Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/March 1877/Biographical Sketch of Thomas Edward
|BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF THOMAS EDWARD.|
MANY of our readers, as their attention is arrested by the portrait we furnish this month, will glance at the name beneath it, and musingly ask themselves whether they have ever seen or heard it before. They will say, perhaps: "There were several Edwards, who were Kings of England, and there was Edwards, who made a book upon the will; and there is Milne-Edwards, the great naturalist of the French Academy; but—Thomas Edward—Tom Edward—who is he? and what business has his portrait in The Popular Science Monthly, where we expect to find likenesses of only eminent scientific men?"
Well, the Thomas Edward whom we represent is in his proper place; and, if he has not been heard of before, he ought to have been. He was certainly not a King of England, but he has been a king and a hero in his own way; and we are glad to note that the Queen of England and Empress of India has recently honored herself by honoring him. Nor has Thomas Edward, like the great Jonathan, ever written on the will; but he is one of Nature's illustrations of it, and is himself a living treatise on the force of the will. And, although he is not a rich Anglo-French naturalist, the pet of the Academy, and applauded through Europe, he is nevertheless an eminent naturalist, who in an obscure Scotch town, without education, without means, without books, without encouragement, and without the acquaintance of men of science—a poor, day-laboring mechanic, with a large family—has done original work in science, of a quality and extent that would have carried half a dozen common men into the American Academy of Sciences, or the Royal Society of England. Thomas Edward fought his way alone, inspired and sustained by a love of Nature which with him was nothing less than an ungovernable passion; and, although working in long obscurity and bitter privation, and under difficulties that would have crushed the spirit of ordinary men, he has at length met the reward he so richly deserves, by falling into the hands of a gifted and admiring biographer. Well can he have waited, and much can he have suffered, who secures the genius of Mr. Smiles to w T rite his life while he is yet living, the skillful pencil of Reid to illustrate it, the aristocratic house of Murray to publish it in his native country, and the enterprise of the Harpers to reprint it in the United States. We make free use of Mr. Smiles's work in the following pages.
Thomas Edward was the son of a hand-loom weaver, and was born near Aberdeen, in Scotland, in 1814. From his birth he was difficult to manage. His mother said of him that he was the worst child she had ever nursed. He was never a moment at rest, his feet and legs seemed to be set on springs. In babyhood he showed an impulse to leap from his mother's arms after flies. As soon as he began to walk he made friends with the cats and dogs, and would toddle out into the streets to cultivate the acquaintance of the hens, ducks, and geese, and would watch the pigs in a pen for hours. As he grew older he became a desperate rambler and runaway, and developed a passion for collecting all sorts of natural objects, crabs, worms, beetles, rats, tadpoles, frogs, snails, leeches, mice, birds, and birds'-nests, which he would bring home, and which were the nuisance and pest of the house. His mother protested and forbade, and threw his "venomous beasts" away, but it was of no use. He was threatened with punishment, and the same night brought in a nest of young rats, when, of course, he was flogged. But blows did no more good than words. When sent to carry his father's breakfast, he cut for the seashore. One morning his mother tied him up firmly to a table to prevent his going out, and set his little sister to watch him. As soon as his mother was absent, with a mixture of promises and threats he made his sister help him, when they pushed the table so close to the grate that he was able to burn off the rope and get away. Tom got at liberty and had a good time that day in the fields. One morning his father hid his clothes, so that when the boy got up he had "nothing to wear." His mother tied a bit of old petticoat around his neck, saying, "I'm sure you'll be a prisoner this day." He tied a string around his middle, hid himself awhile in the entry, and at an opportune moment bolted into the street, and was soon at the shore hunting for crabs, horse-leeches, puddocks, and sticklebacks. But the exposure was too much for him, and he had a long fever, with delirium, hanging between death and life for several weeks. When he recovered, the first thing was to inquire after his beasts. When but four years old he was thrashed and starved and shut up to keep him at home, but he was self-willed, determined, stubborn, and thoroughly incorrigible. He wandered about the beach, rambled over the country, learning all the best nesting-places of the birds—in the woods, plantations, hedges, streams, and mill-dams. He was inquisitive and thoughtful, often asking for information, but rarely getting it. He knew how birds made their nests, and how the flowers grew out of the ground, but he did not know how the rocks grew. He asked his parents, and they told him the rocks had existed from the beginning. This did not satisfy him, so he went to the quarrymen. "How do the rocks grow?" asked he. "Fat say ye?" Tom repeated the question. "To the deil wi' ye, ye impudent brat, or I'll toss ye owre the head o' the quarry!" Once he saw a paper-like something up in a tree, with lots of yellowish bees about it. This started his curiosity, and he tried to get the other boys to join him in securing it. They refused and ran home, leaving him alone. He climbed up near the limb where it was suspended, and was met by a sting which he thought was more painful than any he had ever had before. He sucked and blew the wound, but there hung the wasp's nest, and he could not leave it. It was growing dark, he could not put it in his bonnet nor in his stockings, so he stripped off his shirt, and, though getting numerous stings, wrapped it around the nest, detached it, and carried it home. His father, seeing him shirtless, threatened him with the strap, sent him to bed, and the shirt, with its contents, was soon put in a bowl, and covered with boiling water.
