Графични страници
PDF файл

The name of Cadwallader Colden should be mentioned in connection with the study of the plants of New York State, which he began to make about 1739 and continued for a number of years.

In 1740 John Mitchell published a description of about thirty new genera of Virginia plants, while in 1785 Rev. Manasseh Cutler published the first attempt at a scientific description of the plants of New England.

In 1791 William Bartram published an account of his southern travels, in which he gave descriptions of large numbers of new southern plants. The year 1792 is noteworthy as being the date of the first organized work in economic entomology, a committee having been appointed by the American Philosophical Society to prepare a report on the Hessian fly, which had already done great damage to wheat fields.

In 1794 was published the first paper by a native American dealing with descriptive zoology, "A description of four remarkable fishes taken near the Piscataqua, in New Hampshire," by William Dandridge Peck, and shortly after appeared some descriptions of North American fungi by the same author.

The first volume of Alexander Wilson's Ornithology appeared in 1808 and the publication continued until 1814, when the ninth volume was finished.

In 1816 Stephen Elliott began the publication of his Sketch of the Botany of South Carolina and Georgia, which contributed greatly to a knowledge of southern botany, and in the same year appeared the first work by Thomas Say on conchology. In 1817 Say produced his work on systematic entomology, and followed this in later years by descriptions of marine invertebrates, especially crustacea and reptiles.

In 1818 Thomas Nuttall published a most valuable work on the "Genera of North American plants." In this he gave descriptions of many new species. He also made some descriptions of new birds.

In the subsequent year Dr. John Torrey began to publish, his first paper being devoted to the plants near New York City. In 1824 he began an account of the flora of the northern and middle sections of the United States in accordance with the Linnæan arrangement, but this work was not completed.

The Fauna Americana, by Richard Harlan, appeared in 1825, followed by Godman's work on North American Mammals, published in 1826-28.

In 1827 appeared the first volume of that most remarkable work, Audubon's "Birds of America," the text and plates not being completed until 1839.

This brief sketch brings us nearly to the limit of the early period of work in botany and zoology, for all that was done subsequent to 1840, or thereabouts, belongs rather to the present than the past. Looking back over this early period it is at once noticed that botany attracted more attention than zoölogy, but that the work first done in both sub

jects was of the same character. In any new country the progress of work in natural history must be much the same thing. Simple observation and description of its plants and animals must come first, and it follows in the nature of things that these descriptions must be revised and corrected and much time consumed before a comprehensive classification that will stand the test of time can be made. Physiological work is not likely to attract much attention until descriptive work has advanced very far.

The early naturalists of the country were not specialists. Many of them worked in several departments (as we now class them) of natural history. Botany attracted attention from many of them, and single individuals usually accomplished more in this than in other fields, owing to the readiness with which the work can be performed. As we would expect, we find little or no attention given to the lower plants, and likewise we notice that the most common and conspicuous animal forms were those which first received attention.

Looking back over the early history of science in this country we meet with the anomalous fact that most of the biological research, the very kind of work which we have regarded as the special duty of universities to conduct, was largely the work of men who were in no way connected with universities. These men worked under the disadvantage of isolation, and lacked the stimulus that comes from association and interchange of ideas with those following similar pursuits. They continued to work simply because there was deeply implanted in their natures an irresistible desire to acquire this knowledge for themselves. There has been a tendency on the part of certain writers to underrate the value of their work, but surely anyone disposed to criticise must remember that the natural order of development of science requires that its whole superstructure be raised upon the solid foundation of accurate description and classification. This work was done by our earliest naturalists, and well done, leaving those of the present day free to devote their energies to matters of a different nature.

While much of the early work in botany and zöology was done in the face of discouragements, this was not true of all. The organization of the American Philosophical Society in 1769, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780, had the important effect of bringing together scientific men from all sections of the country, and taking the place, to some extent, of the college association which many of them lacked. They furnished a means of bringing new discoveries to the notice of scientific men, while their "Philosophical Transactions" and Memoirs gave publication to all that was brought before them.

We may here mention two other movements in the same two cities which had a most marked effect upon biological research in early times. In 1812 there was established the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, which at first contained few scientific men, but afterwards changed in this respect. Under its auspices in more recent times large 4889-10

collections have been accumulated and important investigations completed. In 1814 "The New England Society for the Promotion of Natural History" was organized in Boston. In the following year its name was changed to "The Linnæan Society of New England." Its members were all investigators, and plans for coöperative work were made, but the project was abandoned in 1822, after having brought together collections of considerable size and value. In 1830 this was reorganized as the Boston Society of Natural History, which has continued up to the present time to exert a most important influence upon biological investigation. Large collections have been brought together, and by means of the Walker prizes the society has been able to do much in stimulating research. It has done good service, too, by its publications. In 1834 the Boston Journal of Natural History began to be published under its auspices, and in 1864 these gave place to a larger series of "Memoirs," which still give publication to many important papers. Popular lectures are given at irregular intervals, but still more important is the actual work of teaching, since the society provides regular courses of instruction and furnishes facilities for laboratory work. Its connection with marine laboratory work will be referred to in chapter VII.

