De Morgan by his wife Sophia. Part 1
This file covers events in De Morgan's life from 1806 to 1826. The material is a version of that written by De Morgan's wife Sophia Elizabeth in 'S E De Morgan, Memoir of Augustus De Morgan by his wife Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (London, 1882)'.
There are sections:
(i) The De Morgan family;
(ii) De Morgan's schooling;
(iii) De Morgan and religion;
(iv) De Morgan at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The other sections of these Memoirs are at
There are sections:
(i) The De Morgan family;
(ii) De Morgan's schooling;
(iii) De Morgan and religion;
(iv) De Morgan at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The other sections of these Memoirs are at
1. The De Morgan family
Augustus De Morgan was born in the year 1806 at Madura, in the Madras Presidency. His father Lieutenant-Colonel De Morgan had held appointments, some of them staff situations, at several stations in India; and at the time of his fifth child's birth had chosen Madura in preference to Vellore on account of its comparative quietness. This choice was fortunate, for the battalion of Colonel De Morgan's regiment commanded by Colonel Fanshawe was at Vellore during the time of the mutiny of the native troops; and thus escaped the terrible outbreak in which several English officers lost their lives, and Colonel Fanshawe was murdered. Even at the quieter stations there was cause for alarm from the general disaffection of the native troops, and my husband's mother told how she, being then near her confinement, saw Colonel De Morgan, when the sentries were changed, creep out of bed to listen to the Sepoys, that he might learn if any plot were in agitation, about which information might be given with the password.
When Augustus was seven months old his father and mother came to England with three children, two daughters and the infant. They sailed in the Duchess of Gordon, one of a convoy of nearly forty ships. The Commodore, Captain (afterwards Admiral) Sir John Beaufort, was on friendly terms with my husband in after life. But Mr De Morgan had no suspicion of having sailed under his convoy until after Mrs De Morgan's death, when the notice of it was found in her journal. When Admiral Beaufort heard of this he wrote, in a letter dated Oct. 10, 1857, five weeks before his own death:-
Our co-residence for three or four months, not in the same street or village or county, but in the same track along the ocean, is an amusing link in our two life-threads; but not the less nattering to me as being claimed by you, and as finding myself one of the dramatis personae in your mother's journal of the Jane, Duchess of Gordon. You most correctly picture us as being 'at the two ends of the chain,' for while it was my post to lead that gigantic fleet of upwards of thirty large vessels, I well remember that she was in all cases the sternmost, in spite of the number of hoarse hints that were given her through our guns. Passengers, even ladies, are never very tender in their criticisms on the poor commodore, and it would be charming to see how your mother retaliated for his above coarse language by her sharp and witty castigation.Colonel De Morgan settled at Worcester with his wife and children, but returned to India in 1808 alone. Some disturbances in the Madras Army, causing the suspension from command of several officers, including himself, gave him much trouble and anxiety for some time; but the affair, which was settled by an inquiry at the India House, resulted in his complete and honourable acquittal. On his return to England in 1810, the family lived in the north of Devonshire; first at Appledore, then at Bideford, then at Barnstaple. In 1812, one daughter having died, and two sons been born, they settled at Taunton in Somersetshire. The father again left England for Madras, and took the command of a battalion at Quilon. Being ordered home ill with liver complaint, he left Madras in 1816, and died near St Helena, on his way to England.
2. De Morgan's schooling
In a list given of his schools and instructors by Mr De Morgan, his father's name occurs as his first teacher. He was then four years old, and learnt 'reading and numeration.' The heading of one column in this list, 'Age of the Victim,' shows in a half-serious, half-humorous way the idea 'the Victim' retained of his early schooling. He did not mean that it was worse in his case than in that of other boys, and he always spoke gratefully of his father; but he was no exception to the rule that most children, especially those of great intellectual promise, are more or less victims to our unenlightened methods of education. Of these exceptional children I have heard him say that those have the best chance who have the least teaching.
