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CHAPTER I.: 1835–1851. - William Stanley Jevons, Letters and Journal 
Letters and Journal of W. Stanley Jevons, edited by his Wife (Harriet A. Jevons) (London: Macmillan and Co., 1886).
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William Stanley Jevons, the son of Thomas and Mary Anne Jevons, was born at No. 14 Alfred Street, Liverpool, on the 1st September 1835.
The Jevons or Jevon family (for the final s was first added by Stanley's grandfather) is evidently of Welsh origin, but they had been settled in Staffordshire for many generations. At Cosely in that county Timothy Jevon, the great-grandfather of Stanley, lived; and here his grandfather, William Jevons, was born and grew up to manhood. William Jevons had but slight educational advantages, but he was endowed with a great deal of good sense, and was a man of strong affections and of much religious feeling. Having been brought up at home and employed in his father's trade of nail-making, he became assistant to a Mr. Stokes, engaged in the nail trade at Old Swinford, and it was to increase the business of Mr. Stokes that he removed to Liverpool at the end of the year 1798, accompanied by his wife and young family, consisting of three sons and a daughter. He had not been long in Liverpool before he was enabled, with the assistance of capital lent him by a friend, to commence business on his own account as an iron merchant. Mr. William Jevons gave to all his children the best education in his power, and when his eldest son Thomas grew up he took him into his own business, and before long made him a partner. Later on, Timothy, the youngest son, joined the firm, which was known as Jevons and Sons.
Mr. William Jevons attended the Unitarian chapel, then situated in Benn's Garden, and his second son William became a Unitarian minister, after receiving his college education at York, then the home of Manchester New College. He was an intellectual, cultivated man, but owing to a change in some of his opinions he early left the ministry. He wrote several books—one of them a small book on astronomy for the use of schools. Between him and his nephew Stanley there was great affection and sympathy, and they corresponded a good deal.
Mr. Thomas Jevons, the father of Stanley, was a man of much ability in many ways, and there is no doubt that Stanley inherited a love of science from him. He was greatly interested in all new engineering schemes, and was acquainted with the first railway makers, Stephenson and Locke. In 1815 he constructed probably the first iron boat that sailed on sea water, and in 1822 he made an iron life-preserving boat, and also a model of a floating ship or landing-place for steamboats. He supported the scheme for the construction of the Thames Tunnel, by which he lost a considerable sum of money. In 1834 he published a small book called Remarks on Criminal Law, and in 1840 a pamphlet entitled The Prosperity of the Landholders not Dependent on the Corn Laws. In later life Stanley described his father as “one of the most humane of men,” and as being remarkable for “a calm clear mind.” He was of too shy and retiring a nature to go much into general society, but he was always the devoted friend of his children, even when the cares of business pressed most heavily upon him.
On the 23d November 1825, Thomas Jevons was married to Mary Anne, the eldest daughter of William Roscoe, the well-known author of the Life of Lorenzo de' Medici and of the Life and Pontificate of Leo X. Mrs. Thomas Jevons was about thirty at the time of her marriage. Her youth had been spent at Allerton Hall, near Liverpool, where her father lived until the loss of his fortune caused him to remove, about the year 1820, to a small house in the immediate neighbourhood of Liverpool. She was remarkably handsome, with very fascinating manners, and her mind had been cultivated by constant companionship with her father and by the intellectual society which she enjoyed under his roof. She inherited a good deal of her father's poetical talent, and was the authoress of a small volume of poems, printed for private circulation. She also edited the Sacred Offering, a collection of poems which came out in yearly volumes for several years, and the contents of which were chiefly written by members of Mr. Roscoe's family, for his younger daughter and several of his sons also inherited more or less of his talent. Mrs. Thomas Jevons was a woman of strong religious feeling. Like her husband, she had been brought up a Unitarian.
Although Stanley was the ninth child of his parents, only three of those older than himself survived beyond babyhood: Roscoe, born 1829; Lucy Anne, 1830; and Herbert, 1831. At the time of his birth his mother was still mourning the loss of a twin boy and girl who had died of influenza in 1834, and of another baby boy who had died in the spring of 1835. This must have made Stanley as a young child somewhat solitary in his plays and occupations, for the two nearest to him in age were his brother Herbert, who was four years older, and his sister Henrietta, three and a half years younger, than himself. He had also a younger brother, Thomas Edwin, born in October 1841, who, though too young to be a companion in childhood, was the closest friend of his later life.
