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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/John Edward Gray

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GRAY, John Edward (1800-1875), a distinguished English naturalist, born at Walsall, Staffordshire, in 1800, was the eldest of the three sons of Mr S. F. Gray, of that town, druggist and writer on botany, author of the Supplement to the Pharmacopœia, &c., and grandson of Mr S. Gray, who translated for Lee the Philosophia Botanica of Linnæus, and assisted in the composition of the Introduction to Botany. Gray studied at St Bartholomew's and other hospitals for the medical profession, but was attracted to the more enlivening pursuit of botany, on which he wrote and lectured. At an early age he assisted his father by collecting notes on botany and comparative anatomy and zoology in Sir Joseph Banks's library at the British Museum, aided by Dr W. E. Leach, assistant-keeper. The systematic synopsis of the Natural Arrangement of British Plants, 2 vols., 1821, was prepared by him, his father writing the preface and introduction only. This work, which introduced the natural system of plants on Jussieu's plan to the student of English botany, gave offence to the Linnean Society, who rejected Gray's application for a fellowship in 1822. Chafed at this unmerited rebuff, he turned to the study of zoology, writing on zoophytes, shells, Mollusca, and Papilionidæ, still aided by Dr Leach at the British Museum. In December 1824 Gray obtained the post of assistant in that institution; and from that date to December 1839, when Mr J. G. Children retired from the keepership, he had so zealously applied himself to the study, classification, and improvement of the national collection of zoology that he was selected as the fittest person to be entrusted with its charge. Immediately on his appointment as keeper, Gray took in hand the revision of the systematic arrangement of the collections; scientific catalogues followed in rapid succession; the department was raised in importance; its poverty as well as its wealth became known, and whilst increased grants, donations, and exchanges made good many deficiencies, great numbers of students, foreign as well as English, availed themselves of its resources to enlarge the knowledge of zoology in all its branches. Gray found the representatives of the animal kingdom confusedly huddled together in old Montagu House; and the science of zoology was just then emerging from infancy, with little public support to foster it. But, in spite of numerous obstacles, he worked up the department, within a few years of his appointment as keeper, to such a state of excellence as to make it the rival of the cabinets of Leyden, Paris, and Berlin; and later on it was raised under his management to the dignity of the largest and most complete zoological collection in the world. The extensive acquaintance which he had obtained with practical zoology, his love of the subject, close application, and original views, his skill and accuracy of observation, his readiness to impart the information he had acquired to any one who sought it, and above all his marvellous industry, place Gray in the foremost rank of naturalists. It has been said that he tried to accomplish too much, that he wrote hurriedly and paid little attention to anatomy; but it must be remembered that he laboured for the past generation, not among the one-subject men of the present age. He did his work nobly, though somewhat roughly; and it will ever be appreciated by generous men of science. His eagerness for controversy, and the outspoken plainness with which he asserted his views, sometimes brought him into unpleasant relations with those he had to do with. Of this the catalogue dispute with Panizzi, and the gorilla dispute with Du Chaillu, Owen, and others, are well-known instances. Although seized with paralysis in 1870, Gray continued to discharge the functions of keeper of zoology, and to contribute papers to the Annals of Natural History, his favourite journal, and to the transactions of a few of the learned societies. At Christmas 1874, having completed half a century of official work, he resigned office; and on the 7th of March 1875 this indefatigable naturalist expired.

Gray was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1832; in 1852 the honorary degree of doctor of philosophy of the university of Munich was conferred upon him, in recognition of his formation of the largest zoological collection in Europe; and in 1860 the king of Würtemberg, desiring to mark the estimation in which he held Gray, who had declined an offer of knighthood, bestowed upon him the gold medal of merit. He was a president of the Entomological Society, vice-president of the Zoological and Microscopical Societies, fellow of the Geographical and Palæontological Society, in the formation of which he took part; he was president of the Botanical Society, and also a fellow of the Linnean and Geological Societies; he founded the Greenwich Society of Useful Knowledge; and he was an honorary or corresponding member of numerous foreign societies and academies. He was deputy-chairman of the section of the animal and vegetable substances of the Exhibition of 1851, and a juror of the educational section of the Exhibition of 1862. He took an active part in questions of public importance of his day, such as slave emancipation, prison discipline, abolition of imprisonment for debt, sanitary and municipal organizations, the decimal system, public education, extension of the opening of public institutions, &c.

Works.—Dr Gray commenced to publish in 1820, and continued till the year of his death. He began with an Historical Sketch of the Improvements in Comparative Anatomy and Zoology in 1819, and ended with a paper "On the Madagascar River-Hog (Potamochærus), and on the skulls of the three species of the genus," Ann. N. H., xv., 1875. The titles of the books, memoirs, and miscellaneous papers written by him, accompanied by a few notes, fill a privately printed list of 56 octavo pages. The more important of the books, besides those already mentioned, are:—Synopsis of the species of the class Mammalia, 1827 (Griffith's Cuvier, vol. v.); Illustrations of Indian Zoology, 2 vols., 1830-35; A Synopsis of the species of the class Reptilia, 1830 (Cuvier, ix.); Zoological Miscellany, 1831-45; Synopsis Reptilium, 1831; A Descriptive Catalogue of Recent and Fossil Shells, 1832; Turton's Manual of the Land and Freshwater Shells of the British Islands (new ed.), 1840; List of the Specimens of Mammalia in the British Museum, 1843; Catalogue of Tortoises, &c., 1844; Systematic Catalogue of British Land and Freshwater Shells, 1844; Catalogue of Specimens of Lizards, 1845; Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall (superintended at the request of the late earl of Derby), 1846-50; List of the genera of recent Mollusca, 1847; List of Osteological Specimens, 1847, of British Sponges, Radiated Animals (Centroniæ), of British Radiata, separate, 1848; Catalogue of Mollusca,1849-50; Catalogue and Reptiles (Snakes), 1849; Catalogue of Fish (Chondropterygia), 1850; Catalogue of Mammalia (Cetacea, Seals, Hoofed Quadrupeds), 1850–1852; Catalogue of Amphibia, 1850; Catalogue of Bivalve Mollusca, 1850-53; List of Fish (Cartilaginous), of British Fish, separate, 1851; List of British Mollusca and Shells, 1851; Catalogue of Echinidæ or Sea-Eggs, 1851; Catalogue of Phaneropneumona (with L. Pfeiffer), 1852; Catalogue of Fish collected and described by L. T. Gronov, 1854; Catalogue of Shield Reptiles, 1855-72; Catalogue of the recent Echinida, 1855; Catalogue of Pulmonata (with L. Pfeiffer), 1855; Guide to the collection of Mollusca, 1856; Catalogue of Apodal Fish, by Dr J. J. Kaup, translated and edited by Gray, 1856; Catalogue of Auriculidæ, 1857; Systematic arrangement of figures of Conchifera and Brachiopoda, 1857; List of Mollusca, 1858; Handbook of British Waterweeds, or Algæ (with W. Carruthers), 1864; Salisbury's Genera of Plants, edited by Gray, 1866; Catalogue of Seals and Whales, 1866-71; Synopsis of Species of Starfish, 1866; Synopsis of species of Whales and Dolphins, 1868; Catalogue of Carnivorous, Pachydermatous, and Edentate Mammalia, 1869; Catalogue of Monkeys, Lemurs, and Fruit-eating Bats, 1870; Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles, 1872 (re-edited); Hand-list of Seals, Morses, Sea-Lions, and Sea-Bears, 1874.