At Barnstaple he learned, from a Miss Williams, reading, writing, and spelling; at Taunton, being between seven and eight, from Mrs Poole, reading, writing, arithmetic, and (very) general knowledge. He always retained a painful remembrance of this school. The Rev J Fenner, a Unitarian minister, was for a short time his teacher. The pupil was at that time about nine years old, and added Greek and Latin to his other studies. Mr Fenner was the uncle of Henry Crabb Robinson, who died in 1867, aged ninety-one, and who had been at one time a pupil in the school. The next two teachers were, at Blandford, the Rev T Keynes, Independent minister; and at Taunton, the Rev H Barker, Church of England clergyman, at whose school he was taught Latin, Greek, Euclid, Algebra, and a little Hebrew. His last schoolmaster, a clever man, and one of whom, though he was not a high mathematician, his pupil always spoke with respect, was the Rev J Parsons, M.A., formerly Fellow of Oriel. At Mr Parsons' school, at Redland, near Bristol, Latin, Greek, and mathematics were taught. Mr De Morgan was at this school from the age of fourteen to sixteen and a half, and at this period of his life his mathematical powers were first developed.
It was strange that among so many teachers the germ of mathematical ability should have been so long unnoticed. It could not be quite latent or quite unformed in the brain of a boy of fourteen; it can only be supposed that the routine of school teaching smothered and hid it from observation. Education means drawing out; it often is keeping in, and it is well when it is no worse. In this case it was good for the pupil and for mathematics that the early germ should be left to its own resources of natural growth, uncrippled and undistorted by mistaken systems of teaching. It was accidentally developed, and indeed made known to its possessor by the observation of a dear old friend, Mr Hugh Standert, of Taunton. Seeing the boy very busy making a neat figure with ruler and compasses, and finding that the essence of the proposition was supposed to lie in its accurate geometrical drawing, he asked what was to be done. Augustus said he was drawing mathematics. 'That's not mathematics,' said his friend; 'come, and I will show you what is.' So the lines and angles were rubbed out, and the future mathematician, greatly surprised by finding that he had missed the aim of Euclid, was soon intent on the first demonstration he ever knew the meaning of. I do not think, from what I have heard him say, that Mr Standert was instrumental in further bringing out the latent power. But its owner had become in some degree aware of the mine of wealth that only required working, and as some mathematics was taught at Mr Parsons' school, the little help that was needed was soon turned to profit. He soon left his teacher behind, and from that time his great delight was to work out questions which were often as much his own as their solution.
I can only find one little mention of his first going to his school in his own handwriting. In a letter to Dean Peacock in 1852, he says apropos of Robert Young, of whom he had been writing:-
When I was sent to school near Bristol in 1820, I was consigned to E Young, who especially warned me not to walk in my sleep, as there were no leads outside the windows; they had been removed. The consequence was, that though I never walked in my sleep before or since that I remember, I was awakened by the wind blowing on me, and found myself before the open window, with my knee on the lower ledge. I crept back to bed, leaving the window open, and the family being alarmed by the noise, came into my room, and found me asleep and the window open, so that as their fenestral logic did not reason both ways, they forgot that the leads were not there, and searched the whole house for thieves.'Mr Robert Reece, his old schoolfellow and constant friend of forty years, writes concerning these early school days:-
I entered Mr Parsons' school at Redland, near Bristol, on August 12, 1819. I think dear De Morgan came among us at the latter end of the following year, or in January 1821.Mr Reece has told me how these cruel practical jokes were put an end to. One lad was in the habit of playing a trick upon his schoolfellow which deserves a worse name than thoughtlessness. He would come up stealthily to De Morgan's blind side, and holding a sharp-pointed penknife to his cheek, speak to him suddenly by name. De Morgan on turning round received the point of the knife in his face. His friend Reece agreed with him that until the aggressor should receive a sound thrashing he would never desist from his cruelty. 'But how,' said the School tormented lad,' can I catch him to thrash him? I cannot see him. He comes up, and is gone before I can lay hands on him.' 'But you shall,' said Reece; and the arrangement was made. Reece, knowing that when his friend was quietly reading, as he often did, at a desk so placed that his blind side was near the door, the enemy would be likely to approach, hid himself in such a way that when the boy entered he could shut the door and prevent escape. All happened as he expected. De Morgan sat down at his desk with a book before him. Very soon the cowardly aggressor came quietly in, pointed his knife at his cheek, and said suddenly, 'De Morgan!' His intended victim did not turn round as he had done before, and in a moment the lad, a stout boy of fourteen, was seized behind by Reece, who gave him over to receive the 'sound thrashing' which De Morgan administered, and which proved effectual in making him keep the peace from that time.