The time at length came when Tom Edward must be educated. To be sure, he had been educating himself pretty rapidly, but he must be sent to school. This he hated. He could not bear the confinement. When between four and five years old he was sent to a dame's school, kept by an old woman called Bell Hill in the garret of an ordinary dwelling-house. But he often played the truant, and would rather be in the fish-market than the school-room. His truancy soon became known to his mother, who then employed her mother, Tom's granny, to take him to school. But Tom rebelled against his granny's supervision, and got away from her so often that she had to drag him "by the scruff o' the neck." Once he slipped away from her, and ran for the water, and was in the act of getting a lot of horse-leeches, when his granny, who had pursued him, caught him by the neck. He let go of the stone, and, making a sudden bound, upset the old woman in the water. His comrades called out, "Tarn, lam, your granny's droonin'!" Tom was off, and did not get home till night, when his mother abused him for a ragamuffin who tried to drown his granny. For once his father was in good-humor, and remarked to his wife that "granny should beware of going so near the edge of such a dirty place." The scapegrace returned to school, but did not learn much. The education that Bell Hill gave was rather theological; she prayed, or, as Tom called it, "groaned," with the children twice a day, and in one of these devotional exercises Tom came to grief. She forbade him to bring his "nasty and dangerous things" to the school, but it made no difference. He had a noisy jackdaw at home, of which he was very fond, and one day he stuffed it inside of his trousers, and took it to school. While Mother Bell was at prayer the daw became restless, got its head out, and began to scream. "The Lord preserv's a'! Fat's this noo?" cried Bell, starting to her feet. "It's Tam Edward again!" shouted the scholars, "wi' a craw stickin' oot o' his breeks!" Bell went up to him, pulled him up by his collar, dragged him to the door, thrust him out, and locked the door after him, and Edward never saw Bell Hill's school again.
Tom was next sent to a school governed by a master who had great faith in what is called the "taws" as a means of education. But the boy's old habits followed him, and one day he smuggled into the school a broken bottle, containing horse-leeches and the grubs of water-flies. Mr. Smiles relates that "all passed on smoothly for about half an hour, when one of the scholars gave a loud scream, and started from his seat. The master's attention was instantly attracted, and he came down from the desk, taws in hand. "What's this?" he cried. "It's a horse-leech crawlin' up my leg!" "A horse-leech?" "Yes, sir; and see," pointing to the corner in which Tom kept his treasure, "there's a bottle fu' o' them!" "Give me the bottle," said the master; and, looking at the culprit, he said, "You come this way, Master Edward!" Edward followed him quaking. On reaching the desk he stopped, and, holding out the bottle, said, "That's yours, is it not?" "Yes." "Take it, then—that is the way out," pointing to the door; "go as fast as you can, and never come back; and take that, too!" bringing the taws down heavily upon his back. Tom thought that his back was broken, and that he should never get his breath again. Tom's mother took him back to the school-room door, but before she could open her mouth the master abruptly began: "Don't bring that boy here! I'll not take him back—not though you were to give me twenty pounds! Neither I nor my scholars have had a day's peace since he came here."
