THE visitor who has passed through the halls of the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy at Cambridge, and surveyed with astonishment those vast collections brought together and built up under the eye of the great master whom the Old World bred and educated for us and lent us, may perhaps be reminded that there is another collection not far distant which it will be worth his while to visit. He has just seen what can be done by a man of extraordinary genius, trained by the most distinguished teachers of Europe, aided by large private munificence and public appropriations, and assisted by a numerous corps of skilful and enthusiastic fellow - workers. The result, fragment as it yet is of a colossal plan, is worthy of the man and the agencies which by the force of his will, the influence of his example, the renown of his name, the seductions of his eloquence, the charms of his companionship, and above all the devotion of his life, he obtained the mastery of, and wielded for his one grand purpose, that of building up a museum such as the country of his adoption might be proud to show the land of his birth and the world of science. After what the visitor has just passed in review, the grand achievement of so many co-laborers under such guidance, it may seem like asking too much to call on him again for his admiration in showing him another collection, not wholly unlike the last in many of its features, the work almost entirely of a single hand.
We enter the modest edifice known as Boylston Hall, and going up a flight of stairs find a door at the right, through which we pass into a hall extending the whole depth of the building. The tables in the centre of the floor, the cases surrounding the apartment, and the similar cases in the gallery over these, are chiefly devoted to comparative anatomy. Above the first gallery is a second, devoted to the archæological and ethnological objects which make up the Peabody Museum.
The fine effect of the hall and its arrangements will at once strike the observer. In the centre of the floor stands the huge skeleton of a mastodon found in Warren County, New Jersey, in 1844. Full-sized casts of the “ fighting gladiator,” as it was formerly called, and the Venus of Milo stand at the two extremities of the hall, and one of the Venus de Medici opposite the door. Stretched out at length in glass cases are the anatomical wax figures, male and female, which used of old to be so wondered over by the awe-struck visitors who had gained admission into little Holden Chapel. The skeletons of a large alligator, and of an overgrown ant-eater; a rattlesnake of fearful size and aspect, and a youthful saw-fish, both in alcohol; a slab with fossil foot-prints from the Connecticut River valley, and cases of separate bones from the four animal kingdoms, are the other principal objects grouped about the mastodon.
In the cases around the room are great numbers of fine skeletons, of man and of various animals, — among them of the jaguar, the ostrich, the boa-constrictor, and of immense sea-turtles. Most interesting of all are the skull and other bones of a mighty gorilla. His head and pelvis are far from human in their aspect, but his arm-bone is so like that of his cousin Darwinian, that it looks as if it might have belonged to Goliath of Gath, or Og, king of Bashan. The skeleton of a young chimpanzee, by the side of that of a child, has a strongly marked effect of similar significance. There are also whole series of special preparations to show the parts of the skeleton concerned in locomotion in different classes of animals.
The cases in the gallery contain a vast number of wet and dry preparations, of which a very few may be indicated. One of Professor Wyman’s last labors was to refill the jars of the wet preparations with alcohol, and they are in excellent condition. Among these are many careful dissections of the nervous centres and the organs of sense, and a series of embryological specimens which cannot fail to arrest the most careless observer. There are the Surinam toads with their ova on their backs, like potatoes in their hills; there are the strange fishes with their mouths full of eggs; there is the infant skate with a broad laugh on his face as if he thought it a good joke to have been hatched, and forthwith drowned in proof-spirit, like Clarence in his butt of malmsey. Then come monstrosities of various kind and degree, wonders and nothing more to the vulgar, keys to some of nature’s deepest secrets to the man of science. We pass next to the nests of wasps and hornets, and the combs of bees, with casts of the cells, from some of which, it may be mentioned, Professor Wyman took impressions directly upon paper, thus insuring that accuracy for which he was almost unrivalled. The nests of the great ants will next attract the eyes of the curious, and near these, the wonderful carpentry of the beavers, as shown in the sticks they have cut into lengths as if with tools of human workmanship. The great chisels of the rodents, those enamel-faced incisors which are so contrived as to keep their sharp bevel by the mere wear of use, grin in the crania ranged in rows above. And so we might go on through almost innumerable specimens filling the shelves, not with the rubbish of cheap collections, but with objects each of which has an idea behind it, and each important series of which has been illustrated by a paper well known to the scientific world.
