Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/560

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.




THE romantic incidents of M. Houzeau's career in the United States must invest his story with a living and lasting interest to all Americans. His scientific record is no less remarkable. In versatility, variety of studies, industry, productiveness, and originality he has been surpassed by few men of science. The materials for this sketch have been drawn from the affectionate and appreciative Notes biographiques of Houzeau's intimate friend and associate, M. A. Lancaster (Brussels, 1889).

Jean-Charles Houzeau de Lehaie was born at L'Ermitage, near Mons, Belgium, October 7, 1820, and died July 12, 1888. He was the elder of two children; his brother, M. Auguste Houzeau, is a professor of the School of Mines in Mons and a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. His mother was still living in 1889, at the age of ninety years; but his father died in 1885, ninety-five years old. His name was regularly published in the annual list of nobles in the Almanach royal. The family had added De Lehaie to their name about the middle of the last century, to distinguish them from other branches of the same stock.

Jean-Charles Houzeau showed very early an inclination toward the branches in which he became famous. He was interested in astronomy even before he had learned to read; and with the bonbons that were given him he would form on a table groups of geometrical figures intended to represent the constellations. When he had the table covered with them, he would call his friends in to look at his firmament. He attended the college at Mons while from twelve to seventeen years old; and in the last year received a special prize. He then applied for admission to the University of Brussels, but failed to pass the examinations. He returned to Mons, where he was allowed to pursue his astronomical studies and ramble over the fields at will. From this time his mind was always on the alert, and he showed uncommon faculties of observation. With his own hands he constructed a small observatory on a neighboring hill. It included a wooden cabin in which were a mural circle, a transit instrument, and a telescope. The tubes of these instruments were of zinc; the glasses, which were not achromatic, were bought in Paris. He also began to write about this time, and contributed to L'Emancipation, of Brussels, numerous articles on subjects relating to improvements in industrial arts. He published his first scientific work in 1839, a pamphlet of 108 pages on turbine wheels, which can not be found now, but which was regarded by competent men at the time as of great practical value.

In the two following years, 1840 and 1841, Houzeau attended