Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/September 1889/Sketch of Joseph Lovering

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A COMPANY of about one hundred and fifty gentlemen distinguished in science and literature sat down a few months ago to a banquet in the Hôtel Vendôme, Boston. The festival was one tendered by his colleagues, classmates, and friends to Prof. Joseph Lovering in honor of the distinction he enjoyed of having served for fifty years as a professor in Harvard College. He was the first professor who held that position for so long a time. Previous to entering upon this office, he had served two years as tutor; and, adding the two terms together, his was the second longest period of consecutive service recorded in the history of the institution. President Eliot presided at the banquet, and the tables were occupied by members of the Board of Overseers, the teaching faculty, and distinguished graduates and friends of the oldest American institution of learning. The speakers were too many to be specified here; and we shall have to be satisfied with saying that their names are associated with what is best in the thought and learning of the period. A similar scene was witnessed in this city at the dinner of the Harvard Club on the 21st of February, 1889, when Prof. Lovering, being a guest, received congratulations.

Joseph Lovering was born in Charlestown, Mass., December 25, 1813. His father was surveyor of ice, wood, and lumber. He attended a grammar school of his native town, and seems there to have outrun the capacity of his teachers; for it is recorded of him that he went through Colburn's Algebra by himself, none of them having any knowledge of the subject. He was afterward fitted for college under his pastor, the Rev. Dr. James Walker, subsequently Professor and President of Harvard University, to whom he recited daily, entered the sophomore class at Harvard in 1830, and was graduated in 1833. He entered the Divinity School in Cambridge in the fall of 1834, and remained there two years, but was practically employed in teaching almost constantly after graduation: in the first year, in a small private school in Charlestown; in 1834-'35, as assistant to Prof. Peirce in the instruction of the college classes in mathematics; in 1835-36, as proctor and instructor in mathematics; in 1836-'37, as tutor in mathematics and lecturer in natural philosophy; and from 1838 to 1888, as Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Retiring from this active professorship after fifty years of service, he became, as he still is, Hollis Professor Emeritus. He acted as Regent in 1853-'54 during Prof. Felton's absence in Europe; succeeded to that office in 1857, and held it till 1870; but passed a year's leave of absence—given to him in consideration of his long and uninterrupted services to the college—in 1868-'G9, in Europe. When the Jefferson Physical Laboratory was opened in 1884, he was appointed its director, and during the four years of his administration made annual reports of its activities.

While his college duties demanded the largest share of his time and his best thoughts, he found and improved opportunities to make a good record of other work—all for the increase and dissemination of knowledge. Among these extra-collegiate exercises were nine courses, of twelve lectures each, and each lecture delivered to two different audiences in the earlier years, on astronomy and physics, at the Lowell Institute; shorter courses of lectures at the Smithsonian Institution, the Peabody Institute of Baltimore, and the Charitable Mechanics' Institution of Boston; and single lectures in different towns and cities in New England. He edited, in 1842, at the request of the author, a new edition of Farrar's "Electricity and Magnetism." One of his essays on the aurora borealis, in the "Memoirs" of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fills a thick quarto volume. Other memoirs, on terrestrial magnetism, the aurora, the determination of transatlantic longitudes, etc., published in the same series, attest the fertility of his researches.

As Permanent Secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, from 1854 to 1873, Prof. Lovering edited fifteen volumes of its "Proceedings." Retiring from this office on being elected President of the Association for 1873, he put upon record that, when he entered upon its duties at the eighth meeting of the Association, the body had an annual income of only a few hundred dollars, and was dependent upon the generosity of the cities where it met for the publication of its "Proceedings." Since that time it had been able to pay all its expenses, had acquired a valuable stock of "Proceedings" and possessed a cash balance amounting (with interest) to more than two thousand dollars. As president of the Portland meeting of 1873, he emphasized, in his reception address, as the one object of the Association, the advancement of science in the United States. "Few of us," he said, "can aspire to the honor of being discoverers of the laws of nature, in the high sense of that phrase. But no one, however humble his capacities, or however limited his opportunities, who labors for science, will fail to advance it and be rewarded by it. We meet together from year to year, the veterans in science, with the younger aspirants for distinction, and many more who long to catch the earliest tidings of the last word which Science has to say in regard to the earth under our feet or the stars above us; a few to speak but many more to listen; but each doing his part to advance science, either by active research or encouraging sympathy. Our brief meetings allow us no leisure to listen to what is old or to what may be read in books, or to glittering generalities, or ingenious speculations on the universe, unsupported by evidence and individual investigation. But any new fact, however microscopic, any new investigation, whether it concerns a planet or an atom, any new experiment in which a law of nature is made more palpable and convincing, finds with us a ready welcome." The members, he added, did not concern themselves with the utility of the truths which were communicated at these meetings. If they had no immediate practical value, it was sufficient for them that they were true and revealed the plans of the Creator. "It is impossible for the man of science to serve two masters, the Kingdom of Nature and Mammon. It is a dangerous thing for him to be thinking of the utility of his discoveries, or of the pecuniary profit which may be made out of them." In his retiring address, in 1874, which was published in the "Monthly" for December, 1874, and January, 1875, Prof. Lovering spoke of "Instruments in Physical Progress" and "Mathematical Investigations in Physics," and sketched the resources and present attitude of the physical sciences. He presented the view that "the great problem of the day is how to subject all physical phenomena to dynamical laws. With all the experimental devices and all the mathematical appliances of this generation, the human mind has been baffled in its attempts to construct a universal science of physics. But nothing will discourage it; when foiled in one direction, it will attack in another. Science is not destructive, but progressive; while its theories change, the facts remain. Its generalizations are widening and deepening from age to age. We may extend to all the theories of physical science the remark of Grote, which Challis quotes in favor of his own: 'Its fruitfulness is its correctibility.' Instead of being disheartened by difficulties, the true man of science will congratulate himself in the words of Vauvenargues, that he lives in a world fertile in obstacles. Immortality would be no boon if there were not something left to discover as well as to love!"

