Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/May 1881/Sketch of Edward D. Cope

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



THOUGH still a young man, having just entered on his prime, Professor Cope is widely known for his enthusiasm and industry in scientific pursuits. Already he has accomplished an amount of original work in his chosen field of investigation that would do credit to an ordinary lifetime, and that justly entitles him to the place he now holds among the foremost of American biologists.

Edward Drinker Cope was born in the city of Philadelphia, in 1840. He is of English and French descent, and his ancestry on both sides is represented by names once prominent in the histories of their respective countries. As a boy he was particularly interested in scientific studies, and also showed an early aptitude in the use of language, which has since developed into that remarkable power of lucid and fluent expression, even on the most abstruse of topics, for which he is now distinguished. He began to write on his favorite subjects when only sixteen; but, as he was then occupied with what others had done, and presumably had nothing new to say, his writing attracted little if any public attention before he was twenty-five. After eighteen he studied with a private tutor; subsequently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania; studied comparative anatomy in the Academy of Sciences of Philadelphia, in the Smithsonian Institution in 1859, and in Europe in 1863-'64; and became Professor of Natural Science in Haverford College in 1866. The most important part of his scientific work is comprised in his paleontological studies, and the papers he has prepared concerning them. He began his explorations in field geology in the Cretaceous green-sand of New Jersey in 1866, where he discovered fifty-eight species of vertebrates new to science, including the remarkable dinosaur, Loelaps aquilungis. Next he turned his attention to the Miocene strata of Maryland and North Carolina, where he found many cetaceans, of which half the species were new, and some were of great size. He also surveyed the Trias of the Atlantic slope, and contributed, by the identification of the genus Belodon, of Von Meyer, in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, to fix the determination of its age. In 1868 he was engaged, in connection with the geological survey of Ohio, in the examination of the characters of the air-breathing vertebrates, of which he determined thirty-four species of fourteen genera, and defined the order Stegocephali.

His Western explorations were begun in 1870, when he visited the Cretaceous region of western Kansas, and found there some remarkable forms of fish, and the Liodon and Elasmosaurus, the largest known swimming saurians. His next excursion was for the exploration in 1872 of the Eocene Bad Lands of the tributaries of Green River, in Wyoming Territory. Mr. J. King at one time made these beds Miocene, but Professor Cope claims to be the first to determine that they were Eocene. He found in them the remains of a huge mammal, with three pairs of osseous horns, or processes, on the skull, to which he gave the name of Loxolophodon cornutus. From this and other material, obtained at the time, he was able to determine the true character of the Dinocerata, and to refer the groups to the Proboscidæ as a sub-order. In the next year, as paleontologist of Dr. Hayden's Survey of the Territories, he conducted an expedition into northeast Colorado for the exploration of the White River beds. Among his discoveries here were five species of the new genus Symborodon, creatures of gigantic size, with long, horn-like processes on the front of the skull, and another animal about as large as a squirrel. In 1874, as paleontologist to Lieutenant Wheeler's geographical surveys, he took part in studying the geology of northwestern and central New Mexico. The geology of the Northwest region, which, in the estimation of Professor Cope, had been previously misunderstood, was developed, and a great tract of Eocene sedimentary rocks identified. A rich vertebrate fauna was found, in its main features identical with the Suessonian of Western Europe. The primitive type of the carnivora was first defined under the name Creadonta, and a gigantic bird also discovered. The same expedition explored the red beds of the Rocky Mountains and the Loup Fork bed of the Santa Fé. In 1875 Professor Cope determined that the vertebrates of this formation were reptiles and not mammals, as had been supposed, and their age was therefore set down as cretaceous instead of tertiary. This expedition, together with the previous one in the same horizon in Colorado, yielded forty new species, many of which were dinosaurs of high organization. Some of the herbivorous forms were found to have an exceedingly complex dentition, arranged in magazines, containing in some instances as many as two thousand teeth. A new group of saurians and several batrachians were also discovered. Explorations were begun in the Jurassic beds of the upper Arkansas River, in 1877, which yielded some of the largest crocodilians known. Other expeditions were sent out into the Permian regions of Texas and into Montana and Nebraska. In the latter he discovered a new geological horizon between White River (lower) and Loup Fork (upper) Miocene, from which several species of peculiar character were obtained. Two expeditions to explore the Loup Fork beds of Kansas obtained numerous reptiles, and mammals, including horses, camels, a new mastodon, and two new rhinoceroses. Explorations in Oregon were begun by parties sent out in 1877, and Professor Cope visited the field in 1879, partly to examine the material that had been collected, among which he found many fine specimens, and partly to study the Pliocene deposit of that region, which was found remarkable for the prodigious number of the bones of birds it contained and for the occurrence of flint implements. In all of these expeditions six hundred and thirty-five new species were discovered, including one hundred fishes, one hundred and seventy-five reptiles, ten birds, and three hundred and fifty mammals, from which have been constituted the extinct orders Actinochiri (fishes), Stegocephali (batrachians), Charistodera, Pythonomorpha, and Theromorpha (reptiles), Tæniodonta, Credonta, and Amblypoda (mammals).

