Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/April 1893/Prof G F Wright and his Critics
|←The Correlation of Structure, Action, and Thought||Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 April 1893 (1893)
Prof G F Wright and his Critics
By Edward Waller Claypole
|The Maoris of New Zealand→|
FOR more than twenty years a controversy on the antiquity of man has prevailed in the scientific world. This controversy is still far from decision. The origin of the human family is veiled in obscurity, and all efforts to discover our primeval ancestor have hitherto failed. The gloom and darkness enshrouding the past are not yet sufficiently dispelled by the light of science to reveal prehistoric man in his early stages.
The geologist and the archeologist have been chiefly engaged in the search. They have followed the trail of man to some distance and can tell us something about him within narrow limits. But beyond these their efforts have met with little success. At this point it seems as if some huge effacing hand had swept across the field and blotted out almost every trace of his existence.
And this is no mere imagination. A huge effacing hand has swept across the field and wiped out the records written as with an iron pen on the rocks, and has engraven in their stead a palimpsest of its own. The Ice age is now a familiar topic, and its massive ice-sheet a reality to all. The continental glaciers which covered a great part of North America and Europe with ice thousands of feet thick, and enduring for thousands of years, literally swept from the face of the country the monuments of preceding life, leaving in their place its own memorials which the geologist is now learning to interpret.
Here is the unexpected barrier which meets the archæologist and the geologist in their investigations. They can follow the trail of man back into the Pleistocene era almost or quite to the edge of the ice. There it either becomes exceedingly faint or is lost altogether. In the tangled maze of glacial history the previous confusion is worse confounded, and the thin thread of evidence for man's existence is broken or lost.
The nature and date of the Glacial era and man's relation to it thus become important problems in the main issue, and it is these with which Prof. Wright's book deals. To some geologists the Ice age was single, to others it appears to have been double, triple, or even more complex. Some believe that man was contemporary with the later and even with the earlier stages of the era. Space will not allow us here to do more than mention these divergences of opinion, but so much was necessary in order to understand the scope of the work.
The appearance of Prof. Wright's little book has been the signal for a renewal of the controversy with fresh energy, not to say with acrimony, yet in it the ordinary reader would scarcely find any cause for commotion. It is for the most part merely a condensation of the same writer's larger work on the Ice Age in North America. Its aim is to lay before the general reader a short sketch of the present state of our knowledge of the Glacial era, and to briefly state the evidence bearing on man's existence during it or any part of it. The book is not sensational; it contains little or nothing that is new; it publishes no startling facts; it propounds no novel or strange theories, scientific or unscientific; it is simply, as it professes, a summary view over the field of glacial geology.
The author is well known to geologists by his share in the epoch-making work of tracing the southern limit of the ice-sheet across the North American continent. This was accomplished by him in connection with Lewis, Upham, Smock, Chamberlin, Cook, Leverett, etc., and, as far as the western Illinois State line, may now be considered definitely known. In this great work Prof. Wright may fairly claim a place among the first, having commenced his studies on the drift hills of Andover, Mass., as early as 1876, when his first paper was read before the Boston Society of Natural History. Largely through him the late Prof. H. Carvill Lewis was brought into the work, and our author's studies on the Muir Glacier in Alaska gave us most of our early knowledge of a region previously almost a terra incognita to science.
Qualifications thus won by hard work in the field secure for the author, Prof. Wright, no mean place among glacial geologists, and entitle him to at least respectful attention. It is therefore somewhat surprising to note the storm of criticism and even abuse with which the work has been assailed by certain geologists.
Far be it from us to deprecate criticism, even if severe. Equally far is it from the desire of the author. But we feel justified in the name of science in entering a protest, and a strong one, against the style and manner of the articles which have appeared in condemnation of the work and in denunciation of the writer.
In thus protesting against so unusual and apparently concerted an attack we do not wish in any way to defend the author from so much criticism as is just and courteous. The book is far from perfect. We can not acquit the writer of apparent haste in its completion. Besides inaccurate expressions there are in some places insufficient statements of the divergences of opinion. Many of these have been already pointed out, and have received all the blame that is due, and in no measured terms. The title, for instance, should have run, The Glacial Era and Man, for of its ten chapters only one is closely connected with human history. It is scarcely correct to write of the great interlobate moraines as medial (page 100). We presume that our author means that their material was carried on the ice during its flow. This was in great part true, but they did not exist as medial moraines at any time, and were only formed at the melting end of the ice-sheet. Nor do we think that any evidence worth consideration can be adduced in support of the supposition of a great southern subsidence to explain the origin of the loess in the Mississippi Valley. We think that Prof. Wright should have recognized the fact that northern drift had been reported from Kentucky many years before his visit (page 212), and the expression "I have traced the limit of southern bowlders for thousands of miles across the country" is certainly unfortunate. It is, perhaps, literally true in the sense intended, but it is liable to misconstruction, and has been misconstrued. We might also object to his use of the word "preglacial." In this, however, he has many companions among geological writers.
