SCIENTIFIC DEPARTMENT, 1833 TO 1865.
INTEREST OF DR. DURBIN IN SCIENCE PROFESSOR ALLEN APPARATUS PROFESSOR BAIRD SCIENTIFIC EXCURSIONS CAVE EXPLORATION CALLED TO THE SMITHSONIAN SECRETARY OF THE LATTER SERVICES TO SCIENCE AND LITERARY WORK PROFESSOR WENTWORTH MISSIONARY EDITOR PROFESSOR WILSON DIFFICULTIES OF THE POSITION SUCCESS AND CHARACTERISTICS AS A TEACHER HIS DEATH.
AT the re-organization of the College, under the control of the Methodist Church, the Department of Natural Science was fortunate in the selection of Dr. Durbin as the organizing head of the College. His full sympathy with all branches of human learning, accompanied by such a familiarity with physical science as had led to his election to the professorship of Natural Science in Wesleyan University, was reinforced by an intense appreciation of the natural world and its varied phenomena. His exquisite description of Chamounix, unsurpassed in all the literature of travel since, alone would be sufficient to establish this feature of his character. The professorship of Natural Science was one of the earliest-filled in the re-organized Faculty, in 1834, and measures were at once taken for increasing the collection of apparatus; and "I whilst endeavoring to accumulate the endowment fund first proposed, and soliciting funds or even obtaining them by loan for
the erection of East College, he could not resist the temptation to acquire what was at that time a fine collection of apparatus, belonging to Professor Walter R. Johnson, of Philadelphia, which had been employed by him as Secretary of the Franklin Institute. He was about to assume a position in the Wilkes' Exploring Expedition, which, for some reason, he finally failed to accept, and was thus left without apparatus. Among the pieces was the Rotascope, employed by him in his investigations of Rotary Motion.* and which was noticed as anticipating some of the peculiarities of the Gyrascope, in 1856.** The collection was secured for $2,000, although its original cost had been $5,000. It was necessary for Dr. Durbin to assume the responsibility of the purchase, and he unhesitatingly did so, supported by four gentlemen of Philadelphia, and in spite of the hard times, collected one half of the money during the course of the year. In a letter to the writer, a few years before his death, he alluded to it as the "magnificent apparatus," and adds, "but progress has left my once cherished basis of philosophical apparatus far behind." Its transportation from Philadelphia was no small matter at that day, and was superintended by Professor Allen, who then filled the chair of Natural Science. It was transhipped on wagons at Columbia, Pa., and reached Carlisle with but one article damaged. During Dr. Durbin's visit to the East the interests of the College seem to have been continually present to him. At the Giant's Causeway he secured three large sections of columns, of three pieces each, besides a complete wooden model; at Chamounix he procured a model of the valley and Mount Blanc chain; in Egypt he secured several mummies of the Sacred Ibis, together with other minor specimens. It is but natural to assume that he was not so much in
*Am. Jour. Sci., Vol. XXI, lst Ser., (1832) p. 265.
earnest in regard to these appliances as static elements of mere display, but as dynamical elements of instruction, and that he would be equally solicitous in regard to the instructor. In 1834 Col. Thomas E. Sudler, of St. Johns Coilege, was elected Professor of Natural Science, and upon his declination in the spring of the year following, the College was fortunate in securing the services of William H. Allen, A. M. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he had been engaged in teaching Latin and Greek for two years, and at the time of his election had charge uf the High School at Augusta, Me. Elected as Lecturer on Natural Science for the first year, at the close of that engagement he was elected professor. Under his administration for twelve years the department enjoyed a great measure of popularity. He was a gentleman of decided ability in different departments of study, and of consummate tact in administration. As a teacher he impressed the students with a belief in his infallibility on questions of science, and as a lecturer he was clear and full, and possessed the happy faculty of seizing the salient points of his subject and keeping them in view until fixed in the memory. The apparatus was enlarged, and loans were even authorized at times for the purpose. T he branches of Electricityand General Chemistry were, perhaps, best represented, and an inventory made at the time shows a number of pieces, effective then, which, by the rapid advance of science, have been relegated to historic niches, whilst their modern successors hardly exhibit traces of relationship, and the whole mode of instruction has been made to yield to the strain of the same advance.
Upon the election of Professor Allen to the chair of English Literature and Philosophy, in 1848, Spencer F. Baird, was elected to the chair of Natural Science. A native of Reading, Pa., he had received his education in the College, entering the preparatory department in 1835, and graduating, at the age of seventeen, in the class of 1840. He had been connected with
the College since 1845, as Curator of the Museum and Professor of Natural History, and the College had had the advantage, not only of his services, but of his large collection of specimens in Natural History, perhaps unequaled, in some of its classes, in the country. His enthusiastic and unreserved devotion to science was calculated to awaken a deep interest in its study in the College, and a number of young men, who afterward achieved eminence, received their impulse from him. He was a gentleman of great ability for organization and administration, as well as of broad scientific culture, traits that have contributed so largely to his usefulness in his subsequent connection with the Smithsonian Institution, at Washington. He continued his devotion to his specialty of Natural History, more particularly Ornithology, although he also published a descriptive list of the surrounding flora. He made excursions of many miles on foot, throughout the State of Pennsylvania, in pursuit of facts and specimens connected with his favorite studies. In one of his tramps, in the neighborhood of Carlisle, it is said that whilst hammering away at a rock, in search of fossils, he was on the point of being arrested as an escaped lunatic. But the rustic council of war did not furnish anyone courageous enough to make the arrest. During his connection with the College he also explored the cave on the Conedoguinet, a point of considerable local interest, with numberless traditions clustering around it. He extracted much of scientific interest from it. At that day cave-hunting had not assumed the character of a distinct and intensely interesting branch of scientific investigation, as at present. Large quantities -wagon-loads of organic remains were removed, including bones of all the species of mammals found in Pennsylvania, with the only exceptional feature of excess in size over those of the present day. A few years ago, the broken thread of these investigations of more than a quarter of a century be-
fore, was resumed by him, and a more exhaustive examination exhibited the usual kitchen-midden characteristics. The resignation of Professor Baird, in 1850, was occasioned by the superior advantages for the prosecution of the branches of science to which he had especially devoted himself, offered him as Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, with especial charge of the National Museum, a position he filled with such eminent ability that, by common consent, he was recognized as the most fitting successor to Professor Henry, as Secretary, upon the death of the latter, in 1878. His departure was a matter of great regret to all connected with the College, and he was, at the same time, elected to fill a vacancy in the Board of Trustees, and continued to act with that body, until pressure of other duties began to interfere with his regular attendance.
