Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/September 1895/Edward Hitchcock

PSM V47 D592 Edward Hitchcock.jpg



BORN at Deerfield, Mass., May 23, 1793; died at Amherst, Mass., February 27, 1864. The first of this family emigrated to this country in 1635, coming probably from Warwickshire in England. He was one of the original members of the New Haven, Conn., Colony. Two or three generations of the family resided in New Haven; the fourth in the line emigrated to western Massachusetts, and was an officer in the Revolutionary War. His son, Justin, the father of Edward, was a soldier in the army of General Gates when Burgoyne's army was captured. Justin married one of the Hoyts, who was descended from the sufferers at Deerfield at the French-Indian raid of 1704. He settled at Deerfield, and was a hatter. Becoming embarrassed financially by obligations incurred in the continental currency, he suffered from poverty all his life, and was unable to give his children more education than was afforded by the common school and the local academy. Edward was therefore compelled to educate himself, and that under the drawback of ill health, caused by overwork and carelessness. Six particulars may be mentioned, going to show that by improving his opportunities he was well educated in many respects: 1. For several years he was a leading member of a debating society. This afforded the opportunity to practice extempore speaking, composition, and acquire facility in philosophical reasoning. A few short poems showed that he essayed the higher type of composition. One of these was a tragedy entitled The Downfall of Bonaparte, written at the age of twenty-two, just after the battle of Waterloo, and acted by himself and friends before the people of the village. 2. For four years—from twenty-two to twenty-six—he was the principal of the academy in his native town. As there were always in this school a number who were fitting for college, he found it necessary to review all his classical studies—not once merely, but several times. The same was true of scientific studies also, so that quite a large number of subjects were gone over very thoroughly, and the details were fixed in his memory. It was a better discipline than if he had simply taken these studies as a college student. The academy owned a very good philosophical apparatus, and young Hitchcock prepared a number of lectures on physics, which were delivered with experiments both before his classes and in the evening to people of the village. 3. Perhaps the best mental discipline came from the use of the astronomical instruments belonging to the academy. He observed first the comet of 1811. From September 7th to December 17th, during the presence of the celestial visitor, he noted the distance of the comet from various stars, determined the latitude and longitude by lunar distances and eclipses of the sun and moon, occurring about the same time, and the variation of the magnetic needle. Several months of study were required to reduce these observations; and as tables were wanting, he was compelled to calculate elements that the modern astronomer finds ready to his hand. The results of this work were published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in a paper by General Epaphras Hoyt, the conclusions of the uncle and nephew being combined in a longitude determination. 4. In making these calculations use was made of the Nautical Almanac, then published by Edmund M. Blunt, of New York (reprinted from the standard English publication). Errors would hardly be looked for in such a work, but beneath the opening page for every month was this sentence: "Ten dollars will be paid on the discovery of an error in the figures." Young Hitchcock soon discovered a long list of errors, both in the figures and the text, and sent it to Mr. Blunt, who answered evasively. The list was then published in the American Monthly Magazine, which called out Mr. Blunt in a statement commencing, "Noticing an attack on my Nautical Almanac from one Edward Hitchcock, a few remarks only are necessary to explain the man's drift." He represented the errors as occurring in a part of the work used chiefly by astronomers, and added, "I would rather ten errors should escape me there than one by which the mariner should be deceived." Before this answer had been seen, Hitchcock had forwarded to the magazine a list of twenty errors in the tables of lunar distances, which were serious, because of their magnitude and their use by sailors. Six months later another list of thirty-five errors from these almanacs for 1815, 1816, 1817, and 1818 made its appearance. This led Mr. Blunt to employ a mathematician to recalculate the almanac for 1819, and in his preface to state that "it will afford much satisfaction and promote commercial advantages if, on discovery of an error in any nautical work, publicity should immediately be made." A copy was sent to Hitchcock, who soon made out a list of thirty-five errors, and forwarded them to the magazine. Mr. Blunt did not send the pecuniary reward promised, but published the statement that "the communication of Mr. Hitchcock deserves notice, and he is entitled to much credit for his perseverance." It was a great triumph for a young man to sustain himself against these standard astronomical tables. The most rigid accuracy was indispensable, and the discipline fully equal to that acquired by years of scholastic training. 5. A related discipline came from the publication of a Country Almanac from 1814 to 1818, whose calculations were original. Here also accuracy was essential to success. No complaint was ever made, except in the assignment of Easter to an unusual date. Both clergymen and people denounced the almanac because of this supposed misstatement. Defense was made that the ordinary rules for determining this festival were useless for that year, as it was a peculiar case, occurring only once in several hundred years. Soon afterward the bishop of the diocese issued a circular sustaining the almanac. 6. Classical training came in connection with teaching. First came the ordinary labor of making translations and grammatical construction. Then he kept a note-book for putting down the most striking sentiments of an author, such as would answer for mottoes and quotations. To obtain the choicest sentiments he carefully looked up all the references made from rare authors. Thus he became familiar with the best thoughts of the classical authors, and by fixing them in his memory obtained a fair substitute for the more extended college training.

