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Sir Humphry Davy’s Greatest Discovery, Michael Faraday
by [?]

He was only a little, barefooted errand boy, the son of a poor blacksmith. His school life ended in his thirteenth year. The extent of his education then was limited to a knowledge of the three “R’s.” As he trudged on his daily rounds, through the busy streets of London, delivering newspapers and books to the customers of his employer, there was little difference, outwardly, between him and scores of other boys who jostled one another in the narrow, crowded thoroughfares. But under the shabby jacket of Michael Faraday beat a heart braver and tenderer than the average; and, under the well-worn cap, a brain was throbbing that was destined to illuminate the world of science with a light that would never grow dim.

Less than any one else, perhaps, did the boy dream of future greatness. For a year he served his employer faithfully in his capacity of errand boy, and, in 1805, at the age of fourteen, was apprenticed to a bookseller for seven years, as was the custom in England, to learn the combined trades of bookbinding and book-selling.

The young journeyman had to exercise all his self-control to confine his attention to the outside of the books which passed through his hands. In his spare moments, however, he made himself familiar with the inside of many of them, eagerly devouring such works on science, electricity, chemistry, and natural philosophy, as came within his reach. He was especially delighted with an article on electricity, which he found in a volume of the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” which had been given him to bind. He immediately began work on an electrical machine, from the very crudest materials, and, much to his delight, succeeded. It was a red-letter day in his young life when a kind-hearted customer, who had noticed his interest in scientific works, offered to take him to the Royal Institution, to attend a course of lectures to be given by the great Sir Humphry Davy. From this time on, his thoughts were constantly turned toward science. “Oh, if I could only help in some scientific work, no matter how humble!” was the daily cry of his soul. But not yet was his prayer to be granted. His mettle must be tried in the school of patience and drudgery. He must fulfill his contract with his master. For seven years he was faithful to his work, while his heart was elsewhere. And all that time, in the eagerness of his thirst for knowledge, he was imbibing facts which helped him to plan electrical achievements, the possibilities of which have not, to this day, been exhausted,–or even half realized. Like Franklin, he seemed to forecast the scientific future for ages.

At length he was free to follow his bent, and his mind turned at once to Sir Humphry Davy. With a beating heart, divided between hope and fear, he wrote to the great man, telling what he wished, and asking his aid. The scientist, remembering his own day of small things, wrote the youth, politely, that he was going out of town, but would see if he could, sometime, aid him. He also said that “science is a harsh mistress, and, in a pecuniary point of view, but poorly rewards those who devote themselves exclusively to her service.”

This was not very encouraging, but the young votary of science was nothing daunted, and toiled at his uncongenial trade, with the added discomfort of an ill-tempered employer, giving all his evenings and odd moments to study and experiments.

Then came another red-letter day. He was growing depressed, and feared that Sir Humphry had forgotten his quasi-promise, when one evening a carriage stopped at the door, and out stepped an important-looking footman in livery, with a note from the famous scientist, requesting the young bookbinder to call on him on the following morning. At last had come the answer to the prayer of little Michael Faraday, as will come the answer to all who back their prayers with patient, persistent hard work, in spite of discouragement, disappointment, and failure. And when, on that never-to-be-forgotten morning, he was engaged by the great scientist at a salary of six dollars a week, with two rooms at the top of the house, to wash bottles, clean the instruments, move them to and from the lecture rooms, and make himself generally useful in the laboratory and out of it, no happier youth could be found in all London.

The door was open; not, indeed, wide, but sufficiently to allow this ardent disciple to work his way into the innermost shrine of the temple of science. Though it took years and years of plodding, incessant work and study, and a devotion to purpose with which nothing was allowed to interfere, it made Faraday, by virtue of his marvelous discoveries in electricity, electro-magnetism, and chemistry, a world benefactor, honored not only by his own country and sovereign, but by other rulers and leading nations of the earth, as one of the greatest chemists and natural philosophers of his time.

So great has been his value to the scientific world, that his theories are still a constant source of inspiration to the workers in those great professions allied to electricity and chemistry. No library is complete without his published works. What wonder that Davy called Faraday his greatest discovery!