Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/November 1881/Sketch of George Jarvis Brush
By Professor T. R. LOUNSBURY.
PROFESSOR GEORGE J. BRUSH was born in Brooklyn, New York, on the 15th of December, 1831. His father was a merchant in that city, but in 1835, retiring from business, took up his residence in Danbury, Connecticut. There the family remained till 1841, when they returned to Brooklyn; and in the schools of these two places Mr. Brush received his early education. It was not, however, until 1846, when he was sent to a school in West Cornwall, Connecticut, that he had an opportunity to pay any special attention to science. This school was kept by Mr. Theodore S. Gold, who was an enthusiastic student of mineralogy, botany, and of various other departments of natural history; and he not only gave instructions to his pupils in these subjects, but succeeded in inspiring them with a taste for them. Although young Brush was at this place only six months, he remained long enough to acquire a fondness for natural science, which in the end resulted in changing his course in life. He intended to pursue a business career; and, accordingly, on leaving the school at West Cornwall, entered, in the latter part of 1846, the counting-house of a merchant in Maiden Lane, New York City. There he remained for nearly two years, but the taste for scientific study already acquired did not desert him, and, in particular, he took advantage of every opportunity that came in his way to go off upon mineralogical excursions. A severe illness that befell him in 1848 rendered it necessary that he should abandon the mercantile profession, and it was decided that he should take up in its place the life of a farmer.
Just about this time Professor John P. Norton returned from Germany, and in conjunction with Professor Silliman, Jr., opened at Yale College a laboratory for the purpose of practical instruction in the applications of science to the arts and to agriculture. At the same time he began a course of lectures on agriculture and agricultural chemistry. To attend these lectures, to fit himself as thoroughly as possible for the life of a farmer, Professor Brush, not as yet seventeen years old, repaired to New Haven in October, 1848. This event changed his career. He came to attend a single course of lectures on agriculture. He remained two years as a student of chemistry and mineralogy. In October, 1850, he went to Louisville, Kentucky, as assistant to Benjamin Silliman, Jr., who had been elected Professor of Chemistry in the university of that city. There he remained the following winter, and in March, 1851, made one of the party who accompanied the elder Silliman on a somewhat extended tour in Europe. Returning to Louisville in the autumn of that year, he continued acting in his old capacity until the spring of 1852. Then he returned to New Haven. At the time he was a student, no degrees were granted by the college merely for proficiency in science. There was a general feeling that the pursuit of it, like the pursuit of virtue, was its own reward. But through the exertions of Professor Norton the corporation of the college voted to create the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, and to grant it to those of the old students in the department of science who would come back and pass a satisfactory examination. Accordingly, Mr. Brush returned, and, after undergoing examination, received, with six others, at the commencement of 1852, the degree of Ph. B., the first time it was given by the college.
The academic year 1852-'53 was now spent by him at the University of Virginia, where he was employed as assistant in the chemical department. Here he was associated with Professor J. Lawrence Smith in a series of special studies, the object of which was to reexamine a number of American minerals which had been described as new species. The results of their joint investigations were published in the fifteenth and sixteenth volumes of the "American Journal of Science," second series. At the end of the academic year Professor Brush went to New York, where he was associated with Professor Silliman, Jr., in charge of the mining and mineral departments of the Universal Exposition held that year in the city. But he now began to feel the necessity of pursuing his studies to an extent which he was not able to do in this country, especially at that time. Accordingly, in 1853, he sailed for Europe, and, during one year at the University of Munich, devoted himself to chemistry and mineralogy under Liebig, Von Kobell, and Pettenkofer. The year following that of 1854-'55—he spent at the Royal Mining Academy in Freiburg, Saxony.
Just about this time an effort was being made at New Haven to put the scientific department of Yale College in a more satisfactory position than it had previously held. To the building of it up Professor Norton had sacrificed time and money, and, at last, his life; and, after the loss it sustained in his early death, it for a while continued to exist rather than to live. Outside of a very small circle, nobody cared for it, and it might at any moment have dropped entirely out of being, and the larger portion of the academic world would not have known enough of it even to regret its death. Modern science is so aggressive, it occupies so prominent a position both in the theory and practice of education, that it is hard for us now to realize how low was the estimation in which it was held in this country, even less than thirty years ago. The academic department of Yale College numbered at that period among its faculty the names of some men of science who were held in honor throughout the country. Their reputation, in fact, rather overshadowed that of most of their colleagues in other branches. Still, so strong was the influence of ancient tradition, that the prevailing college sentiment reflected the views and feelings of the past, and very little those of the present; it did not begin to have even a conception of what was in store in the future. The student might or might not learn Latin and Greek; but, whichever was the case, he left the institution with a profound respect for them both, and usually the degree of his respect was fairly proportioned to the degree of his ignorance. It was not at all so in the case of the natural sciences, in spite of the eminence of some of its professors. Nor in the academic body as a whole was there then the least comprehension of what may be termed the solidarity of studies—that community of honor and dishonor in which they share, which renders it impossible for any one of them to be unduly depreciated without having some injurious effect upon the development of all the rest.
