Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/February 1887/Sketch of Charles C. Abbott
|SKETCH OF CHARLES C. ABBOTT.|
THE name of Dr. Abbott is familiar to the readers of the "Monthly" as that of the author of papers showing him to be on the best of terms with Nature, as well as of an archæologist who finds history where ordinary diggers would find only gravel and river-shells. It is as well known to readers of other periodicals in America and England, who are interested in the moving and the blooming life of the fields and the woods and the rivers. He has been making friends by means of his charming sketches, and the books that have resulted from them, till he now probably numbers all of the English-speaking world, who appreciate rural things, among his constituency. What remained wanting to fix his fame and make it general was given by his last book, "Upland and Meadow," of which the English critic, James Purves, pronouncing it "the most delightful book of its kind which America has given us," and declaring that "it closely approaches White's 'Selborne,'" only gave formal expression to the thought which arose in the mind of every reader.
Charles Conead Abbott was born June 4, 1843, in Trenton, New Jersey, the third son of Timothy Abbott and Susan Conrad. He is of Quaker descent on both sides. His paternal ancestor came from England in 1680, and his maternal ancestor, Dennis Conrad, the founder of Germantown, Pennsylvania, from Germany at about the same time.
Until nearly the present time the family (Abbotts) remained Quakers, in three generations only two marriages with others than Quakers having taken place. Dr. Abbott's own sympathies are with the Hicksite or Unitarian branch of that denomination.
Although no naturalist among the Abbotts of Burlington County, New Jersey, appeared in earlier generations, it is a somewhat significant fact that a fondness for such studies was so marked as to lead to a long intimacy with the Bartrams of Philadelphia, when the naturalists John and William (father and son) were living, and the celebrated Bartram's garden on the Schuylkill was kept up.
Young Abbott himself exhibited a very strong liking for natural history at an early age, and never was afraid of living animals of any kind. This fearlessness resulted frequently in stings, bites, and scratches by the creatures which, too often, were rudely handled. These tastes were probably an inherited trait, derived from his maternal grandfather, Solomon W. Conrad, at one time lecturer on botany and mineralogy at the University of Pennsylvania.
From 1852 to 1858, inclusive, Abbott attended the Trenton Academy, then a good classical school, but under strict theological control, where anything savoring of science, even zoölogy, was frowned upon as likely to produce direful spiritual results. Indeed, Abbott was once punished for asserting that a whale was not a fish, the teacher insisting that it was, "on the authority of Scripture." Rebellion against such ignorance kept Abbott in ill-favor with the faculty, and practically little knowledge worth the having was acquired. But, as an offset to this, every Saturday and Sunday was wholly taken up with out-door studies of the fauna of the neighborhood. The gatherings of these "two-day" tramps were usually brought home alive, and the frequent escape of snakes, lizards, and snapping-turtles, not only in the yard, but in the house, necessitated some restrictions upon his methods of study, which, however, were usually circumvented, and the obnoxious creatures kept turning up in many unsuspected localities.
When, on the approach of manhood, the vital question of business or a profession came up, the nearest approach to Abbott's tastes was the study of medicine, and it was commenced in a half-hearted way in 1860. The choice of a preceptor was more happy in a zoölogical than in a medical point of view, and the result was that teacher and student were "two boys together," discussing the woods and meadows rather more assiduously than human anatomy.
Often, in fact, text-books were laid aside for months, to give undivided attention to the fauna of the Delaware River Valley. The wide-reaching meadows, tangled swamps, and stretches of woodland on his grandfather's farm formed, collectively, the college from which it was Abbott's ambition to graduate.
The result of this untrained field-work, during 1860–'63 was a series of papers on the habits of mammals, birds, batrachians, and fishes, which were presented to a learned society for publication, and rejected, on the ground of the improbability of a boy having been able to discover so much that was not already in the writings of authors, and also because some of the observations were in many ways contradictory of them.
Young Abbott's career as an author began in 1859 with a note concerning migratory birds, which was published in the "State Gazette," of Trenton, as his maiden effort. This was followed by a short series of ornithological sketches in the same paper. In 1860 he published brief communications on fishes in the "Proceedings" of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and an account of the habits of the curious pirate perch (Aphrodederus sayanus).
The manuscripts of the rejected papers were preserved, and, in subsequent years, the later generation of naturalists verified, in their fieldwork, the results claimed to have been obtained by Abbott. Without detracting from the credit which is justly due to them as independent observers and discoverers, it is proper to say that Abbott would have forestalled much of recent work in the study of the habits of animals had his papers, when presented, been accepted.
