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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/June 1888/Sketch of Alpheus Spring Packard

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 33‎ | June 1888

PSM V33 D156 Alpheus Spring Packard.png

By Professor J. S. KINGSLEY.

THE influence which Louis Agassiz had in the development of American science is to be estimated not by his published works, but by the enthusiasm he instilled into all who came under his instruction. In the years from 1861 to 1864 there were gathered at Cambridge as his pupils eight men, each of whom has made a name for himself in science. These eight were Alexander Agassiz, Alpheus Hyatt, Edward Sylvester Morse, Alpheus Spring Packard, Frederick Ward Putnam, Samuel Hubbard Scudder, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, and Addison Emory Verrill.

Alpheus Spring Packard, the subject of the present sketch, is one of the four sons of the venerated Prof. Packard who for over sixty years was connected with the faculty of Bowdoin College. He was born at Brunswick, Me., February 19, 1839, and at the age of eighteen entered the college where his father was a professor. While a student he evinced a marked predilection for natural history, a tendency which was fostered and encouraged by the late Dr. Paul A. Chadbourne, who at that time was a professor in both Williams and Bowdoin Colleges. At Williams there was a flourishing students' society, the Lyceum of Natural History, which at this time had sent out several scientific expeditions, and in the summer of 1860 they laid their plans for another, the objective points of which were Labrador and Greenland. When the expedition set sail from Thomaston, Me., young Packard joined it and went as far as Labrador, where he spent fifty days collecting near Caribou Island. The others went to Greenland, and on their return took him and his collections back to the States in time for him to begin the studies of his senior year. These, however, were not without interruption, for before graduation he led a party of classmates on a dredging and collecting expedition to the Bay of Fundy,

At commencement in 1861 Bowdoin gave him his bachelor's degree, and then the field was opened to him to follow his scientific bent. In the spring of that year the Legislature of Maine had authorized a scientific survey of the State, and Mr. Packard received the appointment of entomologist on the corps. In this capacity he accompanied a party who went up the east branch of the Penobscot and then down the Alleguash and St. John's Rivers as far as Woodstock. With the materials gathered on this expedition Mr. Packard wrote the first of that long series of scientific articles which have emanated from his pen. It was an essay on the army-worm, which at that time was doing considerable damage to agricultural interests in Maine. This paper. with, others by the same author, was published in the first report of the survey.

Mr. Packard had now fully decided to devote himself to zoology, and, in order to widen his views and increase his knowledge, he went to Cambridge to study with Agassiz. Here for three years he devoted himself to entomology and made such progress that during the latter part of the time he held the position of assistant. He laid a broad foundation for his future studies in entomology, and in a paper published in 1863, under the title "Synthetic Types in Insects," he introduced new views into the classification of these forms. From that date to the present time not a year has passed without numerous articles from his pen, a mere list of which would occupy more space than can be devoted to this sketch.

At the same time that he was studying zoölogy he was reading medicine and attending lectures during the winter term at the medical school connected with his Alma Mater, where in 1864 he passed the necessary examinations and received his doctor's degree. In the summer of the same year he set sail again for Labrador, this time in company with the marine artist Bradford, to collect materials for a memoir of the geology and natural history of that then little-known region. On his former trip he had visited only the southern portion of the coast. This time he went as far north as Hopedale, dredging at favorable localities along the shore, and everywhere paying attention to the geology and especially to the former traces of glacial action.

The results of this trip were not, however, to be immediately worked up, for on his return to Brunswick he enlisted for three years as assistant surgeon in the First Regiment of Maine Veteran Volunteers, and marched away to join the Army of the Potomac, While in Virginia the scientific passion ruled strong, and many an insect fell a victim to the collecting-bottle. Fortunately, before the three years for which he enlisted were over, the war came to an end, and Dr. Packard was mustered out in July, 1865, after a military and medical experience of ten months.