Tom was now sent to a third school, where he staid eighteen months, but did not learn very much. The Bible was the readingbook, and he got so that he could read it, and also repeat the Shorter Catechism. But he knew very little of arithmetic and nothing of grammar. He could add up two lines of figures, but could not manage the multiplication-table. He could only multiply by means of his fingers, and knew nothing of writing. He had given up bringing beasts with him to school, but he had got a bad name. One morning, when the boys were at their lessons, the master gave a loud scream, and, jumping to his feet, shook a big worm from his arm; then, turning in Tom's direction, he exclaimed, "This is some more of your work, Master Edward." Edward was then called to the floor. "You've been at your old trade, Edward, I see; but I'll now take it out of you. I have warned you not to bring any of your infernal beasts here, and now I have just found one creeping up my arm and biting me. Hold up!" Edward here ventured to say that he had not brought the beast, and he had not brought anything for a long while past. "What! a lie, too?" said the master. "A lie added to the crime makes it doubly criminal. Hold up, sir!" Tom held up his hand, and the master came down upon it very heavily with the taws. "The other!" The other hand was then held up, and when Tom had got his two hot hands the master exclaimed, "That's for the lie, and this for the offense!" and then he proceeded to bring the taws heavily down upon his back. The boy, however, did not cry.
"Now, sir," said the master, when almost out of breath, "will you say now that you did not bring it?" "I did not; indeed, sir, I did not!" "Well, then, take that," giving him a number of tremendous lashes along his back. "Well, now?" "I did not!" The master went on again: "It's your own fault," he said, "for not confessing your crime." "But I did not bring it," replied Edward. "I'll flog you until you confess." And then he repeated his lashes upon his hands, his shoulders, and his back. Edward was a mere mite of a boy, so that the taws reached down to his legs, and smote him there. "Well, now," said the master, after he was reduced to his last effort, "did you bring it?" "No, sir, I did not!" The master sat down exhausted. "Well," said he, "you are certainly a most provoking and incorrigible devil." He ordered Tom to get his slate and books and quit the school. And with this third expulsion Thomas Edward finished his "education" at the age of about seven years.
And let us not be hard on the Scotch system of education. To be sure, the schools did but little to encourage a taste for natural history, but we have a great many pretentious educational establishments now that are not a whit in advance of them. And our state system has no place for little enthusiastic nuisances like Tom Edward. A teacher in a Brooklyn institution of high claims, thinking, not long ago, that the book "natural history" might be somewhat alleviated by a little acquaintance with the real objects about which the pupils were learning lessons, encouraged them to collect some natural-history specimens. A few cocoons were accordingly brought in, and hung up in the class-room, and watched with much eagerness until the pupils began to fear nothing would ever come of them. But one morning it was observed that a large and beautiful moth was emerging from a chrysalis, and the class became much excited with interest at the novel and curious spectacle. But for such excitement, from so strange a cause, there was no provision in the order of the school. And when the grammarian came in to take the class, they did not enter into his stupefying processes with the customary facility, at which he was so shocked that he reported his difficulty to the governing authority, and a score of the children were kept after school as a punishment for the interest they had taken in an insect metamorphosis!
School being done, young Edward went to work. He first got a place in a tobacco-factory at fourteen pence a week. Here he staid two years, having risen through the grades of responsibility until he got eighteen pence a week, but his master happened to be a bird-fancier, and favored Tom's tastes in catching animals. Leaving this place, he got a situation in a woolen-factory, at some distance from home, receiving at first three and at last six shillings a week. Besides, he got on as a night-hand, and thus had much of the day to himself for rambling in the woods, and getting acquainted with the flowers, insects, and birds. These were happy times. Tom was at the factory two years, and was then taken away that he might be bound as an apprentice to a trade. The happy genius of his father selected for him as a life-occupation the intellectual and ennobling craft of the shoemaker. He was indentured at the age of eleven to Charles Begg, who was to teach him for six years the art and mystery of making shoes, at eighteen pence a week for the first year, with sixpence a week advance each succeeding year—aprons and shoes to be supplied—time, six in the morning until nine at night; specialty, pump-making, in which Begg excelled.