If the view of this anatomical and physiological collection has excited wonder and admiration, the sight of the archæological and ethnological collections in the gallery above the last, constituting the Peabody Museum, will be sure to give a not less admiring delight. Would the visitor see how his ancestors lived when they fought for the cave they wanted as a dwelling with the bear and the hyena; when the disposal of their dead was not a question of sepulture or cremation, but a simple matter of digestion: there are the bones of their loved ones, cracked for the marrow they held, or broken in pieces for easier culinary management, or marked by the welldeveloped canine teeth of the weeping but hungry mourners. There are the idols, the implements of war and peace, the utensils, of races of all grades of humanity; the flint tools and weapons from all quarters of the globe, startling us with the evidences of savage primeval Adams everywhere; relics of extinct tribes exhumed from shell - heaps in Denmark, in Florida, in Massachusetts; mummied remains from Egypt and Peru, images that Mexicans worshipped, pestles with which our Indians pounded their maize, bowls from which Alaskans drank their train - oil, helmets worn by chiefs of Pacific islands, bracelets and breastpins which once adorned the beauties of the lacustrine dwellings. No miscellaneous collection of “ curiosities,” but a well-ordered display of classified objects to illustrate the earlier stages of those processes by which a naked and defenceless biped, living in a hole like the foxes of the earth, has, in his descendants, subdued the hostile forces of nature to his will, and developed at length into a being of that luminous intelligence, those commanding powers, those benign graces, those farreaching aspirations, that empire over the instincts and passions, which show him, in his best estate, as but a little lower than the angels. Before us are the relics of the troglodyte’s unhallowed feast; what a mental and moral space between him who left his tooth-mark on the bone and him who wrote its label!
There is not one object among these many thousands which was not placed just where we see it by one and the same careful hand. On every label is seen the same delicate handwriting, slender, vertical, uniform, perfectly legible, and of a characteristically elegant neatness. Of the multitude of skilful and exquisite preparations, there are few that do not betray the workmanship of the master who planned the whole arrangement of these long series of specimens for the illustration of nature in her uncounted variety of forms and functions, and of human existence in its unwritten records.
It is the history of a life which is spread out on these well-filled shelves. Its years might have been counted by their growing rows, as that of a tree is counted by its rings. There is the frog’s skeleton the boy made when he was a student in college. Here are the relies he took with his own hands from a Florida shell-heap when threescore years had passed over his head; the last of which found him as full of zeal and of work as the first.
No one can look at this beautiful monument of science, skill, and industry, without wishing to know how it was constructed, what to record, and for whom it was so painfully and patiently reared. He will learn, as we already know, that the genius and the industry of a single lover and student of nature conceived its plan and carried it to completion. He can see that on its walls is engraved a chapter of the new revelation to which the world is listening, for those who come after its founder to study and interpret. And after all this he will search for some tablet that shall teach him something of the man who had dared single-handed to attempt such a task, and left it so nobly accomplished. Here is what such an inscription might tell him, prefaced with a few words of introduction.
In preparing the following brief account of the man at the work of whose hands we have been looking, wondering how they could have wrought so much and done it so well, the writer has been assisted by a full and most interesting communication from one who knew him and loved him very dearly, not only as a brother, but as a friend whose life he shared as if they had always remained under the same roof. Professor Samuel Kneeland and Mr. Alexander Agassiz have also written in the terms of affection and respect which the mention of his name was always sure to call forth from those who knew him. It matters little from whom we borrow, for all the friends who speak of him are alike eloquent with the unmistakaable accents of sincerity and warmth of feeling. It is the man himself , and not the phrases in which he is pictured, of which we must all be thinking.
Jeffries Wyman was born in the town of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, a few miles from what is now the city of Lowell, on the 11th of August, 1814. His father. Dr. Rufus Wyman, was the first physician of the Maclean Asylum for the Insane, the earliest institution of this kind in New England. He was held in the highest esteem as a man of wisdom and of character, and gave that standing to the institution, over which he presided many years with great success, which it has maintained up to the present time. Jeffries, his third son, named after his father’s instructor, Dr. John Jeffries, was fitted for college at Phillips Academy, Exeter, entered Harvard College in 1829, and graduated in regular course in 1833. He studied medicine with the late Dr. John Call Dalton and with his own father, and took his medical degree in 1837. Though he must have been well qualified for practice, and had enjoyed the great advantage of having served as house - physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital, he does not appear to have ever become largely engaged in professional business.
Dr. Wyman’s first appointment after graduation was as Demonstrator to Dr. John Collins Warren, the Hersey Professor of Anatomy and Surgery in Harvard University. He was unwilling to tax the limited resources of a father to whom he was fondly attached, and was living at this time with an economy which it would he painful to think of, if we did not remember how many of the heroes of knowledge have eaten the bread of poverty, and found in it the nourishment of steady endeavor and serene self-possession. Soon afterwards he received the appointment of Curator of the Lowell Institute from Mr. John Amory Lowell, who has long administered its important trust in the interest of the able teachers, as well as the intelligent students of every form of knowledge. In 1841 he delivered a course of lectures before the Institute, and with the money received for this service he was enabled to visit Europe for the purpose of pursuing his favorite branches of study. It became evident enough in what direction his choice lay. He, gave his time chiefly to the study of human and comparative anatomy, and of natural history and physiology, attending the lectures of Flourens, Magendie, Longet, De Blainville, Valenciennes, Duméril, Isidore St, Hilaire, and Milne-Edwards. Going thence, to London he studied the collections of the Hunterian Museum, and was thus busied when the news of his father’s death summoned him back to his own country.
In 1843 he was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Medical Department of Hampden Sidney College, Richmond, Virginia. He resigned this office in 1847, at which time he was chosen Hersey Professor of Anatomy in Harvard University. To illustrate his lectures he began the formation of that Museum of Comparative Anatomy at which the reader has taken at secondhand a rapid glance. He made several voyages, partly, at least, with the object of making additions to his collections; one in 1849 to Labrador, where he came into relation with the Esquimaux and learned something of their modes of living.