Professor Cope has also contributed to the definite determination of the relative ages of the horizons of the interior of the continent as named by American geologists, and to their reference to corresponding horizons on the European scale, beginning with the Permian and including the Niobrara and Laramie Cretaceous, the Wahsatch, Bridger, White River, Truckee, Loup Fork, and Pliocene Tertiary formations.

The scientific writings of Professor Cope are quite voluminous, and mainly technical in character. They relate to a variety of departments of natural history. The full list of them includes nearly three hundred titles of papers which have been published in the official reports of the Government surveys, the proceedings of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, of the American Philosophical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in the "American Journal of Science and Arts," the "American Naturalist," the "Penn Monthly," and through other channels. By far the largest number of these papers relate to the reptiles and fishes discovered in the different geological formations, extending from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains, in the surveys of which he has participated. Probably the next largest number concern the cetaceans and mammalia of those formations. About a dozen of them relate to the reptiles and fishes of tropical America; half as many embody studies of the fauna, living and fossil, of caves. Many papers describe living reptiles and fishes. More than thirty papers, published separately in advance by Professor Cope as "Paleontological Bulletins," were included in the official reports of the Government geological surveys of the Territories as special reports of the departments of the work which were assigned to him, including general geology, and the identification, classification, and descriptions of new fossils and species. Among papers which do not fall exactly under any of these heads may be mentioned those "On the Fresh-Water Origin of Certain Deposits in West New Jersey"; "The Birds of Palestine and Panama compared"; "On some New and Little known Myriapoda from the Southern Alleghanies"; "Intelligence in Monkeys"; "The Significance of Paleontology"; "Biological Research in the United States"; articles on "Osteology" and "Comparative Anatomy" in Johnson's "Cyclopædia"; "Excursions of the Geological Society of France"; "The Fauna of the Lowest Tertiary of France"; "A New Deer from Indiana"; "The Modern Museum"; "Pliocene Man," etc. His papers on evolution form a separate department. Professor Cope has been a diligent student of this subject, and has opinions of his own upon it. Among his principal contributions to its literature are: "On the Origin of Genera" (1868); "Method of Creation of Organic Types" (1871); "Evolution and its Consequences" (1872); "Homologies and Origin of the Molar Teeth of Mammalia Educabilia" (1874); "Consciousness in Evolution" (1875); "Relation of Man to Tertiary Mammalia" (1875); "On the Theory of Evolution" (1876); "The Origin of the Will" (1877); "The Relation of Animal Motion to Animal Evolution" (1878); and "A Review of the Modern Doctrine of Evolution" (1879).

Professor Cope was for a long time Secretary and Curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences, of Philadelphia, and was chief of the Department of Organic Material of the Permanent Exposition of that city. He received the Bigsby gold medal of the Royal Geological Society of Great Britain in 1879; is a member of the Geological Society of France, and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.