Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/December 1896/Sketch of Henry Darwin Rogers

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PSM V50 D158 Henry Darwin Rogers.jpg


THE family of which the "Rogers brothers" were conspicuous members furnishes a striking instance of the concurrence of consanguinity and affinity of genius and mental tendencies, and its history affords a marked confirmation of the doctrine of hereditary genius. Instances of sons inheriting the mental qualities and capabilities from their fathers, and of brothers achieving distinction in allied or different lines of effort, are common enough and may be cited by the dozen, but very few can be found where so many members of the family became eminent at the same time and in fields so close to one another. In this family we have the father and four sons, all able teachers, and all becoming distinguished as geologists or chemists, and all—the brothers at least—gaining their fame on so nearly the same fields that they were able to co-operate with one another in experiments and in the preparation of papers. Doubtless the occupation of their father, which made him the academic as well as the parental teacher of the elder brothers, had much to do with shaping their tastes and giving direction to their studies, while the youngest, we learn, was taught under their direction. The relations of this quintet and of their work are admirably set forth in the late Dr. Ruschenberger's memorial sketch, which is our chief source of information concerning all of them.

Sketches have already been given of Prof. William B. Rogers, the second of the four brothers, in the ninth volume of the Popular Science Monthly, of James Blythe Rogers, the eldest of them, in the June number, and of Robert Empie Rogers, the fourth, in October, 1896.

Henry Darwin Rogers, the third of the brothers, was born in Philadelphia, August 1, 1808, and died near Glasgow, Scotland, May 29, 1866. His middle name was given him in honor of Erasmus Darwin, of whose poem, The Botanic Garden, his father was a great admirer. He was educated at Baltimore and at Williamsburg, Va., where his father was Professor of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics in William and Mary College from 1819 till 1828, the year of his death. The first notice we find of Henry's early work is the mention in Dr. Ruschenberger's sketch of a school set up by him and his brother William in the suburbs of Baltimore. In January, 1830, when he was not yet twenty-two years old, he was elected Professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy in Dickinson College. During the year in which he held the professorship he edited a monthly scientific magazine, The Messenger of Useful Knowledge, to which his brother contributed a series of short articles on the Formation of Dew, and in which educational, literary, and political articles and selections from foreign journals were also published. He resigned his professorship at the end of the year, and in 1831 went with Robert Dale Owen to England, where, with aid afforded him by his brother William, he studied chemistry in the laboratory of Dr. Edward Turner, and attended other scientific lectures in London, including those of De la Beche on geology. He returned to Philadelphia in the summer of 1833, and in the ensuing winter delivered a course of lectures on geology in the hall of the Franklin Institute. He was made a member of this society, on the nomination of Alexander Dallas Bache, in January, 1834; was a member of its Board of Managers from 1838 till 1843; and resigned his membership in it in March, 1848.

Having received the degree of Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1834, he was elected Professor of Geology and Mineralogy in that institution in 1835. This chair he held—giving regular instruction—till 1846, when he resigned. One of the fruits of his labors there was the small publication, A Guide to a Course of Lectures on Geology, delivered in the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1835 Mr. Rogers was appointed by the Legislature of that State to make a geological and mineralogical survey of New Jersey. He published a small preliminary report of the progress of his work in 1836, and in 1840 a larger report, with maps, entitled Description of the Geology of the State of New Jersey. The report of 1836 gave the first descriptive section that was made of the cretaceous formation of that State, and the first published results of systematic field studies of a system which has since been elaborately investigated by other geologists.

The Geological Society of Pennsylvania, though its career was only brief—1833 to 1836—lived long enough and was vigorous enough to secure the institution by the Legislature in 1836 of a geological survey of that State. On the organization of the survey. Prof. Rogers was appointed geologist, with James Curtis Booth and John F. Frazer assistant geologists, and Robert E. Rogers, the fourth of the "Rogers brothers," chemist. Six annual reports of the progress of this survey were made to the Legislature from 1846 to 1852, when it was suspended through the failure of the two houses to make an appropriation for its further prosecution. For the next ten years—1842 to 1851—Prof. Rogers was employed by various coal companies as an expert. During this period—in 1846—he established his residence in Boston. In 1855 the preparation of a final report of the Pennsylvania Geological Survey was committed to him, on condition that he should receive sixteen thousand dollars, should furnish the State one thousand copies of the book, and should own the copyright of it. In order to command the best work possible with the amount appropriated by the State, he had the printing and engraving of the book done in Edinburgh, more cheaply and quickly than they could be afforded in like style in the United States, and removed there in order to supervise them. The report, which embodies the results of eighteen years of labor, brought the author fame and applause, but pecuniary loss instead of profit; for the cost of it exceeded the appropriation by many thousand dollars. The book, in two quarto volumes, contains 1682 pages, is illustrated by 778 woodcuts and diagrams in the text, 69 plates, and 18 folded sheets of sections, and was published by W. Blackwood & Sons (London and Edinburgh), and J. B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, in 1858. The highest commendation was given to this work by Prof. Rogers's successor on the geological survey, who said that, on the reading of the special memoirs at the end of the second volume, there could be "no sentiment but one of admiration for the breadth of his views and the clearness, force, and elegance of his delineations. No geological paper has ever appeared excelling in every good quality his memoir on coal."