In the spring of 1833, while a senior in college, he had suffered from a dangerous attack of pneumonia, which seems to have laid the foundation of the pulmonary affection that kept, him an invalid, and ended by causing his death. The state of his health made it necessary for him to seek a warmer climate, and in 1852 he went to Florida, which he continued to visit during many subsequent years; for the last time during the spring of the present year. Besides these annual migrations he revisited Europe in 1854 and 1870, and made a voyage to Surinam in 1856, and one to La Plata in 1858.
All these excursions and seasons of exile, rendered necessary by illness, were made tributary to his scientific enterprise. His museum kept on steadily growing, and the students who worked under his direction or listened to his lectures, the associations with which he was connected, and the scientific journals, reaped the rich fruit of his observations and his investigations during these frequent and long periods of absence.
So he went on working for about twenty years, quietly, happily, not stimulated by loud applause, not striking the public eye with any glitter to be seen afar off, but with a mild halo about him which was us real to those with whom he had his daily walk and conversation, as the nimbus round a saint’s head in an altar - piece. It was near the end of these twenty years, in 1866, that Mr. George Peabody, of London, laid the foundation, by the gift of a large sum of money, of an archæological and ethnological museum, having particular reference to the antiquities illustrating the history of the aboriginal inhabitants of this continent. No professorship was yet provided for, and the modest title of Curator was all that was offered to Wyman when his services were called for in this new capacity. He entered with the enthusiasm of youth upon the duties of the office. What he accomplished in the way of personal contributions, obtaining donations, making judicious purchases, classifying, distributing, arranging, describing, repairing, labelling, the visitor whom we have supposed to have walked around the gallery would not expect to be told within the limited compass of these pages. How many skulls broken so as to be past praying for he has made whole, how many Dagons or other divinities shattered past praying to he has restored entire to their pedestals, let the myope who can find the cracks where his cunning hand has joined the fragments tell us. His manipulation of a fractured bone from a barrow or a shell-heap was as wonderful in its way as the dealing of Angelo Mai with the scraps of a tattered palimpsest.
The two offices, that of Hersey Professor of Anatomy and that of Curator of the Peabody Museum, he held until the time of his death. He was one of the four members in addition to Professor Agassiz himself who constituted the Faculty of the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy. He entered with the most unselfish interest into all the large designs and complex operations of his illustrious colleague, who regarded him as standing on an equal footing with the greatest living comparative anatomists. From 1856 until 1870, when his health forced him to resign, he held the office of President of the Boston Society of Natural History. In 1857 he was chosen President of the American Association for the Promotion of Science. He neither courted nor was in need of any such honors, but they came to him unsought.
During the few months preceding his death he was well enough to work as usual, and had the satisfaction of placing both his museums in perfect order before leaving Cambridge in the month of August, on a visit to the White Mountains. He was subject to the periodical catarrh of which his brother, Dr. Morrill Wyman, has written the history, and for which he has pointed out the cities of refuge to be found among the hills of New Hampshire. Shortly before the usual time of the return of the complaint he had gone for a brief residence to the little town of Bethlehem. He had experienced several slight attacks of bleeding, when on the night of Friday, the 4th of September, a sudden and copious hemorrhage came on and proved almost immediately fatal.
Funeral services were held on the Tuesday following at the Appleton Chapel in Cambridge, and at the place of interment at Mount Auburn. Sir Henry Wotton’s noble hymn,
Who serveth not another’s will,”
was felt by all who heard it read as a part of the service to be a true picture of the pure, simple-hearted, high-souled man upon whose calm features we had looked for the last time.
Professor Wyman was twice married, and leaves three children heirs of his honored and memorable name.
We have begun with a rapid glance at the work of his hands. Let us now look at the printed record of what he did in science. No attempt will be made here to exhaust the catalogue of his Essays, his Reports, and the remarks full of significance which are to be found scattered through the scientific periodicals of the last thirty years. That task must be left for others. Our readers will, we trust, ask for nothing more in these pages than a very general view of his scientific labors, followed by such comments upon them and upon the man as cannot fail to suggest themselves.
The earliest article of his in print of which I have found any notice is “ On the Indistinctness of Images formed by Oblique Rays of Light,” published in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal for September, 1837.
In the Catalogue of Scientific Papers compiled and published by the Royal Society of London is a list of sixty-four papers by Professor Wyman, and a mention of four others bearing his name in conjunction with those of Professor Hall, Professor Horsford, and Dr. Savage. This list brings the record down only to the year 1863. His contributions to science were kept up to the present year, the last, as yet unpublished, paper being dated May 20th, 1874. This will be again referred to in the course of the present article.
