Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/May 1882/Sketch of John Lubbock, Bart., M.P.

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

PSM V21 D008 John Lubbock.jpg

JOHN LUBBOCK.

SKETCH OF SIR JOHN LUBBOCK, Bart., M. P.

SIR JOHN LUBBOCK is one of that class of men of whom each age can present only a few brilliant specimens, who are at home, and masters, in pursuits of the most diversified character. He is almost equally distinguished as a banker and man of business, as a zoölogist, ethnologist, and archæologist, and as a publicist and parliamentarian. He stands in the front rank among bankers, while he occupies a prominent position among naturalists, and "is a standing proof that an industrious man of active mind may at once be diligent in business while serving science." "His name," says one of his most appreciative biographers, "is equally familiar to the ethnologists and entomologists of New York or of Moscow, in the counting-houses where the world's business is settled, and among the Maidstone Liberals, who every four years temporarily lose their voices with crying, 'Sir John and liberty! 'Most curious of all, the cause of this reputation in one circle is little known to those in the other two. The Kentish rustics may know that the 'Squire' is fond of looking at queer things, and the bankers may have sometimes listened to him at the Royal Institution or in Parliament; but each set of men judge their many-sided friend by their own standard, and in each department he has rendered services which ought to command the respect in which he is indubitably held."

Sir John Lubbock derives his versatility in a very large measure by inheritance. His father, Sir John William Lubbock—the third baronet of that name—was head of the banking-house to which the son has succeeded, and earned a more enduring fame as an astronomical and mathematical writer. He was for twelve years Treasurer and Vice-President of the Royal Society, and was the author of works on "The Lunar Theory," "Perturbation of the Planets," "Researches on the Tides," the "Theory of Probabilities," and other publications, which are still quoted as authorities. His treatise on "Probabilities": anticipated that of Quetelet by several years, and, being published anonymously, was for some time ascribed to De Morgan.

The present baronet, the subject of this sketch, was born in London, on the 30th of April, 1834. His early education was received in a private school kept by Mr. Waring; at a later period he was sent to Eton College, where he had the Earl of Dalkeith, Lord Grey de Wilton, Mr. Lefévre, and Mr. Chitty, Q. C, for fellow-pupils. He was withdrawn from school when fourteen years old without being allowed to enter the university, and put into the bank; for his father's partners had been taken suddenly ill, and it was deemed important that he should be prepared to assume control of the establishment as soon as possible in case death should take away its heads. His attention was here directed to quite different objects from those in which he had been interested, but he did justice to their demands, and exerted himself to become a complete man of business, with a success to which his subsequent accomplishments as a banker and the mark he has left in English methods of business bear ample testimony. He did not suffer this, however, to divert him from his former pursuits. He passed his leisure at the family seat of High Elms, near Farnborough, in Kent, "a goodly mansion in the midst of an estate of fourteen hundred acres, which had been purchased by his grandfather." Here he continued his studies in natural history, and made it an object to supplement and extend that education only the foundations of which are laid at school and college.

The banking-house of which Sir John Lubbock is the head—that of Robarts, Lubbock & Co., has been in existence since 1750, has always stood high, and has not decreased in stability during the administration of its present chief. Lender that administration it has promoted a reform in the methods of transacting business throughout the kingdom that has greatly facilitated and expedited it, by securing the extension of the clearing-house system of London to the country banks.

The clearing-house has long been a most useful institution among the London bankers for collecting the checks paid in by their customers with greater facility than by sending round to the various banks and getting the money over the counter, and, in their turn, having to pay to the messengers of other bankers the charges drawn on them. In the clearing-house building as many desks are arranged as there are bankers connected with the institution, each of which is allotted to a particular banker. A clerk, going with a number of checks upon some or all the bankers, puts those which are drawn upon each on his desk. At the same time all the other banks holding checks upon his bank place them upon his desk. When the day's business is completed, only the balances shown upon posting the checks pro and con have to be paid over, and this is done through drafts upon a special account in the Bank of England. Mr. Babbage had called attention to the proportion of transactions of bankers that passed through the clearing-house to those that did not. Acting upon the suggestion given by Mr. Babbage, Sir John, taking an amount of $115,000,000 that passed through the hands of his house during the last few days of 1864, analyzed the respective items of clearing checks, bills, bank-notes, and coin, and found that out of each million more than $700,000 passed through the clearing-house. Such a measure of the convenience secured by the system was evidence enough that its extension was desirable. Under the old system of settling country accounts, a country bank taking in the course of the day two hundred checks, drawn on perhaps one hundred bankers scattered all over the kingdom, had to write one hundred separate letters and dispatch them by post to as many different points. Under the new system, the checks are all sent to London, grouped and classified as are the city checks in the city clearing-house, and sent in batches to their destinations, with a great saving of labor.

