Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/July 1880/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors.

I HAVE the best authority for saying that President Seelye, of Amherst College, is not satisfied with the interpretations which have been put upon his letter to the "Observer," to the effect that "groundless guesses" are not yet taught at this college "as ascertained truths of science," and that the doctrine of the evolution of man, from the monkey or from any of the irrational animals, being in flat contradiction to all the facts of history, is only fit to be left with the sciolists. He is not willing that a wrong impression should be given to the public with respect to his attitude toward science in general and the scientific doctrines of evolution in particular; and he claims that it was very far from his intention, in his note to the "Observer," to place his college or himself in antagonism to either. It is only just to him, therefore, that he should be set right. I am authorized to say that he has long "firmly believed the current doctrine of evolution to contain a great truth, as well as a subtile error." Moreover, he maintains that "all great truths, whether styled evolution or otherwise, so far as they are truly scientific, are taught and encouraged at Amherst; that all investigations of science and all earnest efforts to widen the field of our knowledge find a cordial welcome there. In a word, that evolution, cosmological and biological, so far as it is scientific, is taught as a part of science; but that such atheistic, illegitimate, unscientific conclusions or assumptions as may apparently flow from certain unwarranted expositions of the law of evolution, together with all other illogical, irrational, and unscientific conclusions and dogmatic deliverances constitute the 'groundless guesses' and the 'subtile error'" to which he referred—"and that these find no favor at Amherst." President Seelye gives his unqualified assent to and adopts this statement of his own, and the position of the college, and thinks its publication will do good.

Besides, it appears that Le Conte's "Geology" was specially recommended by the President to the Professor of Geology as a text-book for his class before its introduction, and after a careful examination of the work. Moreover, that the new department in biology was introduced to the college through President Seelye's own proposal and urgency with the trustees, and this because he desired the college to have the best and largest teaching in so important a field; also that he turned the attention of the present instructor in biology in that particular line, and sent word to him while in Germany that he should especially make the acquaintance of Haeckel and his work. The President considers that he would be unworthy of his place if he were indifferent to or intolerant of the investigations of science, and expresses himself as the reverse of hostile to free thinking.

No lover of science can find any fault with the position of President Seelye in its new aspect, and it is certainly a matter for regret that he has been placed at all in a false or equivocal attitude. Of course, no one who knows him can for an instant entertain the thought that he intended to mislead or supposed he would mislead by his former statement.

Upon such a platform, if faithfully adhered to and its declarations rigorously carried out, and under each leadership, Amherst will certainly be entitled to a high place among those institutions of broad and thorough culture and catholicity of sentiment of which Harvard and the Johns Hopkins University are prominent examples—institutions which inspire confidence in American scholarship at home and give it character abroad. And the evolutionists at Amherst, who are working in their special departments, are to be most heartily congratulated that, unlike their less fortunate brethren at Yale, they at least have no one more ready to support them and lead them forward than the President of their own college, who says it is his "full belief that there was never more or better scientific instruction given in Amherst than now."

Daniel G. Thompson.
New York City, May 20, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

A class of about ten of our teachers has been meeting once a week this term, and, with Professor Huxley's book in one hand and a crayfish in the other, we have endeavored to verify the statements of the book.

After reading your notes on the distribution of the animal in North America, the thought occurred to me that it might be a favor to some students to know where a supply could be had. If you think it will help along the study of natural history, you may say that I can furnish any reasonable number at a cost of, say, two cents each, which I would have to pay boys for collecting. Yours truly,

E. A. Gastman,
Superintendent of Schools.
Decatur, Illinois, May 18, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

A story recently related to me regarding a remarkable display of affection in a pet monkey is so similar to one which I have just read in "The Popular Science Monthly" for March, that I am induced to send it to you as corroborative of the truth or probability of the latter.

An officer of the United States Revenue Marine Service, and now upon this station, informs me that several years ago he owned a monkey which was very intelligent, and became exceedingly fond of him. Returning home one day after a brief absence, the officer saw that the monkey was unwell, but could not account for its illness. It seemed to be in great suffering, but at the same time showed its joy at seeing his master. The latter raised him in his arms, and the monkey, taking him by each of his whiskers, looked into the face of his human friend and kissed him two or three times. After he had done this, the monkey fell back and died almost immediately.

It is reasonable to suppose that the animal had some knowledge of his approaching end, and intended his embrace as a final farewell to his master. The subject of the intellectual capacities of animals is too large a one for the limits of this letter; I will, therefore, do no more than call your attention to this instance of almost human feeling.E. H. N.

Port Townsend, Washington Territory,
May 8, 1880.