In 1865 Abbott was graduated in the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania. He was married in 1867, and from that time, except for a brief interval, when engaged in manufacturing chemicals, he has devoted himself to scientific study and general literature. In 1874 he came into possession of the Abbott homestead, and was thus better enabled than before to prosecute his studies, in the pursuit of which he has spent days and nights also in the field, and has thus enjoyed the opportunity of studying the objects of his inquiries in all the situations and aspects of their life; and then it was that, more systematically than ever, he undertook those exhaustive archæological investigations which have been so fruitful of results, and have associated him so closely with the Peabody Museum of Archæology at Cambridge, Massachusetts, of which institution he has been an "assistant in the field" since 1875.
The fullness and value of Dr. Abbott's work in science can best be realized by glancing at the essays and reports which he has published.
Omitting purely literary productions, these cover one hundred and seventeen titles.
In the "American Naturalist," commencing with Vol. IV, 1870, to Vol. XIX, inclusive thereof, will be found contributions by him under forty-nine titles, covering 228 pages.
Twenty-two of these papers are leading articles; the others are "notes." They are all either archæological or zoölogical. The former, twenty-five in number, include the first communications by him, on the occurrence of palæolithic man in the valley of the Delaware River; and the article, on "The Stone Age in New Jersey," which was the basis from which his more elaborate works to be hereafter mentioned were developed.
Twenty-seven articles or notes in the "Naturalist" are zoölogical, and twenty-five of them treat of birds or fishes of New Jersey; of the other two, one is on the "Habits of Cray-fish," and the other is on "Winged Ants."
The most important zoölogical paper of this series is that on "Traces of a Voice in Fishes." In this article. Dr. Abbott aims to show that a relationship between color and voice obtains among our fresh-water fishes; that brightly colored fishes are diurnal in habits and attract the eye of the opposite sex, in the breeding-season; but dull-colored fishes are nocturnal, and the sexes are attracted by the ear. Studies in the tropics of marine fishes tend to confirm this view.
He has contributed to the English journal, "Science Gossip," beginning in 1872, first under the editorship of M. C. Cooke, and afterward of Dr. John E. Taylor, twenty articles, of which eighteen were illustrated.
In "Science," Vols. I to VI, both inclusive, are seventeen communications, eight of which are leading articles. Those on the "Intelligence of Fishes," and supposed "Æstivation of Mammals," have attracted much attention. In the articles on "Hibernation," Abbott aims to show that, in so fluctuating or uncertain a climate as in New Jersey, hibernation is not so fixed a habit as has been supposed, and is "optional" with many mammals; they hibernating when cut off from food-supplies, and so avoiding starvation. Intelligence appears to play a prominent part in this series of articles, for, besides the "Intelligence of Fishes," already mentioned, we find among them papers on the "Intelligence of the Crow"; of "Birds"; of "Batrachians"; and of "Snakes"; and one on "Color-Sense in Fishes." The archæological articles relate the occurrence of amber near Trenton, New Jersey, and of mound-builders' pipes in New Jersey; and concern "Palæolithic Man in Ohio," "Evidences of Glacial Man," and "Eastern and Western Indian Implements."
To "Nature" he contributed, in 1872, "American Flint Arrow-Heads," "Origin of American Indians," and "Feeding Habits of the Belted Kingfisher"; in 1875, "American Stone Implements," "Habits of the Kingfisher," "Occurrence of Flint Scalping-Knives in New Jersey," "Supposed Marriage Emblem of American Indian Origin," "Iron Axes from West Virginia," and "Stone Masks from New Jersey"; in 1876, "American Stone Tubes and Tobacco-Pipes," and "American Flint Skin-scrapers"; and, in 1883, a note on the origin of the American dipper's power of diving and aquatic habits, being a reply to the Duke of Argyll's objections to an evolutionary view of the origin.
Of eight contributions to "Science News," which was published by Ernest Ingersoll and W. C. Wyckoff, in 1878 and 1879, one entitled "Do Opossums play 'Possum?" is noticeable because it is an endeavor to show that the animal when attacked or captured is overcome by fear, and does not designedly simulate death; and develops the view which was subsequently published by Romanes as entertained by Darwin in his posthumous essay on "Instinct," which was printed by Romanes, in his "Mental Evolution in Animals." Abbott's independent conclusion as expressed in this paper was published four years prior to the appearance of Romanes's book or of Darwin's essay.
