Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/271

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SKETCH OF PROF. BENJAMIN SILLIMAN LL.D.

ly, although whistling would seem to be as natural an act as that of laughing, yet we are told by Mr. Shortland that it was formerly unknown among the New-Zealanders.[1] When, too, on one occasion a native of Burmah observed an American missionary whistling, he exclaimed in astonishment, "Why! he makes music with his mouth!" a remark which the missionary noted down in his journal with this note: "It is remarkable that the Burmese are entirely ignorant of whistling."[2]Gentleman's Magazine.

 
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SKETCH OF PROFESSOR BENJAMIN SILLIMAN, LL.D.

THE name of Professor Benjamin Silliman is intimately connected with the progress of science in the United States during the former half of this century, and is identified with the beginning of the study of American geology.

Benjamin Silliman was born in North Stratford (now Trumbull), Connecticut, on the 8th of August, 1779. His oldest American ancestor on the father's side was believed to have been an emigrant from Holland, but there are reasons for presuming that he belonged to an Italian Protestant family that took refuge in Switzerland, and one of whose members afterward came to America, possibly sojourning for a short time in Holland. His grandfather was a graduate from Yale College, a Judge of the Superior Court of the colony, a member of the Governor's Council, and influential in public affairs. His father served with credit during the Revolutionary War as a brigadier-general, and enjoyed the confidence of Washington. On his mother's side he was descended from John Alden and Priscilla Muggins, of the Mayflower. After attending for a time the public school of his neighborhood, he prepared for college under the tuition of his pastor, the Rev. Andrew Eliot, and entered Yale College in 1792, the youngest but one in his class. He spent the year after his graduation at home, caring for his mother's farm; the next year he took charge of a select school in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and entered the law-office of the Hon. Simeon Baldwin, in New Haven, whence, after completing his three years' course in law, he was admitted to the bar in 1802. While still a law-student—in September, 1799—and when he had just reached the age of twenty, he was appointed a tutor in Yale College.

Up to this time classical instruction had received the predominant share of attention at Yale College, "theological, ethical, and metaphysical subjects were much cultivated, and logic was also a prominent topic; mathematics was appreciated; much interest had been aroused

  1. "Traditions of the New-Zealanders," p. 134.
  2. Howard Malcolm, "Travels in Southeastern Asia," 1839, i, 205.