The Observatory of Harvard University. M. W. C. Bond started a private observatory at his house in Dorchester, where he observed eclipses and occultations, as far back as 1820. In 1840 he was induced by President Quincy to remove to Cambridge with his transit-instrument and other appointments, which were supplemented by some telescopes, sextants, etc., belonging to the college. Prof. Lovering was associated with him in the management of this primitive observatory. Its location was in a private house belonging to the college, in which Mr. Bond and Prof. Lovering took up their residence. Humboldt had induced the Royal Society of London to co-operate in making simultaneous observations on the elements of terrestrial magnetism in Great Britain and its colonies. The only stations on this Western Continent were at Toronto, Canada, and in Philadelphia and Cambridge. Prof. Bache, afterward Chief of the United States Coast Survey, conducted the observations in Philadelphia. Mr. Bond and Prof. Lovering had charge of the observations in Cambridge. These observations were to be made simultaneously all over the earth, and with instruments constructed according to the Gauss pattern. Cambridge was supplied with a set of these instruments by the generosity of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As, on one day of each month, observations were to be made every five minutes on three different instruments, day and night, for the purpose of obtaining the curves of diurnal variation in the magnetic elements, the assistance of a few competent and zealous undergraduates was freely offered and gladly accepted. Of these, Thomas Hill, afterward President of Harvard College, and Benjamin A. Gould, now the distinguished astronomer, deserve special mention. Prof. Benjamin Peirce rendered valuable service, not only by assisting in the observations on the special days of each month, but in applying the Gauss theory to the calculation of the magnetic elements for Cambridge. Mr. Hill was employed in reducing the weekly means to empirical formulæ by the method of Prof. Peirce.

Profs. Peirce and Lovering were co-editors of the "Mathematical Miscellany," published at Cambridge, and devoted to pure and applied mathematics. The essays contributed by Prof. Lovering are enumerated in the annexed catalogue of his publications. A gentleman who has achieved a world-wide reputation in science has recently written of Prof. Lovering's articles that they impressed him as few others had ever done. "It will surprise him to know it; yet it is true that the ideas then presented, and with an elegance worthy of their breadth and power, affected the whole tenor and tendency of my thoughts, and thus of my subsequent life. At this moment I could repeat by memory long passages from these articles. They were upon 'The Internal Equilibrium of Bodies,' 'The Application of Mathematical Analysis to Physical Research,' 'The Divisibility of Matter,' etc." And he compares the style of parts of them with that of the most classic passages in Babbage's "Ninth Bridgewater Treatise."

Mr. R. W. Emerson published the following notice for the "Dial":[1] "We rejoice in the appearance of the first number of this quarterly journal edited by Prof. Peirce. Into its mathematics we have not ventured; but the chapters on astronomy and physics we read with great advantage and refreshment. Especially we thank Prof. Lovering for the beautiful essay on the 'Internal Equilibrium and Motion of Bodies,' which is the most agreeable contribution to scientific literature which has fallen under our eye since Sir Charles Bell's book on the hand, and brings to mind the clear, transparent writings of Davy and Playfair. Surely this was not written to be read in a corner, and we anticipate the best success for this new journal."

