THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
|SKETCH OF BENJAMIN SMITH BARTON.|
OF the three professions formerly distinguished as "learned" that of medicine is the only one connected with natural science. Hence it is not surprising that, in the times when scientific research could seldom be pursued except as an avocation, it was frequently joined to his vocation by the physician. The history of medicine in the Old World is adorned with the names of many profound students of Nature, and in America the name of Dr. Barton stands at the head of a considerable list of eminent investigators who either followed or at least entered upon the medical profession.
Benjamin Smith Barton was one of the younger children of the Rev. Thomas Barton, an Episcopal clergyman, and was born at Lancaster, Pa., February 10, 1766. His mother was a sister of David Rittenhouse, the astronomer. He received, therefore, a double inheritance of intellectual ability, but the benefits of parental care and training were lost to him at an early age. His mother died when he was eight years old, and his father when he was fourteen. Early in the fall of 1778 Mr. Thomas Barton had left Pennsylvania, intending to go to Europe, but was taken sick before he could conveniently set sail, and died without returning to his home. May 25, 1780, at the age of fifty years.
Before leaving Lancaster Mr. Barton had placed his younger children in the care of a friend in the country near by, where they remained until after their father's death. During this period young Benjamin devoted much of his time to reading, showing considerable fondness for the subject of civil history. Being a studious boy, he naturally took less interest than boys generally do in athletic sports. His predilection for natural history, especially for botany, appeared early, and very likely had received some encouragement from his father, who is known to have been a student of Nature. In a note to his Observations on the Desiderata of Natural History Dr. Barton speaks of the "fine collection of North American minerals, which was made by my father near forty years ago, at a time when he paid more attention to this part of natural history than, so far as I know, any other person in the (then) colonies." It appears also that the Rev. Thomas Barton was a member of the American Philosophical Society, and corresponded with Linnæus on botanical subjects.
Young Benjamin early displayed a notable talent for drawing, and afterward became also remarkably skillful in etching. His artistic ability was of great service to him in sketching objects