D'Arcy Thompson's family

D'Arcy Thompson's father was also named D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson. He was born on 18 April 1829 on board his father's sailing ship Georgiana. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson Senior's father was John Skelton Thompson who was married to Mary Mitchell. D'Arcy Thompson Junior, the subject of the biography in our archive, spoke about his grandfather and the birth of his father in a lecture he gave to the Classical Association in Cardiff on 9 April 1929. The lecture was published in D'Arcy Thompson, Science and the classics (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1940):-

A hundred years ago this very day [9 April 1929] - we are grown accustomed to centenaries - a small barque was running down her easting between the Cape of Good Hope and Van Diemen's Land, the weather (by the log) being dark, thick and gloomy, a strong gale blowing from the south-east, and the ship labouring heavily. The Captain, who happened to be my grandfather, had his wife with him, for their ship was house and home to both of them and everything else they had; and just three days later, the weather being now very fine and pleasant (as it always is on these occasions), a steady breeze bowing from the west-north-west, a new fore-topmast and Main Top-gallant-mast having been set up and the people all employed as duty required, a little new shipmate came aboard and got his rating on the ship's books accordingly. This week my father and I, between us, are a hundred years old! But how did they happen to make that little mariner into a Professor of Greek, whose forefathers had always been sailormen? And however has it come to pass that I, his son, fetch up in the Port of Cardiff after a hundred years, with a Master's ticket in my pocket, and find myself for one short cruise, for one proud moment, Captain of the Ship?

We will return to say something more of D'Arcy Thompson Senior in a moment, but first let us give the paragraph of D'Arcy Thompson Junior's where he talks of his own love of science and the classics:-

Science and the Classics is my theme today; it could hardly be otherwise. For all I know, and do, and wellnigh all I love and care for (outside of home and friends) lies within one or other; and the fact that I have loved them both has coloured all my life, and enlarged my curiosity, and multiplied my inlets to happiness.

In the last paragraph of his lecture, he repeats the same thoughts:-

Science and the Classics! The one says (in Wisdom's words): They that eat of me shall yet be hungry. And the other says: They that drink of me shall yet be thirsty. And both alike continually enlarge our curiosity, and multiply our inlets to happiness.

Let us return to the question of how D'Arcy Thompson Senior was born on board ship into a family of seafarers, yet became a Professor of Classics. We follow the details given by D'Arcy Thompson Junior in the article published in the Dictionary of National Biography in 1912.

At age six, in 1835, Thompson was sent to be educated at Christ's Hospital, London. He studied there for twelve years, then, in 1847, he matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, but later in his undergraduate career moved to Pembroke College. It is worth noting that one of his two closest friends at Cambridge was Peter Guthrie Tait. D'Arcy Thompson Junior recalls, in an article he wrote in 1923, memories such as Thomas Huxley:-

... trying hard all through one long summer to play the game [of golf at St Andrews], with P G Tait to guide him; of Tait's mathematics, whereby he proved that a golf ball could not be driven more than a certain distance against the resistance of the air, and of his son Freddy (who had more friends than any man I ever knew or heard of) going out to put his father's mathematics to the test, and showing them to be wrong ...

Returning to D'Arcy Thompson's 1912 article about his father:-

Thompson gained a medal for Latin verse in 1849 with an ode 'Maurorum in Hispania Imperium,' and was placed sixth in the first class in the classical tripos of 1852 .... After graduating B.A. in 1852 he became classical master in the Edinburgh Academy, where R L Stevenson was, in 1861-2, one of his pupils, a fact recorded by Stevenson in his song called 'Their Laureate to an Academy Class Dinner Club' and beginning 'Dear Thompson Class.'

He married Fanny Gamgee in 1859 and their son D'Arcy Thompson was born in the following year. Sadly, Fanny died after the birth of her son. In 1863, after spending twelve years as a classics teacher at the Edinburgh Academy, Thompson moved to Ireland when offered the chair of Greek in Queen's College, Galway. He married Amy Drury, from Dublin, in 1866; they had two sons and four daughters. He died at his home in Galway on 25 January 1902. We continue to quote from the 1912 article by D'Arcy Thompson Jr:-

D'Arcy Thompson's reputation mainly rests on his 'Day Dreams of a Schoolmaster' (Edinburgh, 1864, 1865), a pathetic and humorous record of his schooldays at 'St Edward's,' and of his teaching years at the 'Schola Nova' of 'dear Dunedin.' Interwoven with a thread of autobiography, the book is a plea for the sympathetic teaching of the ancient languages, a protest against the then narrow education of women, and a passionate defence of the dignity of the schoolmaster's calling. Some skilful translations, chiefly of Tennyson, are included.
...
D'Arcy Thompson, whose classical scholarship was literary and poetic, possessed a rare power of easy and eloquent translation.
...
For his eldest son in childhood [namely D'Arcy Thompson Junior], D'Arcy Thompson wrote 'Nursery Nonsense, or Rhymes without Reason' (1863-4), and 'Fun and Earnest, or Rhymes with Reason' (1865). These books, admirably illustrated by Charles H Bennett, and now scarce, were the delight of a past generation of children. Of a third volume, cancelled before publication, 'Rhymes Witty and Whymsical' (Edinburgh, 1865), a copy was sold in Sir T D Brodie's sale at Sotheby's in 1904.



JOC/EFR April 2007

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