The house in Alfred Street had been built for Mr. Thomas Jevons, from his own designs, at the time of his marriage, but it was not large enough for his increasing family, and when Stanley was about a year and a half old, his father removed to No. 9 Park Hill Road, one of two new houses built from his own designs—for Mr. Thomas Jevons took great pleasure in planning houses, and showed much skill in doing it. The other house was occupied for the first few years by his brother, Mr. William Jevons, and later by his younger brother, Mr. Timothy Jevons, and his family. His father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. William Jevons, lived in a large old house close by, the garden joining his son's. At that time Park Hill Road was almost in the country: besides the large gardens attached to the houses there were fields and lanes close by, so that the children could have plenty of healthy out-door life. Mr. Thomas Jevons' house is still standing, and is now used for the Sunday school belonging to the Unitarian Chapel in Toxteth Park Road. The rooms remain the same as he planned them, but the surroundings are so changed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to realise the place as it was. The gardens are all gone, and the neighbourhood is built up with a poorer class of houses, and is now part of the town.
The first thing that Stanley could remember occurred during the great storm of January 1839, before he was three and a half years old. One of the chimneys of the house of his uncle, William Jevons, was blown down, and Stanley's mother was so much alarmed that she had her children roused from their beds and carried down to the cellar for safety. He could also remember suffering, when he was very young, from an attack of croup in the night, and being put into a warm bath, with the doctor standing by. But on the whole he retained a less vivid impression of his very early childhood than many people of ordinary ability do.
Of all her children, Stanley was the one who most resembled his mother in personal appearance. His eyes, which were a blue-gray in colour, were, like hers, large and full of expression, and were shaded with peculiarly long dark eyelashes, which greatly added to their beauty. A friend writing of him says: “I remember him when such a little fellow with bright curly hair. What a fine noble boy he was!” Another friend remembers his running into the room one day when she was with his mother, and asking for some employment, saying with great energy, “I cannot live unless I have something to do.” As a young child he almost always had occupations which he made for himself, and nothing tried his naturally passionate temper more than to be compelled to leave the interest of the moment whilst still engrossed in it.
His sister says that Stanley learned to read and write without any difficulty, and certainly the following letter at six years old in his own handwriting is very good for a child of that age:—
“MydearGrandpapa—When will you come home? I am six—I was six on Wednesday, and Mamma gave me a paint box. There was a beautiful rainbow to-night. I have got a sixpenny little boat. Good-bye, dear grandpapa.—Your affectionate Stanley Jevons.”
Another little letter has also been preserved, written when he was seven years old, to Dr. Richard Roscoe, his mother's younger brother, who was a frequent visitor at her house.
“Dear Uncle—I thank you for the picture. I sometimes say my lessons well. I draw almost every day, and I paint sometimes. Nurse is going, and another is coming. Tommy is a very big boy, and is very funny. When will you come again and see us? Henny has got a bad cold. Good-bye.—Your affct. nephew, Stanley.”
Mrs. Thomas Jevons always encouraged her children in their love of drawing and music; and Stanley's love of music, which he inherited from both his parents, was through life one of his greatest pleasures. His mother also taught him botany, in which he took great interest, and he always kept the little microscope which she had given him to examine flowers with. From her, too, came his first teachings in political economy, as she read with him Archbishop Whateley's Easy Lessons on Money Matters, written for children. He was not what is usually called a precocious child, but he was very thoughtful and extremely observant, and eager to acquire information. In speaking of himself he once remarked, “I am said to possess much curiosity, and I often felt a positive pain in passing any object which I could not understand the construction and meaning of.”
He was always very dexterous in using his fingers. His uncle, Dr. Roscoe, gave him a set of bookbinding tools, and I have a little book bound by him when quite a young boy, the binding of which is a very creditable piece of workmanship for his age.
For outdoor occupations Stanley had his own little garden in which he worked; he had also some ducks for pets, of which he seems to have been very fond. But his greatest pleasure was to be with his eldest brother, Roscoe, who had great talents for mechanical construction. Their workshop was a coach-house and stable, and here many happy hours were passed by Stanley in watching and helping his brother. When Mr. Timothy Jevons came to occupy the third house instead of his brother William, Stanley had the companionship of two boys about his own age, and the cousins must have had frequent opportunities of meeting, for they had the kindest of grandparents, who permitted their garden to be the constant play place of the two families of cousins.
