Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/245
SKETCH OF DR. J. LAWRENCE SMITH.
WE give, this month, an excellent portrait of one of the most active and accomplished of our American scientists, one who has not only extended the boundaries of knowledge by his researches in the various fields of investigation to which he has devoted himself, but who has been a missionary of science to one of the old Oriental countries, and labored successfully to diffuse its benign influences among a semi-barbarous people.
J. Lawrence Smith was born December 16, 1818, near Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Benjamin Smith, was a Virginian, who had removed to South Carolina. The subject of this brief memoir received a classical education in the Charleston College, after which he was sent to the University of Virginia. At this institution he enjoyed facilities for the indulgence of his taste in the acquisition of knowledge in that department for which he had in early life shown a decided predilection—pure mathematics. In the later part of his academic career, he devoted himself to the higher branches of physics, mixed mathematics, and chemistry, pursuing the latter somewhat in the form of a recreation.
In determining a practical pursuit in life, young Smith selected civil-engineering as a profession, and, after devoting two years to the study of its various branches, in connection with geology and mining engineering, he was employed as one of the assistant engineers on the railroad projected at that time between Charleston and Cincinnati. This pursuit not proving congenial with his scientific tastes, he turned to the study of medicine, the college of the city of Charleston at that time possessing a corps of eminent medical teachers. After studying medicine three years, Dr. Smith was graduated by the Medical College of South Carolina, after which he went to Europe, where he devoted three more years to the study of medicine. But during all this time he continued his devotion to those departments which first commanded his scientific affections. He studied physiology under Flourens and Longet; chemistry under Orfila, Dumas, and Liebig; physics under Pouillet, Desprez, and Becquerel; mineralogy and geology under Elie de Beaumont and Dufrenoy.
Dr. Smith returned to America in 1844, having already begun to earn a reputation in original scientific researches, principally in connection with the fatty bodies. His paper on Spermaceti, in 1 842, at once stamped his character as an experimental inquirer.
On his return to Charleston, Dr. Smith commenced the practice of medicine, and there delivered a course of lectures on toxicology. But the State of South Carolina, needing his services as assayer of the bullion that came into commerce from the gold-fields of Georgia,