Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Biographies of Working Men by Grant Allen

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

another, to watch the coast or mount guard over the French
prisoners, in the most unaccountable fashion. So it happened,
oddly enough, that Thomas Edward, a Scotchman of the Scotch, was
born close under the big forts of Portsmouth harbour.

After Waterloo, however, the Fifeshire regiment was sent home
again; and the militia being before long disbanded, John Edward,
our hero's father, went to live at Aberdeen, where he plied his
poor trade of a hand-loom linen weaver for many years. It was on
the green at Aberdeen, surrounded by small labourers' cottages,
that Thomas Edward passed his early days. From his babyhood,
almost, the boy had a strong love for all the beasties he saw
everywhere around him; a fondness for birds and animals, and a
habit of taming them which can seldom be acquired, but which seems
with some people to come instinctively by nature. While Tam was
still quite a child, he loved to wander by himself out into the
country, along the green banks of the Dee, or among the tidal
islands at the mouth of the river, overgrown by waving seaweeds,
and fringed with great white bunches of blossoming scurvy-grass.
He loved to hunt for crabs and sea-anemones beside the ebbing
channels, or to watch the jelly-fish left high and dry upon the
shore by the retreating water. Already, in his simple way, the
little ragged bare-footed Scotch laddie was at heart a born

Very soon, Tam was not content with looking at the "venomous
beasts," as the neighbours called them, but he must needs begin to
bring them home, and set up a small aquarium and zoological garden
on his own account. All was fish that came to Tam's net: tadpoles,
newts, and stickleback from the ponds, beetles from the dung-heaps,
green crabs from the sea-shore--nay, even in time such larger
prizes as hedgehogs, moles, and nestfuls of birds. Nothing
delighted him so much as to be out in the fields, hunting for and
taming these his natural pets.

Unfortunately, Tam's father and mother did not share the boy's
passion for nature, and instead of encouraging him in pursuing his
inborn taste, they scolded him and punished him bitterly for
bringing home the nasty creatures. But nothing could win away Tam
from the love of the beasties; and in the end, he had his own way,
and lived all his life, as he himself afterwards beautifully put
it, "a fool to nature." Too often, unhappily, fathers and mothers
thus try to check the best impulses in their children, under
mistaken notions of right, and especially is this the case in many
instances as regards the love of nature. Children are constantly
chidden for taking an interest in the beautiful works of creation,
and so have their first intelligent inquiries and aspirations
chilled at once; when a little care and sympathy would get rid of
the unpleasantness of having white mice or lizards crawling about
the house, without putting a stop to the young beginner's longing
for more knowledge of the wonderful and beautiful world in whose
midst he lives.

When Tam was nearly five years old, he was sent to school, chiefly
no doubt to get him out of the way; but Scotch schools for the
children of the working classes were in those days very rough hard
places, where the taws or leather strap was still regarded as the
chief instrument of education. Little Edward was not a child to be
restrained by that particular form of discipline; and after he had
had two or three serious tussles with his instructors, he was at
last so cruelly beaten by one of his masters that he refused to
return, and his parents, who were themselves by no means lacking in
old Scotch severity, upheld him in his determination. He had
picked up reading by this time, and now for a while he was left
alone to hunt about to his heart's content among his favourite
fields and meadows. But by the time he was six years old, he felt
he ought to be going to work, brave little mortal that he was; and
as his father and mother thought so too, the poor wee mite was sent
to join his elder brother in working at a tobacco factory in the
town, at the wages of fourteen-pence a week. So, for the next two
years, little Tam waited upon a spinner (as the workers are called)
and began life in earnest as a working man.

At the end of two years, however, the brothers heard that better
wages were being given, a couple of miles away, at Grandholm, up
the river Don. So off the lads tramped, one fast-day (a recognized
Scotch institution), to ask the manager of the Grandholm factory if
he could give them employment. They told nobody of their
intention, but trudged away on their own account; and when they
came back and told their parents what they had done, the father was
not very well satisfied with the proposal, because he thought it
too far for so small a boy as Tam to walk every day to and from his
work. Tam, however, was very anxious to go, not only on account of
the increased wages, but also (though this was a secret) because of
the beautiful woods and crags round Grandholm, through which he
hoped to wander during the short dinner hour. In the end, John
Edward gave way, and the boys were allowed to follow their own
fancy in going to the new factory.