Until the failure of his mother's health, Stanley's home must have been as happy a one as a child could have, and he always felt it to have been so; but, in 1845, Mrs. Thomas Jevons became so ill that she went to London, chiefly to be under her brother Dr. Roscoe's care, and in November of that year she died there without seeing her children again.
The following letter was written to his mother whilst she was away:—
“MydearMamma—I hope you are better. I am quite well now, and I am getting on very well in my lessons. I am translating very small histories of great men, and of countries, and I know the first twenty propositions of Euclid, and I also write French exercises and the verbs, and exercises in English composition, and write copies. Yesterday Roscoe, Herbert, and I took a very long walk to Allerton Hall. We started at half-past three, and went up through the Prince's Park, and then went past Mrs. M—'s old house into Aigburth road a great way, and through roads, and at last found our way by finger-posts, and came back the proper way about six o'clock, when it was nearly dark, not very much tired; and in the morning we went to chapel, but papa did not go. We are getting on very well in everything. I found a book of Uncle Richard's, called the Prescriber's Pharmacopæia. Roscoe, Lucy, Herbert, I especially, and all the rest of us, send our best love. Good-bye.—Your most affectionate son,
“William Stanley Jevons.”
From this time Stanley's eldest sister filled, as far as she could, her mother's place in the home; and though a governess continued to reside with them for a year or two, it was to their sister that the younger ones were indebted for a love and care which can only be described as motherly, and which was returned on their parts by the warmest affection for her. Until he was more than ten years old Stanley was taught at home by a governess, but early in 1846 he became a day scholar at the Mechanics' Institute High School in Liverpool, which his brother Herbert was attending. The late Dr. Hodgson, afterwards Professor of Political Economy at Edinburgh, was then headmaster of the High School. Two or three of the school reports of Stanley's conduct and progress have been preserved, with Dr. Hodgson's comments to his father. In April 1846 he writes, “W. S. seems a very fine little boy,” and in January 1847, “W. S. J. will do very well indeed, if he gain courage and spirit as he grows older.” The French master writes in the reports that he is very good and very industrious, but far too quiet, makes no noise, and does not read above his breath. He adds, “I should go to sleep if all the class were like him.”
In after life Stanley felt that he had gained much from Dr. Hodgson's teaching; and he regretted that his father had removed him so soon from the school. In June 1847 he received the prize of his class, a large volume of Crabbe's poems, in which the following inscription is written:—
“This Book, being one of the Prizes granted by George Holt, Esq., is assigned to W. S. Jevons, as first pupil in the 6th class of the High School, his conduct and attention throughout the year having been not less satisfactory than his progress.”
Mr. Thomas Jevons at this time removed both his sons from the High School, because he thought some of the boys attending it were undesirable companions for them, and after the summer holidays, Stanley was sent to Mr. Beck-with's private school in Lodge Lane as a day scholar.
In January 1848 the firm of Jevons and Sons failed. Stanley never forgot one Sunday when, instead of going to chapel as they were in the habit of doing, his grandfather, father, and uncle were shut up all the morning together with the books of the firm. He was much puzzled and rather shocked at the proceeding, which was his first intimation that anything was wrong.
This misfortune made a great change in the circumstances of the three families in Park Hill Road. The houses were given up at once, and Mr. Thomas Jevons removed with his family to No. 125 Chatham Street. Mr. William Jevons, who had lost his wife in 1846, became from this time a member of his eldest son's household. He brought with him an organ, on which Stanley used to play a good deal; and he did it well enough to give much pleasure to his grandfather and father, who were both very fond of music, although unable to play any instrument themselves.
Owing to the failure it had become necessary for the family to live as economically as possible. Stanley was old enough to understand this, and it early taught him to be very careful in what he spent, and always to try to lay out his small sums of money to the best advantage. He still continued at Mr. Beckwith's school. He used to speak of this as almost a wasted time in his education after the teaching he had had at the Mechanics' Institute High School; but he acknowledged that the attention paid to Latin at Mr. Beckwith's was of service to him, and saved him future trouble, for he had no natural talent for learning languages. His half holidays were often spent in walks with his two cousins, who still lived near. The summer holidays were spent either at Park gate, a little old-fashioned place at the mouth of the Dee, or at West Kirby, also on the Dee; and he always retained an affection for that neighbourhood.
