Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/549

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
533
THE PHILADELPHIA ACADEMY.

might be supposed to resemble something, but generally not the thing intended. But with the gradual intellectual development of the world these collections became more and more systematic and useful, and the resulting publications acquired a higher character, discarding fiction and old wives' tales, and presenting only facts acquired by observation. About the middle of the last century arose a man, Carl Linné (or Carolus Linnæus), abundantly blessed with the powers of generalization, who, by introducing system into the previous chaotic mass, placed the study of nature on a firm foundation; and from his time the progress of natural science has been astonishing. Naturalists immediately arose in all parts of the civilized globe, collectors were sent to those parts which were so unfortunate as not to be civilized, and soon almost every city in Europe boasted a museum.

America, however, was a young country, and, between its wars with the Indians and with England, its settlers had but little time to devote to study. An occasional naturalist from Europe landed on its shores to explore its wonders, and isolated persons made collections, which were duly forwarded to the Old World. It was not until some time after the Revolution that America possessed a single museum. Probably the first was Peale's Museum, in Philadelphia, which was established in the last century, and where might have been seen side by side a mastodon and a machine for producing perpetual motion. The Museum of the East India Marine Society, at Salem, Massachusetts, was begun but a few years later, and until a dozen years ago retained many of the characteristics of those comparatively primitive times.

Leaving these early museums, with their lack of system, the first which was strictly scientific was that of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and to give a brief account of that institution is the object of the present paper.

Before the War of 1812 Philadelphia was the only city in the Union which could make the slightest pretensions to being a scientific center; the Bartons, Bartrams, and Muhlenberg, were enthusiastic botanists; William Maclure had just published his "Geology of the United States"; and Alexander Wilson had just begun his "American Ornithology," which was left unfinished at the author's death. During the year 1812 several young men occasionally met for the purpose of mutual amusement and instruction, and at one of these meetings the project of a scientific society was proposed, discussed, and finally (January 12, 1812) Drs. Gerard Troost and C. M. Mann, and Messrs. Jacob Gilliams, John Shinn, N. D. Parmentier, and John Speakman, met at the house of the latter and instituted the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Thomas Say joined them a few weeks later, but has always been regarded as one of the founders.

Dr. Troost was a native of Holland, and for a time was a pupil of the celebrated mineralogist, the Abbé Haüy. Subsequently he was sent by Louis Bonaparte, then King of Holland, to Java as naturalist,