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Soon after my dear husband’s death, we went to Spezia, as my health required change, and for some time we made it our headquarters, spending one winter at Florence, another at Genoa, where my son and his wife came to meet us, and where I had very great delight in the beautiful singing of our old friend Clara Novello, now Countess Gigliucci, who used to come to my house, and sing Handel to me. It was a real pleasure, and her voice was as pure and silvery as when I first heard her, years before. Another winter we spent at Turin. On returning to Spezia in the summer of 1861, the beautiful comet visible that year appeared for the first time the very evening we arrived. On the following, and during many evenings while it was visible, we used to row in a small boat a little way from shore, in order to see it to greater advantage. Nothing could be more poetical than the clear starlit heavens with this beautiful comet reflected, nay, almost repeated, in the calm glassy water of the gulf. The perfect silence and stillness of the scene was very impressive.

I was now unoccupied, and felt the necessity of having something to do, desultory reading being insufficient to interest me; and as I had always considered the section on chemistry the weakest part of the connection of the “Physical Sciences,” I resolved to write it anew. My daughters strongly opposed this, saying, “Why not write a new book?” They were right; it would have been lost time: so I followed their advice, though it was a formidable undertaking at my age, considering that the general character of science had greatly changed. By the improved state of the microscope, an invisible creation in the air, the earth, and the water, had been brought within the limits of human vision; the microscopic structure of plants and animals had been minutely studied, and by synthesis many substances had been formed of the elementary atoms similar to those produced by nature. Dr. Tyndall’s experiments had proved the inconceivable minuteness of the atoms of matter; Mr. Gassiot and Professor Pluecher had published their experiments on the stratification of the electric light; and that series of discoveries by scientific men abroad, but chiefly by our own philosophers at home, which had been in progress for a course of years, prepared the way for Bunsen and Kirchhof’s marvellous consummation.

Such was the field opened to me; but instead of being discouraged by its magnitude, I seemed to have resumed the perseverance and energy of my youth, and began to write with courage, though I did not think I should live to finish even the sketch I had made, and which I intended to publish under the name of “Molecular and Microscopic Science,” and assumed as my motto, “Deus magnus in magnis, maximus in minimis,” from Saint Augustin.

My manuscript notes on Science were now of the greatest use; and we went for the winter to Turin (1861-1862), where I could get books from the public libraries, and much information on subjects of natural history from Professor De Filippi, who has recently died, much regretted, while on a scientific mission to Japan and China, as well as from other sources. I subscribed to various periodicals on chemical and other branches of science; the transactions of several of our societies were sent to me, and I began to write. I was now an old woman, very deaf and with shaking hands; but I could still see to thread the finest needle, and read the finest print, but I got sooner tired when writing than I used to do. I wrote regularly every morning from eight till twelve or one o’clock before rising. I was not alone, for I had a mountain sparrow, a great pet, which sat, and indeed is sitting on my arm as I write these lines.

The Marchese Doria has a large property at Spezia, and my dear friend Teresa Doria generally spent the evening with us, when she and I chatted and played Bezique together. Her sons also came frequently, and some of the officers of the Italian navy. One who became our very good friend is Captain William Acton, now Admiral, and for two years Minister of Marine; he is very handsome, and, what is better, a most agreeable, accomplished gentleman, who has interested himself in many branches of natural history, besides being a good linguist. In summer the British squadron, commanded by Admiral Smart, came for five weeks to Spezia. My nephew, Henry Fairfax, was commander on board the ironclad “Resistance.” Notwithstanding my age, I was so curious to see an ironclad that I went all over the “Resistance,” even to the engine-room and screw-alley. I also went to luncheon on board the flagship “Victoria,” a three-decker, which put me in mind of olden times.

[The following extracts are from letters of my mother’s, written in
1863 and 1865: ]

FROM MRS. SOMERVILLE TO W. GREIG, ESQ.

SPEZIA, 12th May, 1863.

How happy your last letter has made me, my dearest Woronzow, to hear that you are making real progress, and that you begin to feel better from the Bath waters.... Of your general health I had the very best account this morning from your friend Colonel Gordon. I was most agreeably surprised and gratified by a very kind and interesting letter from him, enclosing his photograph, and giving me an account of his great works at Portsmouth with reference to the defence by iron as well as stone....