Charles Begg was a low-class London cockney, and an ignorant, brutal vagabond, who had a habit of coming home drunk, of thrashing his apprentice, and then going up-stairs and beating his wife. His relation to natural history was the same as that of Tom's teachers. He had no love whatever for the works of Nature, and very naturally detested those who had. Tom had a love of birds and living creatures, and Begg hated him accordingly. If Tom brought any curiosities, Begg threw them into the street—his little boxes, with butterflies, birds'-eggs, etc. One afternoon, when Edward had finished his work, he was sitting with a young sparrow on his knee which he had trained and taught to do a number of little tricks. It was his pet, and he loved it dearly. While thus occupied the master came in drunk, and, seeing what he was doing, knocked him down, while the bird fluttered to the ground, was trampled on, and died. In this way three years passed, when one day Edward brought three young moles to the shop, in his bonnet. When Begg found them, he killed them at once, knocked down Edward with a last, seized him by the neck and breast, dragged him to the door, and with a horrible imprecation threw him into the street. Tom did not return. He wanted to be a sailor, but his father opposed it. He then ran away from home to see an uncle a long way off, who kept him all night, gave him eighteen pence, and sent him back. He had various adventures in this excursion, such as the following: He came up to three men standing in the road; two of them were gentlemen, and the third seemed to be a gamekeeper. He was showing them something which he had shot in the adjoining wood. Edward went forward, and saw that it was a bird with blue wings, and a large, variegated head. "What do you want?" said the gamekeeper to Edward. "To have a sight of the bird, if you please." "There, then!" said the gamekeeper, and thrust the bird in his face, nearly blinding him. When he got home, he tried the ships again, to go to sea, and attempted to get on board of a vessel as a "stow-away" to go to America, but could not accomplish it. So he resumed shoemaking with another and kinder employer, who did not persecute him for his love of natural things. He now started a little garden for wild-flowers, and began to prepare places for his various creatures, but his resources were too rude, and his knowledge not sufficient to succeed very well. He made tours among the booksellers to inspect the pictures in the windows, and now and then was able to buy a cheap book. He took the Penny Magazine and the Weekly Visitor, which cost but a half-penny. He was now about eighteen years old, and, the shoe-business growing flat, he enlisted in the militia for a short time, and one day, when on drill, a large, brown butterfly flitted past, such as he had never seen before, and in an instant he was off after it. After chasing it awhile, he (not the butterfly) was captured by the corporal and four militiamen, who marched him to the guard-house. The high functionaries were astounded, and pronounced that he must be either mad or drunk. At the intercession of some ladies, the punishment of his heinous offense against the military majesty of his country was remitted.
When about twenty years of age Edward left Aberdeen, and went to Banff (a pleasant country town about fifty miles away, standing upon a gentle slope inclining to the sea), to work at his trade. Wages were low, and he was confined many hours in the shop, but he continued to make his natural-history collections. When twenty-three years old he married, and was fortunate in finding a woman of common-sense, who sympathized with his peculiar tastes. She had nothing, and they began to keep house on his earnings, which were 9s. 6d. per week. But he now, for the first time, had a place and room for his specimens. His education had been very limited, he could hardly write, he knew next to nothing of books, did not possess a single work on natural history, or know the names of the birds and animals that he caught. He also knew little of the nature and habits of the creatures he went to seek, or where or how to find them But he had this great advantage, that he was compelled to observe for himself, to think for himself, so that the knowledge he acquired was his own. He was modest, self-depreciating, and shy, and as his fellow-mechanics were an ignorant and brutal lot, with whom he associated very little, he was alone and friendless, which again favored the absorption of his mind in natural objects. He got compensation, for he was an intense lover of Nature, and to be in the fields, the woods, the moors, was always a great delight. When he had been married about a year, he began to make a collection of natural objects. He bought an old gun for 4s. 6d., but it was so rickety that he had to tie the barrel to the stock with twine. This, with his powder-horn and shotbag, a few insect-bottles, some boxes for moths and butterflies, and a book for putting plants in, constituted his equipment. He had a two story hat, the upper chamber of which was a useful receptacle, while the crown served for sticking in and carrying his entomological pins. He carried no cloak or umbrella, and his food was a bit of bread, or a little oatmeal, which he washed down with water from the nearest spring. He never rambled on Sunday, but made it a day of rest, which was fortunate, as, without this break, he could hardly have continued his overstrained and exhausting life.
