Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/120

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
110
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

lectured on phrenology, education, physiology, the laws of health, and the sources of the well-being of nations. He was a leader in the struggle for what he called secular education—that is, a training in such knowledge as applies to the duties of life—he advocated prison reform, and in 1857, the year before his death, he published a work "On Religion and Science," the product of much anxious labor and the "outcome of his life's thought."

Dr. Andrew Combe, brother of George Combe, and nine years his junior, was also a man of remarkable ability and force of character, and both the brothers had feeble constitutions, suffering all their lives from ill health. They agreed in the belief that their infirmities were brought upon them by the circumstances of their childhood. Andrew died in 1847, and his "Life" was written by his brother George, who made a point of exposing the unhealthful conditions to which his brother had been subjected in early life. But some of the relatives were unwilling that these family details should be published to the world, and so they were omitted from the biography. But, when George Combe afterward wrote a full account of the first sixteen years of his own life, the suppressed portion of his brother's biography was embodied in it, and this is the autobiography with which we are now concerned. It was natural, perhaps, that relatives should object to its publication; but certainly in no other part of the work before us are Combe's tenderness, sense of justice, and ability, better shown than here; for, while he tells everything frankly, he all the while impresses the reader with the upright, affectionate, and intelligent character of his parents.

We condense from Combe's account the following significant details: At the time of his birth his father was forty-two and his mother thirty years old. She was short, well-formed, quiet, energetic, decided, and sensible. She was accomplished in every practical art of housekeeping. She could milk, churn, make butter, wash, cook, spin, shape and sew clothes for both sexes; was active and methodic, and generally had her work done before dinner, and was ready to pay and receive social visits. She could read and could write her name, which was a fair literary education in those times. The father was six feet two inches in height, strong in trunk and limbs, with a large head, and perfect health. He wrote exellent sense and good composition, but was imperfect in grammar and spelling. He was painfully aware of these defects, and used to say he would rather hold the plow for a day than write a letter of a page in length. His over-consciousness in this matter "led him to educate his sons to the best of his ability and his lights." They had seventeen children. George was a well-formed, healthy child, and so far as character depends upon inheritance he had nothing to complain of.

The house where they lived stood close under the southwest bank and rock of the Castle of Edinburgh. The locality was low, and, while the windows looked upon gardens and corn-fields, the ground behind