Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/February 1903/Scientific Literature

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Scientific Literature.


Besides the individual works named in recent numbers of The Popular Science Monthly, the collected works, or dictionaries, of biography, particularly those treating specially of scientific men, contain valuable information of the lives and labors of the chemists. So far as known to the writer there is only one book devoted to chemists exclusively, and that one is so full of mistakes and so weak through its omissions of conspicuous men of all nationalities, especially Americans, that it could only be named for the purpose of condemning it. Suffice it to say the book is of German origin, yet it does not include all the honorary members of the German Chemical Society. The fact that it is of recent origin and is issued by a prominent publisher does but strengthen its weakness.

The most valuable of all biographical dictionaries dealing solely with men of science is also of German origin, and owing to its unwieldly title is usually designated by the words: 'Poggendorff's Dictionary.' The 'Biographischliterarisches Handwörterbuch zur Geschichte der exakten Wissenschaften,' begun in 1858 by J. C. Poggendorff, and continued to 1900 by Feddersen and von Oettingen, now comprises three large volumes, and another is promised; it is most comprehensive, including all nationalities, all epochs of history and all branches of exact science. Under the last heading, however, as interpreted by its originator, the dictionary does not include biology, so that with few exceptions, botanists and zoologists, as well as physicians, are omitted; otherwise for mathematicians, astronomers, geologists, physicists and chemists it is most valuable. This dictionary not only gives very brief outlines of the lives of those catalogued, but in addition, fairly full lists of their scientific publications both in independent books and in periodicals. To the historian, and the student of the literature of sciences within the categories named, these volumes are indispensable; together with 'Who's Who in America' they form a vade mecum with reference to the dead and the living actors in science. If a personal remark may be here permitted, the writer will venture to add that his copy of 'Poggendorff's Dictionary' has been enhanced in value by the insertion of more than six hundred engraved portraits of savants, each one adjoining the appropriate biography, thereby doubling the number of volumes and increasing the interest of the reader.

Several works are particularly admirable for the abundance of the portraits of scientists within their covers; among these may be mentioned the four volumes published in 1833-40 by the Philanthropic Society, 'Montyon et Franklin,' containing likenesses not easily found elsewhere, and Figuier's 'Vie des savants' in five volumes, containing many portraits and illustrations in which imagination has been of great assistance to the artist. Hofmann's 'Erinnerungen an vorangegangene Freunde' (three volumes, 1889) embraces sketches of the lives of chemists only, illustrated by portraits, which unfortunately are not well engraved, though the text is that of a master as well as a sympathetic friend appreciative of the scientific work of those he portrays. The rapines by Hofraann include Graham, Liebig, Buff, von Fehling, Wöhler, Dumas, Quintino Sella, Kirchoff and Wurtz, as well as some of his own pupils; besides portraits of these chemists the volumes contain facsimiles and other illustrations.

Of English scientists living at the beginning of the nineteenth century there exists a very large, handsomely engraved print, which represents the men assembled in the Royal Institution; this was designed by Gilbert and drawn by Skill and W. Walker, the latter of whom being also the engraver; it was published in June, 1862. It contains fifty portraits, including twelve distinguished chemists, Cavendish, Dalton, Davy, Rumford, Watt, Wollaston, Rutherford and others; and is accompanied by a key and a volume giving biographies of all the scientists whose portraits are given. The book is edited by William Walker, junior, and with the print forms a most valuable publication of artistic merit.

Of American scientists the chief treasury for portraits and biographies are the volumes of The Popular Science Monthly as is well known to our readers. From the pages of this journal the late editor compiled a handsome book of over five hundred pages, entitled 'Pioneers of Science in America' (New York, 1896), and embracing sketches of forty-nine eminent men; the excellent portraits in this work were in large measure drawn and engraved expressly for it, and some of them can scarcely be found elsewhere.

In concluding these desultory comments on biographies of eminent chemists, begun in the April number, mention, must be made of two more volumes of interest; 'Essays in Historical Chemistry,' by T. E. Thorpe (London, 1894), might be more accurately entitled essays in chemical biography, for the volume consists of addresses and lectures dealing with the lives and scientific labors of twelve distinguished chemists, from Hon. Robert Boyle, the 'Father of Chemistry and Brother to the Earl of Cork,' to Dimitri Ivanowitsh Mendeléeff, the Russian whose name is memorably linked to the periodic law. Dr. Thorpe's essays are gracefully written and read well, but he has not always taken pains to verify his statements. The assertion, for example, that Claudio Bereguardi made experiments with the barometer on the leaning tower of Pisa (prior to Torricelli's invention) is a myth.

The second work to be named in conclusion is entitled 'Memorial Lectures delivered before the Chemical Society [of London]' (London, 1901), to which allusion has already been made; it contains masterly sketches of the lives and labors of twelve of the most eminent chemists who have died within the last decade, each written by a sympathetic friend or by one whose investigations were analogous. This work can be cordially commended as the most recent, authoritative and comprehensive volume published on the subject. Fine portraits embellish the valuable contribution to chemical biography.