He was at this time a quiet thoughtful boy, very shy and reserved, and quite unconscious of his own abilities, but on 31st January 1849 his elder sister made the following entry in her diary: “In Stanley I see the dawning of a great mind.”
In the summer of 1849 Stanley went with his younger sister and brother to Nantwich, to pay a visit to his mother's sister, Mrs. Hornblower, whose husband was the Unitarian minister there. Aunt Jane had great affection for her nephews and nieces, and Stanley at different times spent many pleasant weeks under her roof. During this visit his father wrote to him: “I must begin this letter by thanking you for your manly and excellent note to me. In it I see signs of ripening thought and judgment, which gives me great joy. In this visit you are not only adding vigour to your bodily frame, but I feel satisfied that you are gaining manliness, and gaining some little power over that natural timidity of character which is the worst or perhaps I may say almost the only weakness you have. A little more observation of the world, and a habit of looking closely into the origin of the fears that create the timidity or bashfulness which you occasionally display, will help you wonderfully to get the better of it.”
After the summer holidays of 1850, when he was just fifteen, Stanley was sent to London to attend University College School; and for a short time he stayed with his brother Herbert in Harrington Street. Afterwards he lived for several months in Gower Street, in the house of a lady who received as boarders boys attending University College School. Here he was very unhappy, partly perhaps because it was the first time he had lived with strangers, but also because he had good reason to dislike his three fellow-boarders. Years afterwards he wrote in his journal that he never passed the house without a feeling of dread at the remembrance of what he suffered there.
Five weeks after his arrival in London he wrote to his father: “Everything is done so systematically that I like the school altogether very much.” On the 17th of November 1850 he again wrote to his father: “I have been a grand sight-seeing to-day, and have walked nearly from one end of London to the other. I started a little before ten o'clock, and went straight to St. Paul's. They do not let you go into the choir if you come very late, and I only saw what I had seen before. I then went and saw Smithfield and St. Bartholomew's and the Post Office, after which I went along Cheapside to the Exchange, etc. I next found my way to the Tower of London, and then to the Thames Tunnel, into which I went. From the Tunnel I came back and went along the Strand, Whitehall, St. James's Park, and Green Park, the Exhibition in Hyde Park, and then along Oxford Street, Regent Street, and home, where I arrived at half-past four ready for dinner. The Glass Palace is getting on famously, and I saw some of the glass. All the work looks very light and slender, but I suppose that the iron will be quite strong enough. Great crowds go to see it. If the half-finished building makes such a stir, what will the Exhibition itself do!”
He was greatly interested in the “Glass Palace,” and often visited it. On the 1st of June 1851 he wrote to his father: “Last Wednesday I went to the Exhibition. I think that nothing can be more astonishing or wonderful than to walk round the galleries, or to look from one end to another, and though I had heard every one talk of it for a long time, and had seen numbers of pictures of it, I did not expect it to be so splendid. It was a long time before I could stop to look at any particular thing instead of staring about, and still longer before I could leave the nave. I liked the organs especially, and perhaps spent too much time in listening to them instead of looking at the other things. I spent some time in watching cotton and flax spinning and weaving, which I never properly understood before.”
Again, on the 5th of July 1851: “I went last Monday to that place of all places, the Great Exhibition. I went through a good part of the south-western division of the building, where the minerals, chemicals, vegetable productions, agricultural implements, and hardware things are. I have learnt a great deal since I came to London about minerals and the metals, particularly from my chemistry and partly from museums; and I intend if I have time in the holidays to arrange all the minerals and fossils I have got at home. I saw also the Illustrated London News steam press, which is very wonderful. I had not observed the hydraulic press from the Britannia Bridge before. What an immense thing that is! I heard Gray and Davidson's organ at the east end of the nave played, and liked it better for its size than the largest. In the American part some ass of a Yankee had put a piano with a fiddle, and by turning a handle the fiddle begins to squeak; and, to the disgrace of mankind, it must be said that there is as great a crowd round this thing as round anything else almost in the place.”
