Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

John Tyndall

In my little book on Faraday, published in Eighteen Hundred Sixty-eight, I have stated that he had but to will it to raise his income, in Eighteen Hundred Thirty-two, to five thousand pounds a year. In Eighteen Hundred Thirty-six, the sum might have been doubled. Yet this son of a blacksmith, this journeyman book-binder, with his proud, sensitive soul, rejecting the splendid opportunities open to him--refusing even to think them splendid in presence of higher aims--cheerfully accepted from the Trinity House a pittance of two hundred pounds a year.

--John Tyndall


Tyndall was of high descent and lowly birth. His father was a member of the Irish Constabulary, and there were intervals when the boy's mother took in washing. But back of this the constable swore i' faith, when the ale was right, that he was descended from an Irish King, and probably this is true, for most Irishmen are, and acknowledge it themselves.

The father of our Tyndall spelled his name Tyndale, and traced a direct relationship to William Tyndale, who declared he would place a copy of the English Bible in the hands of every plowboy in the British Isles, and pretty nearly made good his vow. William Tyndale paid for his privileges, however. He was arrested, given an opportunity to run away, but wouldn't; then he was exiled. Finally he was incarcerated in a dungeon of the Castle Vilvoorden.

His cell was beneath the level of the ground, so was cold and damp and dark. He petitioned the governor of the prison for a coat to keep him warm and a candle by which he could read. "We'll give you both light and heat, pretty soon," was the reply.

And they did. They led Tyndale out under the blue sky and tied him to a stake set in the ground. Around his feet they piled brush, and also all of his books and papers that they could find.

A chain was put around his neck and hooked tight to the post. Then the fagots were piled high, and the fire was lighted.

"He was not burned to death," argued one of the priests who was present; "he was not burned to death. He just drew up his feet and hanged himself in the chain, and so was choked: he was that stubborn!" The father of John Tyndall was an Orangeman and had in a glass case a bit of the flag carried at the Battle of the Boyne.

It is believed, with reason, that the original flag had in it about ten thousand square yards of material. Tyndale the Orangeman was of so uncompromising a type that he occasionally arrested Catholics on general principles, like the Irishman who beat the Jew under the mistaken idea that he had something to do with crucifying "Our Savior." "But that was two thousand years ago," protested the Jew. "Niver moind; I just heard av it--take that and that!"

Zeal not wisely directed is a true Irish trait. It will not do to say that the Irish have a monopoly on stupidity, yet there have been times when I thought they nearly cornered the market. I once had charge of a gang of green Irishmen at a lumber-camp.

I started a night-school for their benefit, as their schooling had stopped at subtraction. One evening they got it into their heads that I was an atheist. Things began to come my way. I concluded discretion was the better part of valor, and so took to the woods, literally. They followed me for a mile, and then gave up the chase. On the way home they met a man who spoke ill of me, and they fell upon him and nearly pounded his life out.

I never had to lick any of my gang: they looked after this themselves. On pay-nights they all got drunk and fell upon each other--broken noses and black eyes were quite popular. Father Driscoll used to come around nearly every month and have them all sign the pledge.

That story about the Irishman who ate the rind of the watermelon "and threw the inside away," is true. That is just what the Irish do. Very often they are not able to distinguish good from bad, kindness from wrong, love from hate. Ireland has all the freedom she can use or deserves, just as we all have. What would Ireland do with freedom if she had it? Hate for England keeps peace at home. Home rule would mean home rough-house--and a most beautiful argument it would be, enforced with shillalah logic. The spirit of Donnybrook Fair is there today as much as ever, and wherever you see a head, hit it, would be home rule. Donnybrook is a condition of mind.

If England really had a grudge against Ireland and wanted to get even, she could not do better than to set her adrift.

But then the Irish impulsiveness sometimes leads to good, else how could we account for such men as O'Connor, Parnell, John Tyndall, Burke, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Arthur Wellesley and all the other Irish poets, orators and thinkers who have made us vibrate with our kind?

Transplanted weeds produce our finest flowers.

The parents of Tyndall were intent on giving their boy an education. And to them, the act of committing things to memory was education. William Tyndale gave the Bible to the people; John Tyndall would force it upon them. The "Book of Martyrs," the sermons of Jeremy Taylor, and the Bible, little John came to know by heart. And he grew to have a fine distaste for all. Once, when nearly a man grown, he had the temerity to argue with his father that the Bible might be better appreciated, if a penalty were not placed upon disbelief in its divine origin. A cuff on the ear was the answer, and John was given until sundown to apologize. He did not apologize.