The services of Professor Baird to science, in connection with the Smithsonian, cannot be overestimated. Among his labors, in addition to those of his office, he has, for a number of years, as United States Commissioner of Fisheries, done much to encourage pisciculture, by investigating the habits of food fishes, and stocking the streams of the country with varieties of fish suitable to them. During the sessions of the Commission of Halifax, his services were in constant requirement. He has also utilized the vast resources of the Smithsonian files of all the scientific journals of the world, in editing the invaluable Annual Record of Science and Industry, published from year to year, by Harper & Brothers, and has made the Scientific Record, in the Monthly Magazine of those publishers, worthy of the established character of that publication.
The election of a suitable successor to Professor Baird was no easy matter. As has been elsewhere mentioned, Reverend Erastus Wentworth, D. D., a highly esteemed minister of the Methodist Church, and, at the time, President of McKendree
College, Illinois, was unanimously chosen. Erlucated at Cazenovia Seminary and Wesleyan University, he had, immediately after graduation, taught Natural Science in the academy at Governeur, New York, and afterward in that at Poultney, Vermont. His connection, for four years, with McKendree college, had been highly creditable to him. As a professor in Dickinson, he was a popular instructor, and fully met the expectations entertained at his election, although better known as a preacher, and as a graceful and vigorous writer. Although the department moved on largely under the impulse it had received, and was not enlarged or made particularly prominent under his administration of it, the course was, doubtless, as full and as efficiently carried out, as in most of the colleges at that time. In 1854, he was called from the College by the Church to engage in missionary work at Foo Chow, China, in which field he labored, with marked success, for a number of years. He also afterward, at the call of the Church, edited the Ladies' Repository, with marked ability. In proceeding to fill the vacant chair, the trustees first resolved to appoint a Lecturer on Natural Science, with the duties of a professor, and William C. Wilson was elected to that position, for one year. A native of Elkdale, Chester county, Pennsylvania, a graduate of the class of 1850, with distinction, he had been successfully engaged in teaching in a classical school, in Chester county, Pennylvania. He was a comparatively young man, of broad culture, vigorous intellect, and enthusiastic disposition, and of tastes and aptitudes in the direction of the exact and experimental sciences, and withal, a layman, and, consequently, perfectly free to devote himself exclusively to the prosecution of his favorite studies. The selection was one full of promise to the College.
The entrance upon such a position is necessarily attended with embarrassments and labors from which other departments
are free to take an inventory of the educational appliances in the way of apparatus, may be the work of a few days, but to learn its condition and availability for iustruction, involves most patient, careful, and time-consuming investigation, and testing frequently only to reveal that it is defective or perhaps worthless, or requires much more expenditure of time alid labor for adjustment. Even then some unnoticed apparently trifling peculiarity may remain as a cause of mortifying failure. It was the writers privilege to listen to Professor Wilson's first course of lectures, and, under all the circumstances, they may be described as highly successful. As a lecturer, he was perhaps, by nature, too impulsive, or even impatient, and consequently wanting in that deliberation and delicacy of manipulation often essential to the highest success, but he rapidly improved in these particulars, and as his experiments were always well chosen and adapted to the purpose, he became, with greater familiarity with the apparatus at his disposal, eminently successful as an instructor. Not satisfied with the prosecution of his studies within the limited range of facilities offered by the College, he availed himself, during his vacations, of the advantages of study in the laboratory of the eminent chemist, Dr. F. A. Genth, of Philadelphia, now Professor in the University of Pennsylvania.
The characteristic manifested in his first encounter with his class, of absence of respect for or toleration of cram or sham knowledge, grew with his growth as a teacher, and was but the legitimate outgrowth of a character permeated in every fiber with sterling honesty and conscientiousness. His contributions to the Quarterly Review and occasional addresses, exhibit him as a careful, clear, and vigorous writer. Soon after his election, the department began to sympathize with the college in the distracting influences of the increasing political excitement, and during the war, it suffered with it in its struggle for existence. Some efforts were made to enlarge the course of scien-
tific studies, but as they were made in the direction of post-graduate privileges, they produced no decided or permanent effect. Overwork, exposure in the ill-ventilated rooms occupied as laboratory and office, had much to do in developing a disease, which for years before his death rendered physical labor irksome, and which, finally, resulted fatally. His indomitable will kept him at his post to the last. His last lectures were delivered in his chair. He died March 2, 1865, calmly and without fear, in his thirty-eighth year. What he might have accomplished as a scientific man under more favorable circumstances, it is of course difficult to say, but that he accomplished all that could have been done by anyone in his position under the circumstances, is unquestionable. He was eminently social in his disposition and warm in his attachments, and in spite of a manner at times somewhat brusque and abrupt, he is kindly remembered by those who came into intimate contact with him.