I wish I could show you the baskets full of flowers which Martha and Mary bring to me from the mountains. They are wonderfully beautiful; it is one of my greatest amusements putting them in water. I quite regret when they cannot go for them. The orchises and the gladioles are the chief flowers now, but such a variety and such colours! You see we have our quiet pleasures. I often think of more than “60 years ago,” when I used to scramble over the Bin at Burntisland after our tods-tails and leddies-fingers, but I fear there is hardly a wild spot existing now in the lowlands of Scotland....

God bless you, my dearest Woronzow.

FROM MRS. SOMERVILLE TO W. GREIG, ESQ.

SPEZIA, 27th Sept., 1865.

MY DEAREST WORONZOW,

I fear Agnes and you must have thought your old mother had gone mad when you read M.’s letter. In my sober senses, however, though sufficiently excited to give me strength for the time, I went over every part of the Resistance, and examined everything in detail except the stokehole! I was not even hoisted on board, but mounted the companion-ladder bravely. It was a glorious sight, the perfection of structure in every part astonished me. A ship like that is the triumph of human talent and of British talent, for all confess our superiority in this respect to every other nation, and I am happy to see that no jealousy has arisen from the meeting of the French and English fleets. I was proud that our “young admiral" had the command of so fine a vessel.... I also spent a most agreeable day on board the Victoria, three-decker, and saw every part of the three decks, which are very different from what they were in my father’s time; everything on a much larger scale, more elegant and convenient. But the greatest change is in the men; I never saw a finer set, so gentlemanly-looking and well-behaved; almost all can read and write, and they have an excellent library and reading-room in all the ships. No sooner was the fleet gone than the Italian Society of Natural History held their annual meeting here, Capellini being president in the absence (in Bornéo) of Giacomo Doria. There were altogether seventy members, Italian, French, and German. I was chosen an Associate by acclamation, and had to write a few lines of thanks. The weather was beautiful and the whole party dined every day on the terrace below our windows, which was very amusing to Miss Campbell and your sisters, who distinctly heard the speeches. I was invited to dinner and the wife of the celebrated Professor Vogt was asked to meet me; I declined dining, as it lasted so long that I should have been too tired, but I went down to the dessert. Capellini came for me, and all rose as I came in, and every attention was shown me, my health was drank, &c. &c. It lasted four days, and we had many evening visits, and I received a quantity of papers on all subjects. I am working very hard (for me at least), but I cannot hurry, nor do I see the need for it. I write so slowly on account of the shaking of my hand that although my head is clear I make little but steady progress....

Your affectionate mother,
MARY SOMERVILLE.

After the battle of Aspromonte, Garibaldi arrived a prisoner on board a man-of-war, and was placed at Varignano under surveillance. His wound had not been properly dressed, and he was in a state of great suffering. Many surgeons came from all parts of Italy, and one even from England, to attend him, but the eminent Professor Nelaton saved him from amputation, with which he was threatened, by extracting the bullet from his ankle. I never saw Garibaldi during his three months’ residence at Varignano and Spezia; I had no previous acquaintance with him; consequently, as I could be of no use to him, I did not consider myself entitled to intrude upon him merely to gratify my own curiosity, although no one admired his noble and disinterested character more than I did. Not so, many of my countrymen, and countrywomen too, as well as ladies of other nations, who worried the poor man out of his life, and made themselves eminently ridiculous. One lady went so far as to collect the hairs from his comb, others showered tracts upon him.

I had hitherto been very healthy; but in the beginning of winter I was seized with a severe illness which, though not immediately dangerous, lasted so long, that it was doubtful whether I should have stamina to recover. It was a painful and fatiguing time to my daughters. They were quite worn out with nursing me; our maid was ill, and our man-servant, Luigi Lucchesi, watched me with such devotion that he sat up twenty-four nights with me. He has been with us eighteen years, and now that I am old and feeble, he attends me with unceasing kindness. It is but justice to say that we never were so faithfully or well served as by Italians; and none are more ingenious in turning their hands to anything, and in never objecting to do this or that, as not what they were hired for, a great quality for people who, like ourselves, keep few servants. After a time they identify themselves with the family they serve, as my faithful Luigi has done with all his heart. I am sincerely attached to him.

