A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury/Chapter 6

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Scheme for Meteorological co-operation on Land—Invitation to Agricultural Societies to communicate Observations for the construction of Meteorological Land Charts—Proposal for a System of Warnings for Farmers—Opposition he met with—Prophecy about the Weather Bureau—Weather Forecasts—Extracts from Mr. Harlan's Report before the Senate, praying for an extension of Meteorological Observations for the benefit of Farmers—Letter to Mr. Dorr on the same subject—Honor to whom Honor is due—List of letters on this subject to be found at the Observatory—Fulfillment of Maury's prophecy.

Maury's return from his labors at the 1853 Brussels Conference was accompanied by many acknowledgments of the great value of his services. But probably the most gratifying of those acknowledgments was the following letter from the great Prussian traveler, written at the age of ninety years:—


From Baron Humboldt to Lieutenant Maury.

Berlin, April 11th, 1857.

It is with the most lively acknowledgment that I offer to my illustrious friend and associate, the Superintendent of the United States Observatory and Hydrographical Office at Washington, the tribute of my respectful admiration. The Maritime Conference at Brussels, and the happy influence which your visit to Europe has fortunately exercised upon the course of meteorology, both by sea and land, especially where your presence has been enjoyed, have contributed to spread your views. You are now enjoying the fruits of immense labours. It belongs to me more than to any other traveler of the age, to congratulate my illustrious friend upon the course which he has so gloriously opened.

Scarcely in a state of convalescence, I must limit myself at present to offering you the tribute of acknowledgments due you for so many years.

Your very humble and obedient servant,

At the age of eighty-seven years.


After his return from the Brussels Conference, Maury continued to push his ideas and plans for meteorological cooperation on the land as well as on the sea; and in 1855 he delivered addresses before many agricultural societies of the South and West in which he urged the farmers to make daily observations (according to a uniform plan then set forth by Maury) on temperature, the force and direction of winds, storms, &c., and on the condition and yield of the crops, and to send them to him, as the sailors had done, to be made into land charts. Also to memorialize Congress for appropriations to establish a central office where these weather and crop reports could be digested and telegraphed monthly, weekly, or even daily, to all parts of the country, and "the farmers be thus warned of the approach of storms, severe frosts, &c., that might prove injurious to the crops."

On Jan. 10th, 1856, Maury addressed the United States Agricultural Society at Washington on this subject, and in the course of his remarks said:— "Now, sir, it may be asked, what have farmers to do with meteorology? I would answer, everything. The atmosphere is a great basin which envelops this globe, and every plant and animal that grows thereon is dependent for its well being upon the laws which govern and control the 'wind in its circuits,' and none more so than man, the lord of all. To study these laws, we must treat the atmosphere as a whole. We have now the sea made white with floating observatories all equipped with instruments that are comparable, observing the same things according to a uniform method, and recording these observations according to a universal plan. In the process of discussing the observations thus obtained from the sea, have arrived at that point at which observations on the land are found to be essential to a successful prosecution of our investigations into the laws which govern the movements of the grand atmospherical machine. At sea we have want the rule on land we look land, therefore, for the exceptions. We to see the spotted with co-labourers observing also, according to some uniform plan, such as may be to the agreed upon with the most distinguished meteorologists at home and abroad; and I have addressed myself agricultural interests of the country, because they have the deepest stake meteorology in the fence.

"This proposition concerning agricultural is a concerted plan" (see Maury's suggestions on this subject to the Meteorological Congress at Brussels in 1853), "and the idea is to spread this network of instruments and observers, also. not only in this country, but over other parts of the world also. And I am assured that as men of science and influence from abroad, such Baron Humboldt, Gornord, Le Verrier, Quetelet, Dove, Littron, Secchi, Jansen, Sabine, &c., stand ready with a host of others to co-operate with us according to any plan that shall be agreed upon. This meteorological plan, it appears to me, has precisely the tendency required for the emergency, for its tendency is to save labour and increase the harvests by foreknowledge."

C. B. Calvert, Maryland Agricultural Maury's it Society, rose to say in accordance with Lieutenant suggestions:— "That had remained of for the patient and long-continued observations plain sailors "under direction of this man of science, M. F. Maury, whom kings delight to honour, to find out the laws controlling the ocean storms. Let the observations on land be made by direction of Lieutenant as plain farmers, under the direction of Lieutenant Maury and then such conclusions would be reached would be of practical importance." (See Journal of fourth meeting of the U. S. Agricultural Society.)