Daring his connection with Deerfield Academy, Hitchcock became interested in botany and mineralogy, through the influence of Prof. Amos Eaton. With two associates, the list of plants and minerals of the neighborhood was soon made exhaustive. He had correspondence with the elder Prof. Silliman, of Yale College, respecting difficult questions, and the two maintained for each other a lifelong friendship. It was probably this correspondence which led Hitchcock to join the newly opened theological department at New Haven. He furnished contributions to the first volume of Silliman's American Journal of Science and Art, and to many later issues. In all, his name is prefixed to fifty-two papers, notices, and reviews on topics relating to geology, mineralogy, ichnology, surface geology, physics, meteorology, and botany, in this journal.

Hitchcock chose the ministry for his profession. He was settled as a pastor over the Congregational Church in Conway, Mass., from 1821 to 1825. While in this office he studied natural history to some extent, for the benefit of his health. It was at this time that he discovered and described that small but widely distributed fern, Botrychium simplex. In 1825 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry and Natural History in Amherst College. Twenty years afterward he became president of the same institution, and continued in the office for nearly ten years. For the remainder of his life—nearly ten years—he taught geology and natural theology in the same institution.

Like scientific men of his time, Dr. Hitchcock was familiar with several departments of learning—being an author, educator, theologian, and explorer. His career as a geologist is the best known. Starting as a student of the rocks of the Connecticut Valley, his home, he is soon found at both extremities of the State—at Martha's Vineyard and Berkshire County. With larger opportunities for travel, lie was impressed with the importance of interesting legislatures in geological surveys, and he took measures to enlist the government of Massachusetts in such work. With this aim in mind he published a lengthy review of Olmsted's survey of North Carolina in the American Journal of Science, in 1828. Near the close he says: "We wish now to ask the intelligent legislator whether such a development of internal resources as this report exhibits does not amply remunerate the State of North Carolina for the comparatively trifling expense of this survey; and whether so great success. . . does not strongly recommend that this example be followed by other States of the Union."

As the result of this and other efforts, the State of Massachusetts commissioned him to make a geological survey of her territory in 1830. Three years were spent in the explorations, and the work was of such a high character that other States were induced to follow the example of Massachusetts, and similar surveys were organized in Tennessee, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Georgia. The State of New York sought his advice in the organization of a survey, and followed his suggestions, particularly in the division of the territory into four parts, and appointed him as the geologist of the first district. He entered upon the work, but after a few days of labor he found that he must necessarily be separated from his family, much to his disinclination. He also conceived the idea of urging a more thorough survey of his own State; hence he resigned his commission and returned home. The effort for a resurvey of Massachusetts was successful, and he was recommissioned to do the work. The results appeared in 1841 and 1844—the first a quarto report and the last the geological coloration of a map based upon Borden's Trigonometrical Survey.

Independently of the survey came the discovery of fossil footmarks. As far back as 1800 Pliny Moody had observed trifid markings upon sandstone which he called the tracks of birds. In 1835 Mr. W. W. Draper, of Greenfield, Mass., noticed similar impressions, and drew the same conclusions. Mr. Draper remarked upon them to Dexter Marsh and Colonel William Wilson, who in turn consulted Dr. James Deane, who wrote to Professors Silliman and Hitchcock. All agreed to refer the investigation to Prof. Hitchcock, who propounded the fundamental principles of ichnology in the January number of the American Journal of Sciences for 1836. The announcement was not favorably received by many geologists, while the general public gave expression to their views by the employment of ridicule. The subject was referred to a committee of the American Association of Geologists, consisting of H. D. Rogers, L. Vanuxem, R. C. Taylor, E. Emmons, and T. A. Conrad, in order, if possible, to produce a unanimity of opinion. Those who had most earnestly opposed the new doctrine were upon the committee, but all were convinced; as their report, issued in 1841, states, "From a comparative examination of the facts on both sides, your committee unanimously believe that the evidence entirely favors the views of Prof. Hitchcock, and should regret that a difference had existed, if they did not feel assured it would lead to greater stability of opinion."

