accidentally determined in some particular direction." Men who are resolved to find a way for themselves, will always find opportunities enough; and if they do not lie ready to their hand, they will make them. It is not those who have enjoyed the advantages of colleges, museums, and public galleries, that have accomplished the most for science and art; nor have the greatest mechanics and inventors been trained in mechanics' institutes.
Necessity, oftener than facility, has been the mother of invention; and the most prolific school of all has been the school of difficulty. Some of the very best workmen have had the most indifferent tools to work with. But it is not tools that make the workman, but the trained skill and perseverance of the man himself.
Indeed it is proverbial that the bad workman never yet had a good tool. Some one asked Opie by what wonderful process he mixed his colours. "I mix them with my brains, sir," was his reply. It is the same with every workman who would excel. Ferguson made marvellous things - such as his wooden clock, that accurately measured the hours - by means of a common penknife, a tool in everybody's hand; but then everybody is not a
Application and perseverance, and the diligent improvement of opportunities, will do the rest.
Faraday then expressed his desire to devote himself to the prosecution of chemical studies, from which Sir Humphry at first endeavoured to dissuade him: but the young man persisting, he was at length taken into the Royal Institution as an assistant; and eventually the mantle of the brilliant apothecary's boy fell upon the worthy shoulders of the equally brilliant bookbinder's apprentice.
Every subject in Davy's mind has the principle of vitality. Living thoughts spring up like turf under his feet." Davy, on his part, said of Coleridge, whose abilities he greatly admired, "With the most exalted genius, enlarged views, sensitive heart, and enlightened mind, he will be the victim of a want of order, precision, and regularity."
Stephenson taught himself arithmetic and mensuration while working as an engineman during the night shifts; and when he could snatch a few moments in the intervals allowed for meals during the day, he worked his sums with a bit of chalk upon the sides of the colliery waggons.
It would make an ignorant man a well-informed one in less than ten years. Time should not be allowed to pass without yielding fruits, in the form of something learnt worthy of being known, some good principle cultivated, or some good habit strengthened. Dr. Mason Good translated Lucretius while riding in his carriage in the streets of London, going the round of his patients. Dr. Darwin composed nearly all his works in the same way while driving about in his "sulky" from house to house in the country, - writing down his thoughts on little scraps of paper, which he carried about with him for the purpose.
Melancthon noted down the time lost by him, that he might thereby reanimate his industry, and not lose an hour. An Italian scholar put over his door an inscription intimating that whosoever remained there should join in his labours. "We are afraid," said some visitors to Baxter, "that we break in upon your time." "To be sure you do," replied the disturbed and blunt divine. Time was the estate out of which these great workers, and all other workers, formed that rich treasury of thoughts and deeds which they have left to their successors.
Hume wrote thirteen hours a day while preparing his 'History of
The collection contains some twenty thousand specimens, and is the most precious treasure of the kind that has ever been accumulated by the industry of one man. Hunter used to spend every morning from sunrise until eight o'clock in his museum; and throughout the day he carried on his extensive private practice, performed his
laborious duties as surgeon to St. George's Hospital and deputy surgeon-general to the army; delivered lectures to students, and superintended a school of practical anatomy at his own house; finding leisure, amidst all, for elaborate experiments on the animal economy, and the composition of various works of great scientific importance. To find time for this gigantic amount of work, he allowed himself only four hours of sleep at night, and an hour after dinner. When once asked what method he had adopted to insure success in his undertakings, he replied, "My rule is, deliberately to consider, before I commence, whether the thing be practicable. If it be not practicable, I do not attempt it. If it be practicable, I can accomplish it if I give sufficient pains to it; and having begun, I never stop till the thing is done. To this rule I owe all my success."
Before his time the wounded suffered much more at the hands of their surgeons than they did at those of their enemies. To stop bleeding from gunshot wounds, the barbarous expedient was resorted to of dressing them with boiling oil. Haemorrhage was also stopped by searing the wounds with a red-hot iron; and when amputation was necessary, it was performed with a red-hot knife. At first Pare treated wounds according to the approved methods; but, fortunately, on one occasion, running short of boiling oil, he substituted a mild and emollient application. He was in great fear all night lest he should have done wrong in adopting this treatment; but was greatly relieved next morning on finding his patients comparatively comfortable, while those whose wounds had been treated in the usual way were writhing in torment. Such was the casual origin of one of Pare's greatest improvements in the treatment of gun-shot wounds; and he proceeded to adopt the emollient treatment in all future cases.