Nearly three years afterwards, Maury says, in an address before the North Ala. Mechanical and Agricultural Society at Decatur, Alabama:— "Several years ago I proposed, you recollect, a system of agricultural meteorology for farmers, and of daily weather reports by telegraph from all parts of the country for the benefit of the farmers. Take notice now, that this plan of crop and weather reports is 'my thunder'; and if you see someone in Washington running away with it, then recollect, if you please, where the lightning came from."

The following letters to B. F. Minor of Albemarle, on the subject of Agricultural Meteorology, show how much Maury's mind was occupied with this most useful scheme:—

Dear Frank, Observatory, Nov. 20th, 1855.

Your long, long letter of the 17th is just to hand, and it as "rich as the ooze and bottom of the sea."[This is a reference to what Maury found on the sea floor two miles below the sea, that proved to him the trans-atlantic cable could be safely laid on his "telegraphic plateau"]

We shall keep dinner waiting for you Friday, and be merry when you come. We are going to have lettuce and green peas out of the garden on Friday (open air). Doesn't that sound like an agricultural professor?

You ask about the plan météorologique: why, it goes on swimmingly! I have almost volunteers enough now with offers of service and friendly aid, and signs of encouragement are pouring in every day. I send you the latest. There came by this morning's mail the two newspaper slips, and a letter from a gentleman in Missouri, informing me that the legislature of that State has authorized the establishment of five meteorological observatories, and voted the money for them. They are under his charge, and at my service for co-operation, and will fill up with observations any blanks I choose to send, &c. The enterprise looks well, and I begin to think I have hit the nail on the head. The Secretary asked me the other day to send him a paragraph or two for his Reports. I did so, offering to put in his mouth a recommendation of Agricultural Meteorology to Congress. I begin to look upon the plan as a fixed fact. I intend to have this office expanded out into a hydrographical and meteorological department. I will here digest the farmers' reports from all over the country, and telegraph the results all about. If I get on the top of this agricultural wave, I'll ride over boards, &c.

Let me tell you how my letters come to be written at night always. You see we are all assembled in the parlour after tea; I am walking up and down, and smoking to refresh myself after the labours of the day, and prepare for those of the night. All hands are sitting around the centre table at their various occupations, and somehow or other the ink-stand, the porcupine pens, and a sheet of paper are always right by Nannie (Curly)[daughter], and she had just as well be writing words for me as be sewing stitches in moral pocket handkerchiefs. It's finger and thumb anyway; and you know, I think there is too much of that among the women kind, and so I might as well fill up an odd end of time, and better too.

Nannie (Curly)is tired so I'll go to work, and she to finger and thumb, keeping time to the "Song of the Shirt." [See Chapter XIX, Notes: Amazing Story and Words to this "Song of the Shirt"]



From his Daughter, Diana to B. F. Minor.

Dear Coz Frank, Observatory, Washington, Dec. 18th, 1855.

Papa says I must write you a letter, but he is too busy to tell me what to say, so I expect you'll find this a "poor concern." Papa is re-writing his 'Physical Geography' for the Harpers. He is also busy just now "making bricks" (as he calls it) for the publishers in shape of a 'National Almanac,' (I think that is the name he intends giving it when finished), which is to contain valuable and interesting matter of all kinds for the multitude, and which the Harpers promise him will make him President of these United States. Papa had a letter from Quetelet, astronomer Royal of Belgium; he is going to put Meteorology for the Farmers in his 'Annuaire.' Most of the astronomers in Europe publish almanacs; judge of Quetelet's by the enclosed "brick"! Lord Wrottesley says that they in England are ready to follow our lead about the meteorology for the farmers. He is President of the Royal Society. Papa had a letter yesterday from Mr. Wilder, saying that he wished to see his plan carried out, and asking him to address the Agricultural Society, of which he is President. It meets here on the 9th prox. All send love, and wish you and yours a merry Christmas.

Ever your affectionate cousin,
Nannie (Curly).


To the same.

Dear Frank, Observatory, Jan. 11th, 1856.

I attended the U. S. Agricultural Society yesterday, by invitation, and spoke to the resolution about the plan meteorological. I had a regular scientific fight, and though the result was all I could have desired, yet it was utterly disgusting to encounter such miserable signs of jealousy and small feeling. You know that I have been after this "Meteorology for the Farmers" persistently since 1851, and that the Brussels Conference urged it; and you may recollect my telling you that I had an interview last year, before leaving the city for the summer, with the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Patents in favour of their taking it up. Three or four weeks ago an article came out in the Tribune, saying my plan was intended to act as a rival to that of the Smithsonian. I knew that the notion would be injurious to the working of the meteorological plan if it got out, so I wrote a letter to the Tribune in my own name to show what Henry of the Smithsonian was after, and what I was after, and that the two plans were no more rivals of each other than the astronomical observatories which are springing up in various parts of the country are to this one. So far from being rivals, they are quite the contrary, &c. Nevertheless, you can see how my plans for the public good may be embarrassed. It is time for scribe and scriber to dress for the party, and for the scribee to undress for bed. Goodnight.

