Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/125

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
115
SKETCH OF PROF. JOHN LE CONTE.

fondness for research, interfered to some extent with the efforts that might have been made to secure paying patients.

In August, 1840, Dr. Le Conte accepted the chair of Natural Philosophy and Chemistry in Franklin College, his alma mater, from which he had gone forth eight years before as the best scientific student in his class. This decided his withdrawal from the field of practical work in medicine. Henceforth he devoted himself to the study of physical science, but without failing to keep pace still with the progress of physiology. He retained his professorship at Athens for nine years, resigning it in the autumn of 1855 to become lecturer on chemistry in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, his medical alma mater. In the spring of 1856, at the conclusion of his course of lectures in New York, he accepted a call to the South Carolina College at Columbia, where he had been unanimously elected to fill the chair, then first created, of Natural and Mechanical Philosophy. This position he held until the college was disbanded soon after the opening of the civil war. He was then put in charge of the Niter and Mining Bureau of South Carolina. In 1866 the University of South Carolina was organized, and Dr. Le Conte was elected to the same chair that he had held in the college of which this was the new development. This position he retained until 1869, when he gave up his residence in Columbia to become an adopted citizen of California. Here his home has continued up to the present time.

The period of thirteen years embracing Dr. Le Conte's connection with the South Carolina College and University, although clouded by the saddening events incident to the civil war, constituted the pleasantest and most satisfactory period of his life. The institution was governed by a board of trustees composed of gentlemen of refinement and culture, who entertained a genuine sympathy for the labors of the student who strives to plant himself at the most advanced outposts of science and literature. The community amid which the college had been developed was strongly influenced by the atmosphere of scholarship which it produced. There was a quiet spirit of encouragement to learning, which, by its freedom from pretension, furnished the most grateful incentive to study. It was during these years that Dr. Le Conte established a European reputation through his writings, which were published chiefly in the "American Journal of Science" and the "London Philosophical Magazine" It was in 1857 that he made the remarkable discovery of the sensitiveness of flame to musical vibrations — a discovery which served as the starting-point for Barrett, Tyndall, and Koenig in the exquisite applications that have since been worked out by the use of flame for the detection of sounds too delicate for the ear to perceive, and for the optical analysis of compound tones. Unfortunately,