Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/376

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medicine. It is adorned with many great inventions, such as photography, the electric telegraph, the construction of railways, and ocean steam navigation. The great wars it has witnessed, the Franco-Italian, the Crimean, the Prusso-Austrian, the Prusso-French, and the American Civil War, have occasioned, as all great wars inevitably do, much intellectual activity and profound social changes. Among the latter are the emancipation of the vast serf population of Russia, and of four million slaves in America. But, perhaps, most important of all—partly through the increase and diffusion of knowledge, partly through more rapid and incessant national intercommunication—ideas liberal in politics and elevated in religion have asserted their sway.

The generation that lived in this period has therefore fairly performed its share in the promotion of modern civilization. There is no European nation which has not participated in this great movement—none that cannot offer a list of the names of its people who may lay claim to a part of the honor of the success. In this respect America is not behind others—she too has done her share, both as regards science and industrial inventions. Among those of her citizens who have devoted their lives to these objects, and who by their successful pursuit have done honor to the country, and won for themselves an eminent name in the world of science, is the subject of our present sketch, John William Draper.

He was born at St. Helen's, near Liverpool, in 1811, and received his education for the most part from private instructors. At eleven years of age he was sent to one of the public schools of the Wesleyan Methodists, of which denomination his father was a minister. He remained there, however, only two years, and was then returned to private instruction. When the University of London was opened, he was sent there to study chemistry under Dr. Turner, at that time the most celebrated of English chemists. At the instance of several of his American relatives, he came to America, and completed his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1836 with so much distinction that his inaugural thesis received the unusual compliment of being published by the faculty of that university. Shortly afterward he was appointed Professor of Chemistry in Hampden Sidney College, Virginia, and in 1839 received an appointment to the same professorship in the University of New York, with which institution he has ever since been connected.

Dr. Draper's earliest scientific publications were on the chemical action of light, a subject at that time almost completely neglected. Eventually he published in American and foreign journals, or read before scientific societies, nearly forty memoirs in relation to it. It would be impossible in this short sketch to give an enumeration of the facts contained in these papers. We shall, therefore, select only a few of the more prominent ones for remark.

Of all the chemical actions of light, by far the most important