It was very hard work; the hours were from six in the morning till
eight at night, for there was no Factory Act then to guard the
interest of helpless children; so the boys had to be up at four in
the morning, and were seldom home again till nine at night. In
winter, the snow lies long and deep on those chilly Aberdeenshire
roads, and the east winds from the German Ocean blow cold and
cutting up the narrow valley of the Don; and it was dreary work
toiling along them in the dark of morning or of night in bleak and
cheerless December weather. Still, Tam liked it on the whole
extremely well. His wages were now three shillings a week; and
then, twice a day in summer, there was the beautiful walk to and
fro along the leafy high-road. "People may say of factories what
they please," Edward wrote much later, "but I liked this factory.
It was a happy time for me whilst I remained there. The woods were
easy of access during our meal-hours. What lots of nests! What
insects, wild flowers, and plants, the like of which I had never
seen before." The boy revelled in the beauty of the birds and
beasts he saw here, and he retained a delightful recollection of
them throughout his whole after life.

This happy time, however, was not to last for ever. When young
Edward was eleven years old, his father took him away from
Grandholm, and apprenticed him to a working shoemaker. The
apprenticeship was to go on for six years; the wages to begin at
eighteen-pence a week; and the hours, too sadly long, to be from
six in the morning till nine at night. Tam's master, one Charles
Begg, was a drunken London workman, who had wandered gradually
north; a good shoemaker, but a quarrelsome, rowdy fellow, loving
nothing on earth so much as a round with his fists on the slightest
provocation. From this unpromising teacher, Edward took his first
lessons in the useful art of shoemaking; and though he learned
fast--for he was not slothful in business--he would have learned
faster, no doubt, but for his employer's very drunken and careless
ways. When Begg came home from the public-house, much the worse
for whisky, he would first beat Tam, and then proceed upstairs to
beat his wife. For three years young Edward lived under this
intolerable tyranny, till he could stand it no longer. At last,
Begg beat and ill-treated him so terribly that Tam refused outright
to complete his apprenticeship. Begg was afraid to compel him to
do so--doubtless fearing to expose his ill-usage of the lad. So
Tam went to a new master, a kindly man, with whom he worked in
future far more happily.

The boy now began to make himself a little botanical garden in the
back yard of his mother's house--a piece of waste ground covered
with rubbish, such as one often sees behind the poorer class of
cottages in towns. Tam determined to alter all that, so he piled
up all the stones into a small rockery, dug up the plot, manured
it, and filled it with wild and garden flowers. The wild flowers,
of course, he found in the woods and hedgerows around him; but the
cultivated kinds he got in a very ingenious fashion, by visiting
all the rubbish heaps of the neighbourhood, on which garden refuse
was usually piled. A good many roots and plants can generally be
found in such places, and by digging them up, Tam was soon able to
make himself a number of bright and lively beds. Such self-help in
natural history always lay very much in Edward's way.

At the same time, young Edward was now beginning to feel the desire
for knowing something more about the beasts and birds of which he
was so fond. He used to go in all his spare moments among the
shops in the town, to look at the pictures in the windows,
especially the pictures of animals; and though his earnings were
still small, he bought a book whenever he was able to afford one.
In those days, cheap papers for the people were only just beginning
to come into existence; and Tam, who was now eighteen, bought the
first number of the Penny Magazine, an excellent journal of that
time, which he liked so much that he continued to take in the
succeeding numbers. Some of the papers in it were about natural
history, and these, of course, particularly delighted the young
man's heart. He also bought the Weekly Visitor, which he read
through over and over again.

In 1831, when Tam was still eighteen, he enlisted in the
Aberdeenshire militia, and during his brief period of service an
amusing circumstance occurred which well displays the almost
irresistible character of Edward's love of nature. While he was
drilling with the awkward squad one morning, a butterfly of a kind
that he had never seen before happened to flit in front of him as
he stood in the ranks. It was a beautiful large brown butterfly,
and Edward was so fascinated by its appearance that he entirely
forgot, in a moment, where he was and what he was doing. Without a
second's thought, he darted wildly out of the ranks, and rushed
after the butterfly, cap in hand. It led him a pretty chase, over
sandhills and shore, for five minutes. He was just on the point of
catching it at last, when he suddenly felt a heavy hand laid upon
his shoulder, and looking round, he saw the corporal of the company
and several soldiers come to arrest him. Such a serious offence
against military discipline might have cost him dear indeed, for
corporals have little sympathy with butterfly hunting; but luckily
for Edward, as he was crossing the parade ground under arrest, he
happened to meet an officer walking with some ladies. The officer
asked the nature of his offence, and when the ladies heard what it
was they were so much interested in such a strange creature as a
butterfly-loving militiaman, that they interceded for him, and
finally begged him off his expected punishment. The story shows us
what sort of stuff Edward was really made of. He felt so deep an
interest in all the beautiful living creatures around him for their
own sake, that he could hardly restrain his feelings even under the
most untoward circumstances.

