Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Gray, Asa

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GRAY, Asa, botanist, b. in Paris, Oneida co., N. Y., 18 Nov., 1810; d. in Cambridge, Mass., 30 Jan., 1888. He received his early education in the Fairfield academy, after which he began the study of medicine with Dr. John F. Trowbridge in Bridgewater, N. Y., and was graduated at the College of physicians and surgeons of the western district of New York in 1831. He soon left his practice and began the study of botany with Dr. John Torrey. In 1834 he was appointed botanist to the U. S. exploring expedition sent out under the command of Capt. Charles Wilkes, but, in consequence of the delay of that enterprise, resigned the post in 1837. He was elected professor of botany in the new University of Michigan, but he declined this chair, and accepted in 1842 the Fisher professorship of natural history at Harvard, continuing there till 1873, when he retired from the active duties of his office, but retained charge of the herbarium. Prof. Gray's scientific work began at a time when the old artificial systems of botany were giving way to the natural system, and, with Dr. John Torrey, he was among the first to attempt the classification of species on the natural basis of affinity. His first paper, presented to the New York lyceum of natural history in December, 1834, bears the title “A Notice of Some New, Rare, or Otherwise Interesting Plants from the Northern and Western Portions of the State of New York.” Four years later, under the joint authorship of John Torrey and Asa Gray, the first part of the “Flora of North America” appeared. This work was continued in numbers that were published from time to time until the Compositæe were finished, when the accumulation of fresh material had so increased that to complete the undertaking would require an appendix greater than the “Flora” itself. In other ways, however, this classification was still carried on. The valuable acquisitions of the U. S. government expeditions were referred to these botanists, and their results are to be found in numerous memoirs published in the government reports, and as separate monographs. The most important of these are “Plantæ Lindheimerianæ,” an account of plants collected in western Texas by Ferdinand Lindheimer (Boston, 1845-'50); “Plantæ Fendlerianæ Novi Mexicanæ,” a description of plants collected in New Mexico by August Fendler (1849); “Plantæ Wrightianæ Texano-Neo-Mexicanæ,” describing the extensive collections made by Charles Wright (Washington, 1852-'3); “Plantæ Thurberianæ” (Boston, 1854); and “Genera Floræ Americæ Boreali-Orientalis Illustrata” (New York, 1848-'50). Prof. Gray's herbarium, numbering more than 200,000 specimens, and his library of 2,200 botanical works, were presented to Harvard on the completion, in 1864, of a fire-proof building for their reception. He received the degree of A. M. from Harvard in 1844, and of LL. D. from Hamilton in 1860, and delivered three courses of lectures in the Lowell institute. In 1874 he received the appointment of regent of the Smithsonian institution, succeeding Louis Agassiz in that office. For ten years, from 1863 till 1873, he was president of the American academy of arts and sciences, and in 1872 was president of the American association for the advancement of science, delivering his retiring address at the Dubuque meeting. Prof. Gray was one of the original members of the National academy of sciences, and afterward passed to the grade of honorary membership. Besides his connections with societies in this country, he was either corresponding or honorary member of the Linnean society and the Royal society in London, and of the academies of sciences in Berlin, Munich, Paris, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Upsala. Prof. Gray was a very large contributor to periodical literature, and his separate papers include nearly 200 titles. For many years he was one of the editors of the “American Journal of Science,” and his “Botanical Contributions” were long published in the “Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences and Arts.” He also wrote biographical sketches of many who have achieved eminence in science, and of these the more important American subjects have been Jacob Bigelow, George Engelmann, Joseph Henry, and Thomas P. James. See “Letters of Asa Gray, edited by Jane Loring Gray” (Boston, 1894). His literary works are “A Free Examination of Darwin's Treatise on the Origin of Species, and of its American Reviewers” (Cambridge, 1861); “Darwinia: Essays and Reviews pertaining to Darwinism” (New York, 1876); and “Natural Science and Religion” (1880). Prof. Gray's series of text-books are used extensively throughout the United States, and have passed through many editions. They include “Elements of Botany” (1836), republished as “Botanical Text-Book” (1853), and now called “Structural and Systematic Botany” (New York, 1858); “Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States” (Cambridge, 1848; 5th ed., New York, 1867); “Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology” (New York, 1857); “Botany for Young People and Common Schools,” comprising “How Plants Grow” (1858) and “How Plants Behave” (1872); “Field, Forest, and Garden Botany” (1868), which, with the “Lessons in Botany,” have been bound together under the title “School- and Field-Book of Botany” (1875); “Structural Botany or Organography on the Basis of Morphology” (1879), being the first volume of the series called “Gray's Botanical Text-Book”; “Botany of the United States Pacific Exploring Expedition” (Washington, 1854); and “Synoptical Flora of North America” (New York, 1878).