The papers published from 1837 to 1874 embrace a wide range of subjects : anatomy, human and comparative; physiological observations; microscopic researches; paleontological and ethnological studies of fossils and relics; notices of the habits of animals, and curious experiments bearing on different points of interest, as for instance the formation of fossil rain-drop impressions, and the questions relating to the planes and angles of the cells of bees. To these should be added those memoirs in which he has drawn with fidelity and tenderness the characters of fellow-students of nature who were called from their work before him.
Professor Wyman may be said to have illustrated rather than to have made a principal study of human anatomy. Much as there is to learn in this, there are fresher fields, where labor may be bestowed with larger promise of new facts, and such, too, as oftentimes throw more light on the significance of parts of the human structure than their immediate exploration would have afforded. His most important contribution to human anatomy is his paper entitled Observations on Crania, published in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History, April, 1868. This is full of new and valuable information, the result of much patient and ingenious labor. He made and reported an examination of the skeleton of a Hottentot who died in this city. He has given an admirable description of the arrangement of the spicula of bone in the neck of the human femur, and contrasted this arrangement with that observed in other animals not destined for the erect posture. All his figures of the internal structure of this and other bones of the human frame are, like other illustrations from his own skilful pencil, clear and bold. He knew just what he wanted to show, and his hand obeyed his intelligence. Another article of more popular interest is his description of the brain and cranial cavity of Daniel Webster. Of a more practical bearing is his account of a hitherto unnoticed fracture of the two lower lumbar vertebræ, dependent on their anatomical peculiarities. In a memorable trial his evidence relating to the bones which had been submitted to great heat is of singular excellence as testimony, and his restoration of the fragments is a masterpiece of accuracy and skill. It need hardly be said that while, he did not concentrate his attention chiefly on human anatomy, few of those who teach that branch aloue are as thoroughly masters of it as he was.
One of his earlier publications in comparative anatomy and paleontology made the name of Wyman known to many outside of the scientific world. This was his paper on certain fossil animal remains which were for a time on public exhibition in Boston. They consisted of a chain of vertebræ one hundred and fourteen feet long, a few ribs, and portions of what were said to have been the paddles. This formidable antediluvian, obtained by a Mr. Koch from the marly limestone of Alabama, was christened by the name Hydrarchus Sillimani, and was advertised as an extinct form of sea-serpent. Dr. Wyman showed conclusively that the “ king of the waters ” was no reptile at all, but a warm-blooded mammal, that the bones were never parts of one and the same individual creature, and that some at least of the so-called paddles were casts of the cavities of a chambered shell. He has left on record many other studies of fossils; among the rest, of the remains of vertebrated animals from Richmond, Virginia, and from Memphis, Tennessee, of the fossil elephant and megatherium, and of the cranium of the mastodon. In this connection may also be mentioned his experiments on the impressions left by raindrops, spray, and hail upon soft clay, intended to illustrate the fossil marks of similar origin, a variation of those of Professor Rogers in which plaster was used.
In comparative anatomy his most elaborate essays are that on the Nervous System of Rana Pipiens, to be found in the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, and that on the Embryology of Raia Batis, in the Transactions of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Other papers of special interest are on the gorilla, which owes to him its famous name, borrowed from the Periplus of Hanno the Carthaginian. This was six months before Mr. Owen published on the same subject. To these may be added several articles on the eye and organ of hearing in the “ blind fishes ” of the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky; on the passage of nerves across the median line; on a thread - worm in the brain of the snake-bird — a very curious observation illustrating his perpetual vigilance, which never let a significant fact escape him as an unmeaning accident.
In physiological research his most noted experiments are those on the formation of infusoria in boiled solutions of organic matter contained in hermetically sealed vessels. These were continued for years, and are among the most important which have been made on the great question of biogenesis. — His observations on the development of mould in the interior of eggs point in the same direction, as do his experiments on the effects of heated water on living organisms. — The effect of absence of light on the development of tadpoles, long since illustrated by the noted experiments of W. F. Edwards, is another matter which he studied and reported upon. — He contrived an exquisite arrangement by which he measured the velocity and force of the ciliary movement. — He explained with his accustomed ingenuity the mechanism of the tibio-tarsal joint in the ostrich. But of all his contributions to science no one compares for boldness and brilliancy with the Description of a Double Fœtus, and the illustration of the formation of that and similar monstrosities by the action of bar-magnets on iron filings. The way in which “ polar force,” as it had been vaguely called, might be supposed to act in the arrangement of the parts of a forming embryo, normal or abnormal, was shown in a manner so startling, yet so simple, that to see him, by the aid of a couple of magnets, give the formula, as it were, of Ritta Christina, or of that “double-headed (and bodied) lady ” Who was lately exhibiting her accomplishments before us, was like being taken into the workshop of the sovereign Artificer, engaged in the last and greatest of his creative efforts.
In connection with this remarkable paper are published his views on the symmetry and homology of limbs, a subject which has of late received elaborate treatment at the hands of one of his most distinguished former pupils, Professor Wilder, of Cornell University.
