Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/September 1893/Sketch of Henry Carrington Bolton
THE New York Academy of Sciences, founded in 1817 as the Lyceum of Natural History, is the oldest and most influential scientific society in the city. During a period of seventy-six years it has had but six presidents, viz.: Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill, who served seven years; Prof. John Torrey, four years; Major Joseph Delafield, thirty-eight years; Prof. Charles A. Joy, two years; Prof. John S. Newberry, twenty-four years; Prof. Oliver P. Hubbard, one year. At the annual election held February, 1893, Prof. Henry Carrington Bolton, Ph. D., was elected the seventh president.
Henry Carrington Bolton was born in New York city, January 28, 1843, being the son of Jackson Bolton, M. D., and Anna Hinman, daughter of Elisha North, M. D., of New London, Conn. From both his paternal and maternal ancestors Dr. Bolton inherits traits that co-operate to give him scholarly tastes and stability of character.
The family of Bolton is among the few English ones able to show their descent from a period not far removed from the Conquest (1066). The extensive Yorkshire domain, from which the family derived its name, is mentioned in Domesday, and in 1135 Oughtrede de Bolton appears as Lord of Bolton and Bowbearer of Bowland Forest. From their estates in the charming Ribble Valley, near the southern border of Lancashire, the family spread through Yorkshire and adjoining counties, bestowing their name on many a dale and infant vill, so that to-day there are seventeen places in England known as Bolton, with or without distinguishing suffixes. From earliest times the Boltons were yeomen and tradesmen, but many of their sons entered the service of the Church, and not a few of them became eminent for scholarship.
In 1530 the direct ancestors of Dr. Bolton were living on an estate called Brookhouse, near the town of Blackburn, Lancashire, and from them he traces his descent without a missing link in the chain. In 1718 one of the family left England and settled in Philadelphia; his son and his grandson became prominent shipping merchants in Savannah, Ga., the latter taking into partnership his nephew Curtis, grandfather of the subject of this sketch. Curtis Bolton subsequently removed to New York and became the head of the firm of Bolton, Fox and Livingston, owners of the Havre line of packets. Curtis married his cousin, Ann Bolton, daughter of Robert, of Savannah; their third son, Jackson, was graduated at Columbia College in 1833, and later at the University of Paris, where he received the degree of D. M. P. Dr. Jackson Bolton practiced his profession with success for over twenty years in New York city, and was also Vice-President of the New York Academy of Medicine and President of the Pathological Society.
That branch of the North family into which Dr. Jackson Bolton married had been residents of New England for two hundred years; the male ancestors of Dr. H. C. Bolton's mother for three generations had been physicians, the last in the line being Elish North, M. D., of Goshen, later of New London, Conn. Dr. North is remembered as among the first in America to practice vaccination, at Goshen, in 1800; as the first physician to open an eye infirmary in the United States; and as the author of works on Spotted Fever (New York, 1811) and on physiology, 1829.
Henry Carrington, the only child of Jackson and Anna H. Bolton, was born in his paternal grandfather's house. No. 08 Greenwich Street, New York city, at the date above given. The vicinity was the court end of the town, and the boy's earliest playground was the Battery. Later, his father moved up town, and the Battery was replaced by Union Square. Dr. Bolton's primary education was in private schools, and he has been heard to mention with deep gratitude the excellent training and kind consideration of Mr. George Stowe, who laid secure foundations in English studies. At the age of nineteen Dr. Bolton, in 1862, was graduated at Columbia College; he took no distinguished place in his class, but showed marked aptitude for mathematics, and for chemistry when the latter study was reached in the curriculum. Prof. Charles A. Joy, who held the chair of Chemistry at that time, had been prohibited by the trustees of Columbia from admitting students to practical work in the small laboratory adjoining the lecture-room, and Dr. Bolton was debarred from studying chemistry in a rational way; to supply this deficiency, however, his father provided him with simple apparatus and a few chemicals at home, where he attempted to apply the principles learned from the lectures of Prof. Joy. Very different from this the present methods at Columbia College.
Going to Europe immediately after graduation to continue his study of chemistry in foreign universities, young Bolton spent one year in Paris, first in the laboratory of the Sorbonne, then in charge of J. B. Dumas, and afterward in the laboratory of the École de Médecine under Adolphe Wurtz.
