John Almon.

The American journal of science and arts online

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306 President BetUkam's Address at the

United States, in trast, to found, at Washington, an Institntioo
which should bear his name, and have for its objects the in-
crease and diffusion of knowledge amongst men. The greater
I)art of the property was realized in 1838, but considerable de-
ay occurrea in its application, owing chiefly to the great differ-
ence of opinion that prevailed as to the character to oe given to
the Institution, the oDJects of which were so vaguely indicated
by the testator under these two heads, the increase and thediflFo-
sion of knowledge. At length, on the 10th of August, 184S,
an Act of organization was passed by Congress, and the ' Smith-
sonian Institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge'
was established at Washington, under the management of a
Board of Eegents, fifteen in number, consisting of the Vice-
President of the United States, the Chief Justice of the Sa-
Ereme Court, and the Mayor of Washington, as ex officio mem-
ers, three appointed by the Senate from its own body, three by
the House of Representatives from its members, and six citizens
appointed by a joint resolution of both houses ; several of the
prmcipal executive oflScers of the States to be cr officio members,
with occasional honorary membirs to be elected by the Begents.
The total amount of the bequest received into the United States
Treasury on the Ist of September, 1888, was 515.169 dollars,
or above £125,000, deposited in the United States Treasury,
and producing an annual income of $80,910, payment of which
they have succeeded in obtaining in coin, making nearly £7000.
There was also at the time of the establishment of the Institu-
tion an accumulation of interest amounting to $242,129, or
nearly £56,000. For the application of these sums different
schemes were strongly advocated by opposing parties. One,
which found most favor with the national and pDpalar party,
was the formation of a general Library, Museum, and Gallery of
Art in a building which, by its dimensions and architectural
design, should be an ornament to the city, and a splendid me*
morial of the liberality of the founder ; whilst others, entering
more into the spirit of the bequest, urged that Smithson's object
could never have been the glorification of Washington, or the lo-
calization of knowledge, but the promotion of science wherever or
by whomever it was or might be pursued, and that the fund ought
therefore to be employed in the encouragement of scientific and
literary researches, and to the publication and transmission of
their results to everv quarter of the gjobe where civilization
could reach, with such buildings, collections, and local applian-
ces only as should be immediately subservient to these objects.
At length a temporary compromise was effected between the
advocates of local appliances and of active operations. It was
determined that, besides the deposited capital which, by the
Act» was to be left untouched, a portion of the income was at



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Annivergary meeting cf the Linnean Society. 307

first, at least, to be annually invested, till the plans should be
matured by experience, ana that, of the remainder, one portion
was to be expended in the formation of the library, museum,
and gallery required by the Act, and the other in the more ac-
tive operations recommended by men of science, whilst the ac-
cumulations already in hand were to be applied to the erection
of the building, the relative proportions being left to the discre-
tion of the Regents. During the first year the popular party
found favor with the majority of them, and large sums were
squandered on the building and local objects; but in time
sounder views prevailed ; the active operations have been ex-
tended with a success we all can appreciate, and the Institution
has now attained a position of practical eminence and useful-
ness to science in strict conformity with the evident intention
of the founder. This happy result (as far as I can judge firom
this distance, and without any personal communication) must
be attributed mainly, if not entirely, to the well-devised plans
of the Secretary, Prof. Henry, and to the zeal, activity, ana per-
severance with which he has .devoted himself to their practical
carrying out during the twenty years that have elapsed since
the foundation of the Institution.