M. F. Maury,
Per Nannie (Curly)[1].


To the same.

Dear Frank, Observatory, Jan. 21st, 1856.

Betty, Nannie, and I are just finishing to-night the new edition of the 'Physical Geography of the Sea.' I send you the papers for the joint meteorological observations of the Smithsonian and Patent Office. The Agricultural Bureau has been up to propose to cut loose from the Smithsonian and join on with me. So you see how the world wags.

I do not see how the Smithsonian plan and ours at all interfere. I am for a quiet life. But unless the Agricultural Bureau wakes up and takes views very different from those expressed to me, not much will be done there. He speaks of wanting two or three clerks! Jansen[2] has gone to India, and is going to set the Japanese and the Chinese at work upon meteorology.

M. F. M.


To the same.

Dear Frank, Observatory, Jan. 21st, 1856.

You have seen that Commodore Morris has been gathered to his fathers. He was decidedly the cleverest captain in the Navy; he is the third chief of this Bureau that I have assisted to bury since I have been in Washington. We sent the 'Physical Geography of the Sea' off to the publishers this morning, having put the finishing touches to it last night. Now don't you consider that smart work for Betty, Nannie, and me? We were told in December that the publishers would want it by the first of February; we have eliminated some, re-cast much, and added a good deal. I have now some back correspondence to bring up, and I then shall begin to flirt with the eighth edition of 'Sailing Directions'. I cannot say anything about "Meteorology for Farmers," for I have never mentioned the subject to a member of Congress, nor need I until the house shall "sheet home its topsails." I have a notion, though, that the plan will take, "dogs in the manger" to the contrary notwithstanding. I am to be inaugurated next Monday as President of the National Institute; they elected me in Henry's place about a month ago. You have seen, in the Intelligencer, "the Parthian dart" he flung at us?

Nannie (Curly) is complaining of her pen, so good-night.

M. F. M.

The whole subject is reviewed in Mr. Harlan's Report before the Senate, 1857 (to accompany Bill, 5·48), extracts from which follow:—

"The Committee on Agriculture, to whom were referred the several memorials in favour of extending to the land, for the benefit of agriculture, the system of meteorological observations and research which, under the direction of Lieutenant Maury, has been benefit of so successfully carried I on at sea for the commerce and navigation, I now have the same under consideration and beg leave to report.

"The system of meteorological observation and research to refer which your memorialists refer was inaugurated by Lieutenant Maury, about ten years ago, while in charge of the Hydrographical Department, for the purpose of improving certain maps and charts relating to the winds and currents at sea. These maps had been constructed out of materials collected from the old 'log-books,' which from time to time had been returned to the Navy Department from the armed cruisers of the Government of the U.S. They related to a few only of many commercial paths of the ocean. They were necessarily very imperfect in consequence of the proper data, but were nevertheless valuable to the merchant marine. Lieutenant Maury obtained leave from the Navy Department to offer them to sea-captains in the merchant service on the condition contained in the following circular, sent to masters and shipowners:—

"'Here are certain charts which embody, to some as to extent, the experience of the officers of the Navy, as to winds and currents, in certain parts of the ocean. "'If you will cause to be kept on board your ship a journal, or abstract, as it is called, telling according to a prescribed form how you find wind, weather, and sea, and if at the end of your voyage you will return the same to the Observatory, then I am authorized to say that you shall be entitled to receive not only a copy of the charts now offered, but a copy also of every other chart for which you shall assist in collecting the material.'

"As a result of this proposition, more than a thousand American merchantmen were soon engaged, night and day, in all parts of the ocean, in making observations according to a uniform plan, thus contributing by voluntary cooperation in the execution of the most extensive system of philosophical investigation ever attempted in any age. It was at once appreciated and approved by other commercial nations. They cheerfully volunteered the co-operation of their navies, military and commercial, to aid in its successful prosecution. Thereupon Lieutenant Maury sought and obtained leave to confer with the most distinguished meteorologists at home and abroad, for the purpose of arranging a uniform plan among all nations of meteorological observations. A conference upon this subject was consequently held at Brussels, in 1853, in which the principal States of Europe were represented. This conference recommended a plan of observations which has been generally adopted by all sea-faring people. It was approved by Congress. A resolution was adopted directing the Secretary of the Navy to place three Government vessels under the direction of the Superintendent of the National Observatory, to aid in perfecting the system of observations so cheerfully undertaken by the commanders of nearly all the merchant ships and ships of war afloat on the ocean without cost to their respective Governments.

