Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/September 1883/Sketch of Sir William E. Logan, LL.D., F.G.S.

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JAMES LOGAN, the grandfather of Sir William, came to Montreal from the parish of Stirling, Scotland, about 1784, bringing his wife and two sons. He established himself as a baker in that city, the occupation he had followed at home, and was assisted in the business by his older son William, then a young man. After a few years, Miss Janet E. Edmond came to Montreal from Scotland, and was married to her cousin William. The third of their nine children, William Edmond Logan, the subject of this sketch, was born April 20, 1798. The first school to which he was sent was one kept by a Scotchman in Montreal; but, in 1814, he and one of his brothers were sent over to Scotland and placed in an advanced class in the Edinburgh High School. The studies of the school were mainly classical. During his two years here, young William was much of the time "dux" of his class, and won several prizes. In the mean time his father, leaving his oldest son to manage the business in Montreal, had removed the rest of the family to Edinburgh. During the academic year 1816-'17 William attended classes in logic, chemistry, and mathematics, at the University of Edinburgh. He continued here the diligence which he had manifested at school, and carried off the first prize in mathematics, "with the good-will of all the competitors."

Preferring to enter mercantile business rather than to continue longer at the university, he went to London in 1817, being then nineteen years old, to take a position in the counting-house of his uncle. But he did not give up literary pursuits, for, in a letter written to his brother in Montreal a few months later, he thus describes his avocations: "Part of the day I read Italian and French, write versions in those languages, and generally in the evening translate 'Gil Blas' with Alexander Gillespie, Jr., who, by-the-by, is the greatest companion I have here. Now and then I have a look at Homer and Cicero, and mathematics is not neglected. Indeed, I carry on a correspondence with one of my fellow-collegians, Mr. Cockayne, who resides in the north of England. He sends me propositions, which, after having solved, I return to him with the demonstrations, annexing at the same time propositions to exercise his knowledge of geometry. This, in my opinion, is a rational and useful means of keeping up an acquaintance. Sometimes the flute amuses me, and I hope you have not given up playing on that instrument." In his younger days, as his biographer tells us, Logan was an excellent correspondent. "But, not satisfied with writing often himself, he frequently urges his brothers or sisters to do likewise, and sometimes, by way of encouragement, praises the letters which he receives. . . . In this way, and by regularly causing the letters which he himself received to circulate among other members of the family, he aided in keeping alive that union and interest in family affairs which so often cease when the children grow up and become scattered."

Young Logan had abundant opportunities to gratify his musical tastes while in London, and his years there seem to have passed very pleasantly. He lived in his uncle's family, until the latter gave up his London residence, but he seems to have welcomed this change as giving him a chance to devote more time to business and to lead a quieter life. In 1826 he made a short visit to Paris, and wrote to his brother James some very lively impressions of the faculty for display of the French people.

A few years later, Logan's uncle became interested in mining and smelting operations in Wales, and young Logan was sent down to keep the accounts of the establishment. "But you may be assured," he writes, "I shall spare no pains to make myself master of every branch of the business; and, as it is of a scientific nature, I am pretty sure I shall like it." The study of the minerals with which his business was directly concerned—copper and coal—awakened in him an interest in mineralogy and geology. He studied the question of how the coal-seams were formed, and devoted a large share of his scanty leisure to making a geological map of the district. His drawings were offered to Sir Henry de la Beche, when the latter began his government survey in that region, and Sir Henry gladly availed himself of them, giving due credit to Logan. While he remained in its vicinity, Loo-an did much for the museum of the Royal Institution of South Wales, and held the positions of Honorary Secretary and Curator of the Geological Department. He presented to it valuable collections of minerals and metallurgical products, laboratory apparatus, drawings, and a collection of Canadian birds. Logan rapidly became 'known among British geologists, and in 1837 was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society. The next year his uncle died, and Logan gave up his position in the Morriston copper-works.

The problem of the formation of coal-strata, which had engaged Logan's attention, was at this time far from settled, one party firmly maintaining that the carbonaceous matter had collected as drift-wood collects; another, that the seams were deposited like peat in the swamps. "In these circumstances," says his biographer, Professor Harrington, "Logan had the sagacity to observe and turn to account a fact which has settled forever the question of the origin of coal, in favor of the theory of growth in situ. Under eighty or more coal seams, which occur in the Welsh coal-field, the miners had observed the invariable presence of a bed of more or less tenacious and bleached clay, which they called the 'under-clay' of the coal, and which was often of practical importance as affording facilities for under-cutting the coal. The constancy of this fact Logan confirmed by his own observations, and added to it the further and important discovery that in all these under-clays there occurred abundance of remains of the peculiar plant known as Stigmaria, in such circumstances as to show that the plant was in situ, and not drifted. In February, 1840, Mr. Logan communicated his results to the Geological Society of London, in a paper entitled "On the Characters of the Beds of Clay immediately below the Coal-Seams of South Wales."