He was certainly a fine stout fellow for his age, and at once took a high place in the school. He had a grievous infirmity, the loss of one of his eyes, [From birth, both eyes were affected with the 'sore eye' of India, and the left was saved.] which provoked all kinds of gibes and practical jokes among the boys.
Mr Reece tells how he and his friend, with another boy of similar tastes, contrived a late reading party, unsanctioned by the master. One of the three asked Mr Parsons to lend them Scott's poems, at that time just published. Having got 'The Lady of the Lake,' they waited till all the other boys were in bed, the lights out, and all things quiet; then De Morgan produced a match pistol and a tinder, snapped a spark and lit the candle, and then read to his two companions till all three were too sleepy to take an interest in Ellen and Roderick Dhu. I do not mention this as an example to be followed, but I hope my readers will forgive them. Mr Reece says:-
I was impressed with his wonderful ability from the first, and I courted him, and gave him my admiration and my love. In return, he became attached to me, and invited or permitted me to sit by him in play-hours. He never joined in the sports of the boys, owing to his infirmity. He had a remarkable talent for drawing caricatures, of the kind that Gilray was so famous for. I took great interest in these drawings, and I had the privilege of suggesting a subject now and then. Two of them I remember - the one, "Charon's boat," with figures; the other, "The Devil," with the three black graces, Law, Physic, and Divinity. It seems an odd thing to record, but I well remember that I was advanced in "Bland's Quadratic Equations" when De Morgan took up that well-known elementary book, "Bridge's Algebra," for the first time. But it was so. He read Bridge's book like a novel. In less than a month he had gone through that treatise and dashed into Bland, and so got out of sight, as far as I was concerned. It is scarcely necessary to say that all his school work was admirably performed. Mr Parsons had the highest opinion of him.[Robert Reece died two years after his friend, his affection for whom was one of the strongest feelings in his mind while consciousness remained.]
Mr Parsons being a good classical scholar, his aim was rather to make his boys good classics than mathematicians. If the mathematical power had not made itself apparent, and taken the place of all other interests in the pupil's mind, his studies would probably have taken the direction desired by his master. As it was, he was a good Greek and Latin scholar, and his classical reading was wide and varied. The teaching at Redland School was good, but abuses creep in everywhere. Here is an account of a way of saying the lessons, given to me by my husband in explanation of some remarks I had written on education. Like the midnight entertainment before mentioned, the story will afford hints to teachers rather than an example for pupils:-
An ingenious application of the logical fallacy of a part for the whole was invented by schoolboys by the help of Providence, to moderate a mischief which would otherwise have been severely felt. It was thought necessary that boys should learn by heart Latin and Greek verses, to strengthen the memory. The poor ignorant Virgil and Homer scanners, and their subordinate Euclid and algebra drillers, had not the smallest idea that a memory is an adjunct of each faculty, that the training of one is of little or no help to another, and that the memory of words, which they over-cultivated, differs widely among young people. The allowance was forty lines a day, Latin and Greek alternately, for five days in the week, the whole two hundred to be repeated in one lot on Saturday. There was as much difference between the boys in the rapidity of committing to memory, as between the two pilgrims who went peashod to Loretto, the one with hard peas, the other with boiled, in his shoes. But the boys had the sense to learn their parts, as the actors do, and again, like the actors, they learnt the cues. This was carried on, at a school at which I was, year after year, without a single detection. Even the contretemps which arose when a boy was ill on a Saturday, or when one who had been ill on a week-day came in on the Saturday, were adroitly got over. I am perfectly satisfied that the master, an old Fellow of Oriel, was a party to the whole proceeding, as a means of reconciling the appearances demanded by opinion with the amount of word-catching which he thought sufficient. And judging by what I have heard of other schools, I suspect that such connivance was not infrequent.The boys of Mr Parsons' school attended St Michael's Church, Bristol. Having heard something from Mr De Morgan of his juvenile delinquencies, arising from thinking more of mathematics than of the scarcely audible sermon, I searched out the school pew during a visit to Bristol, and there found, neatly marked on the oak wainscot partition, the first and second propositions of Euclid and one or two simple equations, with the initials A DE M. They were made in rows of small holes, pierced with the sharp point of a shoe-buckle, and are by this time probably repaired and cleaned away.
