Science (journal)/Volume 47 New Series/No. 1201/Address at the Funeral Services of Joseph Young Bergen

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I have known Mr. Bergen for nearly thirty years, and for a considerable time I was intimately associated with him in the authorship of a book, a text-book of physics. He did not begin his scientific work as a physicist; he began it as a chemist, and he did not end it as a physicist; he ended it as a botanist. But these changes in the subject of his labors, like the changes in his place of residence—from the middle west to New England, then to Italy, then back to New England—came from no fickleness of interest or infirmity of purpose. They were the result of certain hard conditions working on a man of extraordinary versatility, of extraordinary capacity, of extraordinary devotion to high ideals.

As a teacher he was not content merely to hold a place; he was receptive, active-minded, original; his alertness of observation, his catholicity of interest, his energy of imagination, enabled him to take the dry, dull matters of daily experience and kindle them into a source of illumination and vivifying power. As a writer of books he was not satisfied to give the public of his readers merely what it wanted. In physics and later in botany he took a large part in a great revolutionary movement affecting the teaching of science in all the secondary schools of this country, so that his name became familiar to all the progressive teachers of physics or teachers of botany throughout the land. And in those other writings, of a less formal character, in which he and Mrs. Bergen cooperated with perfect sympathy, there was a solidity of substance and a quality of form that commanded, I believe, the respect and the approval of profound scholars.

Nor was this all. What a fine, brave thing it was for a man of middle life, with an assured position as a teacher and with little financial assurance elsewhere, to give up this position and go to Italy, in order to pursue his scientific studies in their higher aspect, the aspect of original research, and to give his wife the physical conditions of life which she needed and for which she longed. And how finely, how bravely, he bore the care, the anxiety, the sorrow, that come to all of us in some measure and that came to him, it might seem, almost beyond measure.

With this character and this career, what manner of man did he seem to those who met and talked with him? I remember him vividly as I used to see him twenty-five years ago, the tall, spare, slightly bending figure, the long, swift, gliding stride, the abundant tawny hair and beard, the great brow jutting over the resolute, patient, illuminated face. And what was his manner of conversation! He talked freely and of many things, but not in commonplaces. It was not that he avoided commonplaces; they did not occur to him; he had not a commonplace mind. If one was in the mood to indulge in the ordinary gossip of the day, one was not in condition to sustain worthily a conversation with him. But on one matter, one great matter, he never, so far as I can now recall, spoke to me. He was the son of a minister, and he once described to me with a certain grimness of humor some of the trials of a minister's family; but of religion, of religious faith or creed, he did not speak. He may have had a feeling, since I was a constant church-goer and he was the contrary, that we should not be sufficiently in sympathy to discuss these matters with good feeling. I do not know how this may have been; but, speaking as one who, though subscribing to no formal religious creed, has a religious faith which is precious and a religious experience that is vital, I can not easily believe that our friend had nothing of these possessions. For the beet evidence of something divine within ourselves and of something divine greater than our individual selves comes to us through affliction and sorrow borne with love; and this experience he had in full.

Harvard University

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1938, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.