"And thus data are furnished for the construction of the Wind and Current Charts, that are revolutionizing navigation. The results already obtained have astonished the world, and the advantages annually derived by commerce are estimated by millions.

"The importance of these achievements immediate and prospective, as well as the credit due to Lieutenant Maury as the originator of this system of observations, has been noticed in the most decided and flattering terms by the Secretary of the Navy in his several Annual Reports of 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854, 1855, and 1856; by the committee on Naval affairs in an able report made to the Senate, January 29th, 1855; and by the President of the United States, in his annual message in 1851; as well as by the most important nations of Europe, a number of whom have solicited permission of Congress to confer on him suitable expressions of their appreciation of his brilliant achievements as a man of science, and of his exalted position among the benefactors of his race.

"This is a brief and imperfect notice of the system of meteorological observation and research at sea, which your memorialists pray may be extended to the land. In the opinion of your Committee, it is worthy of consideration whether this may not be necessary in a commercial point of view, independent of the influence on the interests of agriculture, as an integral part; of the system of observations already approved by Congress and the executive department of the Government, and it is in this light that your Committee propose first to consider the propriety of granting the prayer of your memoralists. As long ago as 1851, Lieutenant Maury urged the importance of including the land within this system of research. The Conference of Brussels above named, composed of some of the most distinguished men of the age, recommended such an extension. Their deliberations, however, were confined by their instructions to the sea; and since they could do no more, they expressed a hope that at some early day the plan might be so extended as to include the land also, and thus make the system universial. Since then Lieutenant Maury has repeatedly noticed the necessity of such co-operation with him by observers on shore, for the completion of this work. And in fact this necessity would be at once inferred from the slightest consideration by the most unpracticed reasoner.

"Of the surface of the earth, about one third is estimated to be land. This is divided by large bodies of water into continents and islands, some of them being of vast extent. Meteorological Phenomena of a highly interesting character, and having important bearings upon the industrial pursuits of man, have their origin sometimes at sea. They can be traced by the observer to the land, and there abandoned, notwithstanding the interest elicited, for the want of a proper system of co-operation. Similar phenomena may be discovered on the opposite side of island or continent; but whether a continuation of the effects of the same causes, or originating elsewhere, it becomes impossible to determine. The atmosphere covers the land as well as the ocean. On land its electrical condition, its temperature, its humidity, and its movements, are, doubtless, subject to more rapid and complicated changes than on the sea. The effects only of these influences can be noticed by the mariner. The originating causes are on shore. Hence to understand the phenomena of the atmosphere, or to profitably study its laws, it must be studied as a whole. Your Committee find this to be the opinion of the most distinguished meteorologists, and that in their judgment the time has come to subject the phenomena of the atmosphere by land and sea to the system of minute and rigid investigation.

"It is believed that the Superintendent of the Observatory can obtain the necessary co-operation to enable him to subject the atmosphere to this system of research by an appeal to the farmers similar to that made to the mariners, if the Government will furnish appropriate instruments and defray the expense of transmitting this intelligence to the Hydrographical Office. In order that these observations might be reliable, the instruments with which they are to be made must be correct. An appropriation of a small sum of money would be necessary for the purchase of a few standard sets, to be distributed among the States and Territories, for use and comparison, under suitable regulation to be prescribed by the Secretary of the Navy.

"It would be highly desirable, also, to be able to receive from all parts of the country daily reports by telegraph. In this way the condition of the atmosphere in every part of the country, the presence of a storm in any quarter, its direction, its force, and the rapidity of its march, could be known at every point any hour of the day; simultaneous reports from the various stations of the character of the weather, being received and combined at the central office, could not fail to afford results of the highest interest and advantage to every industrial pursuit.

"Storms having their origin in one part of the world, and taking up their line of march for another, may be thus watched by the mariner in communication with the land, in many instances for days before they would reach his shipping. Being forewarned, he could adopt the necessary means to evade their fury. The same intelligence thus communicated to the farmer and outdoor labourer would be equally useful in its results. Every intelligent farmer, who is willing to note his observations, would become a sentinel on the watch tower and outpost of this broad land, to admonish his fellow labourers in the fields, as well as his co-labourers on the sea engaged in carrying his produce to distant markets, of approaching foul weather and consequent danger; and it is confidently maintained by those whose opinions are entitled to the greatest weight, that with such a system of observation the laws that govern the course of those storms would soon be so well known, that, in most cases, shipmasters and outdoor labourers could forewarned of their approach. Lieutenant Maury has also suggested that by mapping the skies, for example, of the United States, and adopting a system of signs and symbols, these telegraphic observations may be so projected on this map as to convey to the observer, at a glance, a knowledge of the appearance of the sky all over the whole country any hour in the day; and that by this means the change of the appearance of the sky, and subsequent changes of weather all over a continent, may be seen and studied from day to day; from which it is believed that science would deduce results of the highest importance. But, however important to commerce and navigation and all the industrial pursuits these observations may become from the considerations above named, agriculture has a still deeper interest in them.