The testimony of Mr Reece to the affection felt for their schoolfellow by most of his companions has been confirmed to me by one or two of the few who remain in this world, and I find in letters from friends many little confirmations. 'I have known more of you than you of me,' his friend Mr Leslie Ellis wrote to him during the long and suffering illness which preceded his death. 'Even while you were yet at Mr Parsons' and I was a child I had heard of you, and of course in later years I have heard of you very often; but though everybody spoke well of you, I was left to find out for myself how kind you could be to a sick man - how kind, I think I must infer, to all about you.'
And another time:-
I had, since your recollection of Parsons, two brothers there, and I remember my father speaking of having seen you, and saying that the usher complained that you were "such a glutton," meaning in the matter of reading; but I cannot recollect whether he spoke of mathematical or classical reading, or of both.But the boy was probably, at school, very like what he was at home, when his mother, who loved him fondly, described him as a quiet, thoughtful boy, occasionally but not often irritable, and never so well pleased as when he could get her to listen to his reading and explanations, and 'always speculating on things that nobody else thought of, and asking her questions far beyond her power to answer.'
3. De Morgan and religion
One element of his early teaching strongly tinged his character in after life. Col De Morgan, who was a strictly religious man, of a rather evangelical, as it is falsely called, turn of feeling, was premature, seeing the sensitiveness and grasp of the mind he had to deal with, in inculcating rigid doctrines, and insisting on formal observances. The religious training of his son thus begun, was continued, after his father left England, by his excellent mother, who, with the best intentions in the world, was unable to adapt the spiritual food to the needs of the recipient. He was made to learn by heart and repeat long Scripture lessons, so chosen that their meaning and connection with each other and with himself were quite imperceptible; indeed, I have heard him say that, from frequent repetition, the words and phrases became meaningless to him. He was taken to church twice in the week, three times on Sunday, and required to give an abstract of every sermon he heard. Being thus administered, religion could not fail to become a source of misery. Sunday was the one wretched day of the week, to be got over somehow, and church was a place of penance. A worse result of the system even than this was the confusing together in an honest young mind all ideas of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, in connection with religion. The awful description of the Devil and his doings, and the eternal burning to be undergone by all who did not believe what he could not then, and never was able to believe in the prescribed form, were set in the boy's mind against Jesus Christ's declaration that His Father was a God of love, and that repentance was the only condition of forgiveness. For a boy like Augustus De Morgan, whose clear perceptions, love of truth, and readiness to venerate, rendered him sensitive to every word spoken by those whom he loved, or who were in authority over him, such mental antagonisms must have been the cause of great anguish, and he could only escape, after he once began to think, by dismissing the whole from his mind. The problem of how to reconcile the Divine idea of God's love with the human notion of God's justice was a harder one than he ever met with in after life, and he gave it up as insoluble. Not being yet able to detect the logical fallacies and critical errors which formed part of the arguments used to convince him, he could only receive those arguments in silence, but without assent. Happily the evil corrected itself, and no harm was done in the end. His innate sense of relationship to his heavenly Father was too strong to allow him to become atheistical, and his reasoning power too sound to allow him to be sceptical as to the Christian revelation. But the process of pulling down and building up took time, and it was years before the impressions of his childhood could pass away, and the natural, healthy working of the religious spirit could begin. Such an experiment is a dangerous one for parents to try, and the greater the early indications of religious feeling in a child, the more cautious and forbearing should they be in their direction of it.