Mr. Edward had to support his family by piece-work, which occupied him from six in the morning to nine at night, and his wages were so small that he could not abridge his working-hours. But he was a man of invincible determination, and he resolved never to spend a moment idly, or a penny uselessly. Closely occupied during the day, the night was all that remained for "leisure," and that he divided between sleep and night-wanderings after animals. On returning home from his work at night, his usual course was to equip himself with his tools, and start for some one of his locations for observing. It mattered little about the weather. His neighbors used to say, "It is a stormy night that keeps that man Edward in the house." He went out in fine, starlit nights, in moonlight nights, and in cold, drizzling nights. When it rained, he would look out for some hole in which he could get partial protection, and then watch for night-moving animals, insects, and birds: foxes, badgers, rats, weasels, polecats, mice, bats, owls, moths, and a host of other creatures of nocturnal habits, were the objects which he sought to observe in their ways or to obtain for his collections. It is comparatively easy to observe the habits of animals by day, but very difficult in the obscurity and darkness of night. Edward's circumstances drove him to this night-work, and soon made him expert in this peculiar line of observation. He often went out in winter, but his principal night-work was by moonlight, from spring to autumn. Seeing was of course difficult, but was greatly helped by the sounds of the midnight prowlers. In the course of a few years he learned to know all the beasts and birds of the district frequented by him. He knew the former by their barkings, gruntings, and various cries, and the latter he could identify even by the sounds of their wings when flying. He could tell the species and families of birds by their call notes as they flew by. He would watch the fights, greetings, pranks, predacious assaults, and peculiar ways, of the midnight roamers, between snatches of sleep, and thus extended and made much more accurate one of the obscurest branches of natural history. Mr. Edward had numerous adventures in these nocturnal excursions, which are vividly related by Mr. Smiles, who also goes into much detail to illustrate the perils, exposures, and privations, of this mode of life.
Mr. Edward continued his night-researches for about fifteen years, his excursions extending-for six or eight miles in different directions. He found many new specimens, and was particularly persistent in working at the birds which greatly abound in that region. He thus rapidly accumulated the objects for a collection, and after eight years had preserved nearly 2,000 specimens of living creatures found in the neighborhood of Banff, most of which consisted of quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, fishes, Crustacea, star-fish, zoöphytes, corals, sponges, and other objects, together with an immense number of plants. He placed these in cases, which he made himself by the aid of a shoemaker's knife, a saw, and a hammer. He stuffed his own birds, and mounted all his own objects. Of course, he was not exempt from the accidents to which such material is exposed. He had deposited twenty boxes, containing 916 insects, in his garret, and when he went to fetch them he found they had been all eaten by the mice, the pins only remaining, with here and there a head, leg, or wing. On another occasion, having put 2,000 preserved plants in a box which was carefully placed out of harm's way, when he went to overhaul them he found that the cats had made their lair in the box and ruined the whole collection.