In speaking of the law of “ anteroposterior symmetry ” Professor Wilder says of his instructor that he, “ almost alone in this country, has devoted time to eliminating, from the indefinite and often extravagant and absurd shape in which it was left by Oken, the real truth of a principle the most potent and elevated of which the vertebrate body, considered by itself, is capable.” Just such a mind as Professor Wyman’s is needed to hamstring the vaulting idealisms of men like Oken and Carus. It is not science to say with the first that “ the universe is God rotating; ” it is not science to confound, with the second, the articulates and the vertebrates in a communism of forced homologies.
Scarcely separable from this class of observations and experiments are those which relate to points of what would have been commonly called natural history. Of these the most noticeable are his studies of the unusual modes of gestation in certain fishes. His attention had been called in the year 1854 to this curious phenomenon by Dr. Cragin, formerly United States Consul at Paramaribo, the capital of Dutch Guiana. In 1857 he visited the market of this place, and there found several species of fish, the males of which had their mouths “ crammed to the fullest capacity ” with the eggs which the females had laid. None were found in the stomach, and Professor Wyman was of the opinion that the eggs must be disgorged during the time when the animals were feeding. His paper published in Silliman’s Journal for 1859 gives an interesting account of this singular partnership in the parental duties. — He describes a species of hornet which builds its nest on the ground. — There is a certain strange reptile, known to science as the Scaphiopus solitarius, of which a single specimen had been found in this region by an inquiring country doctor whom some of us well remember, Dr. Andrew Nichols of Danvers. Wyman, who saw where others only looked, dug one up in his own garden, and had very soon found some thirty more in the neighborhood, and gives a description of them. — He sees the flies dying on the panes of his windows, as we all have seen them, leaving a certain white dimness on the glass, and submitting the appearances to microscopic examination makes out the characters of the vegetable parasite which, reversing the common order of nature, has fed upon the body of the little animal. — “ Do snakes swallow their young? ” asks Mr. F. W. Putnam, and the great naturalist, who, as we remember, did not find ova in the stomach of Ins strange fishes, answers him not incredulously, but rather as if it were not unlikely, in a quotation from Spenser’s Faery Queen, of which these lines form a part: —
Soon as that uncouth light upon them shone,
Into her mouth they crept and suddain all were gone.”
Nothing can be more modest than the title of his pamphlet of eighteen pages, Notes on the Cells of the Bee. But if Lord Brougham could return from the pale realms where he has learned before this time the limits of his earthly omniscience, he would find his stately approval of the divine geometry an uncalled-for compliment. John Hunter’s “ Don’t think, but try,” perhaps modified to “ Think and try,” inasmuch as experiment must choose some direction or other, was the rule by which Professor Wyman worked here as in all cases; and trial led him to quietly set aside the confident assertion of Lord Brougham as to the “ absolute and perfect agreement between theory and observation ” with reference to the sides and angles of the cells.
After Professor Wyman’s appointment. as Curator of the Peabody Archæological and Ethnological Museum, his time was largely devoted to the formation and arrangement of the collection which has already become so rich in objects of interest. The liberality of Professor Agassiz transferred from the great Museum of Comparative Zoölogy many of those relics, lacustrine and other, which seemed to find an appropriate place in the new collection. Other additions came from gifts of associations and individuals, including a large number of Mexican antiquities from the Honorable Caleb Cushing, and others still were acquired by purchase. The Curator himself was constantly adding something whenever he had an opportunity, and even during his involuntary exile to a warmer climate on account of his impaired health, he was always busy, as we have said, in those curious explorations, his record of some of which is his last contribution to the pages of a scientific journal.
In 1867 he published, in the American Naturalist, An Account of some of the Kjœkkenmœddings (kitchen - middens), or Shell-Heaps in Maine and Massachusetts. In the same year he visited, in company with Mr. G. A. Peabody, of Salem, and Mr. George H. Dunscombe, of Canada West, no less than thirty-two of these shell-heaps. The communication already referred to as his last record in the pages of science was read at a meeting of the Boston Society of Natural History, and is thus mentioned in the as yet unpublished report : —
“ May 20, 1874.
“ Professor Jeffries Wyman read an account of the discovery of human remains in the fresh-water shell-heaps of Florida, under circumstances which indicate that cannibalism was practised by the early inhabitants living on the shore of the St. John’s River.”
Here follow some particulars which we may pass over.
“ Professor Wyman also gave an account of cannibalism as it existed in the two Americas at the time of the discovery of the country, as well as in later years, and gave the documentary evidence for Ins statements, the most complete and conclusive of which is derived from the relations of the Jesuits.”
In reply to a question as to the evidences of cannibalism in New England, put by Mr. F. W. Putnam, —
“ Professor Wyman thought there was no sufficient evidence for such a belief, and he also stated that he had never known a case of burial in a shell-heap, but at Doctor’s Island, Florida, he had found a portion of a skeleton apparently buried under a heap, as Mr. Putnam had done in a heap near Forest River at Marblehead.”
Such a list of papers as has been given bears the relation of a partial index to the papers themselves. The papers, again, bear the relation of an index to his labors, and to the collections of that beautiful museum which is the ample volume in whose pages those who come after him will read the truest record of his life-long services to science.