When Edward was twenty, he removed from Aberdeen to Banff where he
worked as a journeyman for a new master. The hours were very long,
but by taking advantage of the summer evenings, he was still able
to hunt for his beloved birds, caterpillars, and butterflies.
Still, the low wages in the trade discouraged him much, and he
almost made up his mind to save money and emigrate to America. But
one small accident alone prevented him from carrying out this
purpose. Like a good many other young men, the naturalist
shoemaker fell in love. Not only so, but his falling in love took
practical shape a little later in his getting married; and at
twenty-three, the lonely butterfly hunter brought back a suitable
young wife to his little home. The marriage was a very happy one.
Mrs. Edward not only loved her husband deeply, but showed him
sympathy in his favourite pursuits, and knew how to appreciate his
sterling worth. Long afterwards she said, that though many of her
neighbours could not understand her husband's strange behaviour,
she had always felt how much better it was to have one who spent
his spare time on the study of nature than one who spent it on the

As soon as Edward got a home of his own, he began to make a regular
collection of all the animals and plants in Banffshire. This was a
difficult thing for him to do, for he knew little of books, and had
access to very few, so that he couldn't even find out the names of
all the creatures he caught and preserved. But, though he didn't
always know what they were called, he did know their natures and
habits and all about them; and such first-hand knowledge in natural
history is really the rarest and the most valuable of all. He saw
little of his fellow-workmen. They were usually a drunken,
careless lot; Edward was sober and thoughtful, and had other things
to think of than those that they cared to talk about with one
another. But he went out much into the fields, with invincible
determination, having made up his mind that he would get to know
all about the plants and beasties, however much the knowledge might
cost him.

For this object, he bought a rusty old gun for four-and-sixpence,
and invested in a few boxes and bottles for catching insects. His
working hours were from six in the morning till nine at night, and
for that long day he always worked hard to support his wife, and
(when they came) his children. He had therefore only the night
hours between nine and six to do all his collecting. Any other
man, almost, would have given up the attempt as hopeless; but
Edward resolved never to waste a single moment or a single penny,
and by care and indomitable energy he succeeded in making his
wished-for collection. Sometimes he was out tramping the whole
night; sometimes he slept anyhow, under a hedge or haystack;
sometimes he took up temporary quarters in a barn, an outhouse, or
a ruined castle. But night after night he went on collecting,
whenever he was able; and he watched the habits and manners of the
fox, the badger, the otter, the weasel, the stoat, the pole-cat,
and many other regular night-roamers as no one else, in all
probability, had ever before watched them in the whole world.

Sometimes he suffered terrible disappointments, due directly or
indirectly to his great poverty. Once, he took all his cases of
insects, containing nine hundred and sixteen specimens, and
representing the work of four years, up to his garret to keep them
there till he was able to glaze them. When he came to take them
down again he found to his horror that rats had got at the boxes,
eaten almost every insect in the whole collection, and left nothing
behind but the bare pins, with a few scattered legs, wings, and
bodies, sticking amongst them. Most men would have been so
disgusted with this miserable end to so much labour, that they
would have given up moth hunting for ever. But Edward was made of
different stuff. He went to work again as zealously as ever, and
in four years more, he had got most of the beetles, flies, and
chafers as carefully collected as before.

