Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to ARNOLD HENRY GUYOT, dated November 16, 1857.
Returning from Newyork on Saturday last, I found your kind favor of Nov 9' for which I am extremely obliged to you.
I find my brother has corresponded with the gentleman at Dartmouth College, &
from the data furnished by them, and a Rail Road survey from Connecticut River to
Woodstock, has ascertained the elevation of that village with approximate certainty.
I will send you the memoranda as soon as I can obtain them from him. I believe the
old canal levelling along the valley of the Connecticut was reliable; & the
surveys made by U. S. officers in 1827 up the Winooski or Onion River & across
the State were also. I have no doubt, faithfully executed, but the Rail Road levels
in New England are in general entitled to no confidence whatever. There are cases
within my personal knowledge where the and grades
differ by more than feet to the mile, and that for considerable
distances. In the discharge of my official duty as Com. of R.
R for this state
I shall have occasion to pass over & examine all the R.R. routes in Vermont, & I propose to [correct?] with these examinations barom. meas. of the elevations of the most interesting points in the neighbourhood of the routes as well as of many more remote from them. When near my brother, we can make simultaneous observations but in general the difficulty of finding competent observers will oblige me to use a single instrument. With respect to instruments, I am familiar with Green's, (my brother is by him] as well as some others I have a very good opinion of G. ability but my own experience has led me to form an unfavorable [estimate?] of his fidelity In 1852, I was residing at Const. & ordered two from G. which I intended to carry with me into the the confines of Asia Minor & Syria proper, but the disturbed state of the country prevented my journey. The instruments were of the most slovenly and unfaithful workmanship, & I could hardly suppose a man who had any regard for his own reputation or for his customers would suffer such work to leave his shop.
I made many measurements, using generally Altmann's formula, in the neighbourhood of
the Bosphorus but had not confidence in the results obtained by such imperfect means
to preserve many of them. One observation however may interest you. In the autumn of
1853, the English, French, Turkish & Egyptian fleets composed almost
wholly of ships of the line & steamers armed with guns of large caliber were in anchored in the Bosphorus, the two former along the eastern shore opposite my residence at Therapia, the others in the bay of Büyükdereh a little to the north. North & N. West of the latter bay runs E & W a ridge of hills 800-900 feet high & opposite, on the asiatic side, lies Yusha Dagh in the Giant's Mountain of about the same height. Below these hills the shores rise abruptly to the height of 100 feet & then more gradually about as much more. To the south the channel of the Bosphorus is crooked & the shores considerably higher; so that the space occupied by the ships formed a basin five or six miles long & from 3/4 to 2 miles wide, shut in every where by steep hills of considerable elevation I give this description of the locality to show that the atmosphere is so confined latterally that the effects of a violent concussion would be more readily perceptible. On occasion of the Sultan's visit to the fleets, knowing that many salutes would be fired & wishing to see what effect would [be] produced in the mercurial column I suspended the barometer in a room fronting upon the water & made frequent observations for some
hours before the Sultan's visit. The Sultan was received with a general salute from the fleets & the numerous batteries on the Bosphorus, which was repeated when he left the fleets to return to his palace, but the firing produced no effect whatever upon the mercury except a tremulous agitation which might have been produced by the shaking of the building as well as by the concussion, but during the day the height of the column was not affected, the diurnal variations being altogether normal
I shall be extremely obliged to you for your measurements of our mountains. The heights generally given are those calculated by Capt Partridge whom I assisted in making many of them, as well as in taking the alt. of Mount Washing[ton] in 1821. Capt P. used a single [...], (Englefields) and often neglected to observe the thermometer. This measurement of Mount W. however was a close approximation & I am curious to know whether he was equally successful with our G. M. peaks.
Circumstances have given me a special interest in the phys. geog. of Sicily. Can you
give me the heights of some of the principal elevations in the island. Etna of
course is well known, but I can get [no]
satisfactory information as to other elevations having at hand, though many books of travels no scientific obs. Lippincott's (gazetteer (p.1780 says that next to Etna are Calatabellota 3690' Monte Cuccio 3329 Monte Scuderi 3190 & Dinnamare 3112. This is inconsistent with what is said p. 394 where Castrogiovanni is described as 4000 feet above the sea & I certainly do not remember to have heard either of these peaks named in Sicily as the highest, and I am sure that the Pizzo dell'antenna, which according to Parthey Wanderungen II 255 exceeds 6000 feet in height, is very considerably more elevated that Castrogiovanni, while as C. itself is visible in almost every direction at a distance of 50 - 60 miles I cannot think it less than 4000.
References in this letter:
Swiss-American, Arnold Henry Guyot (1807-1884), taught physical geography and geology at Princeton University. Under Smithsonian Institution auspices, he set up a system of weather observatories that utimately grew into the U. S. Weather Bureau. His barometric tables, published as A Collection of Meteorological Tables, with other tables useful in practical meteorology, published by the Smithsonian in 1852, were very influential. Guyot's contribution to physical geography, Earth and Man (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1849) inspired Marsh, despite Marsh's disagreements with some of its premises.
In November 1857 Marsh was appointed Vermont Railroad Commissioner, a post he held until 1859. An informed critic of railroad corporate abuses, he wrote three devastating reports, incurring the wrath of the railroad lobby. Using its influence in the Vermont legislature, the lobby sought to block his reappointment.
When the English instrument maker, James Green established a business in Baltimore in 1832, he brought with him the knowledge of the latest European technology to which he made substantial improvements. Green moved his firm to New York in 1849 and retired in 1885. His nephew, Henry J. Green, continued the business under his own name. Between 1840 and 1940 the firm manufactured most of the barometers for scientific use in this country.
Sultan Abdul Medjid ascended to the throne of Turkey in 1839. With the aid of England and France he reestablished Turkish control over Egypt and substantially transformed the Ottoman Empire from a theocracy into a modern state.
Captain Alden Partridge, (1785-1854), was a mathematician and an engineer, as well as an important figure in the founding of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
In 1806, Sir H. C. Englefield developed a fixed cistern barometer that was noted for being portability but was not dependably accurate. [W. E. Knowles Middleton, The History of the Barometer. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1964, p. 160.]
J. B. Lippincott & Co. published many atlases.