Besides the long array of scientific papers, some of the more interesting and important of which have been briefly referred to, mention should be made of the course of twelve lectures on Comparative Physiology, delivered in 1849 before the Lowell Institute, reported by Dr. James W. Stone, and published originally in The Traveller and afterwards in a separate pamphlet. They are characterized by the clearness, method, soundness, and felicity of illustration which always belonged to him as a teacher. To these writings should be added his tributes to the memory of the distinguished surgeon and lover of science, Dr. John Collins Warren, of Dr. Augustus Addison Gould, the hard-working and enlightened student of nature, and of that young man too early lost to science, of a promise so large that no one dared to construct his horoscope and predict his scientific future, Dr. Waldo Irving Burnett.
Those last offices of friendship which he performed with pious care for others, others must now perform for him; some of those, it may be hoped, who knew him most intimately. We know what he would have wished of his eulogist. He would not have suffered that he should indulge in the loud lament justified by the Roman poet, which would acknowledge no restraint of conventional propriety or measure of intensity in grief. He would rather have had him remember the sober words of the Roman philosopher: Est aliquis et dolendi decor — et quemadmodum in ceteris rebus, ita in lachrymis aliquid sat est. Much as we feel that we have lost, we must also remember how much of him remains. His mind has recorded itself in his collections and in his writings; his character lives in the memory of all who knew him as free from spot or blemish, as radiant with gentle graces as if he had come a visitor from some planet of purer ray than this earth, where selfishness and rivalry jostle each other so rudely in the conflicts of our troubled being.
We naturally wish to know something of the personal traits of such a man in his earlier years. An extract from the communication kindly furnished by his brother, Dr. Morrill Wyman, will call him up before us as a boy and youth.
“ He early showed an interest in natural history. When less than ten years old he spent half his holidays in solitary walks along the banks of the Charles River and the margin of the creek near the Asylum, to pick up from the sedge anything of interest that might be driven ashore. It was seldom that he returned from these walks without something either dead or alive as a reward of his search. In college the same preference continued, and although he did not neglect the prescribed course, he made many dissections and some skeletons, especially one of a mammoth bull-frog, once an inhabitant of Fresh Pond, which was a subject of interest to his classmates and is now, I believe, in his Museum of Comparative Anatomy. He early commenced drawing, but with very little regular instruction; — he also, when ten or twelve years old, painted on a panel with house paints a portrait of himself which was something of a likeness, but deficient in proper tints; the nearest approach he could make to the color of his hair was—green. His facility in sketching in after life was remarkable; he drew anatomical subjects with great accuracy and rapidity. His drawing upon the blackboard in illustrating his lectures, done as it was as he lectured, was most effective. His diagrams for his lectures to the undergraduates of Harvard College were nearly all drawn and colored by his own hand.”
In a very pleasant letter, received while this article is going through the press, Professor Bowen, a college classmate, who was a fellow - student with Wyman at Exeter, speaks of him, then a boy of fourteen, as pure-minded, frank, playful, happy, careless, not studious, at least in his school-books, but not mischievous. “ He would take long rambles in the woods, and go into water and a-fishing, and draw funny outline sketches in his school-books, and whittle out gimcracks with his penknife, and pitch stones or a ball farther and higher than any boy in the academy, when he ought to have been studying his lessons. Only a few years ago, when we were chatting together about our early life at Exeter and in college, he said in his frank and simple way, with a laugh and half a sigh, ' Bowen, I made a great mistake in so neglecting distasteful studies, though you may think I made up for it by following the bent of my inclination for catching and dissecting bull-frogs. I have been obliged, even of late years, to study hard on some subjects distinct from and yet collateral with my special pursuits, which I ought to have mastered in ray boyhood.’ The boy was very like the man, only with age, as was natural, he became more earnest, persistent, and methodical.”
One need not be surprised to learn from another classmate, himself distinguished as a scholar, that many of those whom Jeffries Wyman distanced and left out of sight in the longer trial of life stood above him in scholarship during his college course.
We have seen that he early left the ranks of the profession which he had studied, at least as a working member. Kind-hearted, sagacious, thoroughly educated, it might have seemed that he was just the man to be useful, and to gain fortune and renown, as a physician. Why have he and so many others, eminently furnished for professional success, seen fit to give tip all their professional prospects and take the almost monastic vows of the devotee to science? Doctor Louis Agassiz, Doctor Asa Gray, Doctor Jeffries Wyman, were all duly qualified to exercise the healing art. They each left its beaten road for the several paths to which they found themselves called. The divinity which shapes our ends was working through the instincts which they followed. We may pause a moment to contrast their early calling with their actual pursuits.