We may further add that his explanation of the relation of the névé to the glacier has been assailed with justice, and is quite indefensible. There is, however, little occasion here to expose the weak points of the volume, because this has already been done in a most excellent and exhaustive manner. The reviewers are certainly to be complimented on their acumen, and we trust that in a second edition Prof. Wright will take full advantage of the kindness of his lynx-eyed critics. We believe that he may comfort himself with the thought that the worst that could be said has been said concerning his little volume.
But while we admit that such faults as those above noted justify unfavorable criticism to the extent of the errors, we can not for a moment allow that they warrant the one-sided, persistent, and personal attacks that have been made on book and author. The style of several of these is, to say the least, extra-scientific. One of Prof. Wright's assailants has so far forgotten the amenities of debate and the consideration due to himself and his profession as to employ epithets which can only be correctly described as "Billingsgate." Not all, we are happy to say, or even the majority, have been so self-disrespectful. We will postpone this case for the present. Meanwhile we propose to dissect some of the other criticisms, which, being clothed in a more decent and reputable dress, may lawfully claim the right to appear in public.
Granting this freedom from indecent exposure of temper on the part of most of the hostile reviews, we yet can not acquit their authors of manifesting unnecessary severity and also of lacking that calm judicial spirit which alone can give value to a criticism. There is too little logic and too much passion manifested in their writing. We would remind such belligerents that contradiction is not logic, and that ridicule and contempt are not argument. To pooh-pooh an opponent's evidence may amuse the ignorant, but can not mislead the thoughtful. With these it is far more likely to recoil and hurt the cause in which it is employed. It is surprising and at the same time somewhat amusing to those outside of the fray to see weapons so unscientific employed in what professes to be a scientific discussion. To the public the onslaught made on Prof. Wright by chiefly official geologists savors too strongly of the old-time, intolerant, theological method of crushing a formidable rival by dint of concerted action or force in default of reason. This may be altogether an unwarranted inference; indeed, one can not readily admit even the supposition, but it is inevitable, and for it these writers alone are responsible.
Some of the critics have gone out of their way to make caustic remarks on the profession of the author. Surely they should be familiar enough with the records of Science to be aware that, in spite of all the obstacles which theology has thrown in her path, many theologians have risen superior to their environment, and to them geology is deeply indebted. Without the labors of Buckland, Sedgwick and Woodward, Bonney, Blake, Crosskey, Fisher and Renard, Haughton and Hitchcock, many valuable chapters would be missing from her literature. Instead of regretting that a theological professor should be found in the geological field, it would be more seemly to wish that there were more such men. Instead of showing apparent jealousy, all helpers should be made welcome. Official reserve and exclusiveness are out of place in science. The field is the world, the harvest is plenteous, and the laborers are all too few.
Especially inappropriate is the above objection when it comes from men whose time is largely occupied with the labors of administrative office, leaving only the spare hours for the study of geology. We freely admit that men whose lives are wholly given to geology should produce the greatest results. They have advantages possessed by no others. Concentration of thought and energy, command of funds, access to books, and assistance of many needed kinds, all these things are theirs. But the fact remains that the great bulk of the work always has been and still is done by volunteers, working for the most part at their own expense of time and money. The amateur is too often looked down upon by the professional, but it has happened over and over again that the professional has been glad to borrow the results of the amateur, and more than once has the amateur come out the victor in a contest. It was an amateur, Nicol, who maintained that the gneissic rocks of the west of Scotland were of Archæan age and not metamorphosed Silurian strata, and, though for fifty years the authority of Murchison and the British Geological Survey was arrayed against him and his single voice was drowned by their official shoutings, yet time has justified him, and the "Secret of the Highlands," lately wrung from the unwilling rocks, has been proclaimed by Nature in tones so loud that no combination or concert could prevent its being heard. It is folly, we assert, to attempt by any other means than fair and open argument to put down the amateur in science. He possesses a tenacity of life and purpose equal or superior to that of officials or professionals. Many of the brightest names on her roll are the names of amateurs, from those of Hugh Miller, the Scottish stonemason, and William Smith, "the father of English geology," to others in the present day, too numerous and too well known to be named here.
