Popular Science Monthly/Volume 76/May 1910/Insects and Entomologists: Their Relation to the Community at Large II

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By Professor J. B. SMITH


AND now, having given a very hasty and superficial statement to show how important a place the insect really occupies in the social economy, it behooves me to say something of some of the men whose labors made some of these facts and conclusions known.

Many of the matters of which I have spoken are of recent development and the men who have done the work are still with us and still working. Some are in attendance at this very meeting and as we expect still better work from them, nothing will be said of what they have done thus far. And while it is intended to confine the mention to American entomologists, it is necessary to include under that head some whose claim to be called American rests altogether upon the work done with or on American insects. Let me say too that the order in which the names come is not meant to represent anything more than convenience in arrangement of topics, and finally, it is not to be understood that omissions show lack of regard, but only that within my time limit no photographs were obtainable.

Thomas Say has been termed the father of American entomology, and certainly no one is better deserving of that term than he. He builded well and broadly and his knowledge of the American insect fauna was surprising. His work was in all orders and the amount of material that passed through his hands was very large. Unfortunately most of his types have been destroyed, so that we are not now able to see the specimens that he had to work with. This has made less trouble than with some other authors, because Say had that wonderful faculty of seizing upon and describing the specific peculiarity of the individual before him. I well remember the hours that I spent over his descriptions, trying to identify captures made thirty-five years ago, and while I was often disappointed, I succeeded in correctly identifying what I now consider a really large percentage of the forms taken. Say's experience meant hard work under difficulties: no money—very little literature. His bed, for a time, the floor of the Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, his food costing six cents per day. Encouragements there were few—discouragements many and none greater than the lack of literature. None of the younger men can appreciate that hunger for books with which the older men were compelled to fight and the enjoyment of getting into an alcove with
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volumes that you knew were in existence hut had never before seen. And yet Say was well off in these matters because he had the library of the academy to draw upon, and there were then—possibly there are now—more works on entomological subjects in Philadelphia than elsewhere in the United States.

Melsheimer and Haldeman were also of the Philadelphia clan, coleopterists and systematists, and to the former we owe the first catalogue of American coleoptera—an excellent piece of work for its time and of very great use to students until it was superseded by the Crotch check list, which remained the standard for many years until it in turn was superseded by the Henshaw list. These latter check lists are both the work of the Boston circle, Crotch having done most of his work at Cambridge, where Henshaw is still doing excellent service.

Dr. John L. LeConte, of Philadelphia, has without doubt done more for American coleopterology than any one other man. It was my privilege to know him personally and to profit to some extent by his encouragement and advice. Dr. LeConte, though confining his work to the coleoptera, was by no means narrow in his knowledge, and the comprehensive view that he was able to take of his subject is witnessed in the "Classification of American Coleoptera," which forms to the present day the basis of our knowledge in this order, and which will maintain its value though the order of families may be changed and their relationships better established. Dr. LeConte's collection is now at Cambridge, accessible to all serious students.

Dr. George H. Horn, first a pupil, later a collaborateur with Dr. LeConte, did as much or even more systematic work in coleoptera. But the work is different: Dr. Horn was a genius in the separation of species and in their arrangement within generic or family limits; but he lacked the broad views of Dr. LeConte and was more precise in working out details. With Dr. Horn I was well acquainted, and many an hour did I spend in his room among his boxes, while he was on his rounds; for the doctor had a large practise and entomology was his recreation. I regret that I can not give a picture of that room. There was a cot in one corner which was often the only available place to sit; there was a huge table or desk occupying most of the floor and, during the many years that I knew that room, this table was cleared only once. Occasionally the cigarette stumps would be gathered together and thrown out; hut the dust and dirt were never otherwise disturbed. Cabinets and book-shelves were about the walls and books were everywhere—on the floor, the chairs and often even on the bed. It was strictly a workroom and the doctor was an indefatigable worker. His collection is now in the rooms of the American Entomological Society in Philadelphia.

