David Livingstone

Along Great Western Road -- An Illustrated History of Glasgow's West End

David Livingstone,
page 3 of 13

frailties. Bookworm as he was, he nevertheless, as a boy, was not averse to the jubilant pranks of healthy boyhood, often ducking his comrades heartily as he swam past them in the Clyde. This superabundance of animal spirits was, after all, not a bad prophecy for the future: Emerson says, with fine penetration, that “the nonchalance of a boy who is sure of his dinner is the healthy attitude of humanity.” David’s connection with another youthful escapade does not show such a clear bill in his favour. He was a skilful fisher. In those days the trout, and all the other fish but the salmon, were unpreserved. One day he caught a fine salmon, but the getting it safely smuggled home was the difficulty. Luckily his brother Charlie had on a pair of ancestral trousers slightly “made-doun,” in a leg of which the toothsome monster was smuggled home. Charlie, to keep up the ruse, limped sorely in his slow and risky journey, and evoked much sympathy from the good dames on his way through the village with his swollen leg! Their worthy father forgave them after a stern admonition to take no more salmon, and the whole family united in eating the prize for supper!

At the age of nineteen he was promoted to be a spinner. The work was very heavy, but so much were his wages advanced by the change that, by unceasing application and thrift, he earned as much during the portion of the year he wrought as enabled him to attend the Medical and Greek classes, in the winter, in Glasgow University. Of this experience he spoke gratefully in after years: “Looking back now at that period of toil, I cannot but feel thankful that it formed such a material part of my early education, and, were I to begin life over again, I should like to pass through the same hardy experience.”

In the summer of 1835 he attended the evening class and laboratory of Thomas Graham, for chemistry, in the Andersonian University, near the Square. To do this he had, after toilsome labour in the factory, to walk in from Blantyre, eight miles distant, and return at night. Although the teacher was not older than himself, and cold in his manner, yet the instruction received intensified and gave direction to Livingstone’s study of science. He was afterwards able for a short period to give up the spinning, and devote himself exclusively to the work of the class. This was to him a precious time. He not only gained the knowledge that was so useful to him in future exploration, but made friendships that strengthened him in toilsome labours, and endured through life. It was a remarkable class. Most of its members went forth from it to distinguished positions in science and in commerce. Some of them acquired positions of national, and more than national, distinction, and highest of all, this weaver lad. There was the youthful teacher, Thomas Graham, with his foot already on the threshold of fame; there was James Young, the youth from the Calton, afterwards the head of the great paraffin works and the laird of Kelly; there was Lyon Playfair, the son of a merchant in George Square (now the baronet and member of Parliament), the rival of Graham himself in some departments of science, and widely known for his excellent influence upon social life and legislation for the mercantile, mining, and manufacturing classes ; and there was Livingstone. Young, with a somewhat cool and cynical temperament, formed a strong and almost peculiar attachment to Graham and to Livingstone. He became Graham’s assistant in the Andersonian, moved with him to London in the same capacity, and went with him to the mint when Graham was appointed Master of the Mint; and it was very much by Graham’s suggestion and advice


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