Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/122

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
112
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
SKETCH OF PROF. JOHN LE CONTE.

By Prof. W. LE CONTE STEVENS.

THE subject of the present sketch is the Professor of Physics in the University of California, where he has for many years been associated with his brother, the distinguished geologist and writer on evolution. He was the second son of Louis Le Conte, and was born on the 4th of December, 1818, at the family homestead in Liberty County, Georgia. The father was a man of much independence of character, firm and decided, yet kind and gentle, exceedingly fond of investigation, original in thought, but singularly indifferent to popular recognition. He published nothing himself, and would never have become known away from his own home, had not others been appreciative enough of his real merit to give some of his results to the world by presenting them before the New York Lyceum of Natural History.

By personal influence and example, Louis Le Conte inculcated in his sons the love of science, and of truth for its own sake. The virtue of verification was one which he sought to cultivate in them as of cardinal importance. An illustration of the success of his teaching in this direction, and of the early growth of the philosophical habit of mind in his son John, was afforded on one occasion when the father and a number of neighbors, while patrolling at night to check some illicit transactions between the negro slaves and the shopkeepers of the nearest village, were fired upon with blank cartridges, and thrown from their startled horses. Relating the story of his mishap after he had reached home, the father said, "I lost my left stirrup; at the turn in the road I lost the other stirrup, and at the next turn I was thrown." John, who listened to the narrative with great interest, was perplexed to know how the stirrups could have been lost. His night's rest did not remove the trouble, and, leaving his bed before sunrise, he went and examined the saddle. He reported upon the result of his investigation at the breakfast-table. "Pa, did you not say last night that, when the horse ran away with you, you lost your stirrups?" "Yes, my son, I did say so." "Well, I have found that the stirrups are safe and sound." The laugh was turned against the son, and the father often told the story afterward as a joke upon him. It was, however, no joke; it was a prediction of the career of the future investigator in physics.

The childhood and most of the boyhood of John Le Conte were spent at the plantation home in Georgia, where hunting, fishing, boating, and all kinds of athletic sports contributed largely to the training of his observing faculties. His uncle, Major Le Conte,