The courageous surgeon at once set out, and, after braving many dangers (to use his own words, "d'estre pendu, estrangle ou mis en pieces"), he succeeded in passing the enemy's lines, and entered
can't take that disease, for I have had cow-pox." The observation immediately riveted Jenner's attention, and he forthwith set about inquiring and making observations on the subject. His professional friends, to whom he mentioned his views as to the prophylactic virtues of cow-pox, laughed at him, and even threatened to expel him from their society, if he persisted in harassing them with the subject. In
profession and make observations and experiments, which he continued to pursue for a period of twenty years. His faith in his discovery was so implicit that he vaccinated his own son on three several occasions. At length he published his views in a quarto of about seventy pages, in which he gave the details of twenty-three cases of successful vaccination of individuals, to whom it was found afterwards impossible to communicate the small-pox either by contagion or inoculation. It was in 1798 that this treatise was published; though he had been working out his ideas since the year 1775, when they had begun to assume a definite form.
Jenner's cause at last triumphed, and he was publicly honoured and rewarded. In his prosperity he was as modest as he had been in his obscurity. He was invited to settle in
Elaborately tracing the development of the nervous system up from the lowest order of animated being, to man - the lord of the animal kingdom, - he displayed it, to use his own words, "as plainly as if it were written in our mother-tongue." His discovery consisted in the fact, that the spinal nerves are double in their function, and arise by double roots from the spinal marrow, - volition being conveyed by that part of the nerves springing from the one root, and sensation by the other. The subject occupied the mind of Sir Charles Bell for a period of forty years, when, in 1840, he laid his last paper before the Royal Society. As in the cases of Harvey and Jenner, when he had lived down the ridicule and opposition with which his views were first received, and their truth came to be recognised, numerous claims for priority in making the discovery were set up at home and abroad. Like them, too, he lost practice by the publication of his papers; and he left it on record that, after every step in his discovery, he was obliged to work harder than ever to preserve his reputation as a practitioner. The great merits of Sir Charles Bell were, however, at length fully recognised; and Cuvier himself, when on his death-bed, finding his face distorted and drawn to one side, pointed out the symptom to his attendants as a proof of the correctness of Sir Charles Bell's theory.
He bore his honours with the same meekness and humility which had distinguished him in the days of his obscurity. So gentle and patient, and withal so distinguished and successful a follower of science under difficulties, perhaps cannot be found in the entire history of biography.
His mother having married a second time, he was taken in charge by an uncle, also a farmer, by whom he was brought up. Though the uncle was by no means pleased with the boy's love of wandering about, collecting "poundstones," "pundips," and other stony curiosities which lay scattered about the adjoining land, he yet enabled him to purchase a few of the necessary books wherewith to instruct himself in the rudiments of geometry and surveying; for the boy was already destined for the business of a land-surveyor.
One of his marked characteristics, even as a youth, was the accuracy and keenness of his observation; and what he once clearly saw he never forgot. He began to draw, attempted to colour, and practised the arts of mensuration and surveying, all without regular instruction; and by his efforts in self-culture, he shortly became so proficient, that he was taken on as assistant to a local surveyor of ability in the neighbourhood. In carrying on his business he was constantly under the necessity of traversing Oxfordshire and the adjoining counties. One of the first things he seriously pondered over, was the position of the various soils and strata that came under his notice on the lands which he surveyed or travelled over; more especially the position of the red earth in regard to the lias and superincumbent rocks. The surveys of numerous collieries which he was called upon to make, gave him further experience; and already, when only twenty-three years of age, he contemplated making a model of the strata of the earth.
But William Smith had an eye and mind to penetrate deep beneath the skin of the earth; he saw its very fibre and skeleton, and, as it were, divined its organization. His knowledge of the strata in the neighbourhood of Bath was so accurate, that one evening, when dining at the house of the Rev. Joseph Townsend, he dictated to Mr. Richardson the different strata according to their order of succession in descending order, twenty-three in number, commencing with the chalk and descending in continuous series down to the coal, below which the strata were not then sufficiently determined.
He bore his losses and misfortunes with exemplary fortitude; and amidst all, he went on working with cheerful courage and untiring patience. He died at
William Smith, in his simple, earnest way, gained for himself a name as lasting as the science he loved so well. To use the words of the writer above quoted, "Till the manner as well as the fact of the first appearance of successive forms of life shall be solved, it is not easy to surmise how any discovery can be made in geology equal in value to that which we owe to the genius of William Smith."
He never lost sight of the subject; but went on accumulating observations and comparing formations, until at length, many years afterwards, when no longer a working mason, he gave to the world his highly interesting work on the Old Red Sandstone, which at once established his reputation as a scientific geologist. But this work was the fruit of long years of patient observation and research. As he modestly states in his autobiography, "the only merit to which I lay claim in the case is that of patient research - a merit in which whoever wills may rival or surpass me; and this humble faculty of patience, when rightly developed, may lead to more extraordinary developments of idea than even genius itself."