The edifice was originally to have been " a suitable one, con-
structed in plain and durable materials ;" but the Building Com-
mittee, giving way to local influences, adopted a plan described
in the Secretary's reports as being in the Lombard style, with
nseless buttresses, turrets, and towers, the convenience of the
interior entirely sacrified to architectural display ; a judgment
which an inspection of the plans and elevations given in B. D.
Owen's * Hints on Public Architecture' fully confirms. The
money thus lavished on the freestone facade absorbed so much
of the sum at command that the interior had to be run up in
wood, lath, and plaster. The two wings were thus completed,
and the main building presenting a frontage of 200 feet was far
advanced, when the woodwork gave way, and had to be replaced
with fireproof materials at very large extra cost, the roof alone
of this main building remaining in wood. In that roof, where
little danger was forseen, a fire broke out through the careless-
ness of some workmen in June 1864, destroying much private
!)roperty, official papers, &c., although the most valuable stores,
ibrary, and collections of the Institution were preserved. After
these disasters the ruling powers appear at length to be con-
vinced that in the work of restoration and completion they must
look more to substantial durability than to architectural effect;
but they are sadly hampered by the size of the building, so
much beyond their real wants, and its costly style, which can-
not now be altered. In this building were to be deposited : —

(1) A general National Library, with provisions by which



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808 President Bentham's Address at the

the Institution would be encumbered by all the trashy produc-
tions of the day, without means of procuring those really valu-
able to science ; this tbey have succeeded in warding off, and
are endeavoring to limit their library to works bearing on sci-
ence. They have bestowed especial pains, and appear to be
already rich in Proceedings and Transactions of learned Socie-
ties and other serials connected with science; and it is hoped
that they will be gradually relieved from their general and use-
less literature by the transformation of the Congress Library
into the great National United States Library, instead of at-
tempting to impose the burthen on a private Institution incapa-
ble of sustaining it.

(2) A general Museum, as comprehensive and multifarious
in its objects as our own British Museum, with a similar aim at
popular display. But the impractibility of such a Museum,
which would soon absorb an annual income equal to their whole
capital, is now felt, and the collections are to be henceforth re-
stricted — 1st, to those made by the United States Exploring Ex-
pedition, the care of which has been imposed on the Institution
by Congress ; 2nd, a limited museum or type specimens, princi-
pally of the products of the American Continent, or such as are
thought of especial interest as illustrating the Smithsonian pub-
lications ; and 8rd, collections for distribution, to which I shall
presently revert.

(8) A Gallery of Art; but the absurbity of imposing upon
such an Institution the care and maintenance of a National gal-
lery is so evident, that the collections in this respect have been
limited to some plaster casts of distinguished individuds, and a
very few pictures they could not refuse the charge of.

In the active operations of the Institution the knowledge they
are called upon to promote has been divided, as in the great
Academies of the Continent of Europe, into the three great
branches of Physical Science, Moral and Political Science, and
Literature ; the Fine Arts being nominally included in the latter
class, but reallysomewhat extrinsic in character, and practically
passed over. What has been effected by the Institution in the
second and third classes, it is beyond my province to inquire ;
and even in the Physical class I do not venture to express any
opinion on their efforts in the promotion of Meteorological, As-
tronomical, and other Physical observations. In Biology their
exertions have been directed to the publications of Memoirs,
Eeports, and other papers, to the promotion of Exploring Expe-
ditions, as well as of local investigations, to the distribution of
specimens, and to the fupilitating the interchange of publications
and other vehicles of knowledge.

The principal publications of the Institution are in two series,
the one in 4to, the other in 8vo, corresponding generally to the



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Anniversary meeting of the Linnean Society. 909