The chapter of Prof. Wright's book which has specially aroused the ire of the critics is on Relics of Man in the Glacial Period, where the author has collected all the instances from America that possess any importance in which traces of man have been reported from strata of probable or known glacial date. The evidence of each is set forth concisely yet clearly. Positive conclusions are not drawn, and the reader is cautioned against hasty judgment. It is not easy to see how the scanty and fragmentary evidence connecting man with the Ice age could have been more fairly stated. Only six examples in all are given, and no case is brought forward in whose favor a considerable mass of evidence can not be quoted. None is new. They have been before the scientific world and the general public more or less for several years, and their evidence, pro and con, has been sifted and resifted, so that its value can now be fairly well estimated. And we are audacious enough to believe that there are men as competent to estimate it as any of the self-appointed judges who have taken on themselves to sit in judgment on the author. Yet more, our temerity goes so far as to lead us to prefer the calm and temperate conclusions of such men to the contemptuous and almost passionate utterances of others, learned and able we admit, but evidently carried away by a common impulse or (we say it reluctantly, but the facts irresistibly suggest it) acting under instructions which they can not resist. Their zeal has outrun their discretion.
Coming down to details, we note that the critics are not always agreed among themselves. One of them, a distinguished archaeologist, admitting that "as a glacialist the author stands among the first in the country," goes on to assert that the well-known gravels at Trenton, N. J., where Dr. Abbott has been for years finding very rude argillite implements, are of doubtful date and "require more study before we can assign their probable age." But an equally distinguished geologist, "the head of the glacial division of the United States Survey," says "the Trenton gravel is strictly contemporaneous with the Belvidere moraine," thus making it coeval with the greatest extension of the ice. Not even Dr. Abbott himself has claimed a greater age for the gravels and their contained implements than this; and Prof. Wright is yet more moderate in his estimates, assigning them to the later or even to the last stages of the era of ice. Until, therefore, it is definitely proved that all the investigators are mistaken who believe that they have really taken these implements from undisturbed strata, we think our author is justified in his conclusions.
If it would not be too presumptuous in an outsider, we would remind the distinguished archæologist that the whole problem is not contained in the position of the tools. Other elements are concerned, and it is not logical to insinuate a doubt concerning one line of argument and to remain silent on all the rest, or to quote his own negative experience against positive testimony.
It would be tedious to dwell on the details of similar finds in Ohio and Indiana. The utter rejection and slighting of testimony because it does not come from experts is, in our humble judgment, a serious blunder. It is easy, by the assumption of superior knowledge and "later information," to discredit able, honest, and competent work by men who are termed, not with respect, "amateurs." We have already shown what science owes to amateurs. Let us take the further liberty—and we do so with the profoundest respect for the distinguished professionals concerned—of reminding them of the experience of their European brethren in a similar case. Fifty years have gone by since M. Boucher de Perthes found in the gravel near Amiens implements of human manufacture. His discoveries were published and received by the scientific world with complacent contempt and neglect, not to say opposition. "The gravels were modern," "the beds had been disturbed," "the implements had been recently inserted," "the whole story was fictitious," and its author a "cheat," a "shyster," and a "charlatan," as nearly as French politeness could match these terms. But time rolled on, the evidence could not be shaken by neglect and contradiction; and when at last a committee was sent to the spot they returned unanimously convinced that the amateur was right, and that all the previously held theories of geologists on the antiquity of man must be reconstructed through the finding of these rude implements by M. Boucher de Perthes. History repeats itself, and we respectfully urge on Prof. Wright's critics the careful study of the little incident above quoted, and especially the momentous moral which it implies and which we leave them to draw.
The caution of our author is shown in his discussion on the most doubtful case, that from Claymont, Delaware, where an implement was reported by Mr. Cresson from the Philadelphia gravel underlying the Trenton gravel, and consequently of greater age. We need not remind our readers that the evidence demanded in support of every discovery of human relics increases rapidly with the implied distance of their date. This is just, and the language employed concerning the Claymont tool could scarcely have been more guarded. Prof. Wright says (page 258), "As there is so much chance for error and so little opportunity to verify the conclusion, we may well wait before building a theory upon it." His opponents could hardly desire more caution.