In the spring, when I had recovered, my son and his wife came to Spezia, and we all went to Florence, where we had the pleasure of seeing many old friends. We returned to Spezia, and my son and his wife left us to go back to England, intending to meet us again somewhere the following spring. I little thought we never should meet again.... My son sent his sisters a beautiful little cutter, built by Mr. Forrest in London, which has been a great resource to them. I always insist on their taking a good sailor with them, although I am not in the least nervous for their safety. Indeed, small as the “Frolic” is and she is only about twenty-eight feet from stem to stern she has weathered some stiff gales gallantly, as, for instance, when our friend, Mr. Montague Brown, British consul at Genoa, sailed her from Genoa to Spezia in very bad weather; and in a very dangerous squall my daughters were caught in, coming from Amalfi to Sorrento. The “Frolic” had only just arrived at Spezia, when we heard of the sudden death of my dear son, Oct., 1865.

[This event, which took from my mother’s last years one of her chief delights, she bore with her usual calm courage, looking forward confidently to a reunion at no distant date with one who had been the most dutiful of sons and beloved of friends. She never permitted herself, in writing her Recollections, to refer to her feelings under these great sorrows.]

Some time after this, my widowed daughter-in-law spent a few months with us. On her return to London, I sent the manuscript of the “Molecular and Microscopic Science” with her for publication. In writing this book I made a great mistake, and repent it. Mathematics are the natural bent of my mind. If I had devoted myself exclusively to that study, I might probably have written something useful, as a new era had begun in that science. Although I got “Chasles on the Higher Geometry,” it could be but a secondary object while I was engaged in writing a popular book. Subsequently, it became a source of deep interest and occupation to me.

Spezia is very much spoilt by the works in progress for the arsenal, though nothing can change the beauty of the gulf as seen from our windows, especially the group of the Carrara mountains, with fine peaks and ranges of hills, becoming more and more verdant down to the water’s edge. The effect of the setting-sun on this group is varied and brilliant beyond belief. Even I, in spite of my shaking hand, resumed the brush, and painted a view of the ruined Castle of Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, from a sketch of my own, for my dear friend Teresa Doria.

We now came to live at Naples; and on leaving Spezia, I spent a fortnight with Count and Countess Usedom at the Villa Capponi, near Florence, where, though unable to visit, I had the pleasure of seeing my Florentine friends again.

We spent two days in Rome, and dined with our friends the Duca and Duchesa di Sermoneta. We were grieved at his blindness, but found him as agreeable as ever.

Through our friend, Admiral Acton, I became acquainted with Professor Panceri, Professor of Comparative Anatomy; Signore de Gasparis, who has discovered nine of the minor planets, and is an excellent mathematician, and some others. To these gentlemen I am indebted for being elected an honorary member of the Accademia Pontoniana.