There was an annual fair at Banff, and in 1845 Edward resolved to exhibit his collection. So he brushed up his specimens, cleaned his cases, of which he had about 300, and exhibited them, or rather had them placed on exhibition, at Trades Hall. He made a small charge for admission, and received quite a number of visitors. It took the inhabitants by surprise, and they began to understand him; his strange night-wanderings having been a matter of much wonderment and mystification to the people of the town. He got a little money and without much expense by showing his collection, and, being very anxious to turn himself in some way so as to get relief from the drudgery of the shop, and acquire time and means for more devotion to his favorite pursuits, he formed the perilous resolution of trying Aberdeen as a place of exhibition. This city was the old centre of northern intellect, cultivation, wealth, and business, with two universities, filled with professors and students, and a large, intelligent, and thrifty population. Edward sot his collection into six carrier's carts—there being no railroads—and started out with his wife and five children July 31, 1846, reaching Aberdeen on the evening of the following day. He took a shop, advertised, and scattered handbills. Terms of admission, "Ladies and gentlemen, 6d.; tradespeople, 3d.; children, half price." The Aberdeen Journal thus noticed the collection: "We have been particularly struck with the very natural attitudes in which the birds and beasts of prey are placed; some being represented as tearing their victims, others feeding their young, and some looking sideward or backward, with an expression of the eye which indicates the fear of interruption. The birds are very beautiful, and the entomological specimens will be found exceedingly interesting." Edward expected a rush, but he was disappointed. But very few persons called to see the collection, and these were chiefly stuffed-bird dealers, who wanted to sell him specimens, or knaves with counterfeit monstrosities to dispose of. Some ladies called, to consult him about sick lapdogs, diseased cats, and a broken legged pig. One gentleman wished him to come and cut off the front teeth of an old and favorite rabbit, as they had grown so long that he could not eat; but only very few came to see the collection, and of those who did come none could be made to believe that the specimens were all collected and prepared by a man who had to work all day to support his family. Professors of the university came and told him that the inhabitants of Aberdeen were not yet prepared for an exhibition of this kind, though the reader will observe that the incorporated town was seven hundred years old and contained sixty churches, while its university had been operating on the Aberdonian mind for two centuries and a half! The fact is that, notwithstanding all its "culture," Aberdeen was no more appreciative of a true lover of Nature than Tom Edward's teachers had been; and he went out of Aberdeen in much the same way that Begg pitched him out of his shop. He got in debt, became discouraged and half distracted at his situation. More advertising only aggravated his trouble. After a month he had lost hope, and, what was worse, his master at Banff wrote him that if he did not immediately return he would lose his place. He became despairing, and started for the seashore with a view of putting an end to his troubles. He had thrown off his hat, coat, and waistcoat, before plunging into the sea, when a flock of sanderlings lit upon the sands near him, and among them a larger and darker bird, that he was not acquainted with. They flew, and he followed them, again and again, until he exhausted himself, and worked off his misery. Nothing remained but to sell his collection, which he did for twenty pounds to a gentleman who wanted it for his boy. These specimens were stored in a damp room, and eventually perished; but the exhibitor got out of debt, and went back with his family to Banff.
Edward felt crushed and ruined when he got back to his home. He had not only lost the precious fruits of many years of loving labor, but his hopes of anything for the future but slavery in the shop were blighted, and his life looked dark and desolate. He resumed work, but at first had little spirit to begin replacing his lost specimens. Yet, as spring advanced, his passion again took possession of him, and he girded himself with his gun and insect-boxes and various appendages, and again sought his old haunts of observation. His zeal and perseverance were now greater than before. His friends protested that his exposures were wearing him out, but he says: "One look at my cobbler's stool dispelled every consideration. My wish was, at some time or other, to wrench myself free from my trade." He now improved his outfit by getting a coat with eight large pockets, and had four ample receptacles in his waistcoat; besides, he had a number of bags and wallets geared for convenient carrying, and all were stocked with facilities for advancing his work. On one occasion, after a prolonged tour, and when all his boxes and cases were filled with insects and worms of every sort, he was caught in a terrific thunder-storm, and soaked through and through by the rain. He reached a house at length and sought shelter, but the glue of his boxes had softened by the water, and, coming apart, let out the ants, worms, slugs, spiders, and caterpillars, so that he was completely covered with miscellaneous vermin. The woman of the house yelled at him: "Man, fat the sorra brocht ye in here, an' you in siccan a mess? Gang oot o' my hoose, I tell ye, this verra minit! Gang oot!" On looking at his clothes he found that he was a moving mass of insect-life and creeping things, and he cleared the room at a bound and took refuge in an old shed.
After his exhibition at Banff, he became a sort of general referee in regard to all curious objects found in the district, and got a great deal of advice as to what he ought to do, but nobody offered to help him. He had a family of eight, and his wages, even with extra work, were but fifteen or sixteen shillings per week. His wife helped him efficiently; she bound shoes, and received separate pay for it, but she would often with her own earnings buy bottles for his insects, wood for his bird-cases, powder and shot for his gun. None of his advising friends ever helped him in this way.