And young Tyndale then vowed he would change his name to Tyndall and forever separate himself from a person whose religion was so largely mixed with brutality. But yet John Tyndale was not a bad man. He had intellect far above the average of his neighbors. He had the courage of his convictions. His son had the courage of his lack of convictions.

And the early drilling in the Bible was a good thing for young Tyndall. Bible legend and allusion color the English language, and any man who does not know his Bible well, can never hope to speak or write English with grace and fluency. Tyndall always knew and acknowledged his indebtedness to his parents, and he also knew that his salvation depended upon getting away from and beyond the narrow confines of their beliefs and habits. Because a thing helps you in a certain period of your education is no reason why you should feed upon it forevermore.

This way lies arrested development.

Life, like heat, is a mode of motion, and progress consists in discarding a good thing as soon as you have found a better.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Occasionally Herbert Spencer used to spend a Sunday afternoon with the Carlyles at their modest home in Chelsea. At such times Jeannie Welsh would usually manage to pilot the conversational craft along smooth waters; but if she were not present, hot arguments would follow, and finally a point would be reached where Carlyle and Spencer would simply sit and glare at each other.

"After such scenes I always thought less of two persons, Carlyle and myself," said Spencer; "and so for many years I very cautiously avoided Cheyne Row." Then there was another man Spencer avoided, although for a different reason; this individual was John Tyndall.

On the death of Tyndall, Spencer wrote:

"There has just died the greatest teacher of modern times: a man who stimulated thought in old and young, every one he met, as no one else I ever knew did. Once we went together for a much-needed rest to the Lake District. Gossip, which has its advantages in that it can be carried on with no tax on one's intellectual powers, had no part in our conversation. The discussion of great themes began at once wherever Tyndall was.

"The atmosphere of the man was intensely stimulating: everybody seemed to become great and wise and good in his presence.

"We walked on the shores of Windermere, climbed Rydal Mount, rowed across Lake Grasmere (leaving our names on the visitors' list), and all the time we dwelt upon high Olympus and talked.

"But, alas! Tyndall's vivacity undid me: two days of his company, with two sleepless nights, and I fled him as I would a pestilence."

But Carlyle growled out one thing in Spencer's presence which Spencer often quoted. "If I had my own way," said Carlyle, "I would send the sons of poor men to college, and the sons of rich men I would set to work."

Manual labor in right proportion means mental development. Too much hoe may slant the brow, but hoe in proper proportion develops the cerebellum.

In the past we have had one set of men do all the work, and another set had all the culture: one hoes and another thirsts. There are whole areas of brain-cells which are evolved only through the efforts of hand and eye, for it is the mind at last that directs all our energies. The development of brain and body go together--manual work is brain-work. Too much brain-work is just as bad as too much toil; the misuse of the pen carries just as severe a penalty as the misuse of the hoe. And it is a great satisfaction to realize that the thinking world has reached a point where these propositions do not have to be proven.

There was a time when Spencer regretted that he had not been sent to college, instead of being set to work. But later he came to regard his experience as a practical engineer and surveyor as a very precious and necessary part of his education.

John Tyndall and Alfred Russel Wallace had an experience almost identical. In childhood John attended the village school for six months of the year, and the rest of the time helped his parents, as children of poor people do. When nineteen he went to work carrying a chain in a surveying corps. Steady attention to the business in hand brought its sure reward, and in a few years he had charge of the squad, and was given the duty of making maps and working out complex calculations in engineering.

In mathematics he especially excelled. Five years in the employ of the Irish Ordnance Survey and three years in practical railroad-building, and Tyndall got the Socialistic bee in his bonnet. He resigned a good position to take part in bringing about the millennium.

That he helped the old world along toward the ideal there is no doubt; but Tyndall is dead and Jerusalem is not yet. When the rule of the barons was broken, and the stage of individualism or competition was ushered in, men said, "Lo! The time is at hand and now is." But it was not. Socialism is coming, by slow degrees, imperceptibly almost as the growing of Spring flowers that push their way from the damp, dark earth into the sunlight. And after Socialism, what? Perhaps the millennium will still be a long way off.