We were much interested in Vesuvius, which, for several months, was in a state of great activity. At first, there were only volumes of smoke and some small streams of lava, but these were followed by the most magnificent projections of red hot stones and rocks rising 2,000 feet above the top of the mountain. Many fell back again into the crater, but a large portion were thrown in fiery showers down the sides of the cone. At length, these beautiful eruptions of lapilli ceased, and the lava flowed more abundantly, though, being intermittent and always issuing from the summit, it was quite harmless; volumes of smoke and vapour rose from the crater, and were carried by the wind to a great distance. In sunshine the contrast was beautiful, between the jet-black smoke and the silvery-white clouds of vapour. At length, the mountain returned to apparent tranquillity, though the violent détonations occasionally heard gave warning that the calm might not last long. At last, one evening, in November, 1868, when one of my daughters and I were observing the mountain through a very good telescope, lent us by a friend, we distinctly saw a new crater burst out at the foot of the cone in the Atrio del Cavallo, and bursts of red-hot lapilli and red smoke pouring forth in volumes. Early next morning we saw a great stream of lava pouring down to the north of the Observatory, and a column of black smoke issuing from the new craters, because there were two, and assuming the well-known appearance of a pine-tree. The trees on the northern edge of the lava were already on fire. The stream of lava very soon reached the plain, where it overwhelmed fields, vineyards, and houses. It was more than a mile in width and thirty feet deep. My daughters went up the mountain the evening after the new craters were formed; as for me, I could not risk the fatigue of such an excursion, but I saw it admirably from our own windows. During this year the volcanic forces in the interior of the earth were in unusual activity, for a series of earthquakes shook the west coast of South America for more than 2,500 miles, by which many thousands of the inhabitants perished, and many more were rendered homeless. Slight shocks were felt in many parts of Europe, and even in England. Vesuvius was our safety-valve. The pressure must have been very great which opened two new craters in the Atrio del Cavallo and forced out such a mass of matter. There is no evidence that water had been concerned in the late eruption of Vesuvius; but during the whole of the preceding autumn, the fall of rain had been unusually great and continuous. There were frequent thunderstorms; and, on one occasion, the quantity of rain that fell was so great, as to cause a land-slip in Pizzifalcone, by which several houses were overwhelmed; and, on another occasion, the torrent of rain was so violent, that the Riviera di Chiaja was covered, to the depth of half a metre, with mud, and stones brought down by the water from the heights above. This enormous quantity of water pouring on the slopes of Vesuvius, and percolating through the crust of the earth into the fiery caverns, where volcanic forces are generated, being resolved into steam, and possibly aided by the expansion of volcanic gases, may have been a partial agent in propelling the formidable stream of lava which has caused such destruction. We observed, that when lava abounded, the projection of rocks and lapilli either ceased altogether, or became of small amount. The whole eruption ended in a shower of impalpable ashes, which hid the mountain for many days, and which were carried to a great distance by the wind. Sometimes the ashes were pure white, giving the mountain the appearance of being covered with snow. Vapour continued to rise from Vesuvius in beautiful silvery clouds, which ceased and left the edge of the crater white with sublimations. I owe to Vesuvius the great pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mr. Phillips, Professor of Geology in the University of Oxford; and, afterwards, that of Sir John Lubbock, and Professor Tyndall, who had come to Naples on purpose to see the eruption. Unfortunately, Sir John Lubbock and Professor Tyndall were so limited for time, that they could only spend one evening with us; but I enjoyed a delightful evening, and had much scientific conversation.

Notwithstanding the progress meteorology has made since it became a subject of exact observation, yet no explanation has been given of the almost unprecedented high summer temperature of 1868 in Great Britain, and even in the Arctic regions. In England, the grass and heather were dried up, and extensive areas were set on fire by sparks from railway locomotives, the conflagrations spreading so rapidly, that they could only be arrested by cutting trenches to intercept their course. The whalers found open water to a higher latitude than usual; but, although the British Government did not avail themselves of this opportunity for further Arctic discovery, Sweden, Germany, France, and especially the United States, have taken up the subject with great energy. Eight expeditions sailed for the North Polar region between the years 1868 and 1870; several for the express purpose of reaching the Polar Sea, which, I have no doubt, will be attained, now that steam has given such power to penetrate the fields of floating ice. It would be more than a dashing exploit to make a cruise on that unknown sea; it would be a discovery of vast scientific importance with regard to geography, magnetism, temperature, the general circulation of the atmosphere and oceans, as well as to natural history. I cannot but regret that I shall not live to hear the result of these voyages.

The British laws are adverse to women; and we are deeply indebted to Mr. Stuart Mill for daring to show their iniquity and injustice. The law in the United States is in some respects even worse, insulting the sex, by granting suffrage to the newly-emancipated slaves, and refusing it to the most highly-educated women of the Republic.

[For the noble character and transcendent intellect of Mr. J.S. Mill my mother had the greatest admiration. She had some correspondence with him on the subject of the petition to Parliament for the extension of the suffrage to women, which she signed; and she also wrote to thank him warmly for his book on the “Subjection of Women.” In Mr. Mill’s reply to the latter he says: ]

FROM JOHN STUART MILL, ESQ., TO MRS. SOMERVILLE.

BLACKHEATH PARK, July 12th, 1869.

DEAR MADAM,

Such a letter as yours is a sufficient reward for the trouble of writing the little book. I could have desired no better proof that it was adapted to its purpose than such an encouraging opinion from you. I thank you heartily for taking the trouble to express, in such kind terms, your approbation of the book, the approbation of one who has rendered such inestimable service to the cause of women by affording in her own person so high an example of their intellectual capabilities, and, finally, by giving to the protest in the great Petition of last year the weight and importance derived from the signature which headed it.