John Abbot, associated with J. E. Smith in the work on the rare
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lepidopterous insects of Georgia, is an example of the combination of artist and entomologist, and his published drawings give no idea of the amount of the work he actually did, nor any real idea of its beauty and accuracy. There are bundles of unpublished drawings in the British Museum, a few of them in the Boston Society of Natural History, and others scattered about. Some of the insects figured have never been found since; some, described from the figures by Guenée, Boisduval and others have never been satisfactorily identified, and I well remember my hunt through Paris, over twenty years ago, under the guidance of M. Aug. Sallé after the original of one of Boisduval's descriptions, which was finally located in the possession of a former housekeeper, who fell heir to some of the effects of her master.

A hale, hearty old man was Dr. J. G. Morris, of Baltimore, when I first met him thirty years or more ago, and never was I more pleased to meet any one because, somehow, I had received the impression that be was dead. Dr. Morris made the first attempt to gather together the descriptions of American lepidoptera, and his volume in the Smithsonian series proved a very useful one to the collectors of that day. Unfortunately the scheme was never completed, and a very small section only of the Heterocera is represented in the volume. Dr. Morris did not, I believe, ever describe either genus or species, and never pretended to any extensive collection.

A. R. Grote, of Buffalo, and later, New York, was a most earnest worker in the heterocerous lepidoptera and chiefly in the Noctuidæ. To him we owe the first satisfactory arrangement of our species, and the identification of the species described earlier by Guenée and Walker. It was no light task, and how remarkably well done it was I did not realize until years thereafter, when I undertook similar work. Mr. Grote's collection is now in the British Museum, where I have had the opportunity of comparing its types with those of Walker and Guenée which are also in that rich treasure house.

Mr. W. H. Edwards, of Coalburg, W. Va., I never met, although his death is comparatively recent. But his magnificent work in the butterflies lives on, and will continue to live. Mr. Edwards was much more than a describer of genera and species. He was a real student of the life of the insects, and he did more to make known their early stages than any one other worker: and besides, he set up a standard of thoroughness and accuracy, that our younger students must live up to if they expect their work to be regarded. His collection is now in the Carnegie Museum, at Pittsburgh.

Mr. Henry Edwards, of New York City, was one of the centers of entomological interest in that city—hearty, whole-souled, enthusiastic. He made friends wherever he went and his travels carried him not only throughout our own country, but into Australian and Asiatic countries as well. He was an excellent collector and his cabinet was unusually rich in Californian and Pacific coast forms. This collection remains in New York, and forms the nucleus for the lepidoptera in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History.

Dr. George D. Hulst was one of the Brooklyn entomologists and devoted his energies to work in the lepidopterous families Geometridæ and Pyralididæ. "While his systematic work in these groups is most useful, it is not equal to his personal influence upon those that were fortunate enough to come into contact with him. I grew to love that man and felt his death as a personal loss. His collection is now in my charge at Rutgers College, to which institution it was given by him before his death.

Dr. Herman Strecker, of Reading, Pa., was known to many of our older members, and never were there more diverse judgments than those passed upon him. But he was earnest if erratic, and succeeded in accumulating an enormous collection of lepidoptera during his long life. He would pay any price for a specimen that he wanted, and halt at no expedient to secure what he could not buy. He was a genius with pen, pencil and chisel; a sculptor of mortuary emblems by profession, and a painter of butterflies by choice. His publication on this subject was unique: all the drawings and engravings were made by him, and all the plates were hand colored. His industry was continuous and he was tireless in his work. His writings were spicy and he never hesitated in printing what he wanted to say: he was his own publisher and had none to say him nay. His collection is now in the Field Museum in Chicago.

In the tineid families of the Microlepidoptera there was an immense untilled field which only one of the older American students had the courage to undertake. To Brackenridge Clemens belongs the honor of breaking ground in this series, and upon his work the subsequent students in the group, whom fortunately we yet number among • our associates, have built their own. Clemens also did some work in the macros, notably the Sphingidæ, and many of his types are yet to be found in the collections of the American Entomological Society.