In 1863 to 1865 he continued his studies in Germany: at Heidelberg he worked in the university laboratory under the guidance of Bunsen, and attended lectures by Kirchhoff, Kopp, and Von Leonhard; during his sojourn in Heidelberg he took no part in the objectionable practices of the "Studenten-Corps," yet became so popular in the laboratory that at the beginning of the third semester he was elected by the students their "Polizei."
After a summer semester in Göttingen under Friedrich Wöhler, where he began research for a thesis, he went to Berlin, where he was admitted to the private laboratory of Prof. A. W. von Hofmann, the university laboratory not being as yet constructed. His position under Hofmann was a most agreeable one, and may be called that of pupil-assistant, as he worked at researches for Hofmann without any pecuniary compensation either to or from the university. For six months he was the sole pupil with Hofmann, but later he shared his table with the late Dr. Paul Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. In 1866 he took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Georgia Augusta University, Göttingen. Dr. Bolton's residence in Berlin was saddened by the death of his father, after a lingering illness, February, 1866.
During his five years' sojourn in Europe Dr. Bolton spent the long summer vacations in travel, chiefly in Switzerland and the Austrian Tyrol; he visited every canton in Switzerland on foot, and became an expert Alpine climber, ascending among other peaks the Titlis, the Col du Géant, the Cima di Jazzi, and Monte Rosa,
In the years 1866 and 1867 he made more extended journeys, traveling leisurely in Italy, Spain, France, Holland, Russia, and Scotland. In August, 1867, he returned to the United States, and, continuing his travels, went from Canada to Mexico. Settling in New York the following year, he opened a laboratory for private research, and eventually took a few pupils. In 1871 he spent five months in travel, visiting California and Washington Territory. In 1872 he was invited to the position of assistant in analytical chemistry at the School of Mines, Columbia College, under Prof. Charles F. Chandler. This position he accepted, and he had charge of the laboratory of quantitative analysis for five years, also giving lectures on the subject during the last year. Meanwhile, in 1875, he was elected to the chair of Chemistry in the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary, of which Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell is dean; here he discharged his duties for three years, until he removed from New York city.
In 1877 he accepted the chair of Chemistry in Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., a position which he held for ten years. At Trinity he planned the interior of the chemical department and moved the apparatus and museum to the new buildings. He had marked influence in the organization of scientific courses, in which he had the co-operation of the late Prof. Louis M. Cheesman, who held the chair of Physics at that time. As his duties in Trinity required him to teach mineralogy, he formed a collection of minerals, numbering about three thousand specimens, gathered largely by his individual exertions in the field.
As a teacher he strove to impart knowledge in an attractive way, believing that, by combining entertaining diversions with serious instruction, students would both comprehend and retain facts better than if presented in a dry, formal manner. Whenever it was possible he availed himself of object teaching; although he allowed in the class-room temporary displays of humor, his pupils understood that this was to be enjoyed and not abused, and always showed their teacher sincere respect. The experience gained in teaching analytical chemistry at the School of Mines he combined with the methods in vogue when he was called to the position of assistant, and the results he published in a volume entitled Student's Guide in Quantitative Analysis (New York, 1882; third edition, 1889).
In 1885 the President of the United States appointed him an assay commissioner.
While engaged in instruction Dr. Bolton carried on a number of original researches in chemistry, of which the more important are his investigations on the salts of the rare metal uranium, the results of which he published in several papers, 1866-'70. In 1872-'73 he assisted President Henry Morton, of the Stevens Institute of Technology, in researches on the fluorescent and absorption spectra of uranium salts, preparing a large number of compounds, including several new to science; the published results are in their joint names (American Chemist, 1873).
Between 1877 and 1882 he published three memoirs on the Application of Organic Acids to the Examination of Minerals (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences), in which he showed the power of the organic acids in decomposing minerals, as well as their utility in determining varieties based upon definite reactions. He directed attention to the advantage of dry citric acid over the liquid mineral acids in geological field-work, owing to the perfect safety of transportation of the former. These methods have been incorporated in the last edition of Elderhorst's Manual of Blowpipe Analysis. The space at our disposal precludes mention of several minor original observations.
Dr. Bolton early in his studies felt the need of those important keys to knowledge, bibliographies, and has devoted much labor to the preparation of special and general works of this nature. His first effort in this direction was an Index to the Literature of Uranium, published in the Annals of the New York Lyceum of Natural History in 1870; this reached a second edition in 1885 (Smithsonian Annual Report), and has formed the model on which a score of similar indexes to special topics have been produced. In 1876 he published an Index to the Literature of Manganese.