"The growth of a plant is not the result of accident, but of natural causes. The phenomena of the vegetable creation, therefore, is as palpable for the investigation of science as the phenomena of the sea. . . .

"With a knowledge of the laws that govern these forces, the gardener will take a plant of any genus, species, or variety, from mountain or valley, from rocks or alluvion, from torrid or temperate zone, and by artificial means create a climate for its reproduction. If then the climate of any region, the character of the soil, and its ordinary meteorological forces could be fully understood, it would not be difficult for science to designate precisely the plant and fruit for which it is best adapted, and thus to determine for the agriculturist, with reasonable certainty, in advance perhaps of years of wasted labour, the capabilities of his fields. . . . Place these crude annotations of meteorological phenomena over the land in Maury's hands, and we may reasonably expect him to point the farmer to a suitable field and climate for the production of the desired crop, in advance of the footprints of the immigrant. . . . Hence it is seen that, on land as well as at sea, climate is not controlled by latitude alone. And in a country like ours, blessed with every variety of soil, great geographical extent, and with the most charming diversity of landscape, it could not be expected that mere distance from the equator would convey any correct idea of climate and agricultural adaptation. The true index of these is to be sought for in careful observation and laborious investigation, conducted according to thermal laws and by geographical conditions. . . .

"To ascertain the limits of plants, to mark them out upon this broad land, to describe the climate and productions pertaining to them, is the initiatory labour proposed by your memorialists, which, in their opinion, deserves the patronage of the Government, that these may be projected on maps of the land similar to those made by Lieutenant Maury of the sea. They propose that this labour shall not be left to the officers of the army alone, whose posts are often widely separated from each other, frequently changed, or totally abandoned, as the exigencies of the service may require, rendering their observations too scanty and irregular for the attainment of satisfactory results. It has been suggested by Lieutenant Maury, and approved by your memorialists, that the number of observers may be multiplied indefinitely by inviting the farmers, like the mariners at sea, to make voluntary observations of the weather, crops, soil, and flora, and report regularly to a common superintendent, by whom they also shall be discussed and classified. In this way, it is expected that thousands of additional observers may be enlisted in this service, from whose joint labours, in collecting crude materials for scientific analysis, a very rich harvest of knowledge would soon be obtained.

"The regular report of the condition and prospect of the growing crops, from every part of our country to a central office, as contemplated by your memorialists, furnishing the data of official bulletins would be of sufficient importance to both producer and dealer to secure the approval of the Government. But, when all commercial countries are to be embraced in the same system of observation and research, its importance becomes overwhelming. In consequence of the introduction of steam, the improvement of navigation, the construction of railroads, the spread of commerce, the use of the telegraph, and the rapidly increasing facilities of intercourse, the farmer and planter of the United States is almost as much interested, practically, in knowing the state, prospect, and amount of crops in foreign lands as in his own country.

"The wheat grower of Illinois is not only concerned to know whether the wheat crop of other States is above or below the average, but also whether a short or very abundant crop has been harvested in Europe. The crops in the other parts of the world tend to increase or diminish the price of his own grain; for in the markets abroad he is compelled to compete with the grain grown upon the waters of the Black Sea, in the Canadas, and elsewhere. In Liverpool, the corn of the Danube competes with that of Kentucky and Indiana. The sugar planter in Louisiana is directly interested in the abundance of that crop in Cuba and Brazil. A short crop of cotton in India and Egypt enhances by millions the value of that crop in the valley of the Mississippi; and so with all the other great staples of agriculture. To enable the farmers to know in advance the prospects of the growing crops with which their own must compete in the market of the world, is to enable them to reap the just reward of their own industry; to refuse it is to place them at the mercy of the dealer. "Such are some of the more obvious results which agriculture is certain to reap from the adoption of the system of research proposed by your memorialists. And important and valued as are the benefits thus promised, we are entitled to count upon others still more valuable, but which no sagacity can anticipate. An apt illustration of the value of these unforeseen results is afforded by the very system of research that the memorialists pray may be extended to the land. That system had for its object the investigation of the direction of the winds and the set of the currents at sea for the benefit of navigation. Important as are the bearings of the results actually obtained in this regard, they dwindle into a small compass when compared with results and discoveries that have been brought out, and that were neither enumerated among the original objects of research, nor contemplated by anyone.