We may, however, linger awhile over the next instance—the well-known relics from Table Mountain, California. These were first announced by Prof. Whitney, in his report on the geological survey of that State, and others have since come to light. We can not here give details, but must content ourselves with saying that they were found in the auriferous gravel underlying a sheet of lava which flowed over them and has since been glaciated and cut through by the stream. Naturally, the occurrence of human relics, and relics of so late a type as were these, was not easily accepted by archæologists or geologists. Probability and prejudice were both on the other side. But both must yield before sufficient evidence; and we make bold to say that, in the face of the testimony now accumulated, skepticism is no longer reasonable. The objection raised against the discovery is unworthy of the able archæologist from whom it comes. "They belong to a modern industry, and were probably left in their shafts by the aboriginal gold-diggers a few centuries before the conquest. The manner of their deposition alone proves this, and the case is given up by Prof. Haynes in his appendix to Prof. Wright's book."
We do not wish to be discourteous, but justice impels us to ask if this distinguished archæologist really expects the public, or the scientist accustomed to the weighing of evidence, to accept the insinuation of one who was not near the spot in preference to the sworn statement of one who was there, and testifies that he took the relics with his own hands out of the gravel, and that there was no disturbance (such as an aboriginal shaft) or natural fissure by which access could be obtained either there or in the neighborhood. Verily, to us this seems like "criticism run mad."
As to competency in a matter of this kind, we will hear Mr. G. F. Becker, in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 1891, page 192:
"It has sometimes been objected to the authenticity of implements in the gravels that the finders, with the exception of Dr. H. H. Boyce, were miners and not scientific men. Now, so far as the detection of a fraud is concerned, a good miner, regularly employed in superintending the workings, would be much more competent than the ordinary geological visitor. The superintendent sees, day by day, every foot of new ground exposed, and it is his business to become thoroughly acquainted with its character; while he is familiar with every device for 'salting' a claim. The geological visitor finds a mine timbered and smoked. He can not fully acquaint himself with the ground, and is usually unfamiliar with tricks. It is therefore an argument in favor of the authenticity of implements that they have been found by miners. . . . There is, in my opinion, no escape from the conclusion that the implements actually occurred near the bottom of the gravels, and that they were deposited where they were found at the same time as the adjoining pebbles and matrix."
In reference to the above-quoted opinion of Prof. Haynes we must take the liberty of saying that it is logically irrelevant. Prof. Haynes is only discussing the "find" in its relation to Tertiary man, which is a totally different topic. The fallacy underlying most of the objections to the Californian relics is the tacit assumption that the glaciation of the lava beds was contemporaneous with that of the Northern States. This is unproved, and probably untrue. Its rejection may remove the chief difficulty.
Once more we must return to the charge. We regret to be obliged to criticise the same critic for another example of illogical reasoning, but, in view of the severity of the attack on Prof. Wright, we feel that the assailants should not and will not object to the counter-thrust.
The story of the Nampa image is now well known. It was told by Prof. Wright, in 1890 and 1891, to the Boston Society of Natural History, and by them published in their Proceedings. The image is a small figure of burnt clay, about one inch and a half long, which is said to have been brought up by the sand-pump from the surface of an old soil at the depth of three hundred and twenty feet below a sheet of lava fifteen feet thick. The "find" was not hastily and superficially examined. A long and careful inquiry and a visit were the means of eliciting the details, and collateral investigation was made into the reputation and antecedents of the informants. All this has been before the world for many months, but no refutation or rebutting testimony has been offered. Yet the following extract will show how contemptuously the investigation is tossed aside:
"Dr. Wright's last example is the feeblest of all—the Nampa image. . . . It is sad to destroy illusions, but when this same image, with its story, was laid before a well-known government geologist, he at once recognized it as a clay toy manufactured by the neighboring Pocatello Indians, and the person displaying it replied, with engaging frankness, 'Well, now, don't give me away.' "
Mark in this connection the fact that not a fragment of counter-evidence is brought. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to shake the previous testimony. An anonymous letter could hardly be used in a court of law, yet here is not even so much as that. Merely an anonymous statement is brought forward solemnly by one who is supposed to be accustomed to serious investigation as a rebuttal of written and repeated testimony from men of standing and reputation. It is not easy to believe that such a logical fallacy could come from such a source. The ipse dixit of a man in the position of this critic might be entitled to respect, but we have not even that. He can scarcely expect scientists accustomed, as the author, to look for arguments to accept this bald statement. It is difficult to treat it seriously. Risum teneatis, amici? Let him get from the "well-known government geologist," here and thus referred to, a full, exact, and certified statement of the conversation over his own signature, giving all details as he recalls them, what he said, where, when, and to whom; with what was said to him in reply and by whom, and the criticism will then be worth consideration. But, as it now stands, it is weaker and feebler than the weakest and feeblest of the cases which Prof. Wright has brought forward.
