Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/August 1895/Sketch of Charles Upham Shepard

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PSM V47 D446 Charles Upham Shepard.jpg


CHARLES UPHAM SHEPARD was born at Little Compton, a town in the southeastern corner of Rhode Island, June 29, 1804. He was fitted for college in the Providence Grammar School and entered Brown University in 1820, but left the following year to join the sophomore class of the new college which opened then at Amherst, Mass. He was graduated in due course in the class of 1824.

In a graphic sketch of Amherst College as it was during his student days, contributed to Prof. Tyler's History, Prof. Shepard has said:

"I remember that I was the youngest of my class. Most of my fellows were mature youths who did not appear to me youths at all—seniors in character and manlike in purpose, with an air which seemed to tell of years of yearning for the ministry, and of a brave struggle with the poverty which had kept them from their goal." After a description of the village and the mode of life in it, Prof. Shepard continues: "With such surroundings, what now were our interior advantages? Whatever we may have represented them to outsiders, whatever we may have persuaded ourselves concerning them, they were, in my day, extremely meager. The teachers were few, and in general were not distinguished in their departments. Our library did not surpass the scholarly range of a country clergyman in fair circumstances. Apparatus and collections were unknown in our first year, and they had made but feeble beginnings before our graduation. The only lectures which I remember were the two annual courses of Prof. Amos Eaton, in his day a distinguished botanist and geologist.

"In Dr. Moore, a gentleman of suave manners, of true Christaindignity, and of singular judgment in managing youth, we had an admirable president. I venture to suspect that he was the only college president in the United States who, from the beginning, personally subscribed for the somewhat expensive numbers of the Journal of the Royal Institution of London. From this source, and others similar, he appears to have gained a prevision of the importance of the modern sciences in education, and to him mainly are we indebted for the early foothold which they gained in the institution; to him, at all events, we owed the presence of Prof. Eaton. Rarely has college lecturer been more faithfully and enthusiastically listened to than Prof. Eaton in his courses on chemistry and botany, together with his abridged course on zoölogy. To supply the place of a text-book on the last-mentioned branch, he furnished us a highly useful printed syllabus, drawn mainly from the great work of Cuvier, then wholly inaccessible to us. . . . There were doubtless deficiencies to be regretted. In the larger and older universities we might have found better teachers and richer stores of libraries and collections, but in some unknown way, perhaps in the enthusiasm of comparatively solitary effort, compensation was made; and on the whole we may doubt whether higher life success would have attended us had we launched from other ports."

For a year after graduation he studied botany and mineralogy with Thomas Nuttall at Cambridge, and during most of this time taught the same branches in Boston. His study of mineralogy led to the preparation of papers on that subject which he sent to the American Journal of Science, and in this manner he became acquainted with its editor, the elder Silliman. He was invited in 1827 to become Prof. Silliman's assistant, and continued as such till 1831. For a year of this time he was Curator of Franklin Hall, an institution that was established by James Brewster in New Haven for popular lectures on scientific subjects to mechanics.

In 1830 he was appointed to a lectureship in natural history at Yale, which he held till 1847. In the winter of 1832-'33 he investigated the culture of sugar cane and the manufacture of sugar in the Southern States, his results being incorporated in Prof. Silliman's report to the Secretary of the Treasury.

His investigation in the sugar States led to his appointment, in 1834, as Professor of Chemistry in the South Carolina Medical College, at Charleston. This position required his residence in the South for only part of the year, so that he was able to continue his lectures at Yale and to accept, in 1835, an appointment as associate to Dr. James G. Percival on the Geological Survey of Connecticut.

It was in the darkest hours of Amherst College, in December, 1844, that Prof. Edward Hitchcock was raised to the presidency of that institution, and in order to provide for the partial vacancy thus created in his department, Charles U. Shepard, of New Haven, was elected Professor of Chemistry and Natural History, this election "to take effect provided Prof. Hitchcock accepts the presidency." Both appointments were accepted. Prof. Shepard entered upon his new duties in the following year. Only two years were needed under President Hitchcock's able management to restore prosperity to the college. Prof. Shepard, being then satisfied that Amherst would be able to afford him a permanent field of labor, severed his connection with Yale and offered to bring his valuable collections to Amherst if the college would house them in a fireproof building and consider the purchase of them when it was able. This proposition was gladly accepted.

His professorship was divided in 1852, when the college became able to have a separate Professor of Chemistry. Prof. Shepard continued to deliver the lectures on natural history till 1877, when he was made professor emeritus. After leaving Amherst his northern home was at New Haven for the rest of his life.

The following history of the growth of Prof. Shepard's collections was written by him for the History of Amherst College, at the request of Dr. Tyler:

"My mineralogical cabinet was commenced at the age of fifteen, while a member of the Providence Grammar School, and was brought with me when I left Brown University to join the sophomore class of Amherst institution in 1821. An early visit after my arrival here to the tourmaline and other localities of Chesterfield and Goshen served to increase my eagerness as a collector, and at the same time placed me in possession of abundant materials for exchange. In 1823 my identification of the previously supposed white augite of Goshen with the species spodumene, gave me confidence in the study of minerals, while it increased my stock of specimens desirable to mineralogists. The exchange I then carried on with the Austrian consul-general, Baron von Lederer, in behalf of his own collection and that of the Imperial Cabinet of Vienna, rapidly enriched my little museum in foreign minerals. Indeed, from the first it was sufficiently ample, to serve a useful purpose in the instruction of beginners; and was the sole resource of Prof. Amos Eaton in the lectures he gave during two seasons before the students of the institution.