"Among these may be mentioned the demonstration of the practicability of establishing a submarine telegraph across the Atlantic. No such problem was embraced by Lieutenant Maury in his original plan of research; yet the discoveries made during the course of his investigations upon winds and currents demonstrated its practicability. Thereupon a company has been formed, the capital raised, and contracts made for spanning the Atlantic with a telegraphic cable, the success of which will scarcely admit of a doubt. So doubtless it will be when the proposed system of research shall be extended to the land.

"When it is considered that this proposed research by land is a necessary part of the system now so successfully prosecuted at sea—that the interests of navigation and commerce demand it—that the direct and certain advantages to agriculture would be incalculable—that the field is broad, and reasonably promises other important results that no foresight can particularly define—that the same officer who has secured the applause of the world for his achievements in that part of the field already traversed is anxious to enter this, and stake his reputation on reaping another rich harvest of honour for his country that it is necessary to place our farmers and planters on an equal footing with those of Europe and Asia in the markets of the world—that the agricultural and planting interests of this country surpass all other interests—that heretofore the federal legislature has addressed itself to the advancement of these great interests so rarely and with such sparing hand; when we compare the means with the end—the magnitude of the results confidently expected with the amount of money required; and when we recollect how much of the legislation of the country and of the public money is applied to other interests so small in comparison, and that other nations, through the influence of their scientific men, are volunteering their cooperation so as to extend this system to the whole earth, your Committee are unable to discover any sufficient reason for withholding the sanction of the Government of the United States. They therefore recommend that the prayer of your memorialists may be granted, and ask leave to introduce a Bill."


In the following letter from M. F. Maury to E. P. Dorr, President of the Lake Board of Underwriters, the subject of meteorological observations for the great lakes is discussed:—

Dear Sir, Observatory, Washington, December 28th, 1858

Your letter of the 25th in relation to the system of meteorological observations for the lakes, was received this morning. You make reference to the system of army meteorological observations, and seem to think that covers the whole ground, and renders useless any further action by the lake people. Allow me to correct this mistake on your part. That Captain Meade and his able corps of assistants, who are surveying the lakes, should be already provided with barometers, psychrometers, thermometers, and wind and rain gauges, is a fresh and striking illustration of the fact to which I called the attention of the lake people with so much emphasis, viz., that the means and appliances for such a system of meteorological co-operation and research as I proposed for the lakes are already at hand, and that what remains to be done is to engraft upon them the telegraphic feature with the plan of instantaneous discussion.

Now, suppose that Captain Meade's observers, in addition to the observations they are already making and entering on their journals for his examination at some future day, were required daily also to transmit certain of them by telegraph to his office; that he had force enough there to take them up on the instant and to discuss them at once, that he might detect the storm while it is yet gathering, and then to send out by telegraph again warnings to the lake shipping of its approach.

If he had the means of doing this, he would then be doing the very thing I advocate, and there would be no necessity for future action on your part. But, unfortunately, Congress has not placed in his hands the means for carrying out any such system—at least, I am not aware that it has—and that Congress should place means for such a purpose in his hands, or the hands of some of his brother officers on lake duty who are equally accomplished, is what I imagine the good people of the lake country desire.

You recollect that when among you, some time ago, I called attention to the fact that all the observers, instruments, and appliances needed to make the observations required, were at hand willing and ready for the work. Here is a fresh proof of this fact, for I am delighted to learn from the slip you send me that Captain Meade is preparing to establish the meteorological observing stations from the east end of Lake Ontario to the west end of Lake Superior. No doubt the Canadian authorities would, if invited, most heartily co-operate in this system by establishing similar posts, if need be, along the northern shores. And then, as I said, it would cost nothing additional to have certain of observations reported by telegraph daily to some central office for instantaneous discussion and promulgation.

In addition to Captain Meade's corps, and the Canadians, it was held, when advocating the subject among you, that other army officers, also employed on the lakes—that the lighthouse keepers there, that the agents of the Lake Board of Underwriters, that the colleges, the hospitals, the public institutions and amateur meteorologists on and about the lakes, might without the cost of one additional cent to the public treasury be, in furtherance of this plan, organized into the most effectual and effective corps of observers that was ever engaged in carrying on any plan of physical research; and that all that was required of Congress in the premises was a simple enactment authorizing such an organization, and appropriating a sufficient sum of money to defray the office expenses of treating the observations after they are made, and of announcing the results after they are obtained.