His father was much pleased with his progress at school. On the 19th November 1850 Mr. Jevons wrote: “I am glad to see the first report of your character and progress and standing in your school. It is very good, but only what I expected from you.” And again on the 18th March 1851: “I was not a little gratified by the receipt of your character as pronounced by your several masters. I have no doubt of its truthfulness, and it is highly honourable to you. Go on in like manner, and prosper you must in whatever walk of life you select.” On the 28th June 1851 he wrote: “I shall be very glad when your holidays commence, for it seems a long time to be deprived of your society, and I shall begin now to look to you for assistance in family affairs by consultation and advice. … I need the help of a friend in whom I can trust, and I must bring you forward to take part in the battle of life, young as you yet are.”
At midsummer 1851 Stanley returned to Liverpool, bringing with him five prizes, three first and two second. His school-days were then at an end, for at that time boys did not remain at University College School beyond the age of sixteen, and he would attain that age during the holidays. He was already beginning to think about some of the difficult problems of philosophy, and before his return to college in October he had written an essay on “Free Will and Necessity,” in which he tried to prove that the arguments in favour of the doctrine of necessity were much stronger than those in favour of the doctrine of freedom of will.
Looking back upon his early boyhood, he wrote in December 1862, when he was twenty-seven years of age: “When quite young I can remember I had no thought or wish of surpassing others. I was rather taken with a liking of little arts and bits of learning. My mother carefully fostered a liking for botany, giving me a small microscope and many books, which I yet have. Strange as it may seem, I now believe that botany and the natural system, by exercising discrimination of kinds, is the best of logical exercises. What I may do in logic is perhaps derived from that early attention to botany. My Uncle Richard also gave me Henslow's Botany. He presented me with certain bookbinding tools, which I had the greatest pleasure in using or trying to use. I am yet partial to bookbinding, and shall sometime perhaps begin it again. I used to think I should like to be a bookbinder or bookseller—it seemed to me a most delightful trade—and I wished or thought of nothing better. More lately I thought I should be a minister, it seemed so serious and useful a profession, and I entered but little into the merits of religion and the duties of a minister. Every one dissuaded me from the notion, and before I arrived at any age to require a real decision, science had claimed me.”
At the same time he recalled some of his thoughts about religion at this early period: “I was not without a tendency to inquire into the subject. The Gospels seemed worth more than reading; they were worth analysing and making into a rigorous history of Christ. And this I actually undertook to do. While living in Chatham Street, perhaps about the year 1850, I began the work during the quiet of Sunday afternoons in my small bedroom, where I had a very diminutive table, with an inkstand and a few little things in a study-like array. By noting down the facts as stated in the Gospels, and comparing them and arranging them in chronological order, I intended to form a regular Life. But altogether, apart from any difficulties which older persons might meet, I found the task very perplexing for my then powers. What most impressed the work on my memory is that the second or third Sunday my father appeared suddenly in my room. As this was at the very top of the house, and he was usually sitting during the afternoon after dinner in the parlour, I expect he must have missed me and come to see my occupation. But finding me writing, he pressingly inquired the subject, which I was at last almost forced to confess, to my entire confusion and dismay.”
Of his secret aspirations during his school life in London he wrote at the same date: “It was during the year 1851, while living almost unhappily among thoughtless, if not bad companions, in Gower Street—a gloomy house on which I now look with dread—it was then, and when I had got a quiet hour in my small bedroom at the top of the house, that I began to think that I could and ought to do more than others. A vague desire and determination grew upon me. I was then in the habit of saying my prayers like any good church person, and it was when so engaged that I thought most eagerly of the future, and hoped for the unknown. My reserve was so perfect that I suppose no one had the slightest comprehension of my motives or ends. My father probably knew me but little. I never had any confidential conversation with him. At school and college the success in the classes was the only indication of my powers. All else that I intended or did was within or carefully hidden. The reserved character, as I have often thought, is not pleasant nor lovely. But is it not necessary to one such as I? Would it have been sensible or even possible for a boy of fifteen or sixteen to say what he was going to do before he was fifty? For my own part 1 felt it to be almost presumptuous to pronounce to myself the hopes I held and the schemes I formed. Time alone could reveal whether they were empty or real; only when proved real could they be known to others.”