In a report of the proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which Prof. Rogers was a member, dated May 28, 1867, these words appear: “His first systematic geological labor was that of conducting the survey of the State of New Jersey. . . . While thus engaged, a similar survey of the great State of Pennsylvania was provided for by the Legislature, and placed under his direction. . . . During the early progress of this work he produced in conjunction with his brother, William B. Rogers, the well-known memoir, On the Physical Structure of the Appalachian Chain, unfolding certain dynamical laws which have regulated the elevation of mountain chains. About the same time (1842) he published an elaborate paper on the origin of the Appalachian coal strata, bituminous and anthracite, containing much original observation and important speculative views, his brother pursuing a parallel system of investigation in Virginia, where the formations are identical with those of Pennsylvania. The result of the labor of these two brothers, carried on for ten years together, was the grand discovery of the structural unity of central North America, between the Appalachian chain and the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, and the Delta inclusive, a fact of such importance that it must serve in future as a guide to all general researches, since it is not reasonable to suppose that so large a portion of the earth's surface should have been formed in any other than the normal mode. . . . Prof. Rogers was one of the founders and an early president of the American Association of Geologists, which after an active and most useful career expanded into the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Although chiefly devoted to geological research, he paid much attention to those sciences of which geology is the extended application—natural history, climatology, and physical geography."

His work was appreciated abroad as well as at home. He received the degree of LL. D. from Trinity College, Dublin; was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (London), and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and of many other important societies. He was also for two years the President of the Philosophical Society of Glasgow. He became one of the conductors of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, and was associated with Sir William and A. K. Johnston in the publication of maps of physical geography and geology, particularly of a geological map of the United States and a chart of the arctic regions in their Physical Atlas.

The anniversary address of the President of the Geological Society (London), in a notice of Prof. Rogers, contains the following estimate of his work as a geologist:

"While employed upon his great survey he had contributed to the Proceedings of this society a paper entitled Some Facts in the Geology of the Central and West Portions of North America. In this address he dwelt especially on those great features which he had elaborated in his survey, the disturbance of the Palæozoic rocks of the Appalachian chain, ‘a stupendous undulation or wavelike pulsation, the strata being elevated into permanent anticlinal and synclinal flexures, remarkable for their wave-like parallelism and for their steady declining gradation of curvature when they are compared in any east and west section across the corrugated zone.’ To the westward of the Appalachian chain, where this structure is conspicuous, he pointed out that ‘the crust waves flatten out, recede from each other, and vanish into general horizontality.’ Coupled with these leading features he remarked that the total thickness of the coal measures steadily diminishes from some three thousand feet thick in Pennsylvania to fifteen hundred feet in the Illinois basin, and to not more than one thousand feet in the basins of Ohio and Missouri; and similarly the number of workable seams of coal diminishes from twenty-five on the Schuylkill to probably seven in Indiana and Illinois, and but three or four in Iowa and Missouri. And when we add to this the clearly established facts of the increasing amounts of sea deposits simultaneously with the decrease of land-derived materials eastward and the diminishing effects of metamorphoses in the same direction, from the fully bituminous coals of the Western States to the hard anthracites of the most disturbed region, it must be conceded that Prof. Rogers contributed a noble quota to the unraveling of some of the grandest phenomena which geologists have been called upon to investigate."

In the autumn of 1857 Prof. Rogers was appointed Regius Professor of Natural History in the University of Glasgow, which position he held until his death. A Glasgow paper thus describes his inaugural lecture:

"The hall was densely crowded and the lecture of the learned gentleman was listened to throughout with the most decorous attention, broken only at intervals when some passage of surpassing beauty evoked the spontaneous applause of the alumni. To great scientific attainments Prof. Rogers unites great popular ability. His intellectual faculties are admirably balanced. It would be difficult indeed to say whether the analytic or synthetic faculty is the stronger, so delicate is the poise of power. . . . It would be doing injustice to Prof. Rogers to attempt so much as an outline of the lecture delivered yesterday; suffice it to say that, as far as any lecture could be so, it was an exhaustive synopsis of the wide field of scientific research embraced under his professoriate. The grouping of the varied branches of the general subject was executed with the utmost precision and completeness. The marvels of Nature that were met at every turning in the path of investigation were brought most happily before the imagination of the neophytes of science, while the great practical results of the study of natural history were never once lost sight of, even in presence of its most gorgeous visions."