Of course, we can only guess who this well-known government geologist can be, but if circumstances indicate correctly it will, in our opinion, be long before any statement such as that above desired will be obtained from him to confirm this illogical objection to our author's express assertion. We will further say that the owner of the image positively and emphatically denies in writing having ever himself made the remark above anonymously quoted, and volunteers the further statement that he knows nothing whatever of the whole alleged occurrence.
Such insinuations, unaccompanied with evidence and intended to undermine confidence in the results of years of persistent work, are really beneath notice, save to expose their utter logical baselessness and the animus whose shadow is visible beneath and around them. Let us turn to some criticisms of a different kind.
There is another tone sometimes adopted, less undignified perhaps, but not less inappropriate and offensive, especially in a supposed scientific discussion. It may be called the "omniscient" style. It sounds as if coming from some lofty height wherefrom the writer can discern all the details of a struggle in which the unfortunate actor below is bearing an insignificant part. This style is a danger especially besetting men in official positions. The infallibility of office is well known and sometimes amusing. "No mistakes allowed." It is a form of apostolical succession not unknown in the realm of science. The mantle of Elijah is supposed to rest on Elisha, whether it fits or not. To those official geologists who so far forget themselves as to assume the air of superior knowledge, especially to the younger ones, we respectfully commend the wise and witty saying of Whewell, the great Master of Trinity, at Cambridge: "Be not too positive; we are all fallible, even the youngest."
Some of the remarks on Prof. Wright's book suggest the mental attitude above described. A positive statement is made on a moot point in science. Thus we read, " It is demonstrated that the Ice age was prolonged and complex." Perhaps it was so. We express no opinion. But the distinguished glacialist who wrote it is well aware that not a few among his brother-geologists—men of experience, ability, and reputation perhaps equal to his own—totally disagree with him here, and believe that the evidence does not warrant so great an extension of the era. No doubt the question is settled in the mind of the writer and to his entire satisfaction, but he is guilty of misleading the public by thus baldly stating the proposition. Thus printed, it implies either that no one differs from him, or that those who do so differ are unworthy of mention or consideration. Logically, it is begging the question, for the whole controversy hinges on this point. It is more than this, it is committing the very error which he has charged on Prof. Wright. He says, "Instead of pointing out clearly and fairly differences of opinion on vital points, Prof. Wright turns aside," etc. We can not find in the volume any assertion that the Ice age was a unit, though this is the view entertained by its author. On the contrary, fourteen pages are filled with the arguments on both sides, enabling a reader to form his own opinion. It is fair to expect the critic to shun the fault which he condemns. Yet here he has himself committed it.
Again, our distinguished critic boldly asserts, "No geological expert of unquestioned competence has ever yet, so far as we can learn, found a single implement or stone flaked by man in a glacial formation in America which was clearly deposited contemporaneously with it." Possibly so. We here express no opinion on this or on any other moot point. But we may ask, By what right does he set himself up as a judge of the competence of all other workers who think that they have found such stones? Who, in his opinion, are experts? Where shall such men be found, and by what touchstone shall they be tried? Is official connection the grand sine qua non? The outsider is almost driven to this conclusion by the tone of the criticism. Are there no other men as competent as he who are of a different opinion? Is the mature judgment of long-standing workers who have earned by time and labor a right to speak to be waived aside in favor of the opinion of some single expert? And who shall testify to this expert's expertness? It would be ungenerous to assume that a little band of scientists seriously desire to extol themselves and each other by attempting to "sit down" on every one outside. Yet let us assure them that this is the conclusion to which their language leads. The air of dogmatic assumption and superiority that pervades many of the criticisms of Prof. Wright's book is dangerous to the freedom of scientific discussion.
In an unsigned review published in an issue of the Chicago Tribune in October, 1802, we read: "Prof. Wright believes that there was but one Ice epoch. In the present volume this question is so handled as to leave the impression that the general opinion of glacialists is in favor of but a single epoch." How true this charge is let the following extract show (page 109): "Do the phenomena necessarily indicate absolutely distinct Glacial epochs separated by a period in which the ice had wholly disappeared from the glaciated areas to the north? That they do is maintained by President Chamberlin and many others who have wide acquaintance with the facts. That they do not certainly indicate a complete disappearance of the ice during an extensive interglacial era is capable, however, of being maintained without forfeiting one's rights to the respect of his fellow-geologists." The criticism is anonymous, and we are thereby spared the disagreeable association of any name with a direct misrepresentation, due, let us hope, either to careless reading or previous writing.