Transactions and Journals of Scientific Societies. The 4to series,
entitled 'Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge/ copiously
illustrated by well-executed plates, has now attained its 15th
volume (although 14 only have as yet reached us,) the first
having been published in 1847, less than a twelvemonth after
the foundation of the Institution ; the 8vo series was only com-
menced in 1862, without plates, and now forms six large volumes.
In these two series Physical Sciences and Natural History (Bi-
ology, Paleontology, and Geology) occupy nearly equal propor-
tions; there are also extended ethnological and philological Me-
•moirs, and a few smaller ones on miscellaneous subjects. The
Biological papers, whether systematic or physiological, are al-
most entirely illustrative of the fauna and flora of North Amer-
ica, the most important of which are (including two or three
now in the press) Monographs or Catalogues of North American
Bats by H. Allen ; Mammals and Birds by S. F. Baird ; Oology
by T. M. Brewer; Eeptiles by S. F. Baird and'C. Girard ; Cot-
toid Fish by C. Girard ; Marine Invertebrata and Crustacea by
W. Stimpson ; Shells by W. G. Binney, P. P. Carpenter, T. Prime,
W. Stimpson, and G. W. Tryon ; Insects by J. L. LeConte, H.
Hazen, BL. Loew, F. E. Melsheimer, J. G. Morris, R. Osten Sack-
en, H. de Saussure, S. H. Scudder, and P. R, Uhler ; in Ani-
mal Physiology by J. Dean, J. Jones, S. W. Mitchell, G. R.
Morehouse, and J. Wyman ; in Insect Embryology by L. Agas-
siz, and in Microscopic Biology by J. W. Bailey and J. Leidy.
In Botany we have W. H. Harvey's Nereis Boreali- Americana,
illustrated by 50 plates, A. Gray's PlantsB Wrightianse Texano-
Neo-Mexicanae, and three papers by J. Torrey on Californian
plants. Each one of these papers is separately paged in order
to facilitate their separate distribution.

The Smithsonian reports form a volume in 8vo for each year;
they contain, besides the official reports of the proceedings of
the Institution for the preceding year, extracts from corres-
pondence, reports of explorations, &c., several important scien-
tific papers translated from foreign languages, and some original
ones on various scientific subjects. These reports to Congress
are printed at the expense of Government, with the exception
of a few occasional woodcuts supplied by the Institution.

In the way of promoting explorations and collection of obser-
vations, the efibrts of the institution have hitherto been judi-
ciously confined as strictly as possible to America, Northern
and Arctic, Central and Southern; but in this field they have
done much, and the exertions of the Institution, with conside-
rable means at its command, cannot but remind one of the
equally strenuous and successful exertions, as to one branch at
least of science, of a single individual in our own country, the
late Sir William Hooker, or of the more general ones of our



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310 President Bentham's Address at the

Boyal Geographical Society. On this subject I cannot do bek*
ter than quote a passage from the Secretary's Beport of March,
1865, when speaking of the aid afforded in the organization of
government explorations by land and by sea: — " Whether by
official representations to the heads of departments or personsd
influence with officers and employ^, it has secured the engage-
ment of individuals competent to collect facts and specimens ;
it has instructed persons tnus engaged and others in the details
of observation, it has superintended the preparation and in some
cases borne the expense of the necessary outfits, has furnished
. fresh supplies from time to time to the collectors while in the
field; received the collections made and preserved them for
future study, or at once consigned them to proper persons, both
at home and abroad, for investigation, directing the execution
of the necessary drawings and engravings for the reports, and
finally superintending the printing and even the distribution of
any available eddies of the completed works to Institutions of
science. Prior to the establishment of the Institution but little
had been done by the Government in the way of scientific ex-
plorations, with the exception of that under Captain Wilkes,
feut since then, nearly every United States expedition, whether
a survey for a Pacific Bailroad route, a boundary line, or a
wagon route across the Bocky Mountains, or an ordinary topo-
graphical expedition, has been influenced or aided more or less
as above stated. Besides these, similar explorations have been
carried on without any reference to Government, and either
entirely or in a great measure at the expense of the Insti-
tution and always at its suggestion." An enumeration follows
of above twenty of the more important of these expeditions
directly organized by the Institution in the northern and west-
ern portions of North America, in Mexico, Central America^
Cuba, Jamaica, and Bolivia.

In making collections by means of these expeditions or other-
wise, the object has not been so much to supply a large museum
with permanent specimens, or duplicates for regular exchanges,
as to distribute the specimens where it is thought they might
best advance the cause of science, by being most accessible to
the largest number of students engaged in original investiga-
tions. Much has been done in this way in the encouragement
of local societies in rural districts for the collection of specimena
and the recording of natural phenomena ; and, as far as botany
at least is concerned, the collections that come to Europe show
that the official statements on this head are not extravagant
boasts.