Prof. Lovering is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston; was its corresponding secretary for many years; was afterward its vice-president, and its president since 1880. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, of the American Historical Society of Philadelphia, of the California Academy of Sciences, and of the Buffalo Historical Society. In connection with the work of the United States Coast Survey from 1867 to 1876, he had charge of the computations for determining differences of longitude in the United States and across the Atlantic Ocean, by means of the land and cable lines of telegraph. He was for some years one of the trustees of the Tyndall fund for the endowment of scientific research, and is now one of the trustees of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Besides the papers already mentioned. Prof. Lovering contributed other articles to the "Memoirs" and "Proceedings" of the American Academy, and scientific articles and reviews to the "Proceedings of the American Association," the "American Journal of Science," the "Journal of the Franklin Institute," the "American Almanac," the "North American Review," the "Christian Examiner," "Old and New," and "The Popular Science Monthly." The following is a list of these contributions:

1. "An Account of the Magnetic Observations made at the Magnetic Observfitory of Harvard College." In two parts ("Memoirs of the American Academy," vol. ii, 1846.)

2. "On the Secular Periodicity of the Aurora Borealis" (ibid., vol. ix).

3. "On the Determination of Transatlantic Longitudes by Means of the Telegraphic Cables" (ibid., 1867).

4. "Catalogue of Auroras observed, mostly at Cambridge, after 1838" (ibid., vol. X, 1868).

5. "On the Periodicity of the Aurora Borealis." In two parts (ibid., with plates, 1868).

6. "On the Causes of the Difference in the Strength of Ordinary Magnets and Electro-Magnets, of the saitie Size and Shape." ("Proceedings of the American Academy," vol. ii). 7. "On the Law of Continuity" (ibid.).

8. "On the Aneroid Barometer" (ibid.).

9. "Electrical Experiment" (ibid., vol. iv).

10. "On the Connection of Electricity with Tornadoes" (ibid., vol. ii).

11. "On Coronæ and Halos" (ibid.).

12. "On the Spectroscope" (ibid., vol. iii).

13. "On the Bioscope" (ibid.).

14. "Apparatus for Rapid Rotations" (ibid.).

15. "Shape of Luminous Spots in Solar Eclipses" (ibid.).

16. "Notice of the Death of John Farrar" (ibid.).

17. "Notice of the Death of Melloni" (ibid.).

18. "New Apparatus and Experiments in Optics and Acoustics" (ibid.).

19. "Arago's Opinion of Table-Moving" (ibid.).

20. "On Fessel's Gyroscope" (ibid.).

21. "Apparatus to regulate the Electric Light" (ibid.).

22. "Does the Mississippi River flow Up-hill?" (ibid.).

23. "Report on Hedgcock's Quadrant" (ibid.).

24. "On the Boomerang" (ibid., vol. iv).

25. "Report on Meteorological Observations" (ibid.).

26. "On the Ocean Cable" (ibid.).

27. "On the Polarization of the Light of Comets" (ibid.).

28. "Report on the Polar Expedition of Dr. I. I. Hayes" (ibid.).

29. "On Records of the Aurora Borealis" (ibid.).

30. "First Observations on the Aurora in New England" (ibid.).

31. "Notice of the Death of Biot" (ibid., vol. ii).

32. "On the Velocity of Light and the Sun's Distance" (ibid.).

33. "Notice of the Death of O. M. Mitchell" (ibid.).

34. "On the Optical Method of studying Sound" (ibid., vol. vii).

35. "On the Periodicity of the Aurora Borealis" (ibid., vol. viii, 1873).

36. "On the French Republican Calendar" (ibid.).

37. "Application of Electricity to the Motion of Tuning-Forks" (ibid.).

38. "On Optical Meteorology" (ibid.).

39. "On Transatlantic Longitudes" (ibid.).

40. "Notice of the Death of William Mitchell" (ibid.).

41. "Notice of the Death of Faraday" (ibid).

42. "Notice of the Death of David Brewster" (ibid.).

43. "Notice of the Death of J. W. F. Herschel" (ibid.).

44. "Notice of the Death of Christopher Hansteen" (ibid., vol. ix).

45. "Notice of the Death of Auguste A. de la Rive" (ibid.).

46. "Notice of the Death of James Walker" (ibid., vol. x).

47. "Notice of the Death of Joseph Winlock" (ibid., vol. xi).

48. "Notice of the Death of Alexis Caswell" (ibid., vol. xiii).

49. "Notice of the Death of John H. Temple" (ibid., vol. xiii).

50. "Notice of the Death of Joseph Henry" (ibid., vol. xiv).

51. "Notice of the Death of H. W. Dove" (ibid., vol. xv).

52. "Address as President on presenting the Rumford Medal to J. Willard Gibbs" (ibid., vol. xvi).

63. "Anticipations of the Lissajous Curves" (ibid.).

54. "Notices of the Deaths of Richard H. Dana, of Edward Desor, and of John W. Draper" (ibid., vol. xvii).

55. "Notice of the Death of Sir Edward Sabine" (ibid., vol. xix).