To one of these two causes we should also probably assign the remark, "Mr. Leverett's work is ignored," whereas Prof. Wright quotes Mr. Leverett's work as correcting that of President Chamberlin in the delineation of the terminal moraine south of Lake Michigan (page 101).
Another of these experts writes in the same omniscient style about the "unskilled observers whose difficulty is to distinguish between objects included in the ancient gravel when it was formed and those imbedded recently. . . . Neither of the four are geologists (sic), and they could not well have appreciated the need of extreme care." Any reader of the evidence can form his own opinion upon this assertion. Again, "Four of the rude specimens said by inexpert observers to have been found in place in glacial gravels," etc.; and again, "The unsafe matter furnished by inconsiderate bookmakers to a credulous public." This sort of writing would in ordinary mortals be called conceited and unbecoming, but probably from the pens of the self-appointed experts it is perfectly proper toward the amateur and the public. However, let it pass; there is more to come.
As if this were not enough, we read in the same place the following yet more unscientific statement: "The implement from Tuscarawas County, Ohio, can be duplicated from the refuse deposits of any of the great Indian quarry-shops of this country." This is an extraordinary assertion, surpassing in audacity any previously quoted. We are familiar with the Newcomerstown flint, and can challenge the production of any reject from the neolithic refuse-heaps, or indeed of any fac-simile that could mislead a real expert on either continent. We are giving no opinion here on its nature or on its relation to the gravels in which it is found. We simply protest against the assumption by any one of the right to deny the competence of the oldest and most careful observers in favor of his own innuendo and without a tittle of evidence. It is idle to tell us that "gravels reset," that "flints may be introduced after deposition," that "stones may be broken by Nature so as to simulate the work of man," etc. All this we know, but we ask the reason for suspecting that these things have happened here and without detection. Without this the objections are mere insinuations from men who will not admit that others know more than themselves; effusions of the "omniscients" in the garb of "agnostics," if we may be pardoned for borrowing the style of the Emerald Isle.
We scarcely agree with some of the critics that it is unadvisable to take the public into confidence until final and positive results are obtained. This, again, savors too much of officialism. The reading part of the public is interested in the work of discovery not less than in the outcome, and is able and willing to watch its process. Prof. Wright was advised against publication by the "head of the glacial division," on the ground of the immaturity of the investigation and the liability to teaching the public erroneous views. The ready sale of The Ice Age in North America, now in its third edition, is a proof that the public was ready and the time ripe, and few who have read it with ordinary care can fail to grasp the real condition of the problem. We think that any reader who deduces final and positive conclusions from the book has read it to little purpose. Suspense of judgment is not a state of mind congenial to the untrained or always found in the trained, but this must be the mental attitude of any reader of the work in regard to the great problem of which it treats. Anxious regard for the public is entirely supererogatory.
Moreover, if justification for such publication of incomplete work were required, it may readily be found in the example of the "head of the glacial division" himself, who very soon after his appointment published in the Second Annual Report a map of the terminal moraine of the second Glacial epoch. How incomplete this was may easily be seen by any one who will take the trouble to compare it with the latest work in the same field. Moraine after moraine has been added outside the terminal moraine, chiefly by the labors of Mr. Leverett, until the terminal moraine now almost coincides, in Ohio at least, with the southern margin of the drift area.
Far be it from us to impute unworthy motives to any one of these critics. We would, if we could, believe that they are all impelled solely by a love of truth and a regard for the public good. But we regret that they have not made this less questionable. Criticism of a former colleague in terms so unsparing is sure, whether justly or unjustly, to be interpreted according to its obvious spirit. We unwillingly think of words so ugly as "jealousy," "conspiracy," "concerted attack," etc., but we warn these critics that they will hear them if they have not already come to their ears. They may fancy that they are the sole proprietors of the field, but there are men of science in the land whose voices will be heard in loud and earnest protest, and whose voices when heard will carry weight with their brethren and with the public. American geologists will not be silenced by official insolence or warned off their fields of investigation by "notices of trespass" from self-appointed owners. The whole tone of the discussion on one side is far from honorable to science, and will not redound to the credit of American geology.
We have said enough. We will not touch on that part of the controversy springing out of the author's connection with the United States Geological Survey. It may be right to estimate a man's work by the number of days for which he was paid. This is probably the official method of reckoning, but we will remind the critic who dwells on this point that amateurs are in the habit of spending time and money very freely without hope of recompense and, indeed, without keeping any record. Probably this fact lies at the bottom of the discrepancy on which so much stress has been laid.