The publications upon the subject of these triassic footmarks by Prof. Hitchcock have been quite numerous. The most important were that in the final report upon the geology of Massachusetts in 1841, a paper in the Transactions of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848, in the Ichnology of New England, published by the State of Massachusetts in 1859 and its supplement in 1860. The total number of species described, as finally revised, amounted to one hundred and fifty. They were referred to several groups: a few marsupialoids, thick and narrowtoed birds, ornithoid lizards or batrachians, lizards, batrachians, chelonians, fish, Crustacea, myriapods, insects, and worms. At first the trifid impressions were referred to birds; and it was considered a remarkable confirmation of this view that in 1838 or 1839 there should have been found in New Zealand the bones of true birds having the same dimensions as the largest Brontozoum. Prof. Owen has stated jthat his belief in the ornithic character of the Deinornis was strongly fortified by the fact of the existence of the Brontozoum. Very soon after the earliest publications about these ornithichnites specimens were exhumed which became very puzzling because of the presence of quadrupedal characters. It became very clear that there must be an intermediate class of beings between birds and reptiles, and accordingly this conclusion was embodied in the assignment of a large number of these Ichnozoa to the designation of "ornithoid lizards or batrachians." As time has progressed the order of Deinosaur has been proposed, to include such animals as have been made known to us by their bones; and now it is doubtful whether any of the impressions were made by birds. Prof. O. C. Marsh has obtained entire skeletons of Deinosaurs from the Connecticut sandstones, which he calls Anchisaurus. They seem to be allied to the Plesiornis rather than the Anomœpus or Brontozoum of Hitchcock.

The specimens from which the opinions and descriptions of the ichnology were derived are preserved in the Hitchcock Ichnological Cabinet at Amherst College, and completely fill a room one hundred by forty feet, besides two smaller apartments. The number of distinct impressions studied and labeled exceeds twenty thousand. It is likely that some of the suggestions of the Ichnology may not be verified. It would be strange if the following thirty years of discovery should not enable paleontologists to declare positively whether the Batrachoides impressions are really the mud nests of tadpoles, or whether the "insects" are properly larval or adult hexapods, or simply Crustacea, as urged by Dana and Agassiz.

In 1857 Prof. Hitchcock accepted the appointment of State Geologist of Vermont. Though the appropriation was very small the work was energetically prosecuted, and conclusions presented in five years' time in two quarto volumes of nearly one thousand pages. Not many speculations were indulged in, though opportunity was afforded for propounding new and startling theories of the metamorphosis of rocks. The report was issued just at the time when Barrande had discharged his artillery at the opponents of the Taconic system, and compelled American paleontologists to assign the Olenellus to the primordial zone instead of the Hudson River slates. The report had been written to accord with the American view, but the authors were enabled to omit everything that did not illustrate the reference of the slates to the Cambrian terrane. The Vermont report suggested two general principles which have been of great service in the further discussion of the nature of metamorphism and the age of the New England rocks. The first point relates to the distortion and alteration of pebbles in conglomerates. As far back as 1832 Prof. Hitchcock had noticed the singular alterations in the shapes of pebbles constituting conglomerates in Rhode Island. Not till 1861 was he able to present satisfactory considerations concerning their distortion and alteration. He argued that pressure and metamorphism could totally obliterate the shapes of pebbly constituents and convert them into crystalline schists. Very few of his contemporaries followed him in this generalization. The large geological manuals of Dana and Le Conte conspicuously avoided any mention of this view. To-day the skilled petrographers of the country unanimously indorse the doctrine of the distortion and alteration of the fragmental constituents of sediments.

So long as our paleontologists referred the Cambrian fossils to the Hudson River group, their associates, as represented by Sir William E. Logan, insisted that the quartzite in western Vermont overlaid the slates, and was of Medina age. Logan also claimed a synclinal structure for the Green Mountains. Before accepting any conclusion as to their structure, Prof. Hitchcock directed that this mountain range should be carefully studied stratigraphically. A dozen sections were made at equal distances apart across the State, and it was discovered that the structure was anticlinal when not monoclinal; and hence comes the certainty that the axis of the Green Mountain chain is older than lower Cambrian. The latest workers in this field accept this conclusion.