In his letters from Wales to his brother James, Logan had repeatedly asked for specimens of the Canada minerals, and had expressed the wish to examine for himself the rocks of his native region. Accordingly, in the summer of 1840, he left England for Canada. During his year's visit to America, he made geological studies in the neighborhood of Montreal, in Maine, and, just before his return, visited the coal-fields of Pennsylvania and of Nova Scotia. The results of two of his investigations he embodied in a paper entitled "On the Packing of Ice in the St. Lawrence, and on a Land-Slide in the Valley of the Maskinongé," which he read before the Geological Society of London in June, 1842. From the parts of this paper quoted by Thomas Keefer in his "Report on the Bridging of the St. Lawrence," George Stephenson is said to have obtained useful hints in regard to the site for his Victoria Bridge. His visits to the coal-fields were eminently satisfactory, for he found in every case the under-clay showing plenty of remains of Stigmaria. While on this trip he met Lyell, and had the pleasure of learning that that distinguished geologist was acquainted with his work, and deemed his results important.

The first Parliament of the united provinces of Canada in 1841 voted £1,500 for a geological survey. Logan was then in England, but his friends in Montreal, who had heard him express a desire to do this work, proposed his name to the Governor for director of the survey, and in the next year he was tendered the appointment. Then followed twenty-seven years of devoted labor in the almost untrodden field of Canadian geology. After two seasons' work Logan submitted a report of progress, the first of a series of sixteen government reports. The money for the survey was voted in small annual grants, and for short terms, and more than once was Logan obliged to talk and write almost constantly, for several months, to members of the Government, explaining and demonstrating to them the importance of carrying on the work. The first of these critical periods occurred in the winter of 1844-'45, when the first grant of £1,500 had been expended, together with over £800 of Logan's money. Finally, £2,000 a year for five years was granted, and, at the end of the time, the grant was renewed for five years more. An act in 1855 appropriated twice as much for the next five years, but this was afterward somewhat reduced. It required a large measure of courage and devotion to plunge into this work so earnestly as Logan did. "Of the topography of the Gaspé district," the first region examined, "little was known in 1843 beyond the coast-line; of the geology, practically nothing. Settlements were few, confined almost exclusively to the coast, and made up chiefly of fishermen. There were no roads through the interior, most of which was (and, indeed, still is) a wilderness, inhabited by bears and other wild beasts, or at best only penetrated, in certain seasons of the year, by a few Indians or lumbermen. The courses of most of the streams were unknown, and the precipitous mountain passes untraversed. Such was the country whose geology Logan was now to investigate." Other inconveniences were coarse food and hard beds, camping in wigwams that kept out only part of the rains, frequent bruises from working among rocks, bites of insects, and the vulgar inquisitiveness of persons who could only conceive him to be a searcher for the precious metals or a lunatic. The following words of Mr. Murray, his geological assistant in Canada, descriptive of Logan's habit while in Wales, apply also to his longer labors in Canada: "Even at that early period, when every comfort of life was easily accessible, I observed his utter indifference to self-indulgence of any kind, or even such ordinary comforts as most people would be inclined to call indispensable necessities. After an early and very simple breakfast, he would buckle on his instruments, grasp his hammer, and, with map in hand, march off to the field, in which be would toil on without cessation, without thinking for a moment of food or rest, until the shades of evening gave warning that it was time to retrace his steps toward home, or to seek some temporary dwelling." Such a day Logan would supplement, in Canada, by writing up the day's notes and his journal in a wigwam, often working past midnight.

The winters, which interrupted field-work, by no means brought idleness to him. There were the geological specimens to sort, label, and arrange in cabinets, reports to write up, expense accounts to prepare, and maps to construct, work on which the smallness of the appropriations allowed only scanty assistance.

In 1850 the Provincial Government decided to send a collection of Canadian economic minerals to the London World's Fair of the next year, and Logan was sent in charge of the exhibit. During this visit to England, Logan was present at a meeting of the British Association, and read a paper entitled "On the Age of the Copper-bearing Rocks of Lakes Superior and Huron, and Various Facts relating to the Physical Structure of Canada." He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at this time, being "the first native Canadian elected for work done in Canada." He also served as one of the eight jurors in the Mineralogical and Metallurgical Department of the Exhibition. Logan was also one of the two Special Commissioners in charge of the Canadian exhibit at the French Exhibition of 1855, and here as before he worked almost incessantly for many weeks arranging his section. He was not suffered to go unrewarded, for he received the Grand Gold Medal of Honor for his map and minerals, and was presented by the Emperor with the cross of the Legion of Honor. Other honors were now bestowed upon him in rapid succession. On the 29th of the following January he was knighted by the Queen at Windsor, for services rendered at the two exhibitions, and about the same time he was informed that the Palladium or Wollaston medal—"the greatest honor the Geological Society has to bestow"—would be publicly presented to him at the annual meeting of the society. Other honors and testimonials were tendered to him on his return to Canada.