There is one article which demands a few special words. It comes from the pen of a much younger man than Prof. Wright, and allowance should perhaps be made on this ground. We observe that in his reply the professor seems to be conscious of this, and to have restrained his pen. But, after granting so much, we can not acquit this gentleman of forgetting the courtesy due to an older man and an older geologist than himself. Energy of expression may be forgiven in the heat of argument, especially if it arises from strength of conviction. Even authoritative and dictatorial assertion without condescending to give reasons, however illogical, is not unpardonable in an opponent. Hard blows received in fair fight may leave scars, but their memory does not rankle; and hard words hastily spoken, though not pleasant, seldom leave a lasting sore on the mind of a generous foe. Any such is usually healed by the ready and full apology which quickly follows.
But a combatant who stoops to employ weapons which his opponent disdains to use, places himself thereby outside of the pale of honorable warfare; and the controversialist who descends to the use of unparliamentary language in debate is self-excluded from further participation.
It is with regret that we write this, but it is due to all who cherish the honor of their science and the credit of American geologists to enter an earnest and serious protest against the adoption of a tone so bitter and language so unusual as those which characterize the article above referred to. We are unable to fully fathom the motives which led the writer to transgress so far the limits of judicial calmness and social courtesy, and we believe that his own manly feeling will sooner or later awaken and provoke his regret. Meanwhile the only result will be to arouse sympathy with the author, whose calm, dispassionate, and logical replies place the theologian-geologist on a marked vantage-ground above his professional but younger and overzealous brother. We regret that the American Anthropologist has stooped to allow its pages to be disfigured with words which in no conceivable circumstances can be applicable by one scientist to another, or used by one in reference to another. It is difficult, without speaking too strongly, to characterize fitly so flagrant a breach of the unwritten code.
This critic has, of course, a perfect right to find fault, if he so desires, with any part or parts of the author's work. This he sees fit to do in regard to his measurements of the motion of the Muir Glacier. But he has done so in terms unnecessarily offensive and contemptuous. He contrasts the "blundering attempts" of Wright with the "excellent measurements" of Reid. The former gave seventy and the latter seven feet a day. The difference is of course great and surprising; but the dogmatism of our young geologist is not very well timed, for admittedly the two measurements do not relate to the same part of the glacier. Moreover, we may be permitted to hazard the inoffensive remark on the other side that, after all, Prof. Wright's figures are more in harmony with some other known facts than are the smaller ones. We must presume that this critic is aware, though he has apparently for the moment forgotten, that, though the Alpine glaciers move at only a few feet daily in August, yet those of the arctic lands have a much more rapid rate. Thus the gigantic glacier of Jakobshavn, in Disco Bay, two and a half miles wide, has a movement of fifty feet per day in the middle. The glacier of Karajak, four miles across, moves at thirty feet daily, while one at Upernavik travels at ninety-nine feet every twenty-four hours. Combining all these statements we recommend waiting before criticising.
The severe and caustic animadversions above criticised certainly show on the part of the critic a courage almost amounting to recklessness, but he has not always tempered his zeal with truth. In his anxiety to discover "unhistoric statements," as Prof. Huxley once called them, in Prof. Wright's book, he has not been sufficiently careful that his "finds" were in undisturbed strata, that they did not come from a talus, or had not been inserted at a later date. But what shall we say if they prove to have been inserted by himself for subsequent exhumation, Cardiff-giant fashion? Let us read what he says in the review here under consideration (page 92): "Prof. Wright conveys the implication that the Claymont argillite indicates the existence of early glacial or preglacial man, and that the Calaveras skull and the Nampa image in like manner indicate preglacial or Tertiary man, the implication being, however, deceptively guarded by indefinite expressions and meaningless cross-references."
We have already quoted (page 770) Prof. Wright's language regarding the Claymont tool, and will only express our surprise that any one possessing our critic's command of the English language could extract from it the above meaning.
As to the other two instances, we will trespass on our reader's patience by giving here also Prof. Wright's own words (page 299): "I can only say that the amount of erosion since the lava eruption of western Idaho is not excessive, and very likely may be brought within ten or twenty thousand years." And in regard to the Calaveras lava he writes (page 230), "The question of absolute time can not be considered separately without much further study." Then, following a suggestion of Prof. Prestwich, adopted by Mr. Becker, he infers, "not that man is so extremely ancient in California, but that many of these plants and animals have continued to a more recent date than has ordinarily been supposed."
