Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/May 1898/Scientific Literature

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Scientific Literature.

There is no form of literature that has been more affected by the modern scientific spirit than history. Readers who are familiar with the writings of our earlier historians, even to the time of Bancroft, have found that the stories of the Discovery of America, of the Beginnings of New England, and of the Revolutionary War, as told by Professor Fiske, were full of freshness and novelty, taking hold of one in a way not felt before. The countless details of these respective periods under Fiske's philosophic treatment are found to have acquired an absorbing human interest. In tracing effects to causes and showing the successive stages in the progress of events, new meanings are perceived and new emotions awakened, and the period we are studying becomes a part of "the solemn work of ages, which is slowly winning for humanity a richer and more perfect life."

While each of Fiske's histories deals with a period that can be studied by itself as an epoch in human experience, the several works constitute a carefully planned series, and Old Virginia and her Neighbors[1] falls at once into its place between the Discovery of America and the Beginnings of New England. The story of Old Virginia begins with Sir Walter Raleigh and the Rev. Richard Hackluyt, near the close of the sixteenth century, and ends in 1753 with the expedition of the "youthful George Washington to warn the approaching Frenchmen from any further encroachment upon English soil." On March 25, 1584, was sealed the document that empowered Raleigh to "hold by homage remote heathen lands not actually possessed by any Christian prince, nor inhabited by Christian people, which he might discover within the next six years." The wealthy Raleigh, without delay, sent out two ships, which reached what is now known as North Carolina on July 4, 1584, and after a run of a hundred miles northward their commanders landed at Roanoke Island. The next year Raleigh sent out a hundred men to make the beginnings of a settlement at this island, which Queen Elizabeth suggested should be called Virginia, in honor of herself. But Raleigh's Virginia extended from Florida (held by Spain) to Canada (in the hands of the French). The first charter, issued by James I in 1606, limited Virginia within the thirty-fourth and forty-fifth parallels of latitude, and from the seashore a hundred miles inland. Three years later-a second charter made the hundred miles inland reach "from sea to sea." In 1609 New England and New Netherlands were cut off from Virginia; in 1632 Maryland became a separate palatinate; in 1663 Carolina, and in 1732 Georgia, were also detached from the original tract.

The preliminary chapter is entitled the Sea Kings, and it closes with the destruction of Spain's naval power by the catastrophe of 1588, when England snatched from Spain the sovereignty of the seas, and determined to begin the work of settlement in America, hoping to find mines of wealth like those Mexico and Peru had supplied that power; Chapter II, A Discourse on Western Planting; III, The Land of the Powhatans; IV, The Starving Time; V, Beginnings of a Commonwealth; VI, A Seminary of Sedition; VII, The Kingdom of Virginia; VIII, The Maryland Palatinate; IX, Leah and Rachel, comprise the first volume, which is illustrated by three maps—Tidewater Virginia, from a sketch by the author; Michael Lok's map, 1582, from Hackluyt's Voyages to America; and the Palatinate of Maryland, from a sketch by the author. In this volume we are brought down to the middle of the seventeenth century.

Chapter X, on The Coming of the Cavaliers, opens the second volume, and the reader's interest deepens as the history proceeds. Not the least of the charms of Professor Fiske's style are the racy comments and the fine observations interspersed throughout the story. Here is one. In speaking of the contrast between the maps of New England and Virginia, he says: "One can not find in all New England a county named from an English sovereign or prince, except Dukes for the island of Martha's Vineyard. . . . But for this one instance we should never know that such a thing as kingship had ever existed. As for the names of towns, there is in Massachusetts one Lunenburg, copied in Vermont, and on the map of New England we may find half a dozen Hanovers and Brunswicks, originals and copier. Between this showing and that of Virginia, where the sequence of royal names is full enough to preserve a rude record of the country's expansion, the contrast is surely striking. The difference between the Puritan temper and that of the Cavaliers seems to be written ineffaceably upon the map."