One lasting injury done to him by the compulsory attendance so often at public worship, was his inability in after life to listen for any time to speaking or preaching. He said that the old troubles of the three services on Sunday, and the 'dreary sermons' came back to him, and to get rid of these memories he thought of something different from what was being said.
4. De Morgan at Trinity College, Cambridge
In February 1823 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. His old schoolmaster, Mr Parsons, with other friends, had counselled his pupil's reading for honours in Classics; and Mrs De Morgan's wish was that her son should enter the Church as an Evangelical clergyman. She had had all the responsibility of her children's education, and, looking to the success of her eldest at Cambridge as a most important element of his future welfare, naturally trusted to the advice of her friends, and believed that all attention given to Mathematics beyond what was needed for his examination would be so much labour lost. He was but sixteen years and a half old when he went to Cambridge, entering at a by-term. Though always studious and persevering, yet at his first examination, when his attention had been divided between the classical reading he had forced himself to attend to, and the Mathematics which he loved, he stood at the top of the second class only. But his failure, as she considered it, caused his mother great anxiety, and her letters to him at the time are filled with earnest entreaties 'not to disregard good advice,' not to be so wilful,' &c.
It is certain that her exhortations were not needed. He had exerted himself, as his tutor's letter to him shows: 'I am sorry that I cannot congratulate you on being in the first class, though your merits and exertions richly deserved it.' We may remember that he was at this time under seventeen, that he had been at college only three months, and that he beat by many places his competitor of his own year, two years his senior in age. Moreover, he had been urged by his tutor, against his own conviction, to go in for examination at this time.
It appears from some of his mother's letters that he had in reply assured her that he would comply with her wish with respect to his reading. But it cannot be wondered at that the University lectures opened the field into which he had long desired to enter. It was like new life to him when he listened to Dr Peacock's explanations, and followed up the study he loved under the guidance of one who knew how to show the way. From the conflict between his own inclinations and the wishes of his friends it is certain that his path could not be quite smooth, but happily the University courses made it better during the second than in the first year. A greater amount of Mathematics was then required in the college examination, and he was found at the head of the first class. Mr Higman, his tutor, wrote to his mother: 'Notwithstanding my disappointment last year, I had formed such a very favourable opinion of Mr De Morgan's talent, and was so much pleased with his industry and the implicit attention he paid to every direction that I gave him, that I felt perfectly assured that he would, on the next trial, when less depended on Classics, distinguish himself in a very extraordinary manner. Nor have my prognostics with regard to his success proved deceitful; he is not only in our first class, but far, very far, the first in it.'
For the first two years of his Cambridge life, owing to the difficulty of getting rooms in Trinity College, he was in lodgings. After this his rooms were over the gateway. At this time his mother wrote to him: 'I hope I am mistaken in supposing from your letter that you go entirely to "the chapel," and not with Mr and Mrs --- , to hear the Gospel on Sundays. ... You are very young, my love, and will be likely to go wrong from being left to yourself so soon if you do not take advantage of the experience of those who have gone before you. I have less fear for you than I should have for many youths of your age, because you are studious and steady, because you love your mother tenderly, but above all, because you are the child of many prayers; but I shall be most anxious if you do not hear dear Mr Simeon.'