At the Montreal meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1882) he chose for his vice-presidential address the subject Chemical Literature, and suggested the formation of a committee on indexing chemical literature; as the chairman of this committee he has prepared ten annual reports to the association, and has done much to encourage the production of special chemical bibliographies by American chemists.
One of the most important bibliographical works by Dr. Bolton is his Catalogue of Scientific and Technical Periodicals, 1865-1882, published as vol. xxix of the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections in 1885. This comprises full titles of over five thousand scientific technical journals in about twenty languages, together with chronological tables showing the year of issue of each volume of five hundred periodicals, and a library check-list indicating in what American libraries sets of these journals are to be found. This undertaking was a labor of love on the part of Dr. Bolton, who, in the words of an eminent writer, acquired thereby "a place in the foremost rank of those little-appreciated and hard-worked men, bibliographers." Dr. Bolton has just completed a still more extensive work of a kindred nature, A Select Bibliography of Chemistry, 1492-1892. This general bibliography of chemical science comprises over twelve thousand titles in twenty-four languages, yet is a "select" catalogue, and makes no claim to completeness. The titles are arranged under seven groups, as follows: I, Bibliography; II, Dictionaries; III, History; IV, Biography; V, Chemistry, pure and applied; VI, Alchemy; VII, Periodicals. The volume contains 1212 pages, and forms No. xxxvi in the series of Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections.
Parallel with his original researches and bibliographical compilations Dr. Bolton has given much attention to the history of chemistry, contributing many notes to current scientific journals, of which the following is a partial list:
Contributions to the History of Chemistry.—Historical Notes on the Defunct Elements, American Chemist, 1873. Views of the Founders of the Atomic Philosophy, American Chemist, 1873. Notes on the Early Literature of Chemistry, several papers in American Chemist, 1873-'79. Papyrus Ebers, the earliest medical work extant. Quarterly Journal of Science, London, 1876. Ancient Methods of Filtration, The Popular Science Monthly, 1879. Early Practice of Medicine by Women, The Popular Science Monthly, 1880. History of Chemical Notation (two papers). Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1883. Recent Progress in Chemistry, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1886. The Lunar Society of Birmingham, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1888. The Likenesses of Joseph Priestley in Oil, Ink, Marble, and Metal, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1888. The Contributions of Alchemy to Numismatics, American Journal of Numismatics, 1890. Progress of Chemistry as depicted in Apparatus and Laboratories, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1893. An Account of the Progress of Chemistry for the Years 1882 to 1886, prepared annually for the Smithsonian Institution, 1882-'87. The last four contain bibliographies for their respective years.
Dr. Bolton's interest in the history of chemistry took practical shape in 1874, when he originated and organized the Centennial Celebration of the Discovery of Oxygen by Dr. Joseph Priestley, held August 1st at Northumberland, Pa.; on this occasion seventy chemists from all parts of the United States and Canada assembled around Priestley's grave to do him honor. The proceedings at this memorable gathering were printed in full in the American Chemist (1875). The acquaintances formed at this meeting with the descendants of Dr. Priestley were continued by Dr. Bolton, and through them he eventually secured a number of unpublished letters of the distinguished chemist; these letters he edited and published in a volume bearing the title: Scientific Correspondence of Joseph Priestley; New York, privately printed, 1892.
In 1882 a casual visit to the so-called "singing beach," at Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., made him acquainted with the peculiar natural phenomenon of musical sand, and, finding its study had been almost wholly neglected, he began an investigation which eventually led him to make journeys aggregating thirty-three thousand miles in search of sand having musical properties. Early in the research he secured the assistance of Dr. Alexis A. Julien, of Columbia College, to whose skill with the microscope he is greatly indebted. Jointly with Dr. Julien he has published several abstracts of papers on Musical Sand (Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences), which have been widely noticed in current literature.
The following papers, on topics of very wide range, can not be classified more narrowly.
Sundry Scientific and Literary.—Magic Squares, their History, Preparation and Properties (six papers). Acta Columbiana, 1874. The Log-book of the Savannah, Harper's Magazine, 1877. Legends of Sepulchral and Perpetual Lamps, Monthly Journal of Science, London, 1879. Microscopic Crystals in Vertebra? of Toads, Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1880. A Handy Multiplication Table, American Teacher, 1885. The Life and Writings of Elisha North, M. D., Transactions of the Connecticut Medical Society, 1887. Scientific Jottings on the Nile and in the Desert, Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, 1890. Historical Notes on the Gold-Cure, Popular Science Monthly, 1892. A Plea for a Library of Science in New York City, 1893. Russian Transliteration, American Library Journal, 1893.