In Eighteen Hundred Forty-seven, when Tyndall was twenty-seven years old, Robert Owen, one of the greatest practical men the world has ever seen, cried aloud, "The time is at hand!"

Owen was an enthusiast: all great men are. He had risen from the ranks by the absolute force of his great untiring, restless and loving spirit. From a day laborer in a cotton-mill he had become principal owner of a plant that supported five thousand people.

Owen saw the difference between joyless labor and joyful work. His mills were cleanly, orderly, sanitary, and surrounded with lawns, trees and shrubbery. He was the first man in England to establish kindergartens, and this he did at his own expense for the benefit of his helpers. He established libraries, clubs, swimming-pools, night-schools, lecture-courses. And all this time his business prospered.

To the average man it is a miracle how any one individual could bear the heaviest business burdens and still do what Robert Owen did.

Robert Owen had vitality plus: he was a gourmet for work. William Morris was just such a man, only with a bias for art; but both Owen and Morris had the intensity and impetus which get the thing done while common folks are thinking about it.

Owen was familiar with every detail of his vast business, and he was an expert in finance. Like Napoleon he said: "The finances? I will arrange them."

Robert Owen erected schoolhouses, laid out gardens, built mills, constructed tenements, traveled, lectured, and wrote books. His enthusiasm was contagious. He was never sick--he could not spare the time--and a doctor once said, "If Robert Owen ever dies, it will be through too much Robert Owen."

Owen went over to Dublin on one of his tours, and lectured on the ideal life, which to him was Socialism, "each for all and all for each."

Fourier, the dreamer, supplied a good deal of the argument, but Robert Owen did the thing. Socialism always catches these two classes, doers and dreamers, workers and drones, honest men and rogues, those with a desire to give and those with a lust to get.

Among others who heard Owen speak at Dublin was the young Irish engineer, John Tyndall. Tyndall was the type of man that must be common before we can have Socialism. There was not a lazy hair in his head; aye, nor a selfish one, either. He had a tender heart, a receptive brain and the spirit of obedience, the spirit that gives all without counting the cost, the spirit that harkens to the God within. And need I say that the person who gives all, gets all! The economics of God are very simple: We receive only that which we give. The only love we keep is the love we give away.

These are very old truths--I did not discover nor invent them--they are not covered by copyright: "Cast thy bread upon the waters."

John Tyndall was melted by Owen's passionate appeal of each for all and all for each. To live for humanity seemed the one desirable thing. His loving Irish heart was melted. He sought Owen out at his hotel, and they talked, talked till three o'clock in the morning.

Owen was a judge of men; his success depended upon this one thing, as that of every successful business must. He saw that Tyndall was a rare soul and nearly fulfilled his definition of a gentleman. Tyndall had hope, faith and splendid courage; but best of all, he had that hunger for truth which classes him forever among the sacred few.

During his work out of doors on surveying trips he had studied the strata; gotten on good terms with birds, bugs and bees; he knew the flowers and weeds, and loved all the animate things of Nature, so that he recognized their kinship to himself, and he hesitated to kill or destroy.

Education is a matter of desire, and a man like Tyndall is getting an education wherever he is. All is grist that comes to his mill.

Robert Owen had but recently started "Queenswood College" in Hampshire, and nothing would do but Tyndall should go there as a teacher of science.

"Is he a skilled and educated teacher?" some one asked Owen. "Better than that," replied Owen; "he is a regular firebrand of enthusiasm."

And so Tyndall resigned his position with the railroad and moved over to England, taking up his home at "Harmony Hall."

Harmony Hall was a beautiful brick building with the letters C. M. carved on the cornerstone in recognition of the Commencement of the Millennium. The pupils were mostly workers in the Owen mills who had shown some special aptitude for education. The pupils and teachers all worked at manual labor a certain number of hours daily. There was a delightful feeling of comradeship about the institution. Tyndall was happy in his work.

He gave lectures on everything, and taught the things that no one else could teach, and of course he got more out of the lessons than any of the scholars.

But after a few months' experience with the ideal life, Tyndall had commonsense enough to see that Harmony Hall, instead of being the spontaneous expression of the people who shared its blessings, was really a charity maintained by one Robert Owen. It was a beneficent autocracy, a sample of one-man power, beautifully expressed.