His expeditions were often accompanied by dangerous adventures. On one occasion, as he was coming home in the morning, he shot a martin, which fell upon the edge of a cliff. He clambered to the spot, and, just as he was seizing it, it fluttered over, and in trying to grasp it he went over himself. His gun fell out of his hand, and lodged across two rocks. Edward came down upon the gun, smashing it to pieces, but it broke the force of the blow, and probably saved his life. He had descended forty feet, and was wedged in between two rocks, where he remained senseless until with great difficulty he was extricated by two ploughmen and a fisherman, terribly sore and bruised. He got home, but was unable to work, and had to sell more of his collections to meet family expenses.
Shortly after his return from Aberdeen, Edward made the acquaintance of the Rev. James Smith, who lived about eight miles from Banff, and who lent him some books that helped him to ascertain the names of birds, and Mr. Smith also urged him to publish the results of his observations. Edward replied, "I cannot write correctly enough for the publishers." "But you must write," said Smith. "You must note down your observations." Edward objected much, but he nevertheless took to the work, and soon developed unusual descriptive power. He wrote articles, from time to time, for the Banffshire Journal, on various interesting objects, which had the effect of directing general attention to natural-history subjects. Further encouraged by his friend Smith, he began to write for the Zoölogist, giving an account of his discoveries, and of those habits and peculiarities of animals which he had closely observed. At the end of 1855 we find an article of his in the Zoölogist, entitled "Moth hunting, or an Evening in the Wood," and in the following year he commenced in the same periodical a "List of the Birds of Banffshire, accompanied with Anecdotes." This list comprised eight articles, which were received with much favor, yet he never got a farthing for any of his literary contributions!
It is worth while to note how he could write. He printed in the Banffshire Journal an account of a very dangerous adventure he had by getting trapped in the recess of a cliff from which there seemed to be no possibility of escape in any direction. He says: "I sat down to consider what was next to be done. While thus resting, I observed a falcon (Falco peregrinus) sailing slowly and steadily along, bearing something large in his talons. On he came, seemingly unconscious of my presence, and alighted on a ledge only a few yards from where I sat. I now saw that the object he carried was a partridge. Having fairly settled down with his quarry on the rock, I could not help wondering at and admiring the collected ease and cool composure with which he held his struggling captive (for it was still alive) until death put an end to its sufferings. There was no lacerating with its beak at the body of the poor and unfortunate prisoner, in order, as it were, to hasten its termination; no expanding of the wing to maintain his equilibrium, although the last and dying struggle of the bird caused him to quiver a little. All being over now, with one foot resting upon his game and the other on the rock, silent and motionless as a statue, the noble captor stood, with an inquiring eye, gazing at the now lifeless form of his reeking prey, seeming to doubt the fact that it was already dead. But there was no mistake. The blood, oozing from its mouth and wounds, its body doubtless pierced by the talons of the conqueror, already began to trickle down the sides of the dark cliffs, dyeing the rocks in its course. Satisfied at last that life was fairly extinct, an incision was then made in the neck or shoulder of the victim, and into this the falcon thrust his bill several times, and each time that it was withdrawn it was covered with blood. This being done, and having wrenched off the head, which he dropped, he then began not only to pluck but to skin his food from the neck downward; and, having bared the breast, commenced a hearty meal by separating the flesh from the sternum into portions, with as much apparent ease as if he had been operating with the sharpest surgical instrument. I should have liked well to have seen the end of the work thus begun; but, unfortunately, a slight movement on my part was detected by the quick eye of the falcon, and my nearness was discovered. Having gazed at me for a few, and only for a few, seconds, with an angry and piercing scowl, mingled with surprise, he then rose, uttering a scream so wild and so loud as to waken the echoes of the surrounding rocks; while he himself with the remains of his feast, which he bore along with him, rounded a point of the cliff and disappeared; and there is no doubt that he ended his repast in unmolested security."