Consideration of the above extracts on both sides renders it incomprehensible how Prof. Wright's language can be interpreted to imply a belief in preglacial or Tertiary man. The whole tenor of his book is opposed to this belief, and those geologists who are familiar with the long rows of figures whereby this very critic is accustomed to express his date for the Ice age and the yet longer array which gives the date assigned by him to the preglacial or Tertiary period, will be amused at his nervous apprehension here expressed about ten or twenty thousand years.
The zeal of the proselyte is proverbial, and the readiness with which he forgets his former faith. But this gentleman will excuse us for reminding him (memory is sometimes inconvenient) of his own words in 1888. His own views of palæolithic man were then as unsound as, according to him, are those of Prof. Wright to-day. In this very magazine he wrote, "Among the most recent and satisfactory archæologic discoveries of this country are those of two chipped implements of black flint found in Ohio by Dr. Metz at Madisonville and Loveland, in deposits of loess and aqueo-glacial gravel which G. F. Wright has shown to represent a closing episode of the later Glacial epoch." Again, "Excluding all doubtful cases, there remains a fairly consistent body of testimony indicating the existence of a human population in North America during the later Ice epoch."
Much more might be quoted, but we will spare the feelings of our critic. It is not fair to taunt a man with change of mind. Every scientist should be open to conviction and therefore subject to change. But we do look for a more tolerant spirit from one who has so recently seen fit to change his own faith on an important subject. He has been converted from the error of his ways, and now looks down on his benighted brethren, not with pity, but with feigned contempt. We would fain know the causes of his conversion, but forbear to speculate, and will rather believe that his logical mind has yielded to arguments which he could not resist and which bade him destroy a faith which once he preached. Possibly the evidence derived from the new science of Gee-omorphy has been largely instrumental in working this transformation.
We will not repeat what we have already said about the divergent views on the nature of the Ice age, further than to remark for the benefit of this critic that Whewell's wise saw above quoted may be recalled with advantage here.
Nor will we further follow this extraordinary effusion. Most of its charges have been made by others in less offensive terms and already noticed in this paper. Suffice it to say that we find it hard to comprehend how a scientist could allow his better judgment to be so far entirely overridden. No surer indication of a bad case can be given than "calling names," and next time he enters the arena we advise our indignant champion to submit to the careful search of some calm and judicious friend who will see to it that he carries into the field no unknightly weapons concealed about his person—in other words, that he request a friend to aid him in confining his exuberance of language within due bounds by the expurgation of such idiosyncratic terms as "egotistical," "incompetent," "shyster," "dupe," "knave," "harpy," "betinseled charlatan," with others of a similar nature which are not usually found in the current vocabulary of his scientific co-workers.
One word in conclusion. We wish to make it distinctly understood that we here give no opinion on any of the subjects in dispute. Our purpose is twofold: first, to show the illogical positions in which several of the critics of the work have placed themselves; and, secondly, to expose the spirit which characterizes the reviews. Quoting from the American Geologist for February: "We at present content ourselves with a protest against the tone adopted by some of the critics and the air of assumption and of superiority which pervades their remarks. Both are eminently unbecoming to scientific literature and derogatory to the dignity of science. We may add that they are in striking contrast to the moderation and dignity of the replies.
"It is somewhat difficult . . . to discover the motive which has led to so violent an attack on a work which, after all, merely summarizes with caution the evidence as it stands and draws a qualified conclusion from it. Strange indeed is it to see the theologian in the van of the evolutionary army, with the geologist and the archaeologist lingering in the rear."
- Man and the Glacial Period. By G. F. Wright. International Scientific Series. D. Appleton & Co.
- Science, October 28, 1892.
- See American Anthropologist, January, 1893.
- Science, October 28, 1892.
- Science, October 28, 1892.
- Another version of this story is given by a second critic (see American Anthropologist, January, 1893), who reports the reply as follows: "Don't give me away; I've fooled a lot of fellows already, and I'd like to fool some more." The difference is not important, but it emphasizes the denial given below.
- Dial, Chicago, November 16, 1892, p. 306.
- Ibid., p. 304.
- Dial, Chicago, November 16, 1892, p. 306.
- American Antiquarian, January, 1893, pp. 35, 36.
- American Antiquarian, January, 1893, p. 35.
- Dial, January 1, 1893, p. 8.
- Dial, January 1, 1893, p. 7.
- American Anthropologist, January, 1893.
- Ibid., p. 89.
- Popular Science Monthly, January, 1888.