Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/March 1902/Alpheus Hyatt

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

PSM V60 D446 Alpheus Hyatt.png

ALPHEUS HYATT.


ALPHEUS HYATT.

By Professor W. H. DALL.

IN the death of Professor Alpheus Hyatt, of Cambridge, philosophical zoology in America has sustained a loss only second to that which was involved in the death of Cope.

Alpheus Hyatt was born in the city of Washington, District of Columbia, April 5, 1838. He was a scion of an old and honored Maryland family; from whom the suburban village of Hyattsville, near Washington, took its name; and which is still well represented in Baltimore. He lost his father early but his mother survived to a venerable age, dying in Washington hardly more than a year before her son.

Young Hyatt was a pupil of the Maryland Military Academy, subsequently entering the class of 1860 at Yale, but after the Freshman year he left the college for a year's travel in Europe. In 1858 he went to Harvard as a student of Louis Agassiz, in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, entering the Lawrence Scientific School from which he finally graduated in 1862. During the war of the Rebellion he served in the Forty-seventh Massachusetts volunteer regiment and left the army with the rank of captain, subsequently taking up post-graduate studies in Germany. In 1867 he married Miss Andella Beebe, of Valatia, New York, and became a curator in the celebrated Essex Institute of Salem, Mass., in which so many of the naturalists and historical writers of the last half century found at one time or another a congenial environment. About that time a particularly large group of workers was located in or about Salem, and in connection with Morse, Packard and Putnam, all ex-pupils of Agassiz, Hyatt took part in founding the Peabody Academy of Sciences in Salem. These four naturalists for some years formed its scientific staff, and by them, with the help of Scudder and others, the American Naturalist was started on its career of usefulness.

In 1870 Hyatt was elected custodian and, in 1881, curator, of the Boston Society of Natural History, at the same time, and for some years subsequently, serving as professor of zoology and paleontology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. He also had charge, up to the time of his death, of the important collection of invertebrate fossils in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and was one of the collaborators of the United States Geological Survey in its field work and paleontological researches.

Not content with personal devotion to research, Hyatt always felt it a duty to communicate as far as possible to other students and teachers the knowledge he had gained, which might render them capable not only of doing better educational work, but of themselves entering the ranks of the little army of investigators. This led him to make cruises in a small vessel with a crew of selected students, even as far east as the maritime provinces of Canada, and to the establishment at Annisquam of a summer laboratory for the study of marine life by teachers and students of zoology. This has now been superseded by more extensive and subsidized summer schools, called for by the great increase of interest in such studies, but, for some years, with no official support or collegiate subvention, Annisquam led the way. Similarly, aided by an association of friends of science, largely inspired by himself, Hyatt was instrumental in starting the Teacher's School of Science at the rooms of the Boston Society of Natural History, contributing by supervision, lectures and the preparation of science primers a great part of the elements of its success.

Hyatt was one of the originators and the first President of the American Society of Naturalists, an association of professional workers in zoology and botany which meets annually for exchange of ideas and methods and the promotion of acquaintance and good-will among its members. His labors for the promotion of science and for thorough research were universally appreciated among his fellow-workers, though not of the sort which leads to personal advertisement or miscellaneous popularity. Scientific men everywhere recognized his merit. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at Boston in 1869, In 1875 he became a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Brown University in 1898 gave him the degree of LL.D. and he was a correspondent of many foreign learned societies.

In the line of research Hyatt devoted his attention chiefly to invertebrate animals. Among his early papers was a contribution to the report on an expedition in which Verrill and others joined for the exploration of the Island of Anticosti, which, wrapped in fogs and beaten by tempestuous surges, had been almost untrodden by scientific men. Hyatt reported on certain remarkable fossils of the paleozoic rocks of the island. A memoir on some fresh-water polyzoa, illustrated by exquisite drawings and characterized by thoroughness and finish on its scientific side, attracted much attention. A paper on the evolutionary progress, illustrated by the Tertiary forms of Planorbis at Steinheim, as they occur in successive lake beds at that well-known German locality, pointed to the principles to the elucidation of which a large part of his scientific career was devoted. A memoir on the commercial sponges of North America received high encomiums from foreign naturalists as a model treatise on a particularly difficult subject. A very suggestive contribution to philosophical ontogeny was his 'Theory of Cellular tissues' which appeared in 1885. The group upon which most of his labor was spent and in the discussion of which he was recognized as facile princeps, is that of the tetrabranchiate cephalopods, popularly known as ammonites, which in early geological ages attained such a marvelous development. More than in many other mollusks the organization of the ammonite is reflected in the characters of the shell and the infancy, maturity and decline of the group to which it belongs is, to the qualified student, pictured in the characteristics of the successive portions of the lustrous coil of the fossil shell. By removing successive portions of these involving symmetrical whorls, the characters of the animal, from the larval stages to senile decay, may be unfolded. Hyatt's researches among these animals set the pace for the most eminent students of the group throughout the scientific world, and his most important publications were devoted to them. With an audience of perhaps a dozen living men who were fully qualified to appreciate the minutiae of his studies, it was not likely that their value could be popularly estimated. But the principles worked out were of far-reaching importance for the students of evolution everywhere, and will bear fruit in the future. A series of similar evolutionary studies of the land shells of the Hawaiian Islands was nearly completed at the time of his death.

Hyatt's studies of evolution, in geologic time, as well as on existing animals, led him to what are sometimes called Neo-Lamarckian conclusions. He believed in the hereditary transmission of acquired characters, and, in one case at least, proved their transmission. In common with Cope and the majority of American zoologists who have not derived their prepossessions from exotic teachers, he pursued the ideas of Lamarck and Darwin to their logical conclusion, as revealed in the genetic history of the animals he studied, and added to them a body of evolutionary philosophy with which all schools will have to reckon.

Leaving a subject which verges on the present conflict of scientific theories, it remains to say a few words, all too inadequate, on the man whom we have lost. No one who had the privilege of Hyatt's acquaintance but will' join in testimony to his high-minded scientific integrity; the infectiousness of his hearty enthusiasm; the fertility of his imagination, which yet was always controlled by constant reference to experience and observation; and the general atmosphere of good fellowship which he diffused. Unpretentious, open-minded, a constant example of clean living, high thinking, and unassuming kindness to all about him, an ideal husband and father, a steadfast friend; we shall not soon look upon his like again.

Professor Hyatt leaves a widow, a son and two daughters, whom the sympathy of his colaborers in two hemispheres may in some slight degree sustain under the consciousness of their common loss.