I am,
Dear Madam,
Most sincerely and respectfully yours,
J.S. MILL.

Age has not abated my zeal for the emancipation of my sex from the unreasonable prejudice too prevalent in Great Britain against a literary and scientific education for women. The French are more civilized in this respect, for they have taken the lead, and have given the first example in modern times of encouragement to the high intellectual culture of the sex. Madame Emma Chenu, who had received the degree of Master of Arts from the Faculty of Sciences of the University in Paris, has more recently received the diploma of Licentiate in Mathematical Sciences from the same illustrious Society, after a successful examination in algebra, trigonometry, analytical geometry, the differential and integral calculus, and astronomy. A Russian lady has also taken a degree; and a lady of my acquaintance has received a gold medal from the same Institution.

I joined in a petition to the Senate of London University, praying that degrees might be granted to women; but it was rejected. I have also frequently signed petitions to Parliament for the Female Suffrage, and have the honour now to be a member of the General Committee for Woman Suffrage in London.

[My mother, in alluding to the great changes in public opinion which she had lived to see, used to remark that a commonly well-informed woman of the present day would have been looked upon as a prodigy of learning in her youth, and that even till quite lately many considered that if women were to receive the solid education men enjoy, they would forfeit much of their feminine grace and become unfit to perform their domestic duties. My mother herself was one of the brightest examples of the fallacy of this old-world theory, for no one was more thoroughly and gracefully feminine than she was, both in manner and appearance; and, as I have already mentioned, no amount of scientific labour ever induced her to neglect her home duties. She took the liveliest interest in all that has been done of late years to extend high class education to women, both classical and scientific, and hailed the establishment of the Ladies’ College at Girton as a great step in the true direction, and one which could not fail to obtain most important results. Her scientific library, as already stated, has been presented to this College as the best fulfilment of her wishes.]

I have lately entered my 89th year, grateful to God for the innumerable blessings He has bestowed on me and my children; at peace with all on earth, and I trust that I may be at peace with my Maker when my last hour comes, which cannot now be far distant.

Although I have been tried by many severe afflictions, my life upon the whole has been happy. In my youth I had to contend with prejudice and illiberality; yet I was of a quiet temper, and easy to live with, and I never interfered with or pryed into other people’s affairs. However, if irritated by what I considered unjust criticism or interference with myself, or any one I loved, I could resent it fiercely. I was not good at argument; I was apt to lose my temper; but I never bore ill will to any one, or forgot the manners of a gentlewoman, however angry I may have been at the time. But I must say that no one ever met with such kindness as I have done. I never had an enemy. I have never been of a melancholy disposition; though depressed sometimes by circumstances, I always rallied again; and although I seldom laugh, I can laugh heartily at wit or on fit occasion. The short time I have to live naturally occupies my thoughts. In the blessed hope of meeting again with my beloved children, and those who were and are dear to me on earth, I think of death with composure and perfect confidence in the mercy of God. Yet to me, who am afraid to sleep alone on a stormy night, or even to sleep comfortably any night unless some one is near, it is a fearful thought, that my spirit must enter that new state of existence quite alone. We are told of the infinite glories of that state, and I believe in them, though it is incomprehensible to us; but as I do comprehend, in some degree at least, the exquisite loveliness of the visible world, I confess I shall be sorry to leave it. I shall regret the sky, the sea, with all the changes of their beautiful colouring; the earth, with its verdure and flowers: but far more shall I grieve to leave animals who have followed our steps affectionately for years, without knowing for certainty their ultimate fate, though I firmly believe that the living principle is never extinguished. Since the atoms of matter are indestructible, as far as we know, it is difficult to believe that the spark which gives to their union life, memory, affection, intelligence, and fidelity, is evanescent. Every atom in the human frame, as well as in that of animals, undergoes a periodical change by continual waste and renovation; the abode is changed, not its inhabitant. If animals have no future, the existence of many is most wretched; multitudes are starved, cruelly beaten, and loaded during life; many die under a barbarous vivisection. I cannot believe that any creature was created for uncompensated misery; it would be contrary to the attributes of God’s mercy and justice. I am sincerely happy to find that I am not the only believer in the immortality of the lower animals.