"On leaving college I resided a year partly in Cambridge and partly in Boston, during which period I profited much in extending my collections, through visits to new localities in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and still more by exchanges with Prof. Nuttall and other active cultivators of mineralogy in the region. I soon after made a very successful tour into Maine, where, at Paris, I was the fortunate discoverer of the most remarkable green and red tourmalines then known. With some of these I made profitable exchanges with the British Museum and other large collections. My association in 1828 with Prof. Silliman as his assistant, and afterward with the college as a lecturer on natural science for many years, afforded me unusual facilities for the extension of my cabinet. All the best localities of Connecticut were frequently visited, specimens of rare interest secured, and the means of supplying scientific correspondents abundantly obtained. These objects were still further effected by journeys into adjoining States and the Canadas, until 1835, when I became Professor of Chemistry in the Medical College of the State of South Carolina, where a new and very ample field was opened for the extension of my collections. From that time to the present [1871], with the exception of the period of the civil war, I have passed nearly the half of each year in the South, and been engaged to a considerable extent in scientific and mining explorations, which have resulted in varied and rich contributions to my cabinet. These travels have also embraced the Western or Mississippi States, attended by similar results. But most of all have I gained by frequent excursions to the Old World, having since 1839 twelve times visited Europe, where my exchanges and purchases of specimens have been conducted on a scale, I am led to believe, not surpassed by any of my countrymen. Numbers, however, have never been my aim in these acquisitions. I have rather sought what was characteristic and instructive—not, however, to the neglect of the rare and beautiful."

The foregoing relates to the mineralogical part of Prof. Shepard's collections; his geological cabinet was also important, being especially remarkable for fossil remains. The meteoric collection, begun in 1828, he stated to be the fourth in extent and value known at the time of writing.

As to the transfer of the combined cabinets to Amherst College Prof. Shepard continues:

"The removal of these collections from New Haven to Amherst, in 1847, was the result of an understanding entered into between President Hitchcock and myself, that if the college would cause a fireproof building to be erected for their reception, I would deposit them therein, at least for a term of years, and with the hope, through arrangements afterward to be made, of leaving them with the college as a permanent possession. Such a building was provided in the Woods Cabinet; and, more recently, the conditions for the purchase of the collection have been agreed upon." When he wrote the above he was engaged in the more perfect cataloguing and arranging of the three collections.

When Walker Hall was built, the mineralogical cabinet was removed to rooms in that building, and was destroyed when the building was burned, in March, 1882. Although few could be classed as combustibles, a diligent search in the débris of the building revealed scarcely a trace of the specimens. This was a sad loss. Prof. Shepard valued the collection at seventy-five thousand dollars, and the college had actually paid forty thousand dollars for it. There was only fifteen thousand dollars of insurance on the whole contents of the building.

Dr. Shepard held his professorship at Charleston uninterruptedly until the civil war, and immediately after it closed he went back, at the urgent invitation of his former colleagues, and resumed his lectures. In 1869 he retired from the full discharge of his duties, but continued to give some lectures until shortly before his death. While in Charleston he discovered rich deposits of phosphate of lime in the immediate vicinity of that city. Their great value in agriculture and subsequent use in the manufacture of superphosphate fertilizers proved an important addition to the chemical industries of South Carolina.

The collection that was burned in 1882 was the finest in the United States, and was surpassed abroad only by that in the British Museum. But Dr. Shepard's collecting had not stopped with its formation, and he succeeded before his death in gathering a second cabinet of meteorolites and minerals which ranked among the very largest private collections. This he kept in a fireproof cabinet at his private residence in New Haven.

Prof. Shepard died, after a short illness, at Charleston, May 1, 1886.

In its obituary the Charleston News said of him: "He chose his profession well. A mind so analytic as his and so keen in the perception of relations could not have failed to see that the field in which he cast his literary fortunes was one which offered an undying reward for those who made it a successful arena of untiring and indomitable labor and energy. . . . Prof. Shepard discovered more new species of minerals which have attained permanent recognition than perhaps any other scientist of the present day. He was a member of many American and foreign societies, among which are the Imperial Society of Natural Science of St. Petersburg, the Royal Society of Göttingen, and the Society of Natural Sciences of Vienna. He published a Treatise on Mineralogy (1832 and 1835), a report on the Mineralogy of Connecticut, and numerous scientific papers." Many reports on mines made by him have been printed.

He announced in 1835 his discovery of his first new species of microlite, that of warwickite in 1838, that of danburite in 1839, and he afterward described many other new minerals until shortly before his death. His knowledge of minerals was wonderfully extensive, "and he was hence ready," it has been said, "with quick judgments as to new and old; sometimes too quick but in any case imparting progress to American mineralogy."

The honorary degree of M. D. was conferred upon him by Dartmouth in 1836, and that of LL. D. by Amherst in 1857.

He was a man of refinement and great courtesy, and was held in high esteem wherever he resided.

He left two children, a son and a daughter.

Prof. Shepard's son, Charles Upham, was born at New Haven, October 4,1842. He was graduated from Yale College in 1863, and took the degree of M. D. at Göttingen in 1867. He succeeded to his father's professorship at Charleston, and has been active in developing the phosphate and other chemical industries of South Carolina. In 1887 he presented the second cabinet of minerals that was formed by his father, numbering more than ten thousand specimens, to Amherst College, and his cabinet of representatives of more than two hundred different meteorites has been deposited in the United States National Museum.


Spectrophotographic investigation by Prof. Keeler makes it certain that the rings of Saturn are not solid, but are composed of innumerable small bodies or meteorites. The observations show that the motion of the interior parts of the rings is more rapid than that of those of the outer part, which might be the case if the rings were composed of free moving bodies independent of one another; while if the rings were solid the outer parts would necessarily move the fastest.