He now returned to Boston, and for a while acted as librarian and custodian at the Boston Society of Natural History, at the same time working up the results of his Labrador explorations, which were published as a memoir by the Boston Society of Natural History in 1867, and which still remain the chief source of our knowledge of the fauna and geology of that region. The stay in Boston was, however, of short duration, for at this time the Essex Institute, at Salem, Mass., was displaying great activity in the line of natural history, and negotiations were in progress with the London banker, George Peabody, looking toward an endowment for science in Essex County. These plans rapidly took such shape that the Institute thought it advisable to increase Its scientific force, and so in 1866 it called to Salem four of the students mentioned in the opening paragraph—Packard, Putnam, Morse, and Hyatt—as curators of the Institute collections. These plans, however, took a different turn from that expected by some, and the result was an independent institution, the Peabody Academy of Science, with an endowment of $140,000. The Institute turned over its collections to the new corporation, and with them went the four curators. They retained their connections with the Academy for varying lengths of time. Prof. Hyatt was the first to leave, as he was offered the position of custodian of the Boston Society of Natural History. Prof. Morse left next, and went to Bowdoin College as Professor of Zoölogy. Prof. Putnam, in 1876, was appointed Curator of the Peabody Museum of Archæology and Ethnology at Cambridge, another institution which owed its existence to the liberality of Mr. Peabody. Dr. Packard retained his connection with the Peabody Academy of Science until 1878, when he resigned to accept the professorship of Zoölogy and Geology in Brown University, a position which he holds to the present time.

These twelve years at Salem were prolific. in work, only a small fraction of which can be noticed. Possibly the most important service done American science was the foundation of the "American Naturalist," a popular magazine of natural history, by Messrs. Packard, Morse, Hyatt, and Putnam, in 1867. With this journal Dr. Packard was connected, a part of the time as sole editor, for twenty years, only severing his connection with it in the beginning of the year 1887. It is difficult to overestimate the value of Dr. Packard's editorial labors, and it is certainly safe to say that if we consider this point alone no one has done more to shape American zoölogical science than he. Dr. Packard, however, did other work. He had continually several irons in the fire. Entomology was his chosen field, and, perceiving the lack of any manual for students in this department of science, he published in 1869 the first edition of his well-known "Guide to the Study of Insects," a volume which to this day is without a rival. It may be said, parenthetically, that Dr. Packard is now engaged in completely rewriting this work so that it may adequately represent the entomological science of the present time. The same years also witnessed the publication of various systematic and embryological papers, the principal one of which was an account of the development of that ancient form, the horseshoe crab.

The old spirit of exploration was not extinct. Scarcely a year passed without a trip to some point near or remote, the features of which he wished to study. In the winter of 1869-'70 he visited Key West and the Tortugas for the purpose of studying a tropical marine fauna, and from which he brought back large collections of marine invertebrates to swell the museum of the Peabody Academy of Science. On his return he stopped for a while at Beaufort, N. C, since made so celebrated as a zoölogical center by the labors of Dr. Brooks and his students, but which at that time was scarcely known. The next winter another Southern trip was taken—this time to Charleston, S. C, where some weeks were spent in the study of marine embryology, the results of which are still almost entirely in manuscript.

As is well known, a large proportion of the animals and plants of the United States were first scientifically described in Europe from specimens sent from here there by early collectors. The specimens which form the basis of these descriptions ("types" they are called) are scrupulously preserved in the museums, and it often becomes necessary for the naturalist to consult them to ascertain exactly what species some previous student had before him when he wrote the description which is not sufficient to identify the species. So Dr. Packard found it necessary to visit Europe, in 1872, to see for himself the insects described by the older European entomologists, and the result of the trip was considerable changes in the names of many of our butterflies and moths, for, according to the rules of zoölogical nomenclature, the first name applied to a species is the name that must hold. All the changes which prove so vexatious to the beginner, and for which it is not always easy to see the reason, are but steps toward permanence. By and by each species will be known by the name first given it, and then there will be no more of that tossing from pillar to post.