By the year 1845, Edward had gathered together about two thousand
specimens of beasts, birds, and insects found in the neighbourhood
of his own town of Banff. He made the cases to hold them himself,
and did it so neatly that, in the case of his shells, each kind had
even a separate little compartment all of its own. And now he
unfortunately began to think of making money by exhibiting his
small museum. If only he could get a few pounds to help him in
buying books, materials, perhaps even a microscope, to help him in
prosecuting his scientific work, what a magnificent thing that
would be for him! Filled with this grand idea, he took a room in
the Trades Hall at Banff, and exhibited his collection during a
local fair. A good many people came to see it, and the Banff paper
congratulated the poor shoemaker on his energy in gathering
together such a museum of curiosities "without aid, and under
discouraging circumstances which few would have successfully
encountered." He was so far lucky in this first venture that he
covered his expenses and was able even to put away a little money
for future needs. Encouraged by this small triumph, the unwearied
naturalist set to work during the next year, and added several new
attractions to his little show. At the succeeding fair he again
exhibited, and made still more money out of his speculation.
Unhappily, the petty success thus secured led him to hope he might
do even better by moving his collection to Aberdeen.

To Aberdeen, accordingly, Edward went. He took a shop in the great
gay thoroughfare of that cold northern city--Union Street--and
prepared to receive the world at large, and to get the money for
the longed-for books and the much-desired microscope. Now,
Aberdeen is a big, busy, bustling town; it has plenty of amusements
and recreations; it has two colleges and many learned men of its
own; and the people did not care to come and see the working
shoemaker's poor small collection. If he had been a president of
the British Association for the Advancement of Science, now--some
learned knight or baronet come down by special train from London--
the Aberdeen doctors and professors might have rushed to hear his
address; or if he had been a famous music-hall singer or an
imitation negro minstrel, the public at large might have flocked to
be amused and degraded by his parrot-like buffoonery; but as he was
only a working shoemaker from Banff, with a heaven-born instinct
for watching and discovering all the strange beasts and birds of
Scotland, and the ways and thoughts of them, why, of course,
respectable Aberdeen, high or low, would have nothing in particular
to say to him. Day after day went by, and hardly anybody came,
till at last poor Edward's heart sank terribly within him. Even
the few who did come were loth to believe that a working shoemaker
could ever have gathered together such a large collection by his
own exertions.

"Do you mean to say," said one of the Aberdeen physicians to
Edward, "that you've maintained your wife and family by working at
your trade, all the while that you've been making this collection?"

"Yes, I do," Edward answered.

"Oh, nonsense!" the doctor said. "How is it possible you could
have done that?"

"By never losing a single minute or part of a minute," was the
brave reply, "that I could by any means improve."

It is wonderful indeed that when once Edward had begun to attract
anybody's attention at all, he and his exhibition should ever have
been allowed to pass so unnoticed in a great, rich, learned city
like Aberdeen. But it only shows how very hard it is for
unassuming merit to push its way; for the Aberdeen people still
went unheeding past the shop in Union Street, till Edward at last
began to fear and tremble as to how he should ever meet the
expenses of the exhibition. After the show had been open four
weeks, one black Friday came when Edward never took a penny the
whole day. As he sat there alone and despondent in the empty room,
the postman brought him a letter. It was from his master at Banff.
"Return immediately," it said, "or you will be discharged." What
on earth could he do? He couldn't remove his collection; he
couldn't pay his debt. A few more days passed, and he saw no way
out of it. At last, in blank despair, he offered the whole
collection for sale. A gentleman proposed to pay him the paltry
sum of 20 pounds 10s. for the entire lot, the slow accumulations of
ten long years. It was a miserable and totally inadequate price,
but Edward could get no more. In the depths of his misery, he
accepted it. The gentleman took the collection home, gave it to
his boy, and finally allowed it all, for want of care and
attention, to go to rack and ruin. And so that was the end of ten
years of poor Thomas Edward's unremitting original work in natural
history. A sadder tale of unrequited labour in the cause of
science has seldom been written.

How he ever recovered from such a downfall to all his hopes and
expectations is extraordinary. But the man had a wonderful power
of bearing up against adverse circumstances; and when, after six
weeks' absence, he returned to Banff, ruined and dispirited, he set
to work once more, as best he might, at the old, old trade of
shoemaking. He was obliged to leave his wife and children in
Aberdeen, and to tramp himself on foot to Banff, so that he might
earn the necessary money to bring them back; for the cash he had
got for the collection had all gone in paying expenses. It is
almost too sad to relate; and no wonder poor Edward felt crushed
indeed when he got back once more to his lonely shoemaker's bench
and fireless fireside. He was very lonely until his wife and
children came. But when the carrier generously brought them back
free (with that kindliness which the poor so often show to the
poor), and the home was occupied once more, and the fire lighted,
he felt as if life might still be worth living, at least for his
wife and children. So he went back to his trade as heartily as he
might, and worked at it well and successfully. For it is to be
noted, that though Thomas Edward was so assiduous a naturalist and
collector, he was the best hand, too, at making first-class shoes
in all Banff. The good workman is generally the best man at
whatever he undertakes. Certainly the best man is almost always a
good workman at his own trade.