Robert Owen planned it, built it, directed it and made good any financial deficit. Instead of Socialism it was a kindly despotism. A few of the scholars did their level best to help themselves and help the place, but the rest didn't think and didn't care. They were passengers who enjoyed the cushioned seats. A few, while partaking of the privileges of the place, denounced it.

"You can not educate people who do not want to be educated," said Tyndall. The value of an education lies in the struggle to get it. Do too much for people, and they will do nothing for themselves.

Many of the students at Harmony Hall had been sent there by Owen, because he, in the greatness of his heart and the blindness of his zeal, thought they needed education. They may have needed it; but they did not want it: ease was their aim.

The indifference and ingratitude Robert Owen met with did not discourage him: it only gave him an occasional pause. He thought that the bad example of English society was too close to his experiments: it vitiated the atmosphere.

So he came over to America and founded the town of New Harmony, Indiana. The fine solid buildings he erected in Posey County, then a wilderness, are still there.

As for the most romantic and interesting history of New Harmony, Robert Owen and his socialistic experiments, I must refer the gentle reader to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a work I have found very useful in the course of making my original researches.

After a year at Harmony Hall, Tyndall saw that he would have to get out or else become a victim of arrested development, through too much acceptance of a strong man's bounty. "You can not afford to accept anything for nothing," he said. Life at Harmony Hall to him was very much like life in a monastery, to which stricken men flee when the old world seems too much for them. "When all the people live the ideal life, I'll live it; but until then I'm only one of the great many strugglers." Besides, he felt that in missing university training he had dropped something out of his life. Now he would go to Germany and see for himself what he had missed.

While railroading he had saved up nearly four hundred pounds. This money he had offered at one time to invest in shares in the Owen mills. But Robert Owen said, "Wait two years and then see how you feel!"

Robert Owen was not a financial exploiter. Tyndall may have differed with him in a philosophic way; but they never ceased to honor and respect each other.

And so John Tyndall bade the ideal life good-by, and went out into the stress, strife and struggle, resolved to spend his two thousand dollars in bettering his education, and then to start life anew.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Robert Owen had been over to America and had met Emerson, and very naturally caught it. When he returned home he gave young Tyndall a copy of Emerson's first book, the "Essay on Nature," published anonymously.

Tyndall read and re-read the book, and read it aloud to others and spoke of it as a "message from the gods."

He also read every word that Carlyle put in print. It was Carlyle who introduced him to German philosophy and German literature, and fired him with a desire to see for himself what Germany was doing.

Germany had still another mystic tie that drew him thitherward. It was at Marburg, Germany, that his illustrious namesake had published his translation of the Bible.

At Marburg there was a University, small, 't was true, but its simplicity and the cheapness of living there were recommendations. So to Marburg he went. Tyndall found lodgings in a little street called "Heretics' Row." Possibly there be people who think that Tyndall's taking a room in such a street was chance, too. Chance is natural law not understood.

Marburg is a very lovely little town that clings amid a forest of trees to the rocky hillside overlooking the River Lahn. Tyndall was very happy at Marburg, and at times very miserable. The beauty of the place appealed to him. He was a climber by nature, and the hills were a continual temptation.

But the language was new; and before this his work had all been of a practical kind. College seems small and trivial after you have been in the actual world of affairs. But Tyndall did not give up. He rose every morning at six, took his cold bath, dressed and ran up the hill half a mile and back. He breakfasted with the family, that he might talk German. Then he dived into differential calculus and philosophical abstrusities. He was not sent to college: he went. And he made college give up all it had. On the wall of his room, as a sort of ornamental frieze in charcoal, he wrote this from Emerson: "High knowledge and great strength are within the reach of every man who unflinchingly enacts his best."

Down in the town was a bronze bust of a man who wrote for it the following inscription: "This is the face of a man who has struggled energetically."

One might almost imagine that Hawthorne had received from Tyndall the hint which evolved itself into that fine story, "The Great Stone Face."

The bust just mentioned, attracted John Tyndall for another reason: Carlyle had written of the man it symboled: "Reader, to thee, thyself, even now, he has one counsel to give, the secret of his whole poetic alchemy. Think of living! Thy life, wert thou the pitifullest of all the sons of earth, is no idle dream, but a solemn reality. It is thine own; it is all thou hast with which to front eternity. Work, then, even as he has done--like a star, unhasting and unresting."