In another letter she says, speaking of the same friends who had assisted him in small money arrangements at Cambridge: 'Mrs --- tells me you are like a man of fifty in settling your accounts with her for things she has bought. Dear own son of your father and mother, go on through life with the same scrupulous punctuality; it will be a means of keeping you from spending extravagantly; it will make you respected and beloved, and preserve you from that sort of carelessness which brings many young men to ruin.' I would not put on record expressions showing the intense anxiety of a most energetic and loving mother for a beloved child, except to afford an instance of how the very best intentions may be acted on in such a way as to frustrate their own fulfilment. Mrs De Morgan had put some books, of what would now be called a 'Low Church' tendency, into a box with other things for her son, accompanying them with a letter, from which I extract the following:
I am so anxious that you should read occasionally the books I send (unknown to you), and was so fearful you might endeavour to persuade yourself and me that you had no time for such studies, that I thought the best way would be to say nothing about it viva voce, but to send them uninvited; and, having determined on that, an explanatory note became necessary. I beseech you, for my sake, to read with attention these books, to utter a prayer over them whenever you open them, "that they may be blessed to you as they have been to thousands," many of whom are now rejoicing in heaven, where you wish to go, but where you never can go while you remain wilfully ignorant of your state by nature, and of your need of a Saviour. Your believing an atonement necessary in a general sense will not avail you. You must go by yourself and for yourself to Christ for pardon and grace, and until you do this you may rest assured you are in a most awful state liable to be hurled into everlasting torment by every little accident, every disease, nay, even by a crumb of bread going the wrong way. Can you wonder that a mother, doting as I do on you, feels miserable when she contemplates a beloved child wantonly sporting on the edge of so tremendous a precipice? ... Can you picture to yourself any agonies like those which would take possession of your mind were you assured that before tomorrow morning you would be standing at the tremendous bar of an angry God?The young man thus appealed to was dutiful and affectionate, and these exhortations troubled him much. His reason and instinctive love of God told him that they must arise from misinterpretations of Scripture, and from human notions of Divine things. In many less logical and fearless minds they would have produced disgust with religion altogether; but the intellect of the future logician was too clear to confound the thing itself with its abuses, or with the misrepresentations of ill-judging advocates. These had not even the effect of making him dismiss the matter from his mind, for during the whole of his college life his mind was actively employed on questions connected with theology and philosophy. He never saw the gospel in any other light than as a professing declaration of God's love and mercy, but it was some time before he was convinced of its historical truth and supramundane origin.
In 1825 Mr De Morgan was again high in his class. He had had an illness, perhaps from reading too much and too late at night; and his mother, whose gratification was damped by her great anxiety about his health, writes to him: 'You are much higher than I expected from your humble account of yourself, and I rely on your letting me know if you should suffer materially.' In April a Trinity scholarship was awarded him. After this time some friends must have made his mother anxious by accounts of his general and discursive reading, for she writes: 'I have heard of you lately as a man who reads much, but who is not likely to do much, because he will not conform to the instructions of those who could assist him.' The indocility to which she refers consisted in extensive Mathematical reading beyond the bounds marked out by his tutors, and in the study of Metaphysics, Mental Philosophy, and even Theology. Berkeley's writings attracted him strongly; the immateriality of Berkeley's doctrine being suited to a mind instinctively resting upon a spiritual Father, and believing that we depend on His sustaining power as well for absolute existence as for support and guidance through life. It is far from improbable that Berkeley's speculations, falling in in a great degree with his own, gave a strong bias to his subsequent thoughts on metaphysical questions.
He never forgot what he owed to his teachers in the University. These were, as entered in his own book, his college tutor J P Higman, Archdeacon Thorp, G B Airy, H Coddington, H Parr Hamilton (Dean of Salisbury), G Peacock (Dean of Ely), and W Whewell (afterwards Master of Trinity). With all of these gentlemen he kept up a friendship and correspondence during their joint lives.
His college friends of nearly his own age were William Heald, William Mason, Arthur Neate, and Thomas Falconer, all of Trinity College. Among those whose friendship he valued, none were more esteemed by him than his teachers Dean Peacock, Dr Whewell, Mr Coddington, and Dr Thorp, afterwards Archdeacon Thorp. Mr Heald, afterwards Rector of Birstal, in Yorkshire, died in 1875. Mr Mason, Rector of Pickhill, near Thirsk, died in 1873, and his companion and chum of Trinity College days, Arthur Neate, died at his rectory, Alvescot, near Oxford, in 1870.
