Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to SPENCER FULLERTON BAIRD, dated May 24, 1852.
I received the barometers a few days since, & shall remit to Mr Green the amount of this bill by next post. I
am much obliged to you & Prof. Henry for
your trouble with regard to them, and hope to have an opportunity of using them to
some purpose. One is a cistern the other a syphon, barometer and they are both in
general for anything I can see to the contrary, well constructed and well finished
in the main. Neither of them, however, is divided with scrupulous accuracy, and the
lower viewer of the syphon is more than .015 too short. The error of reading
thus occasioned, it is true, is not great, but as the shortness of the vernier is obvious at a glance, it annoys & embarrasses the observer at every observation, and is moreover a bad indication in regard to the general fidelity of the instrument. The two do not accord very precisely in their indications, the syphon always standing from .025 to .040 above the cistern, and in the former the adhesion of the mercury to the tube is so great in the short limb, that when it is rising fast, it is often almost impossible to make the surface of the column assume the meniscus form. I have not hitherto to used them hypsometrically because I wished first to compare them carefully, and by a pretty
long series of observations, in my study, suspended as recommended by Prof. Guyot, and I make a dozen or more observations per day, purposefully at irregular hours, in order to get at the general mean between them.
Spring has last set in, though we had fires every day from the last of October till
about the 20' of this month. I am writing some loose babble about the Desert. I
don't know what I shall do with it. I'm afraid I can never get done with it, for the
moment I begin to treat my particular point, it swells up like a bladder, and I am
fearful I shall make a volume on a grain of sand. Very likely I shall burn the whole
affair, but don't speak of it! I am not ambitious of ap-
pearing in the Literary Gazette, as a distinguished scholar and diplomat, who is understood to be engaged in preparing his travels in Arabia for the press' --
You will infer from my letter to Mr Jewett, that there are troubles afoot. Well, when one gets to the bottom, he can't go much lower.
Mrs. M. is in her usual state of weakness, and is now suffering from the effects of a visit to the principal mosques, which she was allowed to go through in a sedan chair.
I am grieved when I think of you. A young man once said to me ' Oh! if you had my
talents, or I your learning?! Complimentary, wasn't it? Well, If I had your
knowledge, a book would come of the cross! I want to see you and Mary out here, a
[The following appears at the top of the page beginning "Constantinople May 24 52"]
mazingly. Can't Agassiz get somebody to give you 5000. and a cask of spirits, and send you out into the wilderness?
Yours truly G P Marsh
References in this letter:
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.
Trained as a physicist, Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was professor of natural philosophy at Princeton University where he conducted original research on electricity and magnetism. When the Smithsonian Institution was created, he was chosen as its first Secretary. From 1846 to 1878 Henry established basic policies and defined the scope of the Smithsonian's activities.
Charles Coffin Jewett (1816-1868), a distinguished librarian from Brown University, was appointed senior assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1848. He and Joseph Henry were continually in conflict over the importance of the library within the Institution's mandate and he was fired by the Board in 1855. He later became superintendent of the Boston Public Library.
Swiss born zoologist and geologist, Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) emigrated to the U.S. in 1846 to join the faculty at Harvard where he became a leading figure in American science. He a member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian and initially supported Baird but later disparaged his scientific accomplishments and, in 1863, attempted to block Baird's election to the National Academy of Sciences.