In 1880 Dr. Bolton became interested in folk-lore, and published two years later a work bearing the title, Counting-out Rhymes of Children (London, 1888), which brought him at once into prominence as a folk-lorist. Since then he has contributed occasional papers to the Journal of American Folk Lore, of which the most notable are the two following: Some Hawaiian Pastimes (1891) and A Modern Oracle and its Prototypes (1893). His work on Counting-out Rhymes was awarded a bronze medal by the Columbian Historical Exposition held at Madrid' in 1892.
After the death of his mother in 1887, Dr. Bolton resigned from Trinity College, retired from teaching, and resumed his residence in New York city. He has been able to indulge his love of travel by frequent journeys abroad; besides the five years' sojourn in Europe already named, he visited in 1873 the principal libraries of England, France, and Germany, to collect material for his Bibliography of Scientific Periodicals, the publication of which was, however, from various causes delayed until 1885. In 1880 he visited Norway, Sweden, and Denmark; in 1887 and 1888 he made a second and a third bibliographical tour in Europe; in 1889 he visited Egypt, going as far as Mount Sinai; in 1890 he visited the Bermudas and the Hawaiian Islands. These distant points were visited in search of "musical sand." In 1891 he again crossed the Atlantic, chiefly for research in libraries. Dr. Bolton has been heard to say he never travels to kill time or to satisfy mere curiosity; he always has some definite object in view and works harder on his journeys than otherwise.
Dr. Bolton is often called upon to give illustrated lectures on his travels and on popular science. Being an amateur photographer he brought back with him from Arabia Petræa and from the Hawaiian Islands many excellent negatives with which he illustrates his lectures. These include the following subjects: Four Weeks in the Desert of Sinai, Life and Scenes in the Hawaiian Islands, Picturesque Scenes in Norway, Alchemy the Cradle of Chemistry, The Counting-out Rhymes of Children, The Glaciers of Switzerland, Musical Sand, etc.
In 1892 he was elected by the Trustees of Columbian University Non-resident Professor of the History of Chemistry, and in the discharge of his duties gave in March, 1893, a course of nine lectures on the history of chemistry. He treats this subject in a graphic way, making it attractive to the general audience by illustrating every step with the lantern.
Dr. Bolton joined the Lyceum of Natural History of New York City in 1867 and has been an active member for twenty-six years. He was one of the committee (with the late Dr. John S. Newberry and Prof. B. N. Martin) who accomplished in 1876 the change of name to the New York Academy of Sciences by which it is now known; from 1876 to 1877 he held the office of corresponding secretary; from 1887 to 1892, of recording secretary; from 1892 to 1893, vice-president; and in 1893 president. He has also been prominent in the national society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, frequently serving on its council and on committees, besides holding the office of Secretary of the Chemical Section (1876), Secretary of the Council (1889), general secretary (in 1878, 1879, and 1890), and vice-president (1882). Dr. Bolton was one of the founders of the American Folk-lore Society in 1887, and has been on the council of the society to date. He is also president of the New York branch of the American Folk-lore Society established in the spring of 1893. He has been a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Section of the American Chemical Society since its foundation.
To all these societies Dr. Bolton has frequently contributed papers; including communications of literary and general character printed in journals, they number more than a hundred and fifty. He has been influential in shaping the policy of the Council of the Scientific Alliance of New York City, and was made its treasurer in 1893.
Dr. Bolton is a member of many learned societies besides those above named, the chief being as follows: German Chemical Society of Berlin, Chemical Society of Paris, National Society of Natural and Mathematical Sciences of Cherbourg, American Society of Naturalists, Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia, American Metrological Society, Brooklyn Institute, corresponding member of the Rochester Academy of Sciences, and honorary member of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society of Chapel Hill, N. C.
He founded the 'Ology Club in Hartford and the Lunar Society in New York, social clubs for scientific discussions and mutual admiration. He is a member of the University Club of New York and of the Cosmos Club of Washington.
Dr. Bolton's private library, though numbering less than one thousand volumes, is probably unique in the United States, being devoted to the history of chemistry. It is rich in original works on alchemy and early chemistry, besides containing a collection of several hundred portraits of scientists of all countries and all time. At the request of the Grolier Club of New York city, he made an exhibit of a selection from his library in their club house in January, 1891.