In "The Popular Science Monthly" he has published papers on "Certain Phases of Bird-Life," "Birds' Nests," the "American Chipmunk," "To what Extent is Evolution visible?" "An Inscribed Indian Tablet," "Migration of Inland Birds," "Traces of a pre-Indian People," "The Nest and Eggs of the Thistle-Bird," "Some Rambles of a Naturalist," "Archæological Frauds," and "Animal Weather-Lore." Among his contributions to other volumes are the "Report on Fishes of the Delaware River," and "Winter Habits of Fishes of the Delaware River," in the United States Fish Commissioner's Report for 1875–'76; "Catalogue of Vertebrate Animals of New Jersey," in the State Geological Report for 1868; "Palæolithic Man in America," in Kingsley's "Standard Natural History"; "The Stone Age in New Jersey," in the Smithsonian Annual Report for 1875; papers on Chipped Stone Implements, Stone Mortars and Pestles, Cooking Vessels, Wood Implements, Pipes, Sculptures, Bone Weapons, etc., in Wheeler's "Report upon United States Geographical Surveys west of the One Hundredth Meridian"; on "The Discovery of Supposed Palæolithic Implements from the Glacial Drift in the Valley of the Delaware River," near Trenton, New Jersey, in the "Reports of the Peabody Museum of American Archæology and Ethnology," for 1876 and 1878; "An Historic Account of Discoveries of Palæolithic Implements in the Trenton Gravels," in the "Proceedings" of the Boston Society of Natural History for 1881, and of the "Discovery of Human Remains in the same Gravel," in the "Proceedings" for 1883.
Also, from time to time he contributed to young people's magazines, such as the "Riverside" and "St.Nicholas," and more recently to weekly papers of the higher class, articles of popular zoölogical character. In 1883, Dr. Brinton, of Philadelphia, read a paper on "Palæolithic Implements," by Dr. Abbott, at the meeting of the Congress des Americanistes, in Copenhagen.
In 1881, Dr. Abbott published his first volume, "Primitive Industry, or Illustrations of the Handiwork in Stone, Bone, and Clay, of the Native Races of the Northern Atlantic Seaboard of America." Pp. 560. Illustrations 426. George A. Bates, Salem, Massachusetts.
The work may be said to be the natural outcome of the fact that the author lives in a neighborhood once densely populated by the Indians; but its appearance was also expedited, if not occasioned, by the encouragement which he received from the Peabddy Museum, at Cambridge, in prosecuting an exhaustive search for traces of man in the valley of the Delaware.
The collection of stone implements made by Dr. Abbott in New Jersey was placed, years ago, in the Peabody Museum at Cambridge, and has since been added to yearly, until now fully twenty thousand specimens are on exhibition. It has recently been said of it in "Science," that it "is one of the most important series of the kind ever brought together, and one which archæologists will consult for all time to come."
The volume is composed really of three parts; and the aim of the author is to show that, during the close of the Glacial Epoch, if not earlier, man, associated with arctic mammals, occupied the valley of the river; this being indicated by the occurrence in the gravels of stone implements alike in character with the palæolithic implements of Europe, but made of dense argillite, instead of flint; later, as attested by a class of better finished objects made of argillite, and as a class found under circumstances indicating antiquity greater than the ordinary surface-found Indian relic; lastly, the ordinary jasper and quartz arrow-heads and sandstone axes of the Indians proper.
Since the publication of the book, a vast deal of material has been gathered, and the result has been to confirm the views expressed in the volume. A fragment of a human cranium, a lower jaw, a tooth, and lately a fragment of a human temporal bone, have been taken from the implement-bearing gravels. A critical reviewer, in the "Nation," has said of the volume: "It is a valuable addition to the sum of our knowledge of aboriginal man; . . . as such, it is abundantly worthy of a place beside Mr. Evan's elaborate treatise on the 'Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain.'"
In 1884 was published "A Naturalist's Rambles about Home" by D. Appleton & Co., New York. It is a selection, in part, from many contributions to zoölogical journals, but also contains much original matter. It is exclusively "field" studies, and results of daily observations of the animal life about the author's home.
In February, 1886, Harper & Brothers, of New York, published "Upland and Meadow," a volume on the same general style as the preceding, but in no instance repeating the subject-matter of the earlier volume. The two books give a nearly complete account of the fauna of a New Jersey farm; an account which will be really completed by the publication of a third volume, treating largely of botanical features.
An idea of the quality of Dr. Abbott's books—the true flavor can be enjoyed in its perfection only in reading the books themselves—is given in the London "Academy's" (May 1, 1886) notice of "Upland and Meadow," which concludes:
"Books like this make us more interested in America than do the countless volumes of travelers. There is that charm of freshness, that power of interesting us, as much as the writer was himself interested, that frank inquisitiveness—though it may smack a little of the modern interviewer, carried to the world of upland, meadow, river, and trees, taking stealthy views at the midnight side of Nature with a dark-lantern—which make the book attractive from beginning to end, which make us read every page, and make it, by our keeping it as a book of reference, memorable. It abounds not only in facts, but in fancy; and so a boy from school or a world-wise father will find that it adds to his joys in the open air, or reveals the wonderful life about his feet."
Dr. Abbott is a corresponding member of the Boston Society of Natural History; of the New York Academy of Sciences; of the Linnæan Society of New York; of the Nuttall Ornithological Club of Cambridge, Massachusetts; of the Anthropological Society of Washington, D.C.; of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia; and of the Davenport Academy of Sciences, Davenport, Iowa; and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of the North, Copenhagen.