The art of healing is an occupation worthy of the best and ablest men, but it is less entirely satisfying to the purely scientific mind than other pursuits of equal dignity. Like meteorology, it can watch, and to some extent predict the course of events; it can hang out cautionary signals, and help us to protect ourselves by its counsels; but its problems involve elements which defy our analysis, and health and disease come and go in spite of it, like storm and sunshine. The uncertain and importunate calls of suffering interfere with connected investigations. A physician will have to count the pulses of thirty patients while a physiologist is watching the circulation of a single tadpole. The feelings are too often excited when the observing faculties should be undisturbed; too much time is demanded for that half-social, half-professional intercourse which tends, except in the strongest brains, to partial atrophy of some of the dominant cerebral convolutions. The physician’s path is obscured by deceptive appearances which he has no means of clearing up, and obstructed by practical difficulties which he has not the power of overcoming. Disease which, he has an hour to study and prescribe for has been silently breeding in the individual for years, perhaps in the family for ages. The laboratory of the pharmaceutist is a narrow-walled apartment, but the earth, the air, the sea, the noonday sun, and the midnight dew distil, exhale, mingle, or convey the poisons that enter at every pore of the double surface of our bodies. It is a weary conflict when one must strike at an unseen foe with an uncertain weapon. Those cruel old verses which ridicule this random warfare with the common enemy — written probably by some poor creature who would have screeched for medical aid at the first twist of a colic — are not wholly without a sting in these days of larger and surer knowledge : —
Accipias herbam, sed quam vel nescio qualem,
Ponas nescio quo, sanaberis nescio quando.“
We need not wonder or regret that while Sydenham was reforming the English practice of medicine, his fellowstudent Doctor John Locke gave up his profession to devote himself to the study of the human understanding; that Doctor Carl von Linné became known to all the world as Linnæus the naturalist; that Doctor Thomas Young gradually relinquished physic for physics, and found himself happier in reading the hieroglyphics of Egypt than in unravelling the mysteries of disease; that Doctor William Hyde Wollaston became a chemist, and Doctor Thaddeus William Harris an entomologist. And so we may feel about our good Doctor Jeffries Wyman; excellent as he would have been as a physician, welcome as his gentle voice and pleasant smile would have been at the bedside, keen as he would have been in detecting the nature and causes of disease, and conscientiously assiduous as he would have shown himself in doing all he could, to alleviate it, many of his most precious natural gifts would never have found a full opportunity of exercise if he had not followed the course for which nature had marked him out from his boyhood.
For this course he was endowed with the rarest attributes. His acuteness and accuracy of observation were so great that an oversight or an error was not likely to be detected in any of his work by any other than himself. His mental eye was not only, as we should say of a good microscope, at once remarkable for penetration and definition, but it was as nearly achromatic as we can hope to find any human organ of intellectual vision. His word was as trustworthy as a plumb-line or a spirit-level. If Jeffries Wyman had asserted that he had himself seen a miracle, there are not a few questioners of tradition who would accept a revelation on the strength of it.
In his laboratory he commonly made use, as Wollaston did, of the simplest appliances. Give him a scalpel, a pair of forceps, a window to work at, and anything that ever had life in it to work on, and he would have a preparation for his shelves in the course of a few hours or days, as the case might be, that would illustrate something or other which an anatomist or a physiologist would find it a profit and pleasure to study. Under a balanced bell-glass he kept a costly and complicated microscope, but he preferred working with an honest, oldfashioned, steady-going instrument of the respectable, upright Oberhaueser pattern. His outfit for happy employment was as simple as John the Baptist’s for prophecy. Who are so rich as the poet and the man of science? “ The meanest flower that blows ” is an unfathomable mine of thought to the one, and “ the poor beetle that we tread upon " holds a whole museum of nature’s miracles for the other.
He was never so busy that he would not turn aside to answer a student’s question or show a visitor any object he might wish to see. Where he was in doubt, he never made any pretence of knowing, and like all wise men he knew well of how much we are all ignorant.
If he had ambition it was latent under other predominating characteristics. So far as could be seen, his leading motive was an insatiable, always active, but never spasmodic desire of learning some new secret of nature. If a discovery came in his way he told of it without any apparent self-applause or vanity. He, who never made blunders, might fairly be indulged in a quiet smile at those of his neighbors, but he was considerate with scientific weaklings, and corrected them as tenderly as Isaac Walton would have the angler handle his frog. Dr. Kneeland speaks of him in his letter to the writer, as he appeared in the chair as President of the Natural History Society: —
“ He presided with the gentleness and courtesy so characteristic of him; he was always ready with some fact from his carefully arranged storehouse to confirm or disprove statements made before the Society. He was patient of ignorant contradiction, sure of final approbation ; never captious; never annihilating his tyro antagonists, as he easily could, by the weight of his scientific blows. His benign countenance many a time has checked the rising excitement of hot discussions.”