Among the unique figures in American entomology none looms larger than Dr. H. A. Hagen, of Cambridge. Big, ponderous, thoroughly German to the end of his life, intensely loyal to his chief and his work, he was easily the most learned entomologist of his day. His monumental work in the literature of entomology has proved a gold mine for later students, and would alone have been considered a creditable life work. But Dr. Hagen was also a special student in the Neuroptera, and his volume in the Smithsonian series is essential to every student in the order to the present day. I knew Dr. Hagen well and was his guest at times. I won his heart by the meekness with which I accepted a severe reproof concerning a sending of diptera for determination. He had kindly replied to a letter of mine asking for aid and, in return, I had packed a cigar box as full as it would hold of undetermined specimens, big and little. I got it back next mail, and with it a letter. The letter was instructive, very—and if the medicine was bitter, it was at least salutory for I never did the like again, and have never dealt quite so hardly as I might with those who have in later times imposed upon me, as I did upon Dr. Hagen. His library and his collections are at Cambridge, and no one who has not seen both can appreciate the amount and character of the work that the good doctor did during his lifetime.

Baron von Osten-Sacken was an unusual combination of diplomatist and entomologist. Of his standing in the former capacity I know nothing; as a dipterist none stands better. To him we owe the early systematic work done in this country and the series of volumes published by the Smithsonian Institution, for even the work of Loew was made available through translation by Osten-Sacken. And so these two pioneers of American dipterology must almost necessarily be considered together, although the influence of Loew could not be so great because of his dependence on a translator in reaching the American public. Shortly before his death Osten-Sacken published his memoirs, which certainly make interesting literature. A large part of his collection is in the museum at Cambridge.

Among the hymenopterists I can mention only William H. Ashmead, whose death is so recent that most of us remember him personally, and whose gentle manner and unfailing courtesy endeared him to all who came into contact with him. His work was monumental and his systematic sense so developed that he seized almost at a glance upon the really essential structures of the species studied by him. So constant and persistent a worker was he that, to those of us who knew him personally, the surprise was not that he died so young, but that he lived so long.

Dr. A. S. Packard, of Brown University, was more than an entomologist: he was a biologist and a teacher. His work as a systematist was great; but as a teacher he was greater. And his teaching was not confined to the classroom; his "Entomology for Beginners," his "Guide to the Study of Insects" and his "Text-book of Entomology" continue his work, though his voice in the classroom is hushed. His interests were broad enough to include even the economic side of the subject and he appeared as a member of the U. S. Entomological Commission, though his part of the work was that which was more technical in the publications.

I can scarcely avoid referring at least to Dr. S. H. Scudder, although he is yet with us, not only because his work, unfortunately,
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is done; but because it was carried into fields not theretofore frequented by American entomologists. His labors on the fossil insects of America are unique, and his collection of material for further work is immense. Of his systematic papers on orthoptera and his accomplishments in other directions I will not speak at present.

All these men paved the way—they made the studies necessary to familiarize us with the insects round about us, and theirs is the labor that is not spectacular and whose apparent results are not of public interest: yet such work we must have as a foundation for what we consider the more practical side of the subject.

First among the economic entomologists of this country we must reckon Dr. Thaddeus William Harris, whose work on the "Insects Injurious to Vegetation" is a classic and, like most of the classics, was a labor of love rather than a money-making proposition. The state of Massachusetts paid him $200 for that work. Since that time it has learnt to pay rather more highly for entomologists, and nowhere have insects done more injury nor have they anywhere demanded the expenditure of greater sums. Harris's work is not only intensely practical, but it is interesting and informing—as useful to the beginning collector and entomologist as to the agriculturist, and always accurate.

Quite a different sort of man was Townend Glover, for a series of years entomologist to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, who wrote comparatively little, but used his pencil industriously; producing a perfectly enormous number of drawings of insects in all stages, and engraving them on plates from which only a very few impressions were taken. Unfortunately, Glover had almost no systematic knowledge of insects, and while he made excellent pictures of the specimens as they appeared to him, he had not the slightest idea as to the identity of the insects figured, nor did he preserve the originals.