But of course he made no more natural history collections? Not a
bit of it. Once a naturalist, always a naturalist. Edward set to
work once more, nothing daunted, and by next spring he was out
everywhere with his gun, exactly as before, replacing the sold
collection as fast as ever his hand was able.

By this time Edward began to make a few good friends. Several
magistrates for the county signed a paper for him, stating that
they knew him to be a naturalist, and no poacher; and on presenting
this paper to the gamekeepers, he was generally allowed to pursue
his researches wherever he liked, and shoot any birds or animals he
needed for his new museum. Soon after his return from Aberdeen,
too, he made the acquaintance of a neighbouring Scotch minister,
Mr. Smith of Monquhitter, who proved a very kind and useful friend
to him. Mr. Smith was a brother naturalist, and he had books--
those precious books--which he lent Edward freely; and there for
the first time the shoemaker zoologist learned the scientific names
of many among the birds and animals with whose lives and habits he
had been so long familiar. Another thing the good minister did for
his shoemaker friend: he constantly begged him to write to
scientific journals the results of his observations in natural
history. At first Edward was very timid; he didn't like to appear
in print; thought his grammar and style wouldn't be good enough;
fought shy of the proposal altogether. But at last Edward made up
his mind to contribute a few notes to the Banffshire Journal, and
from that he went on slowly to other papers, until at last he came
to be one of the most valued occasional writers for several of the
leading scientific periodicals in England. Unfortunately, science
doesn't pay. All this work was done for love only; and Edward's
only reward was the pleasure he himself derived from thus jotting
down the facts he had observed about the beautiful creatures he
loved so well.

Soon Mr. Smith induced the indefatigable shoemaker to send a few
papers on the birds and beasts to the Zoologist. Readers began to
perceive that these contributions were sent by a man of the right
sort--a man who didn't merely read what other men had said about
the creatures in books, but who watched their ways on his own
account, and knew all about their habits and manners in their own
homes. Other friends now began to interest themselves in him; and
Edward obtained at last, what to a man of his tastes must have been
almost as much as money or position--the society of people who
could appreciate him, and could sympathize in all that interested
him. Mr. Smith in particular always treated him, says Dr. Smiles,
"as one intelligent man treats another." The paltry distinctions
of artificial rank were all forgotten between them, and the two
naturalists talked together with endless interest about all those
lovely creatures that surround us every one on every side, but that
so very few people comparatively have ever eyes to see or hearts to
understand. It was a very great loss to Edward when Mr. Smith
died, in 1854.

In the year 1858 the untiring shoemaker had gathered his third and
last collection, the finest and best of all. By this time he had
become an expert stuffer of birds, and a good preserver of fish and
flowers. But his health was now beginning to fail. He was forty-
four, and he had used his constitution very severely, going out at
nights in cold and wet, and cheating himself of sleep during the
natural hours of rest and recuperation. Happily, during all these
years, he had resisted the advice of his Scotch labouring friends,
to take out whisky with him on his nightly excursions. He never
took a drop of it, at home or abroad. If he had done so, he
himself believed, he could not have stood the cold, the damp, and
the exposure in the way he did. His food was chiefly oatmeal-cake;
his drink was water. "Sometimes, when I could afford it," he says,
"my wife boiled an egg or two, and these were my only luxuries."
He had a large family, and the task of providing for them was quite
enough for his slender means, without leaving much margin for beer
or whisky.

But the best constitution won't stand privation and exposure for
ever. By-and-by Edward fell ill, and had a fever. He was ill for
a month, and when he came round again the doctor told him that he
must at once give up his nightly wandering. This was a real and
serious blow to poor Edward; it was asking him to give up his one
real pleasure and interest in life. All the happiest moments he
had ever known were those which he had spent in the woods and
fields, or among the lonely mountains with the falcons, and the
herons, and the pine-martens, and the ermines. All this delightful
life he was now told he must abandon for ever. Nor was that all.
Illness costs money. While a man is earning nothing, he is running
up a doctor's bill. Edward now saw that he must at last fall back
upon his savings bank, as he rightly called it--his loved and
cherished collection of Banffshire animals. He had to draw upon it
heavily. Forty cases of birds were sold; and Edward now knew that
he would never be able to replace the specimens he had parted with.