During the years 1871-1873 Dr. Packard held the position of State Entomologist of Massachusetts, and lectured at both the Maine and Massachusetts Agricultural Colleges upon the subject of economic entomology; but as these positions were very economically managed by the States, and were offices of honor rather than profit, they were resigned the latter year. In 1871 and 1872 he had written a small book in connection with Prof. Putnam upon the animals found in the Mammoth Cave, and then laid the foundation for that interest in the origin and effects of cave-life which is soon to come to fruition in an extensive memoir on the subject. As a result of this book he was appointed an assistant, in 1874, on the Kentucky Geological Survey, then under the charge of his former fellow-student. Prof. Shaler, and directed to make a thorough exploration of the Kentucky caves. The next two years he held the position of assistant zoologist on the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, under the charge of Prof. F. V. Hayden, and in that capacity visited several of the Western Territories, and published a large quarto memoir on the family of geometrid moths, familiar examples of which are those forms the larvæ of which are known as canker-worms.

The year 1873 witnessed the establishment of the Anderson School of Natural History on the illy adapted island of Penikese, and here for two summers (the whole period of the existence of the school) Dr. Packard gave the instruction in the articulates. When the Penikese experiment was abandoned, the idea of a summer zoölogical station where students could come for the summer and pursue a course of study was taken up by the Peabody Academy of Science, which for five years maintained such a school. During the first three years of the existence of this Salem school (1876-'78) Dr. Packard was at its head, giving lectures, assisting in demonstrations, and in every way trying to make it a success.

The years from 1873 to 1876 will long be remembered by the inhabitants west of the Mississippi, from the terrible devastations of the Rocky Mountain locust, or grasshopper, as it is more familiarly known. Over enormous tracts of country everything green was devoured by these insect pests, and an enormous amount of suffering was caused by the destruction of the crops of the farmers. Indeed, so serious were the ravages that Congress was implored to create a commission of eminent entomologists to seek some way to check the locusts and to prevent their ravages. Congress passed the desired bill, and the Secretary of the Interior appointed, as the United States Entomological Commission, Prof. C. V. Piley, Prof. Cyrus Thomas, and Dr. A. S. Packard. If the logic of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, be valid, no better appointments could have been made, for the very year these persons began their duties the locust troubles were very materially diminished. The three members of the commission divided the field between them, and Dr. Packard made several trips to the Territories to study the extent of the locust ravages, and to ascertain their breeding-grounds. One of these trips took him to California, Oregon, and Washington Territory. As has been said, the locust invasions ceased almost the moment the commissioners were appointed, but other insects became serious pests in other parts of the country, and so Congress enlarged the scope of the commission, and directed its members to investigate the chinch-bug, the Hessian fly, and the cotton-worm, and limited the duration of the existence of the board to five years. The commission have published three annual reports, large octavo volumes, filled with information regarding various destructive insects, besides numerous smaller bulletins. They have another and final report now in press.

In 1878 Dr. Packard received the appointment of Professor of Zoölogy and Geology in Brown University, at Providence, R. I., a position which, he holds at the present time. Here, besides his duties as teacher, he has found time to conduct various investigations, besides writing three text-books of zoölogy, all of which have met with an extensive sale. In the spring of 1885 he found time to take an extensive trip through the Southern States and Mexico, "doing" the latter country in a manner not common since the completion of the Mexican Central Railway. He cut loose from the steam-horse and trusted himself to the old-fashioned diligence, traveling thus across the country in a more leisurely manner, and seeing far more of it and of its inhabitants than can be seen by the ordinary excursionist from the window of a railway-car.

In 1867 Dr. Packard was married to Elizabeth Derby, the daughter of the late Samuel B. Walcott, of Salem, Mass. He has four children.

Such in outline is the life of Prof. Packard. Of his writings we have said but little, chiefly from inability to choose from their number. That their merit has been recognized by scientific men is shown by the numbers of societies which have conferred the distinction of honorary membership upon him. A complete bibliography of his writings has recently been prepared; but, in addition to those already mentioned in the present article, we may call attention to a few of the more prominent works. In 1873 and 1876 respectively he published "Our Common Insects" and "Half-Hours with Insects," two popular works on entomology. In the latter year he also published "Life Histories of Animals," which was the first compendium of all the known facts in the development of the animal kingdom, a work which has, however been largely superseded by the more extensive "Comparative Embryology" of the late Prof. F. M. Balfour. In 1883 appeared his monograph of the "Phyllopod Crustacea," an account of a small group of animals which reach their greatest development in America. For several years he contributed the zoölogical notes to the scientific departments of "Harper's New Monthly Magazine," and of the "New York Independent." Of late years his studies have taken a turn in the line of the philosophy of zoölogy rather than in that of the description of species and the identification of specimens. He is now more interested in the structure and growth of animals, and the principles which underlie their distribution in space, than in the details of museum work.