It is a striking fact that the leading members of these societies were usually men prominent in political affairs. Benjamin Franklin was first president of the American Philosophical Society, while the American Academy was founded largely through the exertions of John Adams. In fact, during the first quarter of a century of the existence of our Government its control was largely in the hands of men who were not only in full sympathy with scientific research, but were themselves engaged in it. One prominent example only need be here mentionedThomas Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia." In this book the natural history of the State was fully treated, and it was by far the most important book that had appeared up to that time. Its importance depended upon the impetus which it gave to scientific work rather than upon the amount of new matter which it contained.

The repeated attempt to found a national university, and the oft repeated statement that research should form a part of the work of such an institution shows that the minds of those most interested in the work of education had clearly apprehended the fact that the work of the investigator is best done when many workers are together, and that the work of teaching had a beneficial effect upon the quality of investigation. Impracticable as the project proved, it still had its effect, for it was the plan of its promoters to carry through as much of its organization as possible and secure from Congress everything that they could that might have its use when the entire plan could be carried into effect. The Botanical Garden was one of Washington's original plans in connection with the national university movement. It was first

established in 1822 or 1823 and moved to its present site in 1852, and it constitutes the only result of that movement now remaining.

From the earliest times a disposition has been manifested by the Government to aid scientific work of all kinds, but the character of work done was, at least at first, that which seemed to be most pressing by reason of its direct economic value. We find, therefore, that the exploration of the country, and the establishment of the Coast Survey, Astronomical Observatory, and Signal Service were the principal events prior to 1840. But bearing in mind the character of biological work done at that period, it is evident that the exploration of the country was the most valuable aid that could have been rendered. The principal needs of the investigations of that early period were new objects of study, and we find that the expedition of Lewis and Clarke begun in 1803, and the expedition of General Pike shortly after, as well as numerous expeditions subsequently sent out, were of the greatest value in bringing to the notice of biological workers large numbers of previously unknown plants and animals. The Wilkes expedition, sent out in 1838, with special reference to the whale fisheries of the United States, was also rich in scientific results, among which Dana's study of corals and the work of Gould upon the mollusca were especially noteworthy. We shall have occasion later to refer to the more recent actions of the Government in directly aiding biological work.


It is difficult to define sharply the exact beginning of the new era of biological work, and none the less so to give its causes. The tremendous tidal wave that swept over the country at about the time that steam and electricity began to come into general use had its effect upon the character of investigation in all sciences. It has been stated that the new period of biological work began with the advent of Agassiz in this country, but it is certainly true that the influences which brought him here were due in great measure to the general awakening of science, and to conditions peculiar to this country. The date of this change may be put at about 1840 or slightly later. In all the work done prior to that time we notice a more or less fragmentary and disconnected character. Not only were investigators working largely by themselves, but they lacked the system and stimulus coming from a knowledge of the fact that their work bore directly upon a theory. They were laboring to add to knowledge, but worked upon anything that happened to present itself. Most that they did was purely observational, and the early period produced but few experimenters.

About the year 1840 this began to change and work began to assume a much broader aspect. This year witnessed the organization of two societies of great importance--the National Institution for the Promotion of Science, and the American Society of Geologists and Natural

ists. The former was but short-lived. It had a large membership and was exceedingly prominent while it lasted. The latter, 10 years after its foundation, became the "American Association for the Advancement of Science," one section of which is specially devoted to biological work. The first indication of the change may be placed at 1834, when Prof. Asa Gray published his first paper on the gramineæ and cyperaceæ of North America. Prior to Professor Gray's activity botanists had confined their work to more or less limited groups of flowering plants, and while his works continued to be mainly in this same line, yet one of his early papers, published in 1846, was written in conjunction with W. S. Sullivant, on the Mosses of the Alleghanies, and the study of lower plants generally was favored and encouraged by him. His influence in broadening botanical research must therefore be regarded as of the highest value.

The most important event in the history of biological research in this country is the advent of Professor Agassiz in 1846, for soon after, as soon as his influence had time to diffuse itself, work in zoölogy began to change its character. With Agassiz there began a broader, more comprehensive study of animals than had ever before been made. His pupils were instructed in the methods of embryological and morphological study introduced by Cuvier, Von Baer, and Agassiz himself, and catching the enthusiasm of their instructor, they produced results of the greatest importance, and far surpassing in value anything that had previously been produced. The published papers to which reference is made are too numerous and too readily accessible to justify any extended mention of them here, many of them, indeed, being the work of men still living. We need only mention the names of Alexander Agassiz, Brooks, Fewkes, Hyatt, Joseph LeConte, McCrady, Morse, Niles, Packard, Scudder, Shaler, Verrill, and Whitman, all of them pupils of Agassiz, to show the tremendous extent of his influence. It is difficult, within brief limits, to sharply characterize the modern tendency of biological research, and yet the work accomplished since the time when Agassiz's influence began to diffuse itself, differs markedly from that of the earlier period in that it was mainly suggested by and undertaken because of its bearing upon a definite theory. It was Agassiz who reduced to order the sum of existing knowledge with regard to the relations of existing animals to extinct ones, as well as adding greatly to it. He pointed out the resemblances shown by certain animal forms in their individual development to the order of succession of the geological record, and opened the eyes of investigators to the enormous possibilities of further work in the same direction upon other animal groups. This alone was enough to greatly influence the work of the country, and its effect is still felt in all of the work going on at the present time. It must not be understood that the systematic work of the early period was replaced by embryological work, but rather that the results of embryology must be included in any correct system of classification. Bio

« ПредишнаНапред »