56. "Address of the President on Presenting the Rumford Medal to H. A. Rowland" (ibid.).

57. "Address as President on presenting the Rumford Medal to S. P. Langley" (ibid., vol. xxii).

58. "Notice of the Death of Gustav Robert Kirchhoff" (ibid., vol. xxiii).

58*. "Address as President on presenting the Rumford Medal to A. A. Michelson" (ibid., vol. xxiv).

58**. "The 'Mécanique Céleste' of Laplace, and its Translation by Bowditch" (ibid., vol. xxiv).

59. "On the Electro-dynamic Forces" ("Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science" (vol. ii).

60. "On a Curious Phenomenon relating to Vision" (ibid.).

61. "On a Singular Case of Interference in the Eye itself" (ibid., vol. vii).

62. "On a Modification of Soleil's Polarizing Apparatus" (ibid.).

63. "On the Australian "Weapon called the Boomerang" (ibid., vol. xii).

64. "On the Optical Method of studying Sound" (ibid., vol. xvi).

65. "On the Periodicity of the Aurora Borealis" (ibid., vol xvi, 1868).

66. "Sympathetic Vibrations between Tuning-Forks and Stretched Cords" (ibid., vol. xvi).

67. "On Methods of Illustrating Optical Meteorology" (ibid., vol. xix, 1871).

68. "On Sympathetic Vibrations" (ibid., vol. xxi, and "Journal of the Franklin Institute," May, 1873).

69. "Addresses as President at the Portland Meeting" (Proceedings of the A. A. A. S., vol. xxiii).

70. "On a New Way of illustrating the Vibrations of Air in Organ-Pipes" (ibid., vol. xxiii).

71. "Address as Retiring President, A. A. A. S." (ibid., vol. xxiii, republished in "The Popular Science Monthly," "American Journal of Science," and the "London Philosophical Magazine").

72. "On a New Method of measuring the Velocity of Electricity" ("Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science," vol. xxiv, also "Journal de Physique," tome vi).

73. "Shooting Stars" ("American Journal of Science," vol. xxxv).

74. "The American Prime Meridian" (ibid., N. S., vol. ix, 1850).

75. "The Aneroid Barometer" (ibid., N. S., vol ix, 1850.)

76. "On the Velocity of Light and the Sun's Distance" (ibid., N. S., vol. xxxvi).

77. "Melloni's Researchcs on Radiant Heat" ("American Almanac," 1850).

78."Animal Electricity" (ibid., 1851).

79."Recent Discoveries in Astronomy" (ibid., 1852).

80."Comets" (ibid., 1853).

81."Atmospherical Electricity" (ibid., 1854 and 1855).

82."Lightning and Lightning-Rods" (ibid., 1856).

83."Terrestrial Magnetism" (ibid., 1857).

84."Theories of Terrestrial Magnetism" (ibid., 1858).

85."On the Boomerang" (ibid., 1859).

86."On the Aurora Borealis and Australia" (ibid., 1860).

87."On Meteorology" (ibid., 1861).

88."On the Pressure of the Atmosphere and the Barometer" (ibid., 1862).


89."Guyot's Physical Geography" ("Christian Examiner,*' vol. xlvii).

90."Humboldt's Cosmos" (ibid., vol. xlviii).

91."Skepticism in Science" (ibid., vol. li).

92."Spiritual Mechanics" (ibid., vol. Iv).

93."Thompson and Kaemtz on Meteorology" ("North American Review," vol. Ixxi).

94."Elementary Works on Physical Science" (ibid., vol. Ixxii).

95."Michael Faraday" ("Old and New," vol. i).

96."Reports on Lighthouses." By Benjamin Peirce and Joseph Levering ("Journal of the Franklin Institute," vol. xviii).

97."On the Internal Equilibrium and Motion of Bodies" ("Cambridge Mathematical Miscellany," vol. i).

98."On the Application of Mathematical Analysis to Researches in the Physical Sciences" (ibid.).

99."Encke's Comet" (ibid.).

100."The Divisibility of Matter" (ibid.).

101."Boston and Science" ("Memorial History of Boston," vol iv).

102."Article on the Telegraph" ("American Cyclopædia," last edition).

103."Address at the Dedication of the Mural Monument to the Memory of Dr. James Walker," in the Harvard Church, Charlestown.


1840-'41."Electricity and Magnetism."





1853-'54."Electricity and Magnetism."


1865-'66."Light and Sound."

1879-'80."Connection of the Physical Sciences."

Prof. Lovering also edited six volumes, from V to X inclusive, and part of Volume XI, of the" Memoirs" of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; also the" Proceedings" of the same Academy, Volumes VII, VIII, and XVII.

  1. Vol. iii, p. 131.