Personally, Dr. Packard is a very pleasant and entertaining companion, and not least among his good qualities is the interest he takes in all who show any predilection toward scientific work. These he is always ready to assist and encourage to the extent of his ability. As will be seen from the foregoing sketch, he is an indefatigable worker, and, to the brief notices of his articles given above, space will only allow a few other references to the discoveries he has made and the theories he has advanced in the various lines of zoölogical and geological research.

When Agassiz came to this country, he brought with him not only an interest in zoölogical subjects, but, as well, that enthusiasm which made his name famous in connection with the study of glaciers. He pointed out the existence of local glaciers in the White Mountains, but Dr. Packard traced out further than ever before the extent of this local system, following these rivers of ice from Mount Washington and the adjacent peaks down the valleys of western Maine. This work on glaciers was still further elaborated in his large memoir on Labrador, mentioned above, and led to other speculations of a zoölogical rather than of a purely geological character.

These were that the existing insect fauna of at least the Northeastern United States had its origin from a circumpolar Tertiary fauna. The facts for this conclusion were in part the following: Oswald Heer and Dr. Asa Gray had conclusively shown that the plants of the same region had thus originated, the Tertiary rocks of Greenland containing many genera which are characteristic of the American flora of to-day. Now, as is well known, there is the most intimate connection between the distribution of many insects and the plants on which they feed, and the habitats of many insects can only be accounted for upon some such supposition. For these in detail the student should seek Dr. Packard's "Monograph of the Geometrid Moths," but we can mention one instance. Certain butterflies and moths are known to-day only from the colder regions. They are found in Labrador and farther north, while in the United States they only occur in the widely separated mountain-regions of New Hampshire and Colorado. These, it is assumed, must have lived near the edge of the great continental ice-sheet of glacial times, and must have occurred in all the intervening extent of country. As the ice retreated and the territory became warmer, the plants on which the larvæ fed could only find conditions favorable to their existence on these high mountain-regions or the isothermal but lower lands of Labrador. This view of the origin of the fauna of the United States has since been adopted by many writers, and receives its most complete exposition in Dr. A. R. Wallace's "Geographical Distribution of Animals," but without credit to Dr. Packard, who advanced it several years before.

In morphological work, the studies on the development of the sting of the bee must be mentioned. Dr. Packard pointed out twenty years ago—Dr. Kraepelin has since worked over the subject—that the sting of the bees and wasps is an organ composed of modified limbs, and is to be regarded as homologous with the organs which, in other insects, are devoted solely to reproductive functions. These points he carried out so that he could trace every portion of the one in the physiologically very different organ of the other.

The last of the studies which we can allude to are those of the development of Limulus. Dr. Lockwood, the first to study the subject, pointed out the similarity of the young horseshoe crab to the trilobites, and this Dr. Packard elaborated in his more extensive paper. His studies in this direction led him to investigate the ancestry of the king-crab, and he now has in press an extensive memoir on the fossil king-crabs, in which the subject will receive still further treatment, and will, no doubt, present many new views based upon the study of extensive suites of specimens.

Lives like this of Dr. Packard are of interest, not only in themselves, but as instances of heredity. Dr. Packard's father was a man of mark, as every graduate of Bowdoin will testify; while his grandfather Packard—a Revolutionary soldier—was a graduate of and a tutor in Harvard College. His maternal grandfather was the Rev. Dr. Appleton, formerly President of Bowdoin College. With such an ancestry, is it to be wondered that three of the sons should rise to eminence as college professors, while the fourth should become a prominent physician?