To Sir John Lubbock is also due the introduction of a method of examination for clerks of bankers and joint-stock companies conducted by the City of London College, in the same manner as the examinations instituted by the Government under the Civil Service Commissioners. He is also Honorary Secretary to the London Association of Bankers, and in that capacity, besides keeping the records of the meetings of the association, acting as secretary of all committees, controlling the internal arrangements of the Clearing-House, etc., he has the duty of representing the bankers of London on questions relating to Government in Parliament, and, indeed, whenever any intermediate agent between banking circles and the officers of Government is needed. When the Institute of Bankers, now numbering more than two thousand members, was formed, he was unanimously chosen its president. He has contributed many valuable papers to financial literature, and was a member of the International Coinage Commission.

The proper performance of these multifarious duties would seem not to leave time for the successful pursuit of any other occupations, but Sir John Lubbock has been able to give them due attention and, in addition, besides doing good service to his country in Parliament, to become a distinguished investigator and experimenter, and an authority in more than one branch of science. Science was one of the earliest of Sir John Lubbock's pursuits, and it was one of those that he has most constantly followed up. He knew practically nothing of banking till he was fourteen years old, while his name was not on the rolls of Parliament till he was a man of thirty-six. But he was a naturalist in his very childhood. His taste in this direction was carefully nurtured by his father, who was accordingly very glad when Mr. Darwin settled as his near neighbor at Down. From that day forward he was a pupil of that master, and became one of his most ardent disciples. His methods of investigation are very similar to those of Mr. Darwin, and consist largely of the minute, accurate observation of small things. His researches in zoölogy have been chiefly devoted to the development, habits, and structure of the lower animals, chiefly of insects and Crustacæ, in which he has made numerous discoveries that are recorded in various scientific journals and in the "Transactions" of the Royal, Linnæan, and other learned societies. Relative to these subjects he has published an elaborate treatise on one of the obscure groups of insects, entitled a "Monograph of the Thysanura and Collembola" (Royal Society, 1873), and works of a more popular character on the "Origin and Metamorphoses of Insects" and "Wild Flowers considered in Relation to Insects," in the latter of which he considers the agency of insects in the fertilization of flowers by carrying pollen from flower to flower while in search of food, and the adaptation of the flowers to the function of dusting the insects that visit them with their pollen and to the reception of the pollen of other flowers from them. His most recent researches, carried on with the aid of members of his family, have been devoted to the observation of the habits of insects, particularly of wasps, bees, and ants, which have been attended with important discoveries. He has given particular attention to the study of the mental faculties of insects, whether those creatures have any, and to what extent they may be developed, and has made numerous interesting communications on the subject to the British Association and the Royal Institution, which have been extensively published, even in miscellaneous journals, and generally read; and in connection with this branch he was able to interest the British Association with the life-history of a pet wasp which he kept, to such an extent that its death in the following year was considered worthy of notice in a special paragraph in "Nature." Among the consequences of these publications have been the direction of a greater degree of attention to the biological history of the orders that form the subjects of them, and a higher appreciation of the study of little things.

Sir John Lubbock also became an active and eminent student of archæology. He examined the shell-mounds, or kitchen-middens, on the coast of Denmark, to which attention had originally been called by Steenstrup and other Danish antiquaries, and was the first to make English readers acquainted with those rude relics of the ancient Scandinavian savages. He also studied the gravels of the Somme from Amiens to the sea, in search of prehistoric remains, and explored the bone-caves of Dordogne and the lake-dwellings of Switzerland, and examined the archaeological collections in numerous public and private museums. These researches formed the subjects of various memoirs in the "Natural History Review" and other publications, and were finally collected, with many additions, and published under the title of "Pre-historic Times as illustrated by Ancient Remains and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages," in a work which has passed through five editions. His readings in the literature relating to modern savage life led him to a consideration of the origin of civilization and of the manner in which customs, once all but universal in the infancy of the human race, became altered or narrowed down to the few rude tribes who may now alone possess them. These inquiries were originally given to the Royal Institution in the spring of 1868, and were afterward greatly enlarged and published in a work, "The Origin of Civilization and the Primitive Condition of Man," which has passed through five editions, and, like his former work on prehistoric man, has been translated into the French, German, Italian, Danish, Russian, Hungarian, Dutch, Swedish, and other languages. It has also gone through two American editions, and has given rise to considerable controversy which has been called forth by the antagonism of some of its views to the prepossessions of a large proportion of its readers. It must have cost the author an enormous amount of labor, and is, aside from the theories it enunciates, a most serviceable work of reference, offering a nearly exhaustive array of facts which it would be impossible for any student to obtain for himself, drawn from a mass of authorities the mere list of which would fill a considerable space. In this work the Darwinian doctrine is applied in tracing the development of the social and mental condition of savages, their arts, their system of marriage and of relationship, their religions, languages, moral character, and laws. It sustains the belief that "the law of humanity is not degeneracy, but progression; not the falling away from a primitive state of perfection, but the gradual amelioration and advance toward a higher and better condition." To be more particular, the author maintains the conclusions that "existing savages are not the descendants of civilized ancestors; that the primitive condition of man was one of utter barbarism; and that from this condition several races have independently raised themselves." This work was one of the first attempts to treat the origin of civilization on a rational and philosophic basis, and has been pronounced "the completest summary of barbaric life that we possess."

These books form, however, but a small part of Sir John Lubbock's scientific writings, which include besides numerous papers in the transactions of learned societies, and in the scientific and antiquarian journals, the list of which is constantly growing, and the editing from the original manuscript of the treatise of the nonagenarian Svend Nilsson on "The Stone Acre of Sweden."

The labors of Sir John Lubbock in behalf of the preservation of the ancient monuments of Great Britain and Ireland may be considered in connection with his scientific work, although they have been carried on chiefly in Parliament, and under the form of appeals to the public. They have found shape in the well-known Ancient Monuments Bill, which passed a second reading three times, but was finally lost in the House of Lords. This bill was based upon the principle "that, if the owner of one of these ancient monuments wishes to destroy it, he should be required, before doing so, to give the nation the option of purchase at a fair price." For this purpose, it proposed to create a body of commissioners especially charged with the protection of the ancient monuments, and so commended itself to all persons interested in the subject that every archaeological society in the kingdom petitioned for its passage. It was, however, strongly opposed by other interests, with arguments of the most puerile character, such, for instance, as that the people who erected the monuments were savages, about whom no one cares or should care; that the monuments themselves are ignoble and destitute of all art and of everything that entitles them to preservation; and that to preserve them was to interfere seriously with the rights of property.

Replying to these objections in 1875, Sir John asked the honorable members of the House of Commons to look at the ancient monuments in their own districts mentioned in his bill, and tell him which of them they would see destroyed without regret. "Was it Silbury Hill, the grandest sepulchral monument, perhaps, in Europe? Was it Avebury, the most remarkable of the so called Druidical structures? Was it Stonehenge, enigmatical and unique? Was it Arthur's Round Table, or the Rollrich Stones, Kitscoty House, or Wayland Smith's Forge, dear to all readers of Sir Walter Scott?" Then, after referring to similar monuments in Scotland and Ireland, he concluded: "Those monuments have passed through great dangers. They have been spared by Roman soldiers, by Britons, Saxons, Danes, and Normans; they were respected in days of comparative poverty and barbarism; in these days of enlightenment and civilization, of wealth almost beyond the dreams of avarice, they were in danger of being broken up for a profit of a few pounds, or removed because they cumbered the ground. If the House allowed them to be destroyed, they could never be replaced. It was said that the bill would interfere with the rights of property. What rights? The right of destroying interesting national monument. That was the only right that would be interfered with. It was not incidental to the bill, it was no drawback in the bill, it was the very object of the measure. It was really, however, the rights of destruction, not the rights of possession, which it touched. It was now for the House to determine whether it would exercise on behalf of the nation the right to preserve those monuments; whether it would maintain the right of individuals to destroy, or the right of the nation to preserve." Sir John himself bought two of the sites mentioned in his speech, to save them from threatened destruction: Avebury, whose temple was nearly perfect in the time of Charles n, who visited it, but which was now about to be sold for building-lots after most of its stones had been broken up or carried off; and Silbury Hill, said by "Nature" to be "the grandest tumulus in Great Britain, if not in Europe."

