Education: The Hanging Judge

From any other boy of ten, the letter might have sounded fantastic, but not from young John Acton. "I am a perfect linguist," he wrote his mother one day in 1844, "knowing perfectly . . . English, French, German, and can almost speak Latin. I can speak a few words of Chinese, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Irish. I also know Chemistry, Astronomy, Mechanics, and many other sciences, but do not know botany ... I am in a hurry, therefore good-bye."

As he grew older, Lord Acton was still in a hurry to know more. As a courtly, bearded scholar, he eventually won...

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