Among those who have given the greatest impulse to the sublime science of astronomy, we find Copernicus, the son of a Polish baker; Kepler, the son of a German public-house keeper, and himself the “garçon de cabaret;” d’Alembert, a foundling picked up one winter’s night on the steps of the church of St. Jean le Rond at Paris, and brought up by the wife of a glazier; and Newton and Laplace, the one the son of a small freeholder near Grantham, the other the son of a poor peasant of Beaumont-en-Auge, near Honfleur.
Notwithstanding their comparatively adverse circumstances in early life, these distinguished men achieved a solid and enduring reputation by the exercise of their genius, which all the wealth in the world could not have purchased.
The very possession of wealth might indeed have proved an obstacle greater even than the humble means to which they were born. The father of Lagrange, the astronomer and mathematician, held the office of Treasurer of War at Turin; but having ruined himself by speculations, his family were reduced to comparative poverty. To this circumstance Lagrange was in after life accustomed partly to attribute his own fame and happiness. “Had I been rich,” said he, “I should probably not have become a mathematician.”
The sons of clergymen and ministers of religion generally, have particularly distinguished themselves in our country’s history. Amongst them we find the names of Drake and Nelson, celebrated in naval heroism; of Wollaston, Young, Playfair, and Bell, in science; of Wren, Reynolds, Wilson, and Wilkie, in art; of Thurlow and Campbell, in law; and of Addison, Thomson, Goldsmith, Coleridge, and Tennyson, in literature.
Lord Hardinge, Colonel Edwardes, and Major Hodson, so honourably known in Indian warfare, were also the sons of clergymen. Indeed, the empire of England in India was won and held chiefly by men of the middle class—such as Clive, Warren Hastings, and their successors—men for the most part bred in factories and trained to habits of business.