Dr. Asa Fitch, of New York, was a man of different type. A hard worker and hard student, industrious, of course, he studied not only those species that his field work demonstrated to him as injurious, but their allies and neighbors, and with a sure glance he fixed upon certain of the hemipterous families as entitled to the special consideration of the economic worker. Dr. Fitch's reports as state entomologist initiated a work in that state which has not been abandoned since, and which has put it among the leaders in organizations for entomological work.

Meanwhile, in the middle west the ravages of insects had developed new needs and new workers, and Walsh, Riley and LeBaron, began to make themselves felt, and really to develop a science of economic entomology.

Benjamin Dann Walsh, of Illinois, had a career much too short, and it terminated before he had more than shown his vigor and orignality. In company with Riley, then a young man, he had planned much in the way of entomological work; but one report and a few vigorous papers in journals form the total of what remains to us.

Dr. William LeBaron, his successor in office, was a much less positive character, but an equally conscientious worker, and, in his fourth report, began what was intended to be a popular treatise on the insects, the systematic portion forming a sort of supplement to the specially economic portion. Illinois is another of the states which has never allowed its service to deteriorate, and there is no better work now done in the United States, nor is there a more effective organization than that within its limits.

Dr. Charles V. Riley was a prime factor in the development of economic entomology in the United States. His series of reports on the injurious and other insects of Missouri is a model which has never been exceeded in interest and value. Not the least important feature of these reports is the list of illustrations—wood-cuts most of them—that have never been surpassed in their fidelity to nature, and their artistic merit. Most of the insects figured in Riley's reports look natural, and that is the highest praise that can be given to any figure of this type. So well done are they that they have become common stock and are used again and again in bulletins and reports throughout the country. With his transfer to Washington his field of activity was enlarged, and he became a force in the development of the practical side of entomological work. The real development of our present battery of spraying outfits, arsenical poisons and kerosene emulsions began under Riley, and the fight to secure their adoption was a more difficult one than is understood. Congress thought itself very liberal when it reached the $20,000 mark for the division of entomology, and when we consider the force of men that Riley gathered and trained for that sum, men who form the nucleus of the division to the present day, we begin to appreciate the ability of the man.

I will not attempt to give a list of the men who were associated with Dr. Riley in the development of his office at Washington; I knew them all and worked with some of them for a time. And not the least of Dr. Riley's ability was in getting all that there was out of his assistants, in commanding their devotion and loyalty, although he constantly quarrelled with every one of them. He was the best loved, best hated, most admired and most detested man I ever knew; but he was always a better friend than he was an enemy, and never lost an opportunity to do a man a good turn even when he personally lost by it. Economic entomology owes much to Dr. Riley and his influence is still with us. I need hardly say that his successor has fully maintained the standard set for him, and that there is nowhere in the world at the present time a more efficient body of workers in economic entomology than that connected with the U. S. Department of Agriculture at Washington.

Dr. J. A. Lintner, who was for many years state entomologist of New York, was a model of gentle, persevering labor. Quiet and deliberate in manner, very painstaking in his work and observations, he maintained the high standard set for his office by Fitch, and his reports are models of completeness in the treatment of the subjects contained in them. He was a familiar figure at the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was always listened to with respect.

Last of all in this list of those who have been influential in the development of the fight against insect pests, because his loss is one of the more recent, is Dr. James Fletcher, of Ottawa, Ontario. Who of the entomologists attending the annual meetings of the American Association does not remember his hearty and cheering presence. Who does not remember his cordial greeting, his constant good nature and the directness and convincing qualities of his contributions to our discussions and debates. As for the work that he did in Canada—none could have done it as he did. He was widely informed, not a narrow specialist, he was a student of men as much as of insects, and he commanded the confidence of his constituency. It will take two men or more to carry on the work that this one did alone.

To summarize—insects are a factor of very great importance in the community: (1) because of their injuries direct and indirect; (2) because of their benefits, also direct and indirect, and millions of dollars annually are involved on both sides of the ledger.

The entomologist who studies these insects, determines which are harmful and which are beneficial, who works out their life histories and habits and who determines methods of controlling those that are harmful and improving those that are beneficial, is a worker of high importance to the community and deserving of every possible aid and assistance.