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

At Marburg, Tyndall was on good terms with the great Bunsen, and used to act as his assistant in making practical chemical experiments before his classes.

These amazing things done by chemists in public are seldom of much value beyond giving a thrill to visitors who would otherwise drowse; it is like humor in an oration: it opens up the mental pores.

Alexander Humboldt once attended a Bunsen lecture at Marburg and complimented Tyndall by saying, "When I take up sleight-of-hand work, consider yourself engaged as my first helper." Tyndall's way of standing with his back to the audience, shutting off the view of Bunsen's hands while he was getting ready to make an artificial peal of thunder, made Humboldt laugh heartily.

Humboldt thought so well of the young man who spoke German with an Irish accent, that he presented him with an inscribed copy of one of his books. The volume was a most valuable one, for Humboldt published only in deluxe, limited editions, and Tyndall was so overcome that all he could say was, "I'll do as much for you some day." Not long after this, through loaning money to a fellow student, Tyndall found himself sadly in need of funds, and borrowed two pounds on the book from an 'Ebrew Jew.

That night, he dreamed that Humboldt found the volume in a secondhand store. In the morning, Tyndall was waiting for the pawnbroker to open his shop to get the book back ere the offense was discovered.

Heinrich Heine once inscribed a volume of his poems to a friend, and afterward discovered the volume on the counter of a secondhand dealer. He thereupon haggled with the bookman, bought the book and beneath his first inscription wrote, "With the renewed regards of H. Heine." He then sent the volume for the second time to his friend. 'T is possible that Tyndall had heard of this.

In Eighteen Hundred Fifty, when Tyndall was thirty years of age, he visited London, and of course went to the British Institution. There he met Faraday for the first time and was welcomed by him.

The British Institution consists of a laboratory, a museum and a lecture-hall, and its object is scientific research. It began in a very simple way in one room and now occupies several buildings.

It was founded by Benjamin Thompson, an American, and so it was but proper that its sister concern, the Smithsonian Institution, should have been founded by an Englishman.

Sir Humphry Davy on being asked, "What is your greatest discovery?" replied, "Michael Faraday." But this was a mere pleasantry, the truth being that it was Michael Faraday who discovered Sir Humphry Davy. Faraday was a bookbinder's apprentice, a fact that should interest all good Roycrofters.

Evenings, when Sir Humphry Davy lectured at the British Institution, the young bookbinder was there. After the lecture he would go home and write out what he had heard, with a few ideas of his own added. For be it known, taking notes at a lecture is a bad habit--good reporters carry no notebooks.

After a year Faraday sent a bundle of his impressions and criticisms to Sir Humphry Davy anonymously. Great men seldom read manuscript that is sent to them unless it refers to themselves. At the next lecture, Sir Humphry began by reading from Faraday's notes, and begged that if the writer were present, he would make himself known at the close of the address.

From this was to ripen a love like that of father and son. Every man who builds up such a work as did Sir Humphry Davy is appalled, when he finds Time furrowing his face and whitening his hair, to think how few indeed there are who can step in and carry his work on after he is gone.

The love of Davy for the young bookbinder was almost feverish: he clutched at this bright, impressionable and intent young man who entered so into the heart and soul of science; nothing would do but he must become his assistant. "Give up all and follow me!" And Faraday did.

Something of the same feeling must have swept over Faraday after his work of twenty-five years as director of the British Institution, when John Tyndall appeared, tall, thin, bronzed, animated, quoting Bunsen and Humboldt with an Irish accent.

And so in time Tyndall became assistant to Faraday, then lecturer in natural history; and when Faraday died, Tyndall, by popular acclaim, was made Fullerian Lecturer and took Faraday's place. This was to be his life-work, and it so placed him before the world that all he said or did had a wide significance and an extended influence.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Tyndall was always a most intrepid mountain-climber. The Alps lured him like the song of the Lorelei, and the wonder was that his body was not left in some mountain crevasse, "the most beautiful and poetic of all burials," he once said.

But for him this was not to be, for Fate is fond of irony. The only man who ever braved the full dangers of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado was killed by a suburban train in Chicago while on his wedding-tour. Most bad men die in bed, tenderly cared for by trained nurses in white caps and big aprons.

