Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/July 1872/Prof. James D. Dana
|PROF. JAMES D. DANA.|
MODERN science, in giving rise to a new order of knowledge, fundamentally contrasted with the older eruditions, among its numerous influences cannot fail to give us a more satisfactory basis for the estimation of mental character and attainment. In proportion as the later knowledge is definite, positive, and universally accepted, does it become a better standard by which the intellectual greatness of men may be judged. In no sphere of mental performance can a man's work be brought to such decisive tests as in science. Each department has its special and authoritative cultivators who subject all new ideas to an inexorable ordeal of verification. While, in the various fields of literature and art, reputations may be made with little regard to substantive merit, because their appeal is to taste and feeling, and the canons of criticism are uncertain, in science, on the other hand, the rules of judgment are unmistakable, and men are measured by the quality and extent of what they have really accomplished. Human nature is, of course, imperfect, and in science, as elsewhere, its imperfections may
often interfere with the awards of justice; but here, more than anywhere else, errors of personality are eliminated by the impersonal tribunal to which all questions are at last referred. A pretty definite idea is conveyed, when it is said that a man has "mastered a science." He must have made himself familiar with a certain body of facts and principles, with their historic growth and their degree of development. But the familiarity here implied is not that which is current in the walks of literature. It is not to be gained merely by reading. It implies a direct knowledge of the phenomena themselves—knowledge at first hand—and the exactions in this sphere of thought go further still. A man cannot be said to have mastered a science until he has thoroughly possessed himself of its method of research, and proved this thoroughness by successful, original work. He must have contributed to its advancement, to its original stock of observations and inductions, and done it so effectually that those who stand highest shall recognize the validity and value of his work. This condition being complied with, the number of sciences that have been successfully pursued, and the degree of their complexity, become fair measures of the mental breadth, grasp, and power of the minds engaged upon them. Humboldt was preeminent because of his conquest of many sciences. Helmholtz has a high place in European science because he is confessedly strong in mathematics, physics, and physiology, and has combined the researches of these sciences in carrying on his original investigations. Judged by this standard, the subject of the present sketch must be assigned an eminent position in American science, as he is an acknowledged master in the three extensive departments of mineralogy, geology, and zoology, having made original investigations of great value in all these fields of study.
Prof. Dana was born, in 1813, in Utica, New York, where he passed the first years of his life. He seems to have had an early inclination to the sciences, as at seventeen years of age he entered Yale College, attracted by the fame of Prof. Silliman (Sr.), the distinguished pioneer in American science. During the regular course of study at New Haven, Mr. Dana evinced an especial love for the natural sciences, without neglecting philological and mathematical pursuits, in the latter of which he was distinguished. He was graduated with honor, Bachelor of Arts, in 1833, and about the same time received the appointment of teacher of mathematics to midshipmen in the Navy of the United States. In that capacity, he sailed to the Mediterranean, in the United States ship-of-the-line Delaware, returning in 1835. During the two years following, he acted at Yale College as assistant to the distinguished professor whose successor in office he afterward became.
In December, 1836, he was appointed mineralogist and geologist of the Exploring Expedition then about to be sent by the Government of the United States to the Southern and Pacific Oceans. The five vessels of the squadron, under the command of Commodore Wilkes, sailed in 1838, on a voyage around the world. After extensive explorations, and suffering shipwreck, moreover, at the mouth of the Columbia River, in Oregon, Mr. Dana returned home in 1842. The rare opportunities which this voyage afforded for scientific observation had been well improved. During the thirteen years after its termination, he was engaged in preparing for publication the various reports of this expedition committed to his charge.
Mr. Dana resided at Washington from 1842 to 1844, and then returned to New Haven, Connecticut, where he, soon after, married Henrietta Frances, third daughter of Prof. Benjamin Silliman, and where he has since resided. Before going to the Pacific, he published, in 1837, the first edition of his "Mineralogy," of which the fifth and last edition appeared in 1868. This is a work of high repute, both in America and Europe.