“ He never took part in any personal controversy,” says Mr. Alexander Agassiz in his letter, and on one occasion to which Mr. Agassiz refers, when he was unfairly treated by a leading man in science, " he never complained of it or even mentioned it. ” — “ Unless he could add something of importance to the memoirs of his predecessors, he never allowed himself to print his observations if they were mere confirmations. At the time Owen and the younger MilneEdwards published their memoirs on the Dodo, he had been at work for a long time on the same material in the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy, and was just ready to commence; yet he was satisfied in criticising a few points in the above papers, and returned the series of bones, all carefully labelled, saying he should have no further use for them. ”
Professor Wyman would have been more famous if he had been less modest. Whether it be true or not that the world knows not its greatest men, it certainly knows very little of many of its best men; nothing at all of most of its best women. The bolts and pins that fasten the walls of our dwellings are mostly buried out of sight, and so it is with the virtues that hold society together. Professor Wyman did a man’s work with a woman’s patience, meekness, fidelity, and noiseless efficiency. He was born with those gifts of “ nature ” which the excellent Bishop Hall would put before “ grace ” in the choice of a partner for life. He was too good a man for any creed to confiscate his virtues to its private exchequer. We do not inquire so narrowly or so severely into a good man’s special dogmas as our worthy ancestors were in the habit of doing. President Increase Mather burned Robert Calef’s book of Sadducee infidelities about witchcraft in the college yard, but we do not expect President Eliot to preside over a similar auto-da-fé in which Mr. Tyndall’s Belfast address is to be the combustible. Many, however, will be pleased to know that Professor Wyman was a regular attendant on divine worship, and that the want, of reverence sometimes attributed to men of science was no part of his character. The following extract from his own tribute to the memory of Waldo Irving Burnett came evidently from the heart of one who shared his devout habits of thought and emotion : —
“ In all of his studies of nature he seems to have had a pervading perception of God in his works, and often in eloquent words gives expression to his feelings when some new manifestation of divine wisdom was uncovered to his inquiring mind.”
The seer of the past was the man of mysteries. The veil within which none but the high-priest must enter, the ark which the well-meaning attendants tried to steady when it was like to fall, and were smitten dead for touching it, — these are the symbols of that venerable antiquity whose traditions are the cement in which the stones of all these temples rising around us are laid.
The seer of to-day is the man of explorations and explanations. Muses is busy with his microscope, and Daniel prophesies from the meteorological headquarters at Washington. The old bottles cannot hold all the new wine. We must not expect all our saints to come up to the doctrinal standards of the Reverend and biographical Dr. Allen’s moribund theologians, but when we find a man who has passed his days in the study of materialized phenomena living a life which would reflect credit on any church, we need not be afraid to honor him, even if he is given over to that branch of science which poor dear Hester Piozzi says “ leads into doubts destructive of all comfort in this world and all happiness in the next ” — that wicked geology.
Who has ever preached such a sermon as this sweet and lovely life has been always setting forth in the golden letters of daily actions? If he had been one of the twelve around the Master, whom they had seen hanging on the Cross, no doubt he, like Thomas, would have asked to see the print of the nails, and know for himself if those palms were pierced, and if that side had received the soldier’s spear-thrust. But if he had something of the questioning follower, in how many ways he reminded us of the beloved disciple! His characteristic excellences recall many points of the apostle’s description of the virtue which never faileth. He suffered long and was kind; he envied not; he vaunted not himself; he was not puffed up; he sought not his own; was not easily provoked; thought no evil; and rejoiced in the truth. If he differed from Charity in not believing all things, he followed the apostolic precept of trying all things, and holding fast that which had stood the trial. Many scientific men of great note have had too obvious failings. Hunter was ill-tempered; Davy was ill-mannered; Wollaston was acquisitive. It is with men like Faraday and Edward Forbes that we would name Jeffries Wyman, — Faraday, living in uncomplaining poverty, happy in the incessant pursuit of knowledge, absorbed and “ earnest as a child over his toys ” in performing his wonderful experiments at the Royal Institution, simple-hearted, devout in his adhesion to his singular and self-denying creed; Edward Forbes, as shewn in Dr. John Brown’s eloquent pages, “ the delightful man, the gifted teacher, the consummate naturalist,” “ a child of nature who lived in her presence and observance,” to whom all were welcome, and who was welcomed by all, “ who won all hearts ” by his gifts and “ his unspeakable good-nature,” who lived for science, and, when his summons came, “ behaved at the close with his old composure, considerateness, and sweetness of nature.”
Jeffries Wyman looked his character so well that he might have been known for what he was in a crowd of men of letters and science. Of moderate stature, of slight frame, evidently attenuated by long invalidism, with a wellshaped head, a forehead high rather than broad, his face thin, his features bold, his expression mild, tranquil, intelligent, firm, as of one self-poised, not self-asserting, his scholarly look emphasized by the gold-bowed spectacles his near-sightedness forced him commonly to wear; the picture of himself he has left indelibly Impressed on the memory of his friends and pupils is one which it will always be a happiness to recall.
The work of his busy hands is done; the sound of his cheerful voice is heard no more; his smile will never welcome us again at the threshold of his beautiful museum; the benediction of his presence will no more hallow our friendly meetings. It is a pleasure of the purest nature, and not easily to be forgotten, to associate one’s name but for an hour with such a fragrant memory. It may seem as if too much had been made of his virtues and graces. But all that has been said is no more than all that knew him. are saying, and less — how much less !— Than such a life is entitled to claim. To other hands which will fill out this imperfect outline and add color to these scarcely tinted features, which will show his intellect in its full proportions, his labors in their entire extent, his thoughts in their complete expression, his character in its noble sincerity, the sweet remembrance of Jeffries Wyman is lovingly commended.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.