Still, his endless patience wasn't yet exhausted. No more of
wandering by night, to be sure, upon moor or fell, gun in hand,
chasing the merlin or the polecat to its hidden lair; no more of
long watching after the snowy owl or the long-tailed titmouse among
the frozen winter woods; but there remained one almost untried
field on which Edward could expend his remaining energy, and in
which he was to do better work for science than in all the rest--
the sea.

This new field he began to cultivate in a novel and ingenious way.
He got together all the old broken pails, pots, pans, and kettles
he could find in the neighbourhood, filled them with straw or bits
of rag, and then sank them with a heavy stone into the rocky pools
that abound along that weather-beaten coast. A rope was tied to
one end, by which he could raise them again; and once a month he
used to go his rounds to visit these very primitive but effectual
sea-traps. Lots of living things had meanwhile congregated in the
safe nests thus provided for them, and Edward sorted them all over,
taking home with him all the newer or more valuable specimens. In
this way he was enabled to make several additions to our knowledge
of the living things that inhabit the sea off the north-east coast
of Scotland.

The fishermen also helped him not a little, by giving him many rare
kinds of fish or refuse from their nets, which he duly examined and
classified. As a rule, the hardy men who go on the smacks have a
profound contempt for natural history, and will not be tempted,
even by offers of money, to assist those whom they consider as
half-daft gentlefolk in what seems to them a perfectly useless and
almost childish amusement. But it was different with Tam Edward,
the strange shoemaker whom they all knew so well; if HE wanted fish
or rubbish for his neat collection in the home-made glass cases,
why, of course he could have them, and welcome. So they brought
him rare sand-suckers, and blue-striped wrasse, and saury pike, and
gigantic cuttle-fish, four feet long, to his heart's content.
Edward's daughters were now also old enough to help him in his
scientific studies. They used to watch for the clearing of the
nets, and pick out of the refuse whatever they thought would
interest or please their father. But the fish themselves were
Edward's greatest helpers and assistants. As Dr. Smiles quaintly
puts it, they were the best of all possible dredgers. His
daughters used to secure him as many stomachs as possible, and from
their contents he picked out an immense number of beautiful and
valuable specimens. The bill of fare of the cod alone comprised an
incredible variety of small crabs, shells, shrimps, sea-mice, star-
fish, jelly-fish, sea anemones, eggs, and zoophytes. All these
went to swell Edward's new collection of marine animals.

To identify and name so many small and little-known creatures was a
very difficult task for the poor shoemaker, with so few books, and
no opportunities for visiting museums and learned societies. But
his industry and ingenuity managed to surmount all obstacles.
Naturalists everywhere are very willing to aid and instruct one
another; especially are the highest authorities almost always eager
to give every help and encouragement in their power to local
amateurs. Edward used to wait till he had collected a batch of
specimens of a single class or order, and then he would send them
by post to learned men in different parts of the country, who named
them for him, and sent them back with some information as to their
proper place in the classification of the group to which they
belonged. Mr. Spence Bate of Plymouth is the greatest living
authority on crustaceans, such as the lobsters, shrimps, sea-fleas,
and hermit crabs; and to him Edward sent all the queer crawling
things of that description that he found in his original sea-traps.
Mr. Couch, of Polperro in Cornwall, was equally versed in the true
backboned fishes; and to him Edward sent any doubtful midges, or
gurnards, or gobies, or whiffs. So numerous are the animals and
plants of the sea-shore, even in the north of Scotland alone, that
if one were to make a complete list of all Edward's finds it would
occupy an entire book almost as large as this volume.

Naturalists now began to help Edward in another way, the way that
he most needed, by kind presents of books, especially their own
writings--a kind of gift which cost them nothing, but was worth to
him a very great deal. Mr. Newman, the editor of the Zoologist
paper, was one of his most useful correspondents, and gave him
several excellent books on natural history. Mr. Bate made him a
still more coveted present--a microscope, with which he could
examine several minute animals, too small to be looked at by the
naked eye. The same good friend also gave him a little pocket-lens
(or magnifying glass) for use on the sea-shore.