Still, the necessity of doing something more than had been done was beginning to be felt; and in a feeble way efforts were put forth to prepare for what the blindest could not fail to see was the inevitable. In 1854 an attempt was made at organization. The scattered instruction given by individual professors was brought together in the catalogue, though nowhere else; and an institution under the somewhat imposing name of the Yale Scientific School existed at least on paper. There was then no money with which to endow it; it is safe to say that, had there been, none would have been voted. But in one respect the corporation did a service to the new department they had created greater than could have been rendered by any pecuniary assistance that lay in their power. At the commencement of 1855 they elected Mr. Brush to a professorship.
He was first offered the chair of mining and metallurgy; but this he declined as embracing too much, and the title was limited to that of metallurgy alone. This, several years after, was exchanged for that of mineralogy. To qualify himself still further for the position, the newly-elected Professor went, in the autumn of 1855, to London, where he pursued his studies in the Royal School of Mines. The following year he made an extended tour through the mines and smelting-works of England, Scotland, Wales, Belgium, Germany, and Austria. In December, 1856, he returned to this country, and, in January, 1857, he entered upon the duties of his professorship.
From this time on the history of Professor Brush has been the history of the special scientific department of Yale College, which, in 1860, owing to the liberal benefactions of Mr. Joseph E. Sheffield, received the name of the Sheffield Scientific School. He came to it while it was not only without reputation, but without appreciation or expectation. He came to it while it was poor beyond even that decent poverty which apparently belongs, in the nature of things, to institutions of learning—while it was in a state so unorganized that as a whole it could hardly be said to have a being at all. It exhibited, indeed, a good deal of life in the college catalogue, but beyond that its vitality did not extend. There was vigor enough in certain of its departments, especially in that of civil engineering, under the charge of Professor William A. Norton; but in such cases it was a vigor due to the energy of the individual instructor, and therefore almost certain to disappear whenever he disappeared. To bring these scattered units into an organic whole, to build up a complete and consistent scheme of scientific education, which should have both definite and lofty aims, which should train men thoroughly in scientific methods, and which should continue to exist by its own inherent vitality after the men who established it should have passed away—all this became by degrees a main work of Professor Brush's life. His energy, his judgment, his executive capacity, and his devotion, soon gave him the leading direction in the affairs of the institution. He was for a long period its secretary; he has always been its treasurer; and when, in 1872, a more formal organization of its faculty was felt to be desirable, he was elected as its presiding officer, a position which he still retains. Others have done their part toward developing various departments of the school, but its growth, as a whole, the position which it has acquired among scientific institutions, whatever that position may be, has been due to him very much more than to any other one man connected with it. None are more willing to admit this than the colleagues who have coöperated with him; and it is a gratification for them to have an opportunity of saying here, without his knowledge, what would never be suffered to be printed were it submitted to his inspection.
Nor has Professor Brush been idle in his special work, in spite of the exhausting demands made upon his time and thought by the management of the Sheffield Scientific School. The series of investigations made by him on American minerals, in conjunction with Professor J. Lawrence Smith, has already been mentioned. He coöperated with Professor Dana in the preparation of the fifth edition of his treatise on "Descriptive Mineralogy," published in 1868, and an account of his special services in connection with that work will be found stated in the author's preface. To the two editions preceding, as well as to this one, he contributed analyses of minerals. He also edited the eighth, ninth, and tenth supplements to this fifth edition, as well as the appendix to it published in 1872. In 1875 he brought out also a "Manual of Determinative Mineralogy and Blowpipe Analysis." In addition to these he has been a constant contributor to the "American Journal of Science," as will be seen by the following list of articles furnished by him to that periodical:
Vol. x, p. 370: "Analyses of American Spodumene."
Vol. i, p. 28: "On Gahnite from New Jersey."
In 1878 a new and remarkable mineral locality at Branchville, Fairfield County, Connecticut, was discovered; and, in connection with Professor Edward S. Dana, Professor Brush produced a series of papers on the new minerals there found. These papers are contained in the "American Journal of Science," third series, vol. xv, pp. 398, 481; vol. xvi, pp. 33, 114; vol. xvii, p. 359; vol. xviii, p. 45, and vol. xix, p. 316; and in them are described the new phosphates—Eosphorite, Triploidite, Dickinsonite, Lithiophilite, Reddingite, Fairfieldite, and Fillowite. In conjunction also with Professor E. S. Dana he contributed to the same journal a memoir on "Spodumene and its Alterations" (xx, 257), and a paper on "Crystallized Danburite from Russell, New York" (xxi).
In 1862 Professor Brush was made a corresponding member of the Royal Bavarian Academy of Sciences; in 1866 a member of the Im-' perial Mineralogical Society of St. Petersburg; and in 1877 a foreign correspondent of the Geological Society of London. He is also a member of the American Philosophical Society, of the National Academy of Sciences, and of various other scientific bodies in this country. In 1880, at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Boston, he was elected its president for the following year, and in that capacity presided over the meeting held in August, 1881, at Cincinnati.