Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to SPENCER FULLERTON BAIRD, dated March 3, 1852.
My dear Spencer
Thy letter, and Marys, of Jan'y 20, have been received, welcomed, and cried and laughed over, as much as was good. I grieved at the exiguity of thy salary, but more at the loss of thy time. What a pity that Mr Henry, Mr Jewett, and thou, (I do observe order of rank and precedence in naming you) all men specially calculated to in your respective ways the sum of human knowledge, should have all "shot madly from your spheres" (I quote from Father Ritchie. Qu. Isn't that old fool dead yet?) and insanely devoted yourselves to the answering of foolish letters, directing of packages to literary societies, reading of proof sheets, and other mechanical operations pertaining unto the of knowledge! When I am Emperor, I'll turn you all out, put, clerkly, thick-headed men in your places, and set you at work at your old vocations again.
There hath been Lord Arthur Hay, a young militaire
returning from India, where he served several years, and as mad about
Natural History as you & Agassiz. His talk is of snakes, crocodiles, camels humps single and double, bird's gizzards, deer's horns and salamanders. Apropos of salamanders. I do conceive that in a brook at a place called Hunkiat Skeleosi, I discovered a new one, and my [argument?] is this. In Vermont, be many salamanders (the boys call 'em evets) and of divers sorts. All these have I seen, but not any such as that in the brookling aforesaid. Argal it is new, and I do name it Salamandrosus Maribus, which is as good Latin as a poor naturalist can afford to use, and is moreover recommendable on insinuating a prettyish compliment to thy wife, as who should say Mary's Salamander. In collections I have done little, partly because soon after Mrs Marsh's illness, I had my self a very severe attack of some biliary bedevilment, and was confined, with some suffering and much peril, for nearly two months, and am even yet not well, and further, because in winter all manners, of reptiles do hide and conceal themselves, an observation which I believe to be origin
al. Nevertheless some cold-weather fish and the like I have. In Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander the Great near the river Nilus in the year B.C. (when was it?) Mrs M. hath a living ostrich, 6 feet or more high What'll you give for him? When your spirit-cask was tapped it was found that is the spirit, to have shrunk grieviously cask not half full, nor near it. Qu., was it owing to cold weather, and will it expand, so as to fill the cask when the thermometer rises to 80, or was there some other cause of defalcation? I don't quarrel about the printing of my letter, I am oblivious of its contents, for I wrote it currente calarno, but after I sent it off, I remembered that I had forgotten to remember to speak of two common and remarkable atmospheric phenomena, viz. the great increase of the apparent size of small objects near the horizon in the valley of the Nile, and the mirage. Truly my
letter was the play of Hamlet, with the part of the prince omitted. I shall write to Henry, & speak of these things, which I observed often. It is odd that we saw the mirage very often between, Cairo & Suez, but never in the Arabian Pennisula, scarcely in the Great Wadee el Arabia.
I will remember Mr Haldemann. Of Coleopteras there be more here, as the Spanish minister a renowned entomologist saith, than anywhere else in the same limits. Of mantis and certain most incredible grasshopper, I have seen several. Fowls there be few. Of game birds we have pheasants (the true), partridges, quails and ducks. Bremer shall have eggs enough for an omelet. Of water fowl scarcely any but ducks, gulls, terns, ames damnées, & cormorants, of which latter I have seen a hundred at a time perched on the roof of a palace. Camels are not bred, and seldom seen, here. I may get a skull elsewhere. You want me to write a book. I will be advised on that subject, but in the N.Y. Times, after a certain space, there will appear a discourse of camels, by an anonymous author. Give me your opinion of it. I thank you for your attention about the barometers, but have not heard from Mr. Green. Our love attends you both, and our sovereign lady shall write unto your spouse. Let us be remembered to Gen & Mrs C. & the brother. yours truly G P Marsh
[The following appears at the top of the page beginning " Contantinople Mch 3rd 1852"]
Mch 14 -- This letter was truly written when it been date, but accidentally left behind The author of the Discourse of Deserts and camels happens to be here, and I think he will send a dozen sheets thereof to the N.Y.Times by this mail. Criticism is hard, and I will faithfully report your strictures to him. We are [...] having winter in earnest.
[The following appears on the left margin of the same page]
Warmest winter ever known here. Minimum thus far 26 Only thrice below 32 At sunrise from 40 to 44 generally & rises 10 degrees or so, sometimes 15 in course of day --
References in this letter:
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.
The British ornithologist, Lord Arthur Hay (1824-1878), contributed regularly to scientific journals. His collected papers were published in 8 volumes in 1881 as Ornithological Works.
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.
The entomologist Samuel Stehman Haldemann (1812-1880) was professor of Natural Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Marsh sent him specimens from Constantinople.
Marsh published two works on the Camel: "The Camel," in Report of the Smithsonain Institution for 1854, 98-122. 33 Cong. 2 Sess., Sen. Misc. Doc. 24. Washington, 1855. The Camel: His Organization, Habits and Uses, considered with Reference to His Introduction into the United States. Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1856.
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.
Sylvester Churchill and Lucy Hunter Churchill were Mary Churchill Baird's parents. A Vermont native, Sylvester Churchill (1783-1862), served in the War of 1812, was Inspector General in the Mexican War, and Brigadier General during the Civil War.