As Edward went on, his knowledge increased rapidly, and his
discoveries fully kept pace with it. The wretchedly paid Banff
shoemaker was now corresponding familiarly with half the most
eminent men of science in the kingdom, and was a valued contributor
to all the most important scientific journals. Several new animals
which he had discovered were named in his honour, and frequent
references were made to him in printed works of the first
importance. It occurred to Mr. Couch and Mr. Bate, therefore, both
of whom were greatly indebted to the working-man naturalist for
specimens and information, that Edward ought to be elected a member
of some leading scientific society. There is no such body of
greater distinction in the world of science than the Linnean
Society; and of this learned institution Edward was duly elected an
associate in 1866. The honour was one which he had richly deserved,
and which no doubt he fully appreciated.

And yet he was nothing more even now than a working shoemaker, who
was earning not more but less wages even than he once used to do.
He had brought up a large family honestly and respectably; he had
paid his way without running into debt; his children were all
growing up; and he had acquired a wide reputation among naturalists
as a thoroughly trustworthy observer and an original worker in many
different fields of botany and zoology. But his wages were now
only eight shillings a week, and his science had brought him, as
many people would say, only the barren honour of being an associate
of the Linnean Society, or the respected friend of many among the
noblest and greatest men of his country. He began life as a
shoemaker, and he remained a shoemaker to the end. "Had I pursued
money," he said, "with half the ardour and perseverance that I have
pursued nature, I have no hesitation in saying that by this time I
should have been a rich man."

In 1876, Dr. Smiles, the historian of so many truly great working
men, attracted by Edward's remarkable and self-sacrificing life,
determined to write the good shoemaker's biography while he was
still alive. Edward himself gave Dr. Smiles full particulars as to
his early days and his later struggles; and that information the
genial biographer wove into a delightful book, from which all the
facts here related have been borrowed. The "Life of a Scotch
Naturalist" attracted an immense deal of attention when it was
first published, and led many people, scientific or otherwise, to
feel a deep interest in the man who had thus made himself poor for
the love of nature. The result was such a spontaneous expression
of generous feeling towards Edward that he was enabled to pass the
evening of his days not only in honour, but also in substantial
ease and comfort.

And shall we call such a life as this a failure? Shall we speak of
it carelessly as unsuccessful? Surely not. Edward had lived his
life happily, usefully, and nobly; he had attained the end he set
before himself; he had conquered all his difficulties by his
indomitable resolution; and he lived to see his just reward in the
respect and admiration of all those whose good opinion was worth
the having. If he had toiled and moiled all the best days of his
life, at some work, perhaps, which did not even benefit in any way
his fellow-men; if he had given up all his time to enriching
himself anyhow, by fair means or foul; if he had gathered up a
great business by crushing out competition and absorbing to himself
the honest livelihood of a dozen other men; if he had speculated in
stocks and shares, and piled up at last a vast fortune by doubtful
transactions, all the world would have said, in its unthinking
fashion, that Mr. Edward was a wonderfully successful man. But
success in life does not consist in that only, if in that at all.
Edward lived for an aim, and that aim he amply attained. He never
neglected his home duties or his regular work; but in his stray
moments he found time to amass an amount of knowledge which
rendered him the intellectual equal of men whose opportunities and
education had been far more fortunate than his own. The pleasure
he found in his work was the real reward that science gave him.
All his life long he had that pleasure: he saw the fields grow
green in spring, the birds build nests in early summer, the insects
flit before his eyes on autumn evenings, the stoat and hare put on
their snow-white coat to his delight in winter weather. And shall
we say that the riches he thus beheld spread ever before him were
any less real or less satisfying to a soul like his than the mere
worldly wealth that other men labour and strive for? Oh no.
Thomas Edward was one of those who work for higher and better ends
than outward show, and verily he had his reward. The monument
raised up to that simple and earnest working shoemaker in the "Life
of a Scotch Naturalist" is one of which any scientific worker in
the whole world might well be proud. In his old age, he had the
meed of public encouragement and public recognition, the one thing
that the world at large can add to a scientific worker's happiness;
and his name will be long remembered hereafter, when those of more
pretentious but less useful labourers are altogether forgotten.
How many men whom the world calls successful might gladly have

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest