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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/704

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the incompetency of the instructors, for in after-years Say showed an ability and a desire to learn which only the most repressing circumstances could have checked in his youth. Dr. Benjamin Say, the father, was an apothecary, in moderate circumstances; and young Say, after leaving school, was placed for a time behind the counter of his father's shop. After he had acquired some knowledge of the drug business, his father established him in trade with John Speakman, who was a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Through Speakman, Say was induced to join the society, and with this act he began a life of science which has left its impress on every branch of natural history.

Say is considered as one of the founders of the Philadelphia Academy, but this is not exactly so. The academy was founded January 12, 1812, while Say was not elected to membership until April of that year, and his first attendance at the meetings was on April 16, 1812. What was his surprise, on entering the temple of science, to find the whole collection of specimens consisting of "some half a dozen common insects, a few madrepores and shells, a dried toad-fish, and a stuffed monkey!—a display of objects of science calculated rather to excite merriment than to procure respect." In fact, the academy was a social organization. This is shown by its first constitution, the preamble of which runs somewhat as follows (we quote from memory): "Whereas, we believe that we can obtain the same amount of pleasure and enjoyment, and at a less expense, around a common fireside and a common candle, than we can, each at his own fire and beside his own light," etc. With the advent of Say to membership this was soon changed, and the academy took its place among the scientific bodies of the world, a place which it has since occupied, though at times it has seemed to many of its friends that it was not doing the work which it ought. At present, under the able presidency of Dr. Leidy, it promises to take a higher stand than it ever has in the past.

Long before joining the academy, Say had acquired a familiarity with the forms of beetles and butterflies, but without reducing his knowledge to systematic order. Now, on joining a scientific society, he began those investigations on the American fauna which only ceased with his death. His partner, Speakman, fully sympathized with his passion for nature, and willingly did the labor of both in the shop, so that Say might devote all his time and energies to his favorite studies. Soon, however, this comfortable arrangement was brought to an end; the firm of Speakman and Say, in an evil hour, indorsed for friends, and, as a not unnatural result, came to grief. Say then took up his residence in the rooms of the society, making his bed on the floor, cooking his own food, and living at an expense at times not exceeding seventy-five cents a week. Had he, like Thoreau, given an account of his life at this time, it would have been an interesting chapter.