When I was taught geography by the village schoolmaster at Burntisland, it seemed to me that half the world was terra incognita, and now that a new edition of my “Physical Geography” is required, it will be a work of great labour to bring it up to the present time. The discoveries in South Africa alone would fill a volume. Japan and China have been opened to Europeans since my last edition. The great continent of Australia was an entirely unknown country, except part of the coast. Now telegrams have been sent and answers received in the course of a few hours, from our countrymen throughout that mighty empire, and even from New Zealand, round half the globe. The inhabitants of the United States are our offspring; so whatever may happen to Great Britain in the course of events, it still will have the honour of colonizing, and consequently civilizing, half the world.

In all recent geographical discoveries, our Royal Geographical Society has borne the most important part, and none of its members have done more than my highly-gifted friend the President, Sir Roderick Murchison, geologist of Russia, and founder and author of the colossal “Silurian System.” To the affection of this friend, sanctioned by the unanimous approval of the council of that illustrious Society, I owe the honour of being awarded the Victoria Medal for my “Physical Geography.” An honour so unexpected, and so far beyond my merit, surprised and affected me more deeply than I can find words to express.

In the events of my life it may be seen how much I have been honoured by the scientific societies and universities of Italy, many of whom have elected me an honorary member or associate; but the greatest honour I have received in Italy has been the gift of the first gold medal hitherto awarded by the Geographical Society at Florence, and which was coined on purpose, with my name on the reverse. I received it the other day, accompanied by the following letter from General Menabrea, President of the Council, himself a distinguished mathematician and philosopher:

FROM GENERAL MENABREA TO MRS. SOMERVILLE.

FLORENCE, 30 Juin, 1869.

MADAME,

J’ai pris connaissance avec plus grand intérêt de la belle edition de vôtre dernier ouvrage sur la Geographie Physique, et je desire vous donner un témoignage d’haute estime pour vos travaux. Je vous prie donc, Madame, d’accepter une médaille d’or a l’effigie du Roi Victor Emmanuel, mon auguste souverain. C’est un souvenir de mon pays dans lequel vous comptez, comme chez toutes les nations la science est honore, de nombreux amis et admirateurs. Veuillez croire, Madame, que je ne cesserai d’etre l’un et l’autre en meme temps que je suis,

Vôtretrès dévoue Serviteur,
MENABREA.

At a general assembly of the Italian Geographical Society, at Florence, on the 14th March, 1870, I was elected by acclamation an Honorary Associate of that distinguished society. I am indebted to the President, the Commendatore Negri, for having proposed my name, and for a very kind letter, informing me of the honour conferred upon me.

I have still (in 1869) the habit of studying in bed from eight in the morning till twelve or one o’clock; but, I am left solitary; for I have lost my little bird who was my constant companion for eight years. It had both memory and intelligence, and such confidence in me as to sleep upon my arm while I was writing. My daughter, to whom it was much attached, coming into my room early, was alarmed at its not flying to meet her, as it generally did, and at last, after a long search, the poor little creature was found drowned in the jug.

On the 4th October, while at dinner, we had a shock of earthquake. The vibrations were nearly north and south; it lasted but a few seconds, and was very slight; but in Calabria, &c., many villages and towns were overthrown, and very many people perished. The shocks were repeated again and again; only one was felt at Naples; but as it occurred in the night, we were unconscious of it. At Naples, it was believed there would be an eruption of Vesuvius; for the smoke was particularly dense and black, and some of the wells were dried up.

I can scarcely believe that Rome, where I have spent so many happy years, is now the capital of united Italy. I heartily rejoice in that glorious termination to the vicissitudes the country has undergone, and only regret that age and infirmity prevent me from going to see Victor Emmanuel triumphantly enter the capital of his kingdom. The Pope’s reliance on foreign troops for his safety was an unpardonable insult to his countrymen.

The month of October this year (1870), seems to have been remarkable for displays of the Aurora Borealis. It seriously interfered with the working of the telegraphs, particularly in the north of England and Ireland. On the night of the 24th October, it was seen over the greater part of Europe. At Florence, the common people were greatly alarmed, and at Naples, the peasantry were on their knees to the Madonna to avert the evil. Unfortunately, neither I nor any of my family saw the Aurora; for most of our windows have a southern aspect. The frequent occurrence of the Aurora in 1870 confirms the already known period of maximum intensity and frequency, every ten or twelve years, since the last maximum occurred in 1859.