Tyndall climbed to the summit of the Matterhorn, ascended the so-called inaccessible peak of the Weisshorn, scaled Mont Blanc three times, and once was caught in an avalanche, riding toward death at the rate of a mile a minute. Yet he passed away from an overdose, or a wrong dose, of medicine given him through mistake, by the hands of the woman he loved most.

At one time Tyndall attempted to swim a mountain-torrent; the stream, as if angry at his Irish assurance, tossed him against the rocks, brought him back in fierce eddies, and again and again threw him against a solid face of stone. When he was rescued he was a mass of bruises, but fortunately no bones were broken. It was some days before he could get out, and in his sorry plight, bandaged so his face was scarcely visible, Spencer found him. "Herbert, do you believe in the actuality of matter?" was John's first question.

Both Tyndall and Huxley made application to the University of Toronto for positions as teachers of science; but Toronto looked askance, as all pioneer people do, at men whose college careers have been mostly confined to giving college absent treatment.

Herbert Spencer avowed again and again that Tyndall was the greatest teacher he ever knew or heard of, inspiring the pupil to discover for himself, to do, to become, rather than imparting prosy facts of doubtful pith and moment. But Herbert Spencer, not being eligible to join a university club himself, was possibly not competent to judge.

Anyway, England was not so finical as Canada, and so she gained what Canada lost.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Tyndall paid a visit to the United States in the year Eighteen Hundred Seventy-two, and lectured in most of the principal cities, and at all the great colleges. He was a most fascinating speaker, fluent, direct, easy, and his whole discourse was well seasoned with humor.

Whenever he spoke, the auditorium was taxed to its utmost, and his reception was very cordial, even in colleges that were considered exceedingly orthodox.

Possibly, some good people who invited him to speak did not know it was loaded; and so his earnest words in praise of Darwin and the doctrine of evolution, occasionally came like unto a rumble of his own artificial thunder. "I speak what I think is truth; but of course, when I express ungracious facts I try to do so in what will be regarded as not a nasty manner," said Tyndall, thus using that pet English word in a rather pleasing way.

In his statement that the prayer of persistent effort is the only prayer that is ever answered, he met with a direct challenge at Oberlin. This gave rise to what, at the time, created quite a dust in the theological road, and evolved "The Tyndall Prayer Test."

Tyndall proposed that one hundred clergymen be delegated to pray for the patients in any certain ward of Bellevue Hospital. If, after a year's trial, there was a marked decrease in mortality in that ward, as compared with previous records, we might then conclude that prayer was efficacious, otherwise not.

One good clergyman in Pittsburgh offered publicly to debate "Darwinism" with Tyndall, but beyond a little scattered shrapnel of this sort, the lecture-tour was a great success. It netted just thirteen thousand dollars, the whole amount of which Tyndall generously donated as a fund to be used for the advancement of natural science in America.

In Eighteen Hundred Eighty-five, this fund had increased to thirty-two thousand dollars, and was divided into three equal parts and presented to Columbia, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. The fund was still further increased by others who followed Professor Tyndall's example, and Columbia, from her share of the Tyndall fund, I am told now supports two foreign scholarships for the benefit of students who show a special aptitude in scientific research. Professor James of Harvard once said: "The impetus to popular scientific study caused by Professor Tyndall's lectures in the United States was most helpful and fortunate. Speaking but for myself, I know I am a different man and a better man, for having heard and known John Tyndall."

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

When John Tyndall died, in the year Eighteen Hundred Ninety-three, Spencer wrote:

"It never occurred to Tyndall to ask what it was politic to say, but simply to ask what was true. The like has of late years been shown in his utterances concerning political matters--shown, it may be, with too great frankness. This extreme frankness was displayed also in private, and sometimes, perhaps, too much displayed; but every one must have the defects of his qualities. Where absolute sincerity exists, it is certain now and then to cause an expression of a feeling or opinion not adequately restrained.

"But the contrast in genuineness between him and the average citizen was very conspicuous. In a community of Tyndalls (to make a rather wild supposition), there would be none of that flabbiness characterizing current thought and action--no throwing overboard of principles elaborated by painful experience in the past, and adoption of a hand-to-mouth policy unguided by any principle. He was not the kind of man who would have voted for a bill or a clause which he secretly believed would be injurious, out of what is euphemistically called 'party loyalty,' or would have endeavored to bribe each section of the electorate by 'ad captandum' measures, or would have hesitated to protect life and property for fear of losing votes. What he saw right to do he would have done, regardless of proximate consequences.