Sir William at once resumed his former labors and continued them until he was interrupted by another exhibition—that of 1862 in London. He was sent as Chief Commissioner from Canada, and was again made a juror; but the hurry in which his work had to be done, and the invitations that were showered upon him, were not to his taste, and he sought an early opportunity to return to Canada. In the next year his "Geology of Canada" was published, of which work Professor Harrington writes: "It was more than eight years since its preparation had been ordered by Government, and many thought that its publication ought not to have been so long deferred. But neither the country nor science lost anything by the delay; for the volume was not a mere summary of the earlier reports of the survey, but a new book containing all the earliest facts concerning the geology of the country. The work is too well known to require any comment here, but it may be stated that, although published nearly twenty years ago, it remains to-day the most valuable book of reference on the geology and mineralogy of the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec." In 1864 Sir William went to England to attend to the final work on the large geological map of Canada and the neighboring States, which was to accompany his "Geology." He attended the meeting of the British Association in September, and read papers on the fossils of the Laurentian rocks—Eozoön Canadense—which he and Drs. Hunt and Dawson had been mainly instrumental in bringing to notice. The significance of this discovery may be indicated by a sentence from the presidential address of Sir Charles Lyell for that year: "We have every reason to suppose that the rocks in which these animal remains are included are of as old a date as any of the formations named azoic in Europe, if not older, so that they preceded in date rocks once supposed to have been formed before any organic beings had been created."

At the Paris Exhibition of 1867, the geology of Canada was well represented under charge of Dr. Hunt. Sir William was promoted by the Emperor of France to an officer of the Legion of Honor, and a few months later the Council of the Royal Society awarded him one of the two Royal Gold Medals of the year for his "geological researches in Canada, and the construction of a geological map of that colony."

In 1869 Sir William, finding that his private work demanded all his somewhat declining energies—he was then seventy-one years old—resigned his position as director of the Canadian survey. He continued geological work, however, in Canada and adjoining parts of New England for several seasons, his last investigations being made in the Eastern Townships in the summer of 1874. In August he sailed for England, intending to return in the spring, but during the winter, while he was staying in Wales with a sister, the disease which had been gradually coming upon him grew rapidly more serious; he rallied somewhat in the spring, but never got really strong again, and died June 22, 1875.

"Those who had the good fortune to know Sir William Logan" (we quote from Professor Harrington's biography) "will remember him not merely as an enthusiastic geologist, but as a frank, true, and genial friend. Many a fellow-creature was cheered by his cheerfulness, helped by his kindly advice and sympathy, or in the more substantial way which ample private means rendered possible. In many respects his was a solitary life. Unlike his great contemporaries, Murchison and Lyell, he never enjoyed the sympathy and assistance of a wife. His over-active mind, no doubt, needed to be drawn from the geological grooves in which it ran, and if on returning to Rockfield, after the worries of the office or the hardships of the forest, there had been more of the attractions of home, his life would have been happier and possibly even longer than it was. . . . Earnestness and singleness of purpose were among the most marked features of Sir William's character. From the time that he began the geological survey until the day of his death, the great aim which was perpetually before him was to thoroughly elucidate the geology of Canada, and to render the knowledge acquired subservient to the practical purposes of life and to the advancement of his native country. He was continually beset with requests to examine and report upon mines in various parts of the country, but invariably refused unless he felt that the information derived would be of advantage to the public. Nor would he, on any such occasion, accept of remuneration for his services. Any bona fide attempt on the part of individuals or companies to develop the mineral resources of the country was sure of his encouragement and advice if asked for; but the impostors who tried to palm off "salted" mines or impossible geological discoveries upon the unsuspecting public he despised, and always took an intense pleasure in exposing their schemes. . . .

"Sir William had little capacity for literary work, and, although he usually expressed himself with precision and force, his style was lacking in ease and gracefulness. Fine writing, however, was not his object, but rather to describe in simple language the results of observations in the field. . . . As he advanced in life, he found the work of composition more and more arduous. For some years before his death he contributed nothing to the literature of science, and even ordinary correspondence became increasingly distasteful to him."

Logan was a member of more than a dozen learned societies; his degree of LL. D. was bestowed by McGill University in 1856, and that of D. C. L. by the University of Lennoxville the year before. Over twenty medals, and various other testimonials, show the esteem in which his work was held. His most important writings have already been mentioned; some other papers were, "On the Footprints occurring in the Potsdam Sandstone of Canada," "On the Division of the Azoic Rocks of Canada into Huronian and Laurentian," "Considerations relating to the Quebec Group and the Upper Copper-bearing Rocks of Lake Superior," etc.