Perhaps the favorite subject of Prof. Hitchcock was the study of the "Drift" He began to study the ice-marks even before the discovery of the footprints, and soon found himself far beyond the comprehension of his literary and scientific associates. Neither the iceberg nor glacier theory was original with him; but no one up to the time of his death had published so much upon the subject. His views are developed in the treatise on Surface Geology published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1857. His general theory refers the phenomena to both icebergs and glaciers; and their setting forth was generically like the most recent deliverances of Sir William Dawson, who acknowledges the presence of glaciers upon the mountains from which the icebergs were derived that flooded the submerged valleys. His papers are of special interest concerning river terraces, local glaciers in western New England, trains of bowlders, and frozen deposits of drift gravel. It is an interesting fact that he argued against the admissibility of Agassiz's glacial theory because of the absence of a grand terminal moraine at the outer margin of the ice sheet. It was less than five years after his death that geologists began to appreciate the true significance of the backbone of Long Island—that it was part of a gigantic moraine more than a thousand miles long. It is easy to see where Hitchcock would have stood had these facts been known in his day. .

The first written suggestion in regard to the formation of the American Association of Geologists came from Prof. Hitchcock, and he was chosen its first president in 1840. This was the parent of the later organization known as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was present at nearly every meeting of both organizations until the gap in the later history induced by the war.

As President of Amherst College he was called upon to exercise unwonted judgment. The institution had almost broken down because of heavy indebtedness. The historian of the college declares that the institution was saved from destruction by the skill and wisdom of President Hitchcock. As an instructor and guide no one was more loved and honored. The number of students doubled during his administration. It was while he was president that his Religion of Geology appeared, in which he expounded the applications of science to theology. Most of the positions there maintained are accepted by the advanced Christian thinkers of to-day. The work appeared before the advent of Darwinism, but its principle was discussed as creation by law. While not accepting any development hypothesis, Prof. Hitchcock took pains to insist that its adoption would not be at variance with any fundamental principle of theology. During his lifetime the doctrine of creation was the prevalent fashion of thought, just as now everybody is an evolutionist, and as in the Mesozoic age every vertebrate animal assumed some reptilian feature.

Prof. Hitchcock devoted much thought to the relations between science and theology. He believed that his suggestions—original with him—would tend to bring together truths often divorced, but which only man puts asunder. The following are topics upon which he made important suggestions: 1. Proof of the general benevolence of God from geology. 2. Evidence from the same, of special divine interpositions in Nature. 3. Evidence from the same, of special providence. 4. Mode of answering objections to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body by the nature of bodily identity. 5. The religious bearing of man's creation. 6. The adaptedness of the world for the redemptive work. 7. The Mosaic days properly interpreted by symbolism. These and related truths were taught by him to his classes under the title of natural theology. Through his efforts the chair of Geology and Natural Theology was endowed in Amherst College, with the understanding that the science should always be taught from a religious standpoint.

A list of Prof. Hitchcock's published writings shows a total of twenty-six distinct volumes, thirty-five separate pamphlets, ninety-four papers in periodicals, and eighty newspaper articles—a total of 8,453 pages, with 256 plates and 1,134 woodcuts. Half of these were scientific papers; of the others, most were religious books, essays, sermons, and tracts. He published also biographies, reviews, poetry, and temperance documents.

In 1821 Mr. Hitchcock married Miss Orra White, daughter of Jarib White, of Amherst, Mass., and they lived together for forty-two years. Mrs. Hitchcock was an artist, and prepared many of the illustrations of her husband's reports. Six of their children, two sons and four daughters, reached maturity. The oldest son is the Professor of Hygiene and Physical Education at Amherst College; the youngest is the Professor of Geology at Dartmouth College. Three of the daughters were married—the first to Rev. Dr. H. M. Storrs, lately of Orange, N. J.; the second to G. B. Putnam, of the Franklin Grammar School, Boston, Mass.; the third to the late Rev. C. M. Terry, of Minneapolis, Minn. The oldest daughter is known as an amateur botanist, residing at Hanover, N. H.