Now follows a spirited sketch of the Cavalier element in the composition of Old Virginia, and, while deprecating the personal and sectional prejudices of half a century ago, the author adds: "It is impossible to make any generalization concerning the origin of the white people of the South or of the North, further than to say that their ancestors came from Europe, and a large majority of them from the British Islands." And again: "It is a mistake to suppose that the contrast between Cavaliers and Roundheads was in any wise parallel with the contrast between high-born people and low-born"; and toward the close of the work we come upon the following statement that will doubtless be a surprise to many readers: "A comparative survey of Old Virginia's neighbors shows how extremely loose and inaccurate is the common habit of alluding to the old Cavalier society of England as if it were characteristic of the Southern States in general. Equally loose and ignorant is the habit of alluding to Puritanism as if it were peculiar to New England. In point of fact the Cavalier society was reproduced nowhere save on Chesapeake Bay. On the other hand, the English or Independent phase of Puritanism was by no means confined to New England colonies. Three fourths of the people of Maryland were Puritans. English Puritanism, with the closely kindred French Calvinism, swayed South Carolina; and in our concluding chapter we shall see how the Scotch or Presbyterian phase of Puritanism extended throughout the whole Appalachian region from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and has exercised in the Southwest an influence always great and often predominant."

Following the opening chapter upon the Cavaliers is Chapter XI, on Bacon's Rebellion, and like all the rest it is full of interest and instruction; XII is entitled William and Mary; XIII. Maryland's Vicissitudes; XIV, Society in the Old Dominion; XV, The Carolina Frontier; XVI, The Golden Age of Pirates; XVII. From Tidewater to the Mountains. There are three maps—Western Growth of Old Virginia, frontispiece, from a sketch by the author; North Carolina Precincts in 1729, after a map in Hawk's History of North Carolina; A Map of ye most Improved Part of Carolina, from Winsor's America, vol. v, p. 351.

Professor Fiske's genius for the writing of history is apparent on every page of his work. His broad training in philosophy and his accurate knowledge of modern science, along with his remarkable historic consciousness, make him equally happy in tracing effects to causes, in vivacious narrative, or when dealing with stirring incidents and graphic details. Nor does he omit upon occasion to draw lessons from the past for our present guidance, and now and then to point a very opportune moral. His next contribution to American history will be The Dutch and Quaker Colonies, which are promised without much delay, and will be warmly welcomed by a host of readers.

The purpose of the founder of the Smithsonian Institution, as stated in his will, "the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" has been more fully achieved by the group of men who constituted its officers during its first fifty years than even James Smithson himself could have expected. His motto has been faithfully adhered to, and as a result its workers and laboratories are probably more widely known among scientists than those of any other American institution. Its close connection with the Government has not been the least of its difficulties, and the consistency with which anything savoring of politics has been avoided reflects great credit on the officials. It is to these latter that whatever success the Smithsonian has achieved belongs. The simple subsidizing of an institution is but a step in its foundation. That the Smithsonian has been singularly favored in its officials, its present position implies. Joseph Henry, Spencer F. Baird, and Samuel Pierpont Langley, its three secretaries, are all names of high repute in pure science; as also those of men combining in a most unusual way executive ability with the true scientific spirit. Its minor workers have been equally efficient in their special departments and have also contributed largely to the success of the institution. In fact, the Smithsonian is one of the few scientific national enterprises of which we can be entirely proud. The present volume[2] is published in honor of its fiftieth anniversary, and to commemorate its first fifty years' work. A brief preface by William McKinley and a paragraph by the present secretary serve to introduce the reader. The first chapter gives a history of the founder, James Smithson. An account of the founding of the institution and the board of regents and the work of the three secretaries occupies the next three chapters and is by James Brown Goode, who was to have seen the volume through the press, and whose untimely death not only much delayed the latter's issue, but made a vacancy in the institution which it will be difficult to fill. The benefactors of the Smithsonian and their bequests are next taken up by Professor Langley. Since the original endowment, which was about $700,000, there has been received over a quarter of a million more; $250,000 of this latter amount was given by Thomas George Hodgson, whose curious and eventful life is briefly sketched by Professor Langley. A number of smaller bequests are also spoken of. The United States National Museum, the Smithsonian Library, and the general buildings and equipment of the latter are described in a chapter by G. Brown Goode. The Bureau of American Ethnology, one of the most efficient of the Government's scientific departments, is treated of by W J McGee. Several other papers calling attention to various outside scientific enterprises instituted by the Smithsonian, the international exchange system, the National Zoölogical Park, etc., are concluded by an appreciative sketch of G. Brown Goode by David Starr Jordan; and finally we have a series of papers under the heading. Appreciations of the Work of the Smithsonian Institution, which occupy the last three hundred pages. A number of excellently executed portraits add much to the attractiveness of the volume, which is in purpose, contents, and mechanical execution a worthy monument to the institution which it describes.

  1. Old Virginia and her Neighbors. By John Fiske. In two volumes. Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., The Riverside Press.
  2. The Smithsonian Institution. 1846-1896. The History of its First Half Century. Edited by George Brown Goode. City of Washington. 1897.