Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club/Volume 6/55


Vol. VI. ] New-York, July & Aug. 1879. [ No. 55 & 56.


§  334.  Death Of Mr. Ruger. — It is with profound sorrow that we record the loss by the Club of one of its earliest and most beloved members, Mr. M. Ruger, who died of dropsy of the heart, at his home in this city, on the 22nd of July, in the 44th year of his age.  Only two days previously he had been out collecting plants; in returning he was obliged to leave the car by a sudden attack of illness, and fell before he could reach a drug store where he sought relief.  After partial recovery he was helped home, but sank rapidly, suffering from short and difficult breathing, with increasing exhaustion, until his death.  During the past two years he had had similar, but less violent, attacks, from which he seemed to have measurably recovered; but any considerable bodily effort was attended with a recurrence of the same symptoms.  He was thus prevented from joining during the last two seasons in the long, field-day excursions of the Club, in which he had previously been the accustomed leader, and was confined to short and easy rambles near the city.  Though thus forewarned, none apprehended so sudden an end, and to the members of the Club, to whom his botanical acquirements and personal traits had so warmly endeared him, the announcement of his death came like a shock.

The funeral services were held at the Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church, of which from its organization he had been an active and valued, member, and were attended by those of the Club to whom notices could be sent.   Some wreaths and sprays of leaves and wild flowers from the woods he so much loved, which one of the members had placed upon the casket, seemed to us to be more appreciative and appropriate emblems of the simplicity, the unaffectedness and the truth to nature which specially characterized our departed brother, than the beautiful but more pretentious and conventional floral tributes of harp and crown which also surrounded his bier.

Four addresses by clergymen and others attested to the high appreciation in which he was held in his relations to the church and Sunday school, where, besides other duties, he was musical director, instructor and composer.   From the church his remains were taken for burial to the Cypress Hill Cemetery.

Mr. Ruger was of Dutch descent, and one of the numerous heirs of Annecke Jans, famed in the Trinity Church litigation.   He was of so delicate a constitution, that, though his parents were in humble circumstances, he was never put to any employment, and he never attended school.  His only instruction was received at home.  But he was endowed by nature with a thirst for knowledge, an active intellect, quick and exact observation, a sound judgment and a retentive memory.  Aided by these gifts, in the almost utter absence of the ordinary means of acquiring knowledge, he extracted, as by alchemy, from the slenderest materials and in the most adverse circumstances, the elements of a liberal education.  He was a fair Latin scholar, had some acquaintance with several of the modern languages, was a good draughtsman, a composer of church hymns and tunes, and an instructor in musical harmony; and there was hardly any branch of natural science in which he was not sufficiently well read to be an intelligent auditor or critic.  His specialties were the higher plants, fungi, and insects, of all which he had made considerable collections.


In personal qualities Mr. Ruger exhibited a rare union of sweetness and light.   He was as simple and unaffected as nature herself, and a stranger to envy and malice.  No one ever knew him to utter an unkind word or an uncharitable judgment.  He was generous and sympathetic; and he loved to impart his knowledge to others, and to share with them his botanical treasures.  These kindly and noble qualities specially endeared him to the members of the Torrey Botanical Club, of which he had been long an officer, and of which he was one of the most constant, devoted and zealous members.  He was for years the chief organizer and leader of its excursions in the field, and was always ready with hand and brain to serve in its interests.  One of his last acts was the gift of nearly a hundred species to its Herbarium, and within a few days of his death he also mounted some specimens for its use.

It was the same warm and generous sympathy directed towards the young, the poor and the unprotected of the region in which he lived, that gave him so deep an interest in the Sunday school mission work of the church with which he was connected, and to which for many years he rendered constant and valuable service.   From the same kindly nature also he had long been accustomed to prepare and to dispense without charge vegetable medicines to the poor about him, so that he had come to be commonly known and addressed in his neighborhood as Dr. or Prof. Ruger, — a title, however, which he never acknowledged or allowed himself to use.  And at the time of his death he had prepared a considerable part of the sheets of a work on the Botany of our medicinal plants, and their properties, with drawings, designed for publication.

As a botanist, Mr. Ruger excelled in a familiar and exact knowledge of our native Flora.   He had himself gathered almost everything that grows in our fields and woods, especially in the western part of Long Island; and to his observations the Bulletin is much indebted in its early notes and local catalogue.  He also exchanged extensively with botanists throughout the country, and was so careful and just in his returns that exchanges with him were widely sought and continued.

Through the practical and extensive knowledge of plants thus acquired, and an extraordinary memory, which seemed never to forget a plant once seen and known, he became the walking encyclopaedia of the Club, and was scarcely ever at fault in naming at a glance any of the ordinary species east of the Mississippi, besides being largely acquainted with the more western species.

His love of plants was genuine and impartial.   He found interest in everything that grows.  The homeliest weed was to him never vile — an epithet which unworthily, as it seems to us, but not unfrequently, is applied in Gray's Manual to many of our humbler floral denizens; and the advent of Amarantus crispus or Chenopodium Vulvaria was greeted by him with almost as much apparent interest as the discovery of a new orchid would have been.


His universal and ardent interest in all flowering forms, as well as his extensive knowledge and the sympathetic communication of it were such as to enkindle in others a similar interest and zeal; and for the loss of men possessing this inspiring quality science will always grieve.   As he was fond of referring to, and quoting the sayings of his great teacher, the lamented Dr. Torrey, no little of whose spirit and influence he caught and transmitted, so also will many of the younger members of the Club, to whom Dr. Torrey is personally unknown, find in the memory and example of Mr. Ruger a similar incentive and inspiration.

   A. B.