When talked about James Clerk Maxwell, James Forbes wrote:

He is not a little uncouth in manners, but withal one of the most original young men I have met. . . . He is a singular lad, and shy [but] very clever and persevering. . . . I am aware of his exceeding uncouthness, as well mathematical as in other respects. . . . I thought the Society and Drill of Cambridge the only chance of taming him and much advised his going . . . I should think he might be a discoverer.

What does it mean here by the Society and Drill of Cambridge? I've searched on Google but there's hardly information on Internet.

Please help me.


1 Answer 1


"Society" - The social and cultural aspects of life at a university.

"Drill" - The rule-based and repetitive aspects of life at university.

"Cambridge" refers to the university of Cambridge, the top Maths and science university at the time.

The notion being that Young JCM needed to learn to work with others (work in scientific society) and to be required to follow regular rules (follow a drill) in order to become a useful mathematician and scientist.

  • What do you mean by the repetitive aspects? Are those the exams, the homeworks, seminars??? Jan 4, 2023 at 5:20
  • Yes that sort of thing. I've not seen the word "drill" used in this context before, so I'm interpreting by analogy.
    – James K
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:41
  • 1
    "drill" -- well described as "rule based and repetitive". I took it as the mundane -- but required -- tasks of the day. Each day a student would have a common set of activities required such as showing up to classes and meals on time, etc. Each day would have the structure of a military drill. The author thought that James Clerk Maxwell required some required structure in his life. Just my take.
    – jim
    Jan 7, 2023 at 16:55

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