Prof. Rogers returned with his family to the United States on a visit in the summer of 1865. He went back to Scotland alone in the following April, in order to resume his teaching of the summer classes of medical students in zoölogy. In May, word was received by his family that he was ill. Mrs. Rogers, with two of Prof. Rogers's brothers, took the first steamer to go to him, but when they reached Liverpool they learned that he had died several days before, of erysipelas.

The following notices of Prof. Rogers appeared in Philadelphia papers shortly after his death:

"It is difficult and perhaps impossible in the compass of a notice like the present to convey an adequate notion of the general attainments of Prof. Rogers, or of his peculiar views in geological science. As a geologist he might be termed a paroxysmist, although he preferred to give full weight to the operation of those ordinary causes which are gradually and silently working to bring about the changes everywhere recorded on the surface of the earth. But he believed that many of the more marked cosmical phenomena could not be sufficiently explained without a resort to the doctrine of catastrophes, and he deliberately though modestly announced his opinion in these respects. His acquirements in all departments of physics were considerable, to which he added the accomplishment of a large acquaintance with our own literature and that of other countries. Accustomed to consider closely the important social and ethical questions which engage the attention of enlightened men, he brought to their examination an accuracy and breadth of observation derived from his habits of scientific investigation.

"Prof. Rogers was a member of many learned societies both in Europe and America, and his scientific brethren will amply honor his memory. We may add that, though representing America in a foreign university for many years, his patriotism was fervent, and he was able to defend and maintain the cause of the Union at all times and under all circumstances."

Another paper said:

"As a lecturer Prof. Rogers's excellences will long live in the recollections of his Philadelphia auditors. His calm, impressive tone, thoroughly well sustained and occasionally rising with the swell of his subject to a high pitch of eloquence, his quiet, gentlemanly bearing, his thorough mastery of and deep interest in his subjects never failed to kindle even in the most indifferent listeners at least a temporary glow responsive to the feeling of his own breast. He has passed away, and left a name not soon to be forgotten by the cultivators of science, and a place among his friends and associates that can not without great difficulty be supplied."

"Of him whom we have lost," says the minute of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, "suffice it to record here in simplest and briefest phrase that he was a most accomplished investigator, a graceful and persuasive teacher, and fascinating companion; that to rare powers and attainments he added a lively sympathy in all the interests of humanity, and a courageous devotion to whatever he deemed just and true."

Besides the reports and books already named and the periodicals he conducted, Prof. Rogers was the author of thirty-seven papers in scientific serial and other publications, he and William B. Rogers of eight, and he and Martin H. Boyé of one paper.

He was chosen a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1835. He was elected an honorary member of the Boston Society of Natural History in 1842, and participated in discussions at its meetings nearly every year from 1845 till 1858, speaking usually on geological facts or theories.

Other societies besides those already mentioned of which Prof. Rogers was a member were the Geological Society of London, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Anthropological Society of London.


M. Albert Gaudry, in a review of the course of development of animate nature through the geological ages, remarks on a curious analogy between the changes experienced by fishes in the Secondary age and those which modern warships are passing through. As soon as the thought of armoring vessels took effect, stronger projectiles were devised, in order to penetrate the armor. Then the armor had to be strengthened, and just as rapidly as the plates were made thicker, more enormous projectiles were cast; so that the race has culminated in the construction of vessels so heavy that they are almost unmanageable, and thought is turning again toward light, swift boats. With the Secondary fishes, too, offensive arms and defensive armor were developed pace by pace. The teeth were modified till they could crush through the hard cuirasses of the ganoids, and the Secondary beds are characterized by marine animals thus furnished. Powerful grinding teeth are found in the bony and the cartilaginous fishes, and even in many of the massive reptiles of the Trias. The fishes, exposed to enemies whose instruments of offense matched their defensive armor, were obliged to seek safety in flight. Their vertebral column became more solid, so as to furnish a strong support to their spinal muscles, and their tails were shortened and broadened so as to become instruments of energetic locomotion. When this transformation was completed, the carnivorous fishes had no more use for crushing teeth, and they have almost disappeared; no more marine reptiles with teeth like paving stones are found in the Tertiary beds or in modern times; and fishes with large teeth working like millstones are rare in comparison to those which have thin cutting teeth; and power resides in agility to reach the goal or escape the danger. Existing fishes are marked by an activity that was unknown in the ancient oceans, and justify the observation of Moquen Tandon. that "the agitation and inconstancy of the sea seem to have impressed themselves on the beings which live in its waves, in the suppleness, rapidity, and vivacity of their movements."