Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/123

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
113
SKETCH OF PROF. JOHN LE CONTE.

an accomplished zoölogist, often gave up his New York home in winter for the purpose of spending the colder months on the Southern plantation. The scientific proclivities of both father and uncle insensibly made all the children students of natural history and collectors of specimens. Thus they gradually imbibed knowledge on such subjects, and acquired powers of discrimination that are ordinarily attained only by years of study in maturer life. Their mother died in 1826, leaving the father in charge of six children. Deprived of maternal care at so early a period of life, all of them, and especially the boys, were thrown largely upon their own resources at a tender age.

In those days and in that country neighborhood, forty miles from the nearest city, Savannah, it was necessary to do without the school accommodations that are now abundant in every village of our land. An isolated wooden-framed house, with no plastering, a single door for its single room, abundant ventilation through the crevices of the floor and walls, fully supplemented by the draught through an ample clay chimney — such was the school-house in which the children were gathered daily from plantations varying in distance from one to half a dozen miles or more. The teacher was rarely ever of the best. One there was who took charge of this road-side seminary for two years, became the intimate friend of Mr. Le Conte, and exerted over his boys an influence that became life-long. Alexander H. Stephens, the future statesman and historian, was then a young graduate who sought in teaching the pecuniary support that was necessary while he was preparing for admission to the bar. His fine classical taste and clear, logical mind produced a lasting impression upon John Le Conte, who received thus his training for college, and entered Franklin College, now the University at Athens, Ga., with distinguished success in January, 1835.

As a student, young Le Conte soon became noted for his clearness of conception and his scrupulous accuracy in work. The curriculum of study was the same for all, irrespective of native bias or prospective aim in life. He was fully appreciative of all the classical culture that was there afforded, but his tastes naturally led him into spending on mathematics and its applications a larger share of attention than Latin and Greek could attract. "Give him the cosine of A and he will prove anything," was the criticism expressed by an admiring fellow-student, and concurred in by the rest. The formal teaching of physics and chemistry involved mere text-book recitation, and attendance upon illustrated lectures of the most elementary character, which were delivered with oracular authority. It was more than whispered among the students that on these topics John Le Conte knew as much as or more than the professor himself.