Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/317

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
313
PIONEERS OF SCIENCE IN AMERICA

hyphenated word end was placed on Djvu/315 because of the intervening image. — Ineuw talk 01:47, 6 August 2017 (UTC) (Wikisource contributor note)

was extensive and accurate and at his ready command. Farmers and horticulturists came to him and learned how to check the ravages of destructive insects; physicians sent rare or new human parasites and were told their nature and habits and the best means of prevention; jewelers brought rare gems and learned their value. His comments, at the academy, on the recent additions to its collections, gave a most impressive illustration of his ready command of his vast store of natural knowledge.

Leidy wrote no books, in the popular meaning of the word. He undertook the solution of no fundamental problem of biology. There are few among his six hundred publications that would attract unscientific readers, or afford a paragraph for a newspaper. They are simple and lucid and to the point. Most of them are short, although he wrote several more exhaustive monographs. They cover a wide field, but most of them fall into a few groups. Many deal with the parasites of mammals—among them, one in which his discovery of Trichena in pork is recorded.

Two hundred and sixteen, or about a third of his publications, are on the extinct vertebrates of North America. His first paper on paleontology was published in 1846, and his last in 1888, as the subject occupied him for more than forty years. He laid, with the hand of master, the foundation for the paleontology of the reptiles and mammals of North America, and we know what a wonderful and instructive and world-renowned superstructure his successors have reared upon his foundation. It was this work that established his fame and brought him honors and rewards. They who hold it to be his best title to be enrolled among the pioneers of science in America are in the right in so far as the founder of a great department of knowledge is most deserving of commemoration; but I do not believe it was his most characteristic work.

I can mention but one of the results of his study of American fossils. He showed, in 1846, that this continent is the ancestral home of the horse, and he sketched, soon after, the outline of the story of its evolution which later workers have made so familiar.

More than half his papers are on a subject which seems to me to contain the lesson of his life. Like Gilbert White, he was a home-naturalist, devoted to the study of the natural objects that he found within walking-distance of his home, but he penetrated far deeper into the secrets of the living world about him than White did, finding new wonders in the simplest living being. In the intestine of the cockroach and in that of the white ant, he found wonderful forests of microscopic plants that were new to science, inhabited by minute animals of many new and strange forms. His beautifully illustrated memoir on A Flora and Fauna within Living Animals is one of the