Among the sons of attorneys we find Edmund Burke, Smeaton the engineer, Scott and Wordsworth, and Lords Somers, Hardwick, and Dunning. Sir William Blackstone was the posthumous son of a silk-mercer.
Lord Gifford’s father was a grocer at Dover; Lord Denman’s a physician; judge Talfourd’s a country brewer; and Lord Chief Baron Pollock’s a celebrated saddler at Charing Cross.
Layard, the discoverer of the monuments of Nineveh, was an articled clerk in a London solicitor’s office; and Sir William Armstrong, the inventor of hydraulic machinery and of the Armstrong ordnance, was also trained to the law and practised for some time as an attorney. Milton was the son of a London scrivener, and Pope and Southey were the sons of linendrapers.
Professor Wilson was the son of a Paisley manufacturer, and Lord Macaulay of an African merchant. Keats was a druggist, and Sir Humphry Davy a country apothecary’s apprentice. Speaking of himself, Davy once said, “What I am I have made myself: I say this without vanity, and in pure simplicity of heart.”
Richard Owen, the Newton of Natural History, began life as a midshipman, and did not enter upon the line of scientific research in which he has since become so distinguished, until comparatively late in life. He laid the foundations of his great knowledge while occupied in cataloguing the magnificent museum accumulated by the industry of John Hunter, a work which occupied him at the College of Surgeons during a period of about ten years.
Foreign not less than English biography abounds in illustrations of men who have glorified the lot of poverty by their labours and their genius. In Art we find Claude, the son of a pastrycook; Geefs, of a baker; Leopold Robert, of a watchmaker; and Haydn, of a wheelwright; whilst Daguerre was a scene-painter at the Opera. The father of Gregory VII. was a carpenter; of Sextus V., a shepherd; and of Adrian VI., a poor bargeman.
When a boy, Adrian, unable to pay for a light by which to study, was accustomed to prepare his lessons by the light of the lamps in the streets and the church porches, exhibiting a degree of patience and industry which were the certain forerunners of his future distinction.
Of like humble origin were Hauy, the mineralogist, who was the son of a weaver of Saint-Just; Hautefeuille, the mechanician, of a baker at Orleans; Joseph Fourier, the mathematician, of a tailor at Auxerre; Durand, the architect, of a Paris shoemaker; and Gesner, the naturalist, of a skinner or worker in hides, at Zurich. This last began his career under all the disadvantages attendant on poverty, sickness, and domestic calamity; none of which, however, were sufficient to damp his courage or hinder his progress.