Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/June 1873/A Scientific Home Missionary

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Professor Henslow.


JOHN STEPHENS HENSLOW is described as having been a beautiful boy with brown curling hair, a fine straight nose, a brilliant complexion, soft eyes, and a smile that reached everybody's heart. He was active, observant, and intelligent, a favorite partner at childish parties, and danced elegantly. This beautiful boyhood unfolded into a noble manhood, which took a turn so original and instructive, that we cannot do better than give some account of it to the readers of the Popular Science Monthly.

Young Henslow early developed a taste for the study of natural objects, and for making collections and experiments. His scientific future was symbolized by an adventure made while yet a child in a frock, and which consisted in dragging all the way home from a field, a considerable distance off, an enormous fungus which was dried and long preserved in the family. The lad had good blood and a good chance; his grandfather, Sir John Henslow, Chief Surveyor of the Navy, was a man of scientific attainments and much ingenuity; his mother was an accomplished woman, fond of natural history, and an assiduous collector of natural and artificial curiosities. His father had a great taste for birds, kept an extensive aviary, and had an ample library of natural history. The drawing-master at his school was a good entomologist and introduced the boy to some of the eminent naturalists of the day, who gave direction to his studies. He collected insects in the woods of Kent, and crustacea and shells from the bed of the Medway. many of his specimens were new and valuable, and found their way into the drawers of the British Museum. At the age of eighteen he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, and four years later took his degree of B. A. A year subsequently, in 1819, he accompanied Prof. Sedgwick to the Isle of Wight, where he took his first practical lessons in geology. He had been elected Fellow of the Linnæan Society in 1818, became a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1819, and made his first essay in authorship by a contribution to its proceedings in 1821, when twenty-five years of age. Mr. Henslow had paid much attention to mathematics in college, was a thorough student of mineralogy and chemistry, and took a leading part in founding the Cambridge Philosophical Society, in 1819. In 1822 he was elected Professor of Mineralogy in the Cambridge University. He was not an eloquent lecturer, but he had a good voice, and a remarkably clear way of expressing himself. He cultivated the art of explanation and adapting his language to the capacity of his hearers, and thus became one of the very best lecturers of the day. But the chair of Mineralogy was not what Prof. Henslow wanted. His favorite study was botany, and, a vacancy occurring in this professorship, Prof. Henslow was elected to the position in 1823. This science, and natural history generally, were in a low state in the university at that time. [2] His predecessor had held the professorship for sixty-three years, and was a very old man. In fact, there had been no lectures on botany given in Cambridge for at least thirty years. Prof. Henslow took hold of the work with great zeal, improved the Botanical Gardens, rearranged and extended the Botanical Museum, and established one of the most perfect collections of plants to be anywhere found. He made his lectures extremely interesting by always having large numbers of specimens on hand which the students were required to study directly. He often took his class on botanizing excursions, which tended greatly to rouse their interest in the subject. Entomologists and mineralogists often accompanied them, and Prof. Henslow's extensive acquaintance with all branches of natural history, and the delight he took in imparting information to all who sought it, served to kindle an enthusiasm which aided very much to raise the position of science in the university.

Prof. Henslow married in 1823. His parents had always been desirous that he should go into the Church, and, as the salary from his professorship was less than a thousand dollars a year, and insufficient to support his family, he took orders and accepted a curacy which yielded him some additional income. His engaging manners and sympathetic disposition, combined with his intellectual accomplishments, gave him great influence over the students, which was felt not only in directing their tastes and pursuits, but in the formation of character. As soon as he became settled in Cambridge as a married man, he instituted the practice of receiving at his own house, one evening in the week, all who took the slightest interest in scientific, and especially natural history studies. At these gatherings all might learn something, and every one went away pleased. He would seek out any of the students that were reported to him as attached to natural history, and made converts to his favorite science of not a few who were thrown accidentally in his way. If any young man through timidity or reserve shrank from going to the professor's house, the open-hearted welcome which he received soon inspired confidence and put him at his ease. There are many now among the first naturalists of England who were then students at Cambridge, and who gratefully acknowledge the encouragement and assistance they received from Prof. Henslow, and bear testimony to his rare excellences, both of head and heart. Among these is the now world-renowned naturalist Mr. Charles Darwin, who furnished to Prof. Henslow's biographer the following reminiscences, which will interest the reader as well on account of the writer as of their subject. Mr. Darwin says:

"I went to Cambridge early in the year 1828, and soon became acquainted, through some of my brother entomologists, with Prof. Henslow, for all who cared for any branch of natural history were equally encouraged by him. Nothing could be more simple, cordial, and unpretending, than the encouragement which ho afforded to all young naturalists. I soon became intimate with him, for he had a remarkable power of making the young feel completely at ease with him; though we were all awe-struck with the amount of his knowledge. Before I saw him, I heard one young man sum up his attainments by simply saying that he knew every thing. When I reflect how immediately we felt at perfect ease with a man older and in every way so immensely our superior, I think it was as much owing to the transparent sincerity of his character, as to his kindness of heart; and, perhaps, even still more to a highly-remarkable absence in him of all self-consciousness. One perceived at once that he never thought of his own varied knowledge or clear intellect, but solely on the subject in hand. Another charm, which must have struck every one, was that his manner to old and distinguished persons and to the youngest student was exactly the same: to all he showed the same winning courtesy. He would receive with interest the most trifling observation in any branch of natural history; and, however absurd a blunder one might make, he pointed it out so clearly and kindly, that one left him no way disheartened, but only determined to be more accurate the next time. In short, no man could be better formed to win the entire confidence of the young, and to encourage them in their pursuits.

"His lectures on botany were universally popular, and as clear as daylight. So popular were they, that several of the older members of the university attended successive courses. Once every week he kept open house in the evening, and all who had cared for natural history attended these parties, which, by thus favoring intercommunication, did the same good in Cambridge, in a very pleasant manner, as the scientific societies do in London. At these parties many of the most distinguished members of the university occasionally attended; and, when only a few were present, I have listened to the great men of those days, conversing on all sorts of subjects, with the most varied and brilliant powers. This was no small advantage to some of the younger men, as it stimulated their mental activity and ambition. Two or three times in each session he took excursions with his botanical class; either a long walk to the habitat of some rare plant, or in a barge down the river to the fens, or in coaches to some more distant place, as to Gamlingay, to see the wild-lily of the valley, and to catch on the heath the rare natter-jack. These excursions have left a delightful impression on my mind. He was, on such occasions, in as good spirits as a boy, and laughed as heartily as a boy at the misadventures of those who chased the splendid swallow-tail butterflies across the broken and treacherous fens. He used to pause every now and then, and lecture on some plant or other object; and something he could tell us on every insect, shell, or fossil collected, for he had attended to every branch of natural history. After our day's work we used to dine at some inn or house, and most jovial we then were. I believe all who joined these excursions will agree with me that they have left an enduring impression of delight on our minds.

"As time passed on at Cambridge, I became very intimate with Prof. Henslow, and his kindness was unbounded. He continually asked me to his house, and allowed me to accompany him in his walks. He talked on all subjects, including his deep sense of religion, and was entirely open. I owe more than I can express to this excellent man. His kindness was steady. When Captain

Fitzroy offered to give up part of his own cabin to any naturalist who would join in the expedition in H. M. S. Beagle, Prof. Henslow recommended me as one who knew very little, but who, he thought, would work. I was strongly attached to natural history, and this attachment I owed, in large part, to him. During the five years' voyage, he regularly corresponded with me, and guided my efforts. He received, opened, and took care of all the specimens sent home in many large boxes; but I firmly believe that, during these five years, it never once crossed his mind that he was acting toward me with unusual and generous kindness.

"During the years when I associated so much with Prof. Henslow, I never once saw his temper even ruffled. He never took an ill-natured view of any one's character, though very far from blind to the foibles of others. It always struck me that his mind could not be even touched by any paltry feeling of vanity, envy, or jealousy. With all this equability of temper and remarkable benevolence, there was no insipidity of character. A man must have been blind not to have perceived that beneath this placid exterior there was a vigorous and determined will. When principle came into play, no power on earth could have turned him one hair's-breadth.

"After the year 1842, when I left London, I saw Prof. Henslow only at long intervals; but, to the last, he continued in all respects the same man. I think he cared somewhat less about science, and more for his parishioners. When speaking of his allotments, his parish children, and plans of amusing and instructing them, he would always kindle up with interest and enjoyment. I remember one trifling fact which seemed to me highly characteristic of the man: In one of the bad years for the potato, I asked him how his crop had fared, but, after a little talk, I perceived that, in fact, he knew nothing about his own pototoes, but seemed to know exactly what sort of crop there was in the garden of almost every poor man in his parish.

"In intellect, as far as I could judge, accurate powers of observation, sound sense, and cautious judgment, seemed predominant. Nothing seemed to give him so much enjoyment as drawing conclusions from minute observations. But his admirable memoir on the geology of Anglesea shows his capacity for extended observations and broad views. Reflecting over his character with gratitude and reverence, his moral attributes rise, as they should do in the highest character, in preëminence over his intellect.

C. Darwin."

The moral heroism, here testified to by Mr. Darwin, was an eminent trait of Prof. Henslow's character, and a key to his career; but there was one instance of it, in Cambridge, which may be mentioned in passing. In politics, Prof. Henslow was originally a Conservative or Tory. Lord Palmerston had long represented the university on the same side. But when the Duke of Wellington, who was at the head of the government, declared against reform in any shape whatever, there came a revolution which overthrew his administration, and Lord Palmerston went over to the Liberal side and joined the reformed ministry. Prof. Henslow, like many others, fell in with the movement, and, of course, made himself obnoxious to the charge of being a "turn-coat." He did not flinch from these attacks, and was at any moment ready to do his duty regardless of popular reprobation, and he soon had an opportunity of incurring it. In the borough election of 1835, the "Tory agents" had notoriously resorted to bribery. The Liberals wanted to bring the offenders into court, but no one would incur the odium of "informing" against them. Under these circumstances Prof. Henslow readily offered himself as the nominal prosecutor. The storm of abuse and persecution that broke upon him for this is still well remembered in Cambridge. His biographer remarks: "Not only was the cry raised of 'Henslow, common informer!' whenever he appeared in the streets, but the same obnoxious words were placarded upon the walls in such large and enduring characters, that, even to this day (1861), more than a quarter of a century after the transaction, they are still distinctly legible in some places. They were seen, and smilingly pointed out to a friend, by the professor himself, within a year of his death, and I have, since his death, seen and read them myself. His services were, however, deeply appreciated at the time, for he received three handsome testimonials: one from the town of Cambridge; another from the town committee for the suppression of corruption; and the third from a committee of noblemen and gentlemen." The rule that Prof. Henslow laid down for the guidance of conduct in such circumstances, and which he rigorously conformed to himself, was expressed in the following noble words: "I would have every Tory consistent, and every Radical consistent, and every Whig consistent, until either of them shall have become convinced that he has been in error, and then I would have him change his politics, regardless of every risk, and despising the shame which the world will heap upon him. But what I would have every man strive to possess is 'moral courage,' sufficient to declare his own opinions unhesitatingly in the face of the world, and adequate to maintain them unflinchingly against all influence whatever."

The position of Prof. Henslow at Cambridge was every thing that would satisfy the usual ambition of a man of science. He was profoundly appreciated in the institution, he was beloved by the students, and he had given a new life to the class of studies to which he was devoted. Yet all this did not satisfy him, and he seized the first opportunity to leave Cambridge, and enter a field of labor of a very different kind, and for which, as the result proved, he was remarkably endowed. As his talents and high character became known, the Government sought his influence for some of the responsible trusts in its gift, and it was in contemplation to offer him the See of Norwich. It is a terrible temptation in England to get the place of bishop, and while many sigh, labor, and intrigue for it, those who decline it when offered are exceedingly few. Prof. Henslow, when he heard of the danger, fled to his chamber, and prayed fervently to be delivered from the temptation. His prayers were answered, and, instead of the bishopric, he received the crown living of the parish of Hitcham, with an income of a thousand pounds a year. The place is in Suffolk, not far from Cambridge, and he entered upon the charge of it in 1837. His first intention was to continue his relation with the university, and divide his work between Cambridge and Hitcham; but, finding that the duties of the latter place did not permit his absence, he took up his residence there in 1839. How different was the sphere of exertion upon which he had now entered will be apparent when we glance at the condition of the inhabitants of the parish when he first went among them.

The village of Hitcham consisted of one long, straggling street, and the parish contained rather more than a thousand persons, scattered over some 4,000 acres of land. The property of the parish was assessed at $30,000 a year, yet there was only a dame-school in the place. The unemployed and vagabond laborers were so numerous that the poor-rate in 1834 amounted to $5,000—equal, it was said, to over $6 for each man, woman, and child, in the village. The people were sunk to almost the lowest depths of moral and physical debasement. Ignorance, crime, and vice were rife, and the worst characters were addicted to poaching, sheep-stealing, drunkenness, and all kinds of immorality. The less vicious were more fond of idleness than work, and lolled about the road-sides, dead to all sense of moral shame, so long as they could live at the parish expense. Parish relief or charity was not unfrequently levied by bands of forty or fifty able-bodied laborers who had been in the habit of intimidating the previous rector into instant compliance with their demands. The houses of the poor were described as having been many of them little better than hovels, in which the common decencies of life could hardly be carried out. The church was almost empty on Sunday, and but little respect was paid to its ordinances. The previous rector had been satisfied with discharging his usual Sunday duties, and left the people to themselves during the week.

Such was the field which Prof. Henslow left Cambridge to cultivate. He went there as a missionary, to reclaim it from inveterate heathenism, which still passed under a Christian name. His difficulties were of the most formidable kind, and he had to grapple with them single-handed, for there were no influential persons in the parish either to coöperate in his work, or to encourage him in pursuing it. The parties with whom he had to deal were the farmers who rented the land from the landlords, and the laborers whom the farmers employed. The farmers are represented as having been intellectually raised but little above their laborers, as ignorant, obstinate, and prejudiced, and they doggedly opposed the new rector in all his schemes, and threw every possible obstacle in his way. But he was not a man to flinch from what he had undertaken, and, coolly estimating the difficulties of the situation, he set himself to work to reclaim his flock from their degradation, to industry, sobriety, independence, and self-respect. It was obvious enough that the inculcation of moral and religious lessons would have been utterly lost upon them—would have been like throwing pearls before swine—because men must be civilized before they can be effectually Christianized. Prof. Henslow therefore commenced by gaining the confidence of those whom he wished to influence, and to do this he had to adapt himself to them, and utilize whatever forces he could find available. He began by amusing them. He got up a cricket club, and encouraged various manly games. He introduced ploughing-matches, and competitive exhibitions. His acquaintance with chemistry enabled him to construct fireworks, which he would let off upon the rectory lawn, and which were a great attraction to the people. He brought out various natural and artificial curiosities, which were at first vacantly stared at, but, with his extraordinary faculty of adapting his language and illustrations to the commonest capacity, he gradually kindled an interest in the minds of many which grew into a desire to learn. Other recreations and incitements followed, which will be presently referred to. Prof. Henslow resorted to many measures of amelioration and improvement, and carried them all along together; but, in our brief sketch of his labors, we must consider them separately; and we will take up first what he did for the laborers, next for the farmers, and lastly, what he accomplished for the education of the children:

One of the first evils which he attacked was the degradation and dependence of the laborers. The Hitcham farmers held their men in brutal subjection, viewing them as little better than slaves, for whose concern they felt no interest. They were, therefore, the enemies of every measure for the improvement of the laboring-class. Prof. Henslow considered the lack of an independent home as one of the great barriers to the elevation of the working-men, and he therefore urged the adoption of the "allotment system," by which the laborers might become the owners or tenants of small pieces of ground, to be cultivated by themselves for their own benefit. This encountered the fiercest opposition from the farmers, and led to a long and determined struggle. All sorts of objections were raised. It was said the laborers would steal the farmers' seed to sow their own ground; they would give their masters slack work in order to reserve their strength for their own patches at the end of the day. But the worst difficulty was the profound class or caste spirit which pervades English society, and which impelled the farmers to fight the change, because it would raise the laborer, and bring him one step nearer to themselves. It was in 1845 that Prof. Henslow made his first public appeal upon this subject, in which he pointed out the many advantages that would result from the allotment system to the laboring-class. He urged the reform energetically, and initiated it by granting portions of his own land for the purpose. He pushed the project until he had got fifty more of one-quarter of an acre each. The farmers here made a stand, and determined to crush the whole system. They went into coöperation, and gave mutual pledges that they would "refuse all employment and show no favor to any day-laborer who should hold an allotment." The storm raged about the rector, who persevered without losing either his patience or his temper. He denounced the selfish action of the farmers, and gave them to understand that he would submit to no dictation, and was determined to carry out his intentions. Fortunately, his salary and position did not depend upon them, as they would quickly have dismissed him; but, finding that the rector's purpose was not to be shaken, their opposition at length abated. The measure was extended, and the most salutary consequences followed in the general conduct of the people. Many instances were known in which "an allotment has been the means of reclaiming the criminal, reforming the dissolute, and of changing the whole moral character and conduct." At the time of Prof. Henslow's death the allotments in his parish amounted to nearly 150 in number, and their advantages were no longer denied.

Nor did Prof. Henslow encounter much less difficulty in his efforts to improve the condition of the farmers themselves. A good chemist, botanist, and geologist, and a close student of scientific agriculture, he was prepared to help the agriculturists with applied and available knowledge, yet they strenuously resisted his efforts to teach them. But he was not to be baffled in his exertions. He took up the practical subject of the economy of fertilizers, in a series of popular letters to a country newspaper, and treated it with such familiarity and skill as to arrest the attention of the farmers. He spoke to them in the farmers' club upon the same subject, and the address, together with the letters, was printed and widely distributed. Having at length aroused their attention, he pressed them into the work of testing the proposed views, by observations and experiments of their own. The relative value of different kinds of organic and inorganic manures, their adaptation to special crops, how they should be applied, and the extent to which manure-heaps should be allowed to ferment and decompose, were open questions, and he showed the farmers that they were the parties to settle them. Liebig had suggested the addition of gypsum to the manure-heap, to fix the ammonia, and Henslow suggested that the farmers of Suffolk should try the experiment; and, to get as many enlisted as possible, he circulated printed forms to be filled up by the experimenters with the results to which they might arrive. But few at first responded to the call, and all kinds of objections were urged; but at length 69 farmers sent in applications for the printed forms, and consented to undertake the experiments. The result of these efforts was the stirring up of the farmers to a more methodical and scientific way of conducting their agricultural operations. Prof. Henslow did not expect to make them philosophers, but to make them think, and to do something toward converting the art of husbandry into the science of agriculture; and he received many communications which showed that his letters and lectures had exerted a wide and wholesome influence.

It was in connection with these efforts to aid the farmers that Prof. Henslow made the memorable discovery of the agricultural value of the so-called coprolites, or phosphatic nodules, found in the red crag at Felixstowe, in Suffolk. They were shown to contain 56 per cent. of phosphate of lime, and therefore to be capable of replacing bones in fertilization. He called attention to the similar concretions abundantly distributed in the upper greensand of Cambridgeshire, which were even richer in phosphate, and which have since yielded immense profits both to the proprietors of the pits and the farmers who used the product.

Prof. Henslow had paid much attention to entomology; and his knowledge of plants, and the parasitic insects which infest them and destroy the crops, enabled him to instruct the farmers upon this subject. He closely investigated the diseases of wheat, potatoes, and clover, and diffused the results of his inquiries in lectures, tracts, and newspaper correspondence.

As he lived in an agricultural community, in which all were interested in farm products and processes, Prof. Henslow resorted to other means of quickening the general interest in these matters, and of enlisting the sympathy of laborers as well as farmers. For this purpose he instituted horticultural shows, at which there was a distribution of prizes for such products as wheat, fruit, flowers, vegetables, and honey, and sometimes for works of mechanical ingenuity calculated to encourage the laborers to spend their long winter evenings profitably. There were two of these shows in each season, in July and September. They began in 1850, and were kept up until the time of his death. Tents were pitched for receiving the productions of the cottagers' gardens, and the allotment-tenants received premiums for the best management of their pieces of ground. Besides the tents for the more special purposes of the show, there was always one assigned to a miscellaneous collection of specimens in natural history—animals, birds, reptiles, insects' nests, etc., with various specimens from the domestic arts and antiquities. This the professor called his "Marquee Museum." On one occasion the dimensions of the trunk of the great mammoth tree (Wellingtonia) were traced out on the lawn with a diagram, showing its size in comparison with other trees. There was much to gratify the eye; but sight-seeing is always wearisome, and Prof. Henslow alleviated the routine of the day, and gave an intellectual turn to the proceedings, by summoning as many of the company as chose to come to the museum, and delivering to them little lectures, or "lecturets," as he termed them. He would talk to the women about textile fabrics or domestic operations, and to the different groups on processes of manufacture, or local specimens of natural history, or the diseases of vegetation. Nor were amusements neglected; swings and poles were set up for gymnastic exercises, and foot-ball and other games were encouraged on the grounds. The scene was one of entertainment and instruction, and promotive of good feeling on the part of all who participated in it. The influence of these exhibitions was so beneficial, and became so well known, that large numbers flocked to them from a distance, and similar shows were got up in other places.

One of the schemes devised by Prof. Henslow for alleviating the hard, monotonous life of the laboring population, and combining recreation with improvement, was the arrangement of excursions to neighboring places of interest. Knowing that those who always stay at home are apt to become narrow and prejudiced, he sought to afford them the opportunity of observing the ways and habits of other places, and to open to them not merely agreeable sights, but sources of knowledge from which they had been previously shut out. From one to two hundred persons usually accompanied him, and his preparations for these excursions were always very methodical; for he aimed to combine moral discipline with healthful amusement. A "recreation fund" was raised, and the poor always contributed something toward the expenses. Tickets were issued, limiting the number of those attending, and printed circulars were sometimes prepared with plans of the route, regulations for the party, and often copious notes concerning the place and objects to be visited. An eleven-page pocket-guide was got up on one occasion for the use of the visitors at Cambridge, giving an account of the colleges, museums, and libraries of the university. Sometimes they went to the neighboring towns, to manufacturing' places, or to the sea-shore. But the professor was always ready with his interesting "lecturets" to explain every thing to his flock of eager listeners. The impression left by these holiday excursions upon the minds and hearts of the simple laborers was most gratifying, and, as one of them remarked to Prof. Henslow, "Our heads would not be so full of drink if we had such things to occupy our minds."

The task which Prof. Henslow had undertaken was one of immediate and practical social amelioration, and this compelled him to grapple with the adult ignorance and the indurated prejudices of the community. But he did not forget the children. When he went to Hitcham, there was but a single, very poor school in the parish, but he lost no time in establishing a better one. Meeting with but little support from his parishioners, he had to bear the greater part of the expense himself in the erection of a school-house and the payment of a teacher. He had to deal with the children of an ignorant and stolid peasantry, yet he brought his scientific resources to bear upon them with such success that his humble parish-school acquired a national reputation, was visited by people from all parts of the country, and was inquired into by Parliament when settling the policy of its public schools.

Prof. Henslow struck boldly out from the traditional method, and did a thing unheard of in England, which was, to introduce his favorite science of botany into a school for the children of the lowest classes. Prof. Henslow's object was to break in upon the slavish and stupefying routine of the schoolroom, and to substitute, for the endless drudgery of mere lesson-learning from books, the exercise of the childish faculties upon Nature itself. His object was to awaken the mind to spontaneous action, to open the observant faculties, and expand the reasoning powers, rather than to impart second-hand knowledge, and to load the memory with the contents of books. And this he succeeded in doing. He introduced a study which excited their interest, and "furnished them with innocent and rational amusement in those leisure hours which so many servants and poor idly throw away when their required work is done;" which "tends to raise their thoughts to the contemplation of the Creator, and to make them mindful as well as observant of that infinite wisdom and goodness of which they see everywhere around them such abundant proofs," and which, moreover, taught them the use of their minds in inquiring, comparing, judging, and thinking for themselves.

It is to be observed that Prof. Henslow did not, by any means, undertake to establish a botanical school; in fact, but a very small portion of the time was given to the subject. His habit was to attend the school regularly every Monday afternoon, for the purpose of giving a lesson in botany from an hour and a half to two hours in length, the main work of the pupils being by themselves and out of school. The pupils varied in age from eight to eighteen, and the class was limited to 42 in number. Into the details of his teaching we have no space here to enter. The whole essence and value of it consisted in the regular and constant study of plants themselves. The pupils ranged the woods and fields of Hitcham for specimens, and their work consisted in dissecting, analyzing, and classifying them. The class was graded; the older pupils became teachers, and the younger were promoted as they became proficient in their work. The children made herbariums of dried plants, and one pupil-teacher "actually collected in rural strolls, and afterward dried and correctly named, more than 250 specimens of plants." The children brought their botanical acquirements to bear to enrich the horticultural show, to which reference has been made. They brought their dried collections and fresh, wild-flower nosegays, and competed for the prizes offered for the largest collections, the most tasteful arrangements, and the most accurate descriptions. In 1858, at the July show, 50 children competed for the "wild-flower nosegay," and 26 received prizes.

It is almost superfluous to say that this invaluable experiment in education was not an example of "compulsory education." Compulsion implies resistance; a resort to brute force, when higher forces fail, or are not tried. But the coercive system forces the question upon us, Is anybody fit to teach who cannot wield the higher agencies of control? Should not the very first qualification of a teacher of the young be a love of children? This, at all events, was a prime qualification of Prof. Henslow. His biographer says: "He had a playful way with children, which won their affections, as well as their attention to what he was teaching them, and which was one secret of their success. He would always speak kindly to them, and encourage them in their different little ways. All who competed for the wild-flower nosegay prizes, though they did not succeed in getting a prize, were allowed a pinch of 'white snuff,' as he jokingly called it, or sugar-plums. He generally had a snuffbox full of these sugar-plums in his pocket when he went into the village, offering a pinch to any of the little children whom he happened to meet." Of course, his botanical pupils were all volunteers. They entered with spirit into their work, took it home with them, pursued it in their rambles, recurred to it in hours of play, compared notes among themselves, and needed no "compulsion." How eager was their delight, was shown by their grief whenever the lessons were interrupted. In a public address, Prof. Henslow said: "No one who had heard the lamentations uttered upon my announcing, at our last lesson before Easter, the necessity of six weeks' absence at Cambridge duties, could possibly have doubted the great interest the children took in these exercises."

As to the educational value of this teaching, although it occupied but a small fraction of regular school-time, it was of the highest importance. It was not merely that the children got a knowledge of botany, but that they mastered its rudiments in such a way as to gain the most important intellectual benefits. There is plenty of unmistakable evidence upon this point; we have space only for an extract from the cautious statement of one of her Majesty's inspectors of schools, who says: "That the botanical lessons, as handled by the professor in his own national school, did draw largely upon the intelligent powers of his little pupils' minds, there can be no question. The simple system to which he had reduced his plan of making the children break up the various specimens into their component parts, arrange those parts, observe their characters and relations to each other, and thence arrive at conclusions for themselves, was very far from being the mechanical process which many, before witnessing it, might have supposed 'botany in the national schools' to represent. And I think it is not at all unfair to say that these children, who, out of school, were (as I had many opportunities of judging) much more conversable than the generality of children in rural parishes, owed a considerable share of the general development of their minds to the botanical lessons and the self-exercise connected with them."

Prof. Henslow's method of teaching botany to the young was one of his great successes, and is a permanent contribution to education. He commenced a little book embodying the plan, but did not live to finish it; and he got along with printed lists, forms, and schedules, all being directed by his lectures and by his constant supervision of the plant-studies of his pupils. The fame of his success went abroad, and he was solicited to lecture in many places, and to assist in organizing the botanical work in various schools and colleges. Like Faraday, he was invited by Prince Albert to lecture to the royal children, whom he interested in the same way that he had done the pupils of his Hitcham classes.

Other points of great interest in Prof. Henslow's career and character we should be glad to dwell upon, but our sketch is already overdone. Sufficient, however, has been said to show how science may increase the usefulness of a clergyman, and prepare the way for his higher work and that higher work—was not neglected by Prof. Henslow. He not only labored hard and perseveringly for the temporal good of his parishioners, but he discharged toward them with fidelity the duties of a Christian minister. In the twenty-four years of his residence at Hitcham there was a period of twelve years when he was not absent from the parish on a single Sunday. The secret of so much varied work was a strong constitution, unremitting industry, and strict method in the disposal of his time. But the strongest constitutions have their limits, and a false security tends to their being often overpassed. Prof. Henslow was under a constant strain, and the illness that terminated his life was probably brought on by his "incessant mental and manual labor." He passed away May 14, 1861, and his loss was deeply felt in the world of science, in his university, and in the parish to which he had devoted so much of his unselfish life.

  1. The subject of the present sketch, who became an eminent clergyman, botanical professor, and scientific philanthropist, was born in Kent, England, in 1796. For the principal facts of the present article we are indebted to his biography by Rev. Leonard Jenyns, Henslow's brother-in-law, published by Van Voorst, of London, and we have made free use of his statements.—Ed.
  2. "In a low state," the reader must remember, not merely from neglect, but from hostility on the part of the classicists and mathematicians who had possession of the establishment. Even years afterward, when, mainly under Prof. Henslow's influence, natural history studies began to receive attention, Edward Forbes spent a couple of days in Cambridge and wrote: "I was greatly pleased with my visit, except in one thing—to find that natural history is discouraged as much as possible, and regarded as idle trifling by the thousand-and-one mathematicians of that venerated university." It was a life-long struggle of Prof. Henslow to raise natural history to a coördinate place with other subjects of university study, and it was but a short time before his death, in 1861, that he saw the triumph of his efforts. Degrees were then first granted to those who had obtained "honors" in natural history studies.