Some peculiarities in his college life were well known to Cambridge men of his year. The habit of reading through great part of the night, and, in consequence, getting up very late the next day, was notorious; and fellow collegians, coming home from a wine party at four in the morning, might find him just going to bed. One of these, better known in the University for rows than for reading, has told me how often he himself, being late next day from a different cause, has gone into De Morgan's rooms, just below his own, and begged for an air on the flute to 'soothe a headache.' His flute, which he played exquisitely, was a great source of pleasure to himself and his friends. He was a member of the 'Camus,' a musical club so called from the initials of its designation Cambridge Amateur Musical Union Society; and their meetings, and those at the houses of a few musical families, were his chief recreation. He was a born musician. His mother said that when listening to the piano, even when a very little child, a discordant note would make him cry out and shiver. I must not omit to record his insatiable appetite for novel-reading, always a great relaxation in his leisure time, and doubtless a useful rest to an over-active brain in the case of one who did not care for riding or boating. Let it be good or bad in a literary point of view, almost any work of fiction was welcome, provided it had plenty of incident and dialogue, and was not over-sentimental. He told me that he soon exhausted the stores of the circulating library at Cambridge. Like his schoolfellows, his college friends loved him for his genial kindness, unwillingness to find fault, and quiet love of fun, always excepting practical jokes, with which he had no patience at all.
During the last year and a half of his stay at Cambridge Mr De Morgan had some thoughts of becoming a physician. With his views on religion, his ordination was out of the question; but he liked the study of medicine, and some friends advised him to read it with a purpose. This intention did not last long. His old friend, Mr Hugh Standert, of Taunton, knew by experience what was generally needed for success in medical practice, and an acquaintance from infancy made him believe that Augustus was not pliant enough, and could not, or would not, be sufficiently ready to adapt himself to the fancies and peculiarities he would meet with to make him a popular doctor. Whether or not he had any special genius for medicine is uncertain. His mother agreed with Mr Standert, and urged upon her son that his success in medicine might depend on an amount of toleration for ignorance and folly which, with his 'hatred of everything low,' he would find a great trial. She begged him to 'throw physic to the dogs,' and to turn his thoughts to law. He complied, but did not like his destination. Events proved that he was right, that he had not found his proper place in the world's workshop.
In 1827 he took the degree of fourth wrangler, the order being Gordon, Turner, Cleasby, De Morgan. This place, as one of his scientific biographers truly says, 'did not declare his real power, or the exceptional aptitude of his mind for mathematical study.' He had been expected to be senior or second wrangler, and his lower degree was attributed by his contemporaries and competitors to the wide mathematical reading by which he was often led away from the course prescribed for examination. This failure, in a possibly fallacious test, was his own early, but unintentional, protest against competitive examinations; for which he felt excessive disapprobation even before his experience as a teacher showed him not only their mischievous effect upon mind and health, but their insufficiency to determine the real worth of a candidate for honours. In saying this I do not detract from the merit of the gentlemen who stood above Mr De Morgan in the Tripos of 1827. All three distinguished themselves in after life, but as he was undoubtedly the first in mathematical ability, it is likely that their precedence of him might be due to the fact that his love of the study led him to read more widely and discursively than his friends on the very subject on which excellence was to be tested.
At the time of his taking his B.A. degree he came to live with his two brothers, mother, and sister in London. He had determined to go to the Bar, and was beginning his legal studies, but he very much preferred teaching mathematics to reading law. Something like the objection urged by his friends to medicine was uppermost in his mind, and he feared or imagined that in practising at the Bar he might find it difficult to satisfy both his clients and his conscience. But these scruples were overcome, and he entered at Lincoln's Inn.
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