I have said that in its Library the Institution is endeavoriog
to obtain a complete collection of Transactions and other works
of a serial character issued by learned bodies. This they ex-



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Anniversary meeting ef the JAmuam Society. 811

pect to obtain chiefly by a liberal system of exchange, and for
that purpose it is now in corresponaenoe with upwards of 1200
of the Societies, Public Libraries, and principal Universities of
of the Old World.

The last head I shall refer to is that of International Ex-
changes. From the first, one of the special objects of the Sec*
retary's plans was to facilitate the direct correspondence between
the learned institutions and scientific men of the two worlds,
and the free exchange of their publications. Year by year the
plans for this purpose have been modified and improved until
they haye attained an extent which seems only to require con-
trol to guard against its being abused by private interests under
the name of science, or, perhaps still more, of benevolence. At
the present time the Institution receives, at periods made known
through its circulars, any books or pamphlets of scientific, lite-
rary, or benevolent character which any institutions or individ-
uals in America may wish to present to a correspondent else-
where, subject only to the condition of being delivered in Wash-
ington free of cost, and being accompanied by a separate list of
the parcels sent. Where any party has any special works to
distribute, the Institution is prepared to furnish lists of societies
or persons to whom they might be usefully sent. The articles
ana yolumes, when receiv^, are assorted, packed, and dis-
patched to the agents of the Institution in London, Leipzig,
Faris, and Amsterdam. The boxes are there unpacked, and
the contents distributed through the proper channels. The re-
turns for these transmissions are received by the same agents,
packed and forwarded to Washington, from which point the
parcels for other parties are sent to their proper destination.
All the expenses of packing, agents, freights, &c., between those
four towns and Washington are borne by the Institution, the
parties concerned only paying the local carriage from or to these
great centers. In this interchange the Institution has obtained
special facilities on the part of custom-houses, railroad and
steamboat companies; and the scientific and literary world have
largely availed themselves of this useful system. The number
of packages reported as dispatched to foreign countries from
Washington in 1864 was 1011, contained in 63 boxes, weighing
20,500 lbs., whilst the packages received in return was 2482,
exclusive of those for tne Smithsonian library.

We haye nothing of the kind in this country, and the diffi-
calties of interchange of books and specimens with the Conti-
nent are much felt ; the comparative cheapness of freights is
more than made up by the complicated agencies and other extra
charges, which can scarcely be avoided even by the few who are
initiated into the secrets of the business. A box of specimens
for Hamburg, which the carrier took to the wrong continental



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312 President BetUham's Address at the

steamboat agent in the city, cost me 22s., when for 258., I might
have gone myself to Hamburg and taken the box with me as
luggage. The sending one or two volumes, or a small packet
of specimens into Germany, is often prevented by the difficulties
and expense attending it. It is not to be expected that any As-
sociation in this countiT should be endowed with funds espe-
cially devoted to the diffusion of knowledge, enabling them to
undertake the transmission gratis of scientific works and speci-
mens ; but it appears to me that if, for instance, the six Scien-
tific Societies which are in future to be assembled in this local-
ity were to join in salarying agents in London and in three or
four of the principal centers of science on the Continent, who
should receive for transmission, pack, and periodically despatch
scientific parcels, and distribute return packaffes, charging to in-
dividuals their proportions only of actual disbursements, the
gain to science would be considerable and the charge to each
society but small.