The system of observations which I propose for the lakes should not be confounded with that admirable system which has been so long conducted by the army, and to which alone we are indebted for almost all we know concerning the climatology of the country. The system I propose is an extension to the lakes of that system of co-operation and research which has proved so beneficial for commerce and navigation at sea, with this difference, viz., that certain of the observations be reported daily to a central office by telegraph, and this telegraphic feature is a great improvement upon the sea plan. The army system is not telegraphic; it was established long before the electro magnetic telegraph had any existence; and it originated in this way. When Mr. Calhoun left college—and Yale, I think, was his alma mater—he was in delicate health, and it was thought advisable that he should return to Carolina on horseback. He did so, and for the sake of the mountain air and scenery he skirted along the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge. On that journey he was struck with the difference in the weather that he often observed on opposite sides of the mountains. His youthful mind was impressed with the importance which a properly conducted system of meteorological observations over the whole country would prove to be.

Accordingly, when he became Secretary of War he bore these circumstances in mind, and in 1819 that system of meteorological observations which has proved so beneficial to the whole country was inaugurated in the army, and from that day to this it has been carried on without interruption, and the results have been published from time to time in the Surgeon General's Office. In these observations the telegraph is not used at all, and the results, instead of being proclaimed on the instant, and announced so as to give warning of the coming of the storm, are frequently not published until years have elapsed. In short, by the army plan, the observations are made one year and discussed the next. The results, so far as the state of the weather on any particular day is concerned, are consequently retrospective, so to speak. They will tell on the 1st of January, for instance, what sort of weather you had on the lakes on the 1st day of December previous. But my lake plan proposes to warn you from observations made today as to the weather you may expect to-morrow, and then for the further investigation, of any particular phenomenon that may present itself, the lake plan proposes to refer to and consult the monthly records after they have been made and returned to Captain Meade, or elsewhere, from the observing stations. You observe, therefore, that the two plans, so far from superseding the one the other, or interfering with each other, are cooperative; and the fact that Captain Meade and those engaged with him on the survey of the lakes are so well provided with instruments, instead of being a reason for inaction on your part, is an additional reason why you should put your shoulder to the wheel with so much the more energy; for the assistance which such a corps of observers as he will bring into the field may render, will be of the greatest importance to the telegraphic plan.

I therefore hope, that so far from reading, in what Captain Meade is reported to have said in the Detroit papers, anything to discourage further action on your part, you will gather encouragement, and look upon him and his assistants as fellow labourers, and most valuable ones too, in the great cause. I do not (allow me again to say) read in the accounts you send me of what Captain Meade is represented to have said concerning the system of meteorological observations which he is about to inaugurate on the lakes, anything which was intended, or that is calculated to damp, your efforts in behalf of a system of daily weather reports by telegraph to some central office on the lakes. In that account no allusion is made to the telegraph. If, however, Captain Meade should wish to engraft any such feature upon his plan, I hope you will lend him a hearty co-operation, for I should consider it most fortunate if the telegraphic plan should fall into the hands of gentlemen so capable of taking charge of it, and of bringing it into satisfactory operation, as are those of either Captain Meade or of his brother-in-law, Colonel Graham.

Respectfully, &c.,
M. F. Maury.

To Capt. E. P. Dorr,
Buffalo, N. Y.

A letter from E. P. Dorr, written to a relative after Maury's death, enclosed the above letter for publication; and deserves insertion here, because it gives the illustrious hydrographer the credit that is so justly due to him:—

Buffalo, Feb. 1873

. . . . I send you a copy of an original letter written to me by the late M. F. Maury on December 28th, 1858. The circumstances calling it out were these. He came here and lectured during that month and year, and called on the writer, who was then President of the Lake Board of Underwriters, having, at all the principal cities around the lakes, marine inspectors or surveyors subject to my orders. Maury unfolded to me his plan in substance as set forth in this letter, and asked me to aid him. He wanted to "discuss" the observations daily at Washington, as they now are. . . . His intelligent, original mind invented and suggested the present system of meteorological observations; and the writer wishes this in some way to be put upon record, to do justice to the dead Maury, a man whose name and memory will live in all civilized countries on the globe, throughout all time, as an original, great mind.

After Maury left here, I drew up a caption, heading several papers as a memorial to Congress, asking them to enact a law and appropriate funds to carry out (which is now being done) Maury's plan. This was sent to him at Washington by me, approved and returned. I then sent to each important city upon the lakes (eight of them this city included), to the marine inspectors, procured the signatures of all prominent men, and then forwarded to each member of Congress representing the districts.

These memorials asking for the enactment of the law, and the appropriation of the money, I think, did not pass in the winter of 1858-59; but I have been told that the interest excited in the plan at that time by one person (who followed it from its conception) resulted in its ultimate passage and the present system.