In 1854 Edward lost his valued friend Smith, by death, and he mourned for him very deeply, as he was a man of wide culture, and with a thorough appreciation of the character of Edward. Mr. Edward was under the impression that people looked down upon him and his work, because he was a poor shoemaker, and in this, of course, he was right. But the clergyman treated him as one intelligent man treats another. His loss, however, was greatly repaired by the acquaintance of the Rev. Mr. Boyd, of Crimond, a few miles off, also a naturalist, who had a high and appreciative regard for him. The two clergymen had made various efforts to secure for Edward some position in which he could live and give freer play to the bent of his genius. But they failed. Mr. Boyd once proposed that Edward should get up a series of rudimentary lectures on natural history, illustrated by specimens of birds and other objects. They were to be given first in Banff, and then in other places. Edward got his illustrations ready, and the project looked feasible. There existed in the town of Banff an institution which had been formed, among other purposes, "for the discovery and encouragement of native genius and talent." What could be more promising? Mr. Boyd believed that they would heartily cooperate in the lectures, because it would be in accordance with the avowed purpose of the institution. Several members were applied to, to give their assistance, but they politely declined, and the scheme fell through. Shortly afterward Mr. Boyd died, and Edward was deprived of another efficient friend. "Another of my best friends is gone," exclaimed he. "Cruel Death! if thy hand continues to strip me thus, thou wilt soon, very soon, leave me desolate; and then who will take notice of the poor naturalist?"
At last, his health gave way altogether, and he had a long attack of rheumatic fever; and again his collections had to be sold, to protect the family from want. He now lost all hope of ever being able to replenish them. He had to abandon his night-wanderings, but he turned to the natural history of the sea-shore. Here he had a new field, and worked with great success. He discovered many new species of marine creatures, and greatly extended the knowledge of the habits and history of those already known. His daughters gave him very valuable assistance in many ways, especially in searching the fish markets along the shore. Mr. Edward was, moreover, now beginning to be better known to naturalists, who sought his correspondence and his aid, and among these were Spence Bate, Westwood, Couch, and Gwin Jeffreys. Bate tried to get a place for him in a scientific institution, at thirty shillings per week, but it turned out to be a fourth portership at one pound per week, and could not be got even at that. Edward's hopes were once more blighted, and nothing remained for him but the cobbler's stool. He tried photography as a means of living, but was not able to provide a glass-window department, and failed in that also. The fact is, he was simply a born naturalist, made for the discovery of the things of Nature, and, if his Christian country had been half civilized, he would have been kept at that priceless work for which so few men are gifted by rare original endowments.
We can hardly refer to, much less enumerate, the achievements of Edward in many departments of observation, which are described with great felicity by Mr. Smiles. At the close of his volume he gives selections from the mammals, birds, fishes, and Crustacea, with which this man enriched the fauna of Banffshire; but while the list comprises many hundred, in a long appendix, the author states that, if all were given, they would fill a volume. Among the crustaceans alone, of two hundred and ninety-four, found in the Moray Firth, not fewer than twenty-six new species were added by Edward himself.
But Edward's scientific labors drew toward a close. He had fought the fight of science on the one hand, and of poverty on the other, until his constitution, strained by exposure and battered by accidents, was no longer equal to the double struggle. In 1866 he was elected an associate to the Linnæan Society, one of the highest honors that science could confer upon him, and he. was shortly after also made a member of the Societies of Natural History at both Aberdeen and Glasgow. His biographer states that since then he has been able to do comparatively little for the advancement of his favorite study.
In June, 1875, Edward remarked: "As a last and only remaining source" (of subsistence), "I betook myself to my old and time-honored friend, a friend of fifty years' standing, who has never yet forsaken me, nor refused help to my body when weary, nor rest to my limbs
when tired—my well-worn cobbler's stool. And here I am still on the old boards, doing what little I can, with the aid of my well-worn kit, to maintain myself and my family; with the certainty that instead of my getting the better of the lapstone and leather, they will very soon get the better of me."
It remains only to add that, since the publication of Mr. Smiles's book, the queen has been moved to grant Thomas Edward a pension of fifty pounds a year. All will be glad of this; but we cannot forget that if this man had directed his genius to the work of war, with a tithe of the success he has achieved in enlarging our knowledge of Nature, his reward would have been far greater than it is now!
- "Life of a Scotch Naturalist: Thomas Edward, Associate of the Linnæan Society." By Samuel Smiles, author of "Lives of the Engineers" "Self-Help," "Character," "Thrift," etc. Portrait and Illustrations by George Reid, A. R. S. A. Harper & Brothers.
- "Taws," a leather strap, about three feet long, cut into tails at the end.