In glancing over the general tendency of the biological papers
contained in the works I have ennumerated, it will be seen tnat^
although it is scarcely half a century since our American breth-
ren applied themselves in earnest to the investigation of the nat-
ural productions and physical condition of their vast continent,
their progress, especially during the latter half of that period
has been very rapid until the outbreak of the receot war, so
deplorable in its effects in the interests of science as well as on
the material prosperity of their country. That is, however, now
fortunately over ; and although the means of every scientific
institution are still sadly crippled by the high prices and heavy
duties resulting from that war, yet many of them appear to be
resuming their former activity ; and it is to be hoped that they
will now again receive every encouragement, public and private,
in the vigorous prosecution of their researches. The peculiar
condition of the North American Continent reauires imperatively
that its physical and biological statistics shouia be accurately col-
lected and authentically recorded, and that this should be speed-
ily done. It is more than any country, except our Australian
colonies, in a state of transition. Vast tracts of land are still in
what may be called almost a primitive state, unmodified by the
effects of civilization, uninhabited, or tenanted only by the rem-
nants of ancient tribes, whose unsettled life never exercised much
influence over the natural productions of the country. But this
state of things is rapidly passing away ; the invasion and steady

f)rogress of a civilized poj)ulation, whilst changing generally the
ace of nature, is obliterating many of the evidences of a former
state of things. It may be true that the call for recording the
traces of previous conditions may be particularly strong in Eth-
nology and Archaeology ; but in our own branches of the science,



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Anniversary meeHng of the Linnean Society. 813

the observations and consequent theories of Darwin having call-
ed special attention to the history of species, it becomes partic-
ularly important that accurate biological statistics should be ob-
tainea for future comparison in those countries where the cir-
cumstances influencing those conditions are the most rapidly
changing. The larger races of wild animals are dwindling down,
like the aboriginal inhabitants, under the deadly influence of
civilized man. Myriads of the lower orders of animal life, as
well as of plants, disappear with the destruction of forests, the
drainage of swamps, and the gradual spread of cultivation, and
their places are occupied by foreign invaders. Other races, no
doubt, without actually disappearing, undergo a gradual change
under the new order of things, which, if perceptible only in the
course of successive generations, require so much the more for
future proof an accurate record of their state in the still unset-
tled condition of the country. In the Old World almost every
attempt to compare the present state of vegetation or animal
life with that wnich existed in uncivilized times is in a great
measure frustrated by the absolute want of evidence as to that
former state ; but in North America the change is going.forward
as it were close under the eye of the observer. This consid-
eration may one day give great value to the reports of the nat-
uralists sent by the Government, as we have seen, at the insti-
gation of the Smithsonian Institution and other promoters of
science, to accompany the surveys of new territories. For pres-
ent purposes we want very much a digest of the new observations.
Synopsis of some classes of insects and other animals appear in-
deed m a complete, or nearly complete form in the Smithsonian
and other publications above mentioned; but we have as yet no
complete flora of North America. The admirable one began so
many years since by Torrey and Gray has been so long inter-
rupted that it requires rewriting from the beginning ; and there
is no greater service to the science that the distinguished Cam-
bridge Professor could now render than the resumption of that
work, in any, however much abridged form.

The American Museum reports suggest some topics worthy of
consideration with regard to the general question of Natural
History Collections. The first thing that strikes one is th^ want
of a National Central Museum for the reception of as complete
a representation as can be obtained of the North American
Fauna and Flora, with so much at least of foreign specimens as
may be required for comparison and generalization. For this
they seem to have depended on the enorts of private scientific
bodies ; but the progress of these, so far as they have gone,
seems to corroborate the experience of the Old World, that the
useful maintenance of such an establishment is absolutely hope-
less unless it be supported at the public expense, or by the an-
Am. Joub. Sci.— fisooND Bbbibs, You JXJV No. isa— Not., 1867.



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814 President Beniham^s Address at the

Bual proceeds of a suffioiently large inalicQable capital. In
America, as in Europe, almost every Natural History Society,
small or large, begins by contemplatiDg the formation of a Mu-
seum, undefined as to limits ; contributions are invited and dona-
tions thankfully received from every quarter, without reference
to value or practical utility. At first, whilst the Librarian, Sec-
retary, or other manager takes a personal interest in the arrange-
ment and exhibition of the objects received, when donors can
bring their friends to see their contributions displayed on shelves



Online LibraryJohn AlmonThe American journal of science and arts → online text (page 87 of 102)