Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/126

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116
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SKETCH OF DR. ASA FITCH.
By E. P. THURSTON.

THERE is in the world a class of men whose characters, labors, and attainments well entitle them to be called great, who are yet so modest in their self-estimate, so unassuming in then knowledge, that those who dwell about them recognize only the common characteristics of average men; or if, from peculiar ideas and habits, they are found to be different, the difference is accredited them with complacent tolerance. They are so guileless in life, so pure in thought, and withal so generous hearted, that in ordinary affairs the world holds them at a disadvantage, quietly appropriating the fruits of their labors with little if any sense of obligation. To this class belonged Dr. Asa Fitch, well known in the scientific world as a distinguished entomologist, whose writings and investigations have contributed largely to our present knowledge of American insects.

Dr. Fitch was the descendant of a long line which in this country, in early colonial times, was linked with the Brewsters of the Mayflower, and other distinguished families. He was the second son of the Hon. Asa Fitch, M.D., a man eminent in the medical profession, and equally so in various positions of public trust to which the people called him.

The subject of our sketch was born at Fitch's Point, Salem, Washington County, New York, February 24, 1809, His childhood was passed on a farm, and until twelve years of age he attended the district school. He was then sent to the academy at the neighboring village of Salem, and at about the same time began a Journal of the interesting and important events of his daily life, which, with two or three brief lapses, was continued until his death. Early entries in this record betray the possession in a marked degree, even in his boyhood, of keen observing powers, and a rare faculty for accuracy and lucidity of description, characteristics which in later life grew into striking prominence, and gave to his scientific work an exceptional value. He was an unusually studious pupil, and early evinced a preference for the natural sciences, botany first claiming his attention. In his fifteenth year he began, according to a note in his diary, to arrange the botanical collection of his preceptor in classes and orders. His studies at the academy completed, he remained at home until his eighteenth year, engaged a portion of the time as clerk in a neighboring store.

In the spring of 1826 his father sent him to Rensselaer School, at Troy (now the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), where he soon became deeply interested in natural history, zoology almost immediately awakening his enthusiasm. The bent of his mind toward en-