Sir John Lubbock's political career may be said to have begun in 1865, when he stood for a seat in the House of Commons for West Kent, at the request of the Liberal Committee, and was defeated by only fifty votes. In 1868 he was nominated as a Liberal candidate for the representation of the University of London, backed by a committee composed of such men as Airy, Babbage, Darwin, Huxley, Lyell, Max Miller, Tyndall, and others, but he thought it better to leave the field open to Mr. Lowe, and stood, instead, for West Kent, where he was again defeated. In 1870 he was elected for the borough of Maidstone, and again, in 1874, after a keener contest than the preceding one, but a good-natured one. In 1880 he lost his seat for Maidstone, but was returned a few days afterward by the University of London. In recommending him for this seat a number of gentlemen, among whom were Messrs. Alfred W. Bennett, Grant Duff, Thiselton Dyer, F. W. Farrar, D. D., Dr. Michael Foster, H. E. Roscoe, and Dr. Samuel Wilks, said that, since he combined in himself eminence in many branches of knowledge and walks of life, he might be said to represent, as few (if any) others could, the different faculties which combined to form the university. He has made his mark in Parliament as an industrious, discriminating, working member, more distinguished, perhaps, for the merit of the measures he has introduced and supported than as a brilliant orator, although he has acquitted himself excellently in the latter capacity, and earned the reputation of a speaker who always has something to say that is well worth hearing, and the faculty of saying it well. The following list of the bills which he has introduced and promoted in their passage through the Houses attest that his labors have been to the purpose, efficient, and successful. The bills are, to use the peculiar phraseology with which their titles are legally expressed, the Apothecaries' Company Medical Act Amendment Bill; the Bank Holiday Bill; the Falsification of Accounts Bill; the Banker's Book Evidence Bill; the College of Surgeons' Medical Act Amendment Bill; the University of London Medical Act Amendment Bill; the Absconding Debtor's Bill; the Factor's Acts Amendment Bill; the Bills of Exchange Bill; the Dental Practitioners' Bill; the Compromise Acts Amendment Bill; and the Ancient Monuments Bill, which was lost in the House of Lords. All of these acts have a practical bearing on every-day life, and show the stand Sir John has taken in Parliament as the elected member for the University of London, and the representative, by an unrecorded vote, of science and the banking interest. The best known of his bills is the Bank Holiday Bill, which has added four new statute holidays to those that were already in existence, with a result that has been in every way satisfactory, both to employers and to the persons in their employ. Speaking of Sir John in connection with the Ancient Monuments Bill, but having this act also in view, "Nature" styles him "a member whose reputation as an archaeologist, though great throughout the country, is exceeded by his popularity as the author of the most successful measure of private legislation in modern times—the Bank Holiday Act," Sir John's political career, as a whole, has been that of a consistent Liberal.

As a magistrate and country gentleman, Sir John Lubbock also takes an active part in most of the varied duties incumbent on an English landowner. He has contributed to political literature, though not so voluminously as to scientific, and he has taken an active part in measures to promote the extension and improvement of science-teaching in the schools. The amount of work that he has done could have been accomplished at his age only by means of the most indefatigable industry, and the most economical use of time. He has always been an early riser, and contrives, whenever it is possible, to get three or four hours' work in the morning before breakfast. His career is an example of what can be accomplished in a life well spent. No doubt, says a biographer, many adventitious advantages existed in his case, which poorer men do not possess. He had no anxiety as to bread; but, on the other hand, he does as much mechanical work every day as would entitle him to a very fair return for his labors. Moreover, the calls of his public position make inroads on his time, of which the man who is his own master, by reason of his living in the by-ways of the world, has little idea.

Sir John has received the appointment of the crown as a member of the Senate of the University of London, and has been for several years vice-chancellor of the same institution. He has also been a trustee of the British Museum, a member of the Public School Commission, a member of the International Monetary Commission, and a member of the Royal Commission for the Advancement of Science. In literary, scientific, and scholastic honors he is a Doctor of Civil Law of Oxford, an LL. D. of Dublin, a Fellow of the Royal, Linnæan, Geographical, Geological, and Antiquarian Societies; he has been President of the Ethnological Society, of its successor, the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, Vice-President of the Royal Society, Vice-President and President of the Linnæan Society, the principal English biological society; and Vice-President and President of the British Association, having been selected for the latter office to preside over the last (the jubilee) meeting of the association, at York.

Sir John Lubbock was married in 1856 to Miss Ellen Frances, daughter of the Rev. Peter Hordern, of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Lancashire, and has a family of three sons and three daughters. Lady Lubbock was a woman of considerable natural ability, and enjoyed the privilege of giving much encouragement and aid to her husband by the interest she took in all his pursuits. Her sympathies were also extended to her husband's friends, who are still able to remember the hospitable reception they used to meet at her hands. She contributed a paper on "The Shell-Mounds of Denmark" to the volume of "Vacation Journals" for 1862-63. She was a contributor to "Nature" from time to time, and wrote a few articles which appeared in a published form elsewhere. These works, however, "Nature" remarks, "would afford but a poor criterion of all that she has directly and indirectly done toward the advancement of natural science." She died in 1879.