His first publication connected with his observations in the Exploring Expedition was a "Report on Zoophytes," which appeared in 1846, a quarto volume of 740 pages, with an atlas of 61 folio plates. In this work Mr. Dana reviewed the whole department of Polypes, combining his own observations with those of earlier authors, and proposed a new classification, bringing, for the first time, the Actiniae and the Alcyonoid Polypes into their true relations to the Astræeoid Polypes. The number of new species which he describes is 230.
The second work in the same series was a "Report on the Geology of the Pacific," published in 1849, a quarto volume of 756 pages, with an atlas of 21 plates. This work presents a view not only of the geology of parts of Australia, Western America, and the islands of the Pacific, but also treats at length, and with original views, of Volcanic Phenomena, Coral Reefs and Islands, and the General Features of the Globe.
The third work pertaining to this Government Exploring Expedition was a "Report on Crustacea," which appeared in 1852-'54—the text, 1,620 pages quarto; the atlas, 96 plates in folio: 680 species are described in this work, of which 658 are new. The subjects of Classification and Geographical Distribution receive in it special attention. These reports were published by the Government of the United States, and only 200 copies of each have thus far been issued. With few exceptions, the drawings in these atlases were made by Mr. Dana himself.
While engaged in preparing the last two of these reports, Mr. Dana has been the active editor of the American Journal of Science and Arts, founded in 1819, by Prof. Silliman, Sr., and well known as the great repository of the scientific labors of their countrymen. To this journal, which has now in 1872 reached its 103d volume, as well as to the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in Boston, the Lyceum of Natural History, of New York, and the my of Natural Sciences, of Philadelphia, Mr. Dana has contributed various important memoirs.
Soon after the resignation by Prof. Silliman of the chair of Chemistry and Geology in Yale College, Mr. Dana entered, in 1835, on the duties of the office of Silliman Professor of Natural History and Geology in that institution, to which place he had been elected in 1850; his brother-in-law, Prof. Benjamin Silliman, Jr., having been appointed to the chair of Chemistry. Prof. Dana is now engaged in discharging the duties of his professorship, and in editing the American Journal of Science.
In 1854 he was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, having been for many years one of the Standing Committee of that body; and in August, 1855, he delivered the annual address before that Association at its meeting in Providence.
Besides the works already referred to, Prof. Dana is the author of the following publications: "Manual of Mineralogy," 432 pp., 12mo. New Haven, 1851. 2d ed., 1857. "Manual of Geology," 1862. Rev. ed., 1869. 800 pp. "On Coral Reefs and Islands." 8 vol, 144 pp. New York, 1853.
Mr. Dana's more important papers, in the American Journal of Science and Arts, are:
First Series, vol. xxx., 275, "On the Formation of Twin Crystals." xxxiv., 225, "Anatomy of the Caligus Americanus." xlv., 131, 310, "Areas of Subsidence in the Pacific indicated by the Distribution of Coral Reefs and Islands." xlix., 49, "Origin of the Constituent and Adventitious Minerals of Trap-rocks."
Second Series, ii., 335, "On the Volcanoes of the Moon." iii., 94, 176, 381; iv., 88, "On the Geological Effects of the Earth's Contraction and Origin of Continents." iv., 364; v., 100, "On Cohesive Attraction." ix., 220, 407, "On Isomorphism and Atomic Volume in some Minerals." xvi., 153, 314, "Isothermal Chart of the Ocean." xvii., 35, 210, 430, "Homœomorphism among Minerals." xviii., 85, 131, "Homœomorphism of Minerals of the Trimetric System." xviii., 314; xix., 6; xx., 168, 349, "Geographical Distribution of Crustacea." xxii., 305, 335, "Plan of Development in American Geological History." xxv., "On Cephalization." Continued in vols, xxxv., xxxvi., xxxvii., and xli. xliv., 89, 252,398, "Connection between Crystalline Form and Chemical Constitution."
Third Series, i., 1; ii., 233, 305, 324, "On Glacial Phenomena in New England, and the Source of the New England Glacier."
In 1856-57 Prof. Dana published, in the Bibliotheca Sacra, a series of four articles, entitled "Science and the Bible," called forth by a work of Prof. Tayler Lewis, on the "Six Days of Creation."
Prof. Dana's last work, "Corals and Coral Islands," 398 pages, with 279 cuts, is just published (1872).