What called out this letter specially from Maury was this. General, then Captain, Meade, had just assumed the command of the "Survey of the N. W. Lakes," succeeding Macomb. There had always been a jealousy between the army and navy, and there was particular jealousy because of the prominence of Maury, in being so constantly noticed by the eminent and titled men of the Old World. Some articles (not emanating from Meade—he was too good and too noble a nature to do such things) called in question the necessity of Maury's doing anything of the kind, as Captain Meade had provided for a full working of all observations needed, to begin with the opening of navigation, and to extend all over the lakes. I cut out the articles and sent them to him (Maury) at Washington, without comment, and that called out the enclosed letter. Colonel Graham had charge of the public works at Chicago at that time. He and Meade are now both dead. . . Things have changed, but I could not rest unless I told someone that the late M. F. Maury was the originator in design and detail, in all its parts, of the present system of meteorological observations now so generally taken all over the country. "Honour to whom honour is due." You see in what a beautiful way he gives the credit to Mr. Calhoun as the originator of the army plan, which was continued down to the breaking out of the late civil war; that part of it alone is of great interest, and there are but few people who have the knowledge of these facts.

When the National Board of Trade met here some two or three years since, I published in the Courier parts of Maury's letter. There was a Committee appointed on the subject of meteorological observations, and I thought it a good time to give this forth—in part. Not long before General Meade died, he was spending a few days at my house. I showed him Maury's letter; he was much pleased, and wanted me to publish it as a subject of national interest; but I am accustomed to mind my own affairs only, and I did not do it. But now both are dead, I give it to you on account of your relationship. There are other letters here from M. F. Maury, referring to his thoughts upon this subject, but none so full, and he only wrote to one other person here. . . {right|Respectfully yours,
E. P. Dorr.|2em}}


On December 14th, 1880, Mr. Vest of Missouri said, in a speech before the 46th Congress, 3rd Session:—


"The whole signal service system of this country originated with the navy, not with the army. The man who commenced it, in whose brain it first had existence, was Matthew Fontaine Maury. In 1853 he instigated and brought about, by own individual exertions, the assembling of a convention of scientists of the world at Brussels, to take into consideration a uniform system of meteorological observations. In 1857 I well recollect that Lieutenant Maury passed through the South and West, delivering lectures at his own individual expense to the people, urging upon them that they urge their members of Congress to establish a signal service observation system for the Southern and Western States. If that had been done then, sir, millions of dollars would have been saved to the agricultural interests of this country.

"This same man, by his system of research upon the ocean, by shortening the days of transit by means of his charts of the waves and of the winds, saved to the commerce of the world from $40,000,000 to $60,000,000 annually, and he sought earnestly, by stirring up the people, by writing and lecturing in the North and West and South up to the Fall of 1860, and again after the war to within three months of his death, to put the same system into existence within the landed domain of the United States."[3]

Early in 1858 Lt. Maury had produced such an impression by his lectures and writings in the North-West, that no less than eight of the lake cities, Buffalo amongst them, memorialized Congress in the same year to "establish a general system of daily telegraphic reports on the wind and weather, for discussion at a central office"! . . .

The law thus prayed for was not passed by Congress at that time; but it has been since, and under its fostering care has grown into the "vast weather bureau" of the present day. It will scarcely be believed, that in the history of that grand work the name of its illustrious founder is not mentioned, thus fulfilling his prophetic fear. And today, although almost every one in the civilized world listens to "the thunder," no one remembers where to "look for the lightning."

  1. Transcribers note 2012: Matthew called his wife Nannie. One of his daughters with curly hair like her father was called Nannie Curly.—wmm (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. Admiral in Dutch Navy—wmm (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. Telegraphic Meteorology—In this connection see letter to editor of Southern Planter, April 20, 1855; American Farmer, June 18, 1855; editor Prof. Quetelet, Brussels, July 24, 1855; Edward T. Taylor, Oct. 18, 1855; Virginia State Agricultural Society, Dec. 1, 1855; editor of N.Y. Tribune, December 19, 1855; Hon. James Harlan, Jan. 5th and 6th 1857, in reference to Bill and report introduced by him in Senate; Dr. Leiber, Jan. 24, 1857; Hon. C. J. Falkner, July 23, 1857. And in reference to daily weather reports by telegraph "on land," letters to H. S. Eaton, Dec. 6, 1859; to Gov. Dennison, Ohio, June 4, 1860; to Prof. Secchi, Rome, April 10, 1860; and to Lieut. Margollé, London, April 12, 1860. All were on file in Lieut. Matthew Fontaine Maury's letter books at the National Observatory at Washington.