"The ordinary tests of generosity are very defective. As rightly measured, generosity is great in proportion to the amount of self-denial entailed; and where ample means are possessed, large gifts often entail no self-denial. Far more self-denial may be involved in the performance, on another's behalf, of some act that requires time and labor. In addition to generosity under its ordinary form, which Professor Tyndall displayed in unusual degree, he displayed it under a less common form.

"He was ready to take much trouble to help friends. I have had personal experience of this. Though he had always in hand some investigation of great interest to him, and though, as I have heard him say, when he bent his mind to the subject he could not with any facility break off and resume it again, yet, when I have sought scientific aid, information or critical opinion, I never found the slightest reluctance to give me his undivided attention. Much more markedly, however, was this kind of generosity shown in another direction. Many men, while they are eager for appreciation, manifest little or no appreciation of others, and still less go out of their way to express it.

"With Tyndall it was not thus; he was eager to recognize achievement. Notably in the case of Michael Faraday, and less notably, though still conspicuously in many cases, he has bestowed much labor and sacrificed many weeks in setting forth the merits of others. It was evidently a pleasure to him to dilate on the claims of fellow workers.

"But there was a derivative form of this generosity calling for still greater eulogy. He was not content with expressing appreciation of those whose merits were recognized, but he used energy unsparingly in drawing the attention of the public to those whose merits were unrecognized; time after time in championing the cause of such, he was regardless of the antagonism he aroused and the evil he brought upon himself. This chivalrous defense of the neglected and ill-used has been, I think by few, if any, so often repeated. I have myself more than once benefited by his determination, quite spontaneously shown, that justice should be done in the apportionment of credit; and I have with admiration watched like actions of his in other cases: cases in which no consideration of nationality or of creed interfered in the least with his insistence on equitable distribution of honors.

"In this undertaking to fight for those who were unfairly dealt with, he displayed in another direction that very conspicuous trait which, as displayed in his Alpine feats, has made him to many persons chiefly known: I mean courage, passing very often into daring. And here let me, in closing this little sketch, indicate certain mischiefs which this trait brought upon him. Courage grows by success. The demonstrated ability to deal with dangers produces readiness to meet more dangers, and is self-justifying where the muscular power and the nerve habitually prove adequate. But the resulting habit of mind is apt to influence conduct in other spheres, where muscular power and nerve are of no avail--is apt to cause the daring of dangers which are not to be met by strength of limb or by skill. Nature as externally presented by precipice ice-slopes and crevasses may be dared by one who is adequately endowed; but Nature, as internally represented in the form of physical constitution, may not be thus dared with impunity. Prompted by high motives, John Tyndall tended too much to disregard the protests of his body.

"Over-application in Germany caused absolute sleeplessness, at one time, I think he told me, for more than a week; and this, with kindred transgressions, brought on that insomnia by which his after-life was troubled, and by which his power for work was diminished; for, as I have heard him say, a sound night's sleep was followed by a marked exaltation of faculty.

"And then, in later life, came the daring which, by its results, brought his active career to a close. He conscientiously desired to fulfil an engagement to lecture at the British Institution, and was not deterred by fear of consequences.

"He gave the lecture, notwithstanding the protest which for days before his system had been making. The result was a serious illness, threatening, as he thought at one time, a fatal result; and notwithstanding a year's furlough for the recovery of health, he was eventually obliged to resign his position. But for this defiance of Nature, there might have been many more years of scientific exploration, pleasurable to himself and beneficial to others; and he might have escaped that invalid life which for a long time he had to bear. In his case, however, the penalties of invalid life had great mitigations--mitigations such as fall to the lot of few.

"It is conceivable that the physical discomforts and mental weariness which ill-health brings may be almost, if not quite, compensated by the pleasurable emotions caused by unflagging attentions and sympathetic companionship. If this ever happens, it happened in his case. All who have known the household during these years of nursing are aware of the unmeasured kindness he has received without ceasing. I happen to have had special evidence of this devotion on the one side and gratitude on the other, which I do not think I am called upon to keep to myself, but rather to do the contrary. In a letter I received from him some half-dozen years ago, referring, among other things, to Mrs. Tyndall's self-sacrificing care of him, occurred this sentence: 'She has raised my ideal of the possibilities of human nature.'"


Elbert Hubbard

Sorry, no summary available yet.