Science (American History Through Literature)
The nineteenth century was the great age of science: within just two generations, science was consolidated as a profession, having anchored itself in the industrializing urban centers of Europe and America and spread to connect the globe's farthest reaches into a single unified structure of knowledge. Paradoxically, however, the more nineteenth-century science aspired to unity, the more it proliferated in specialties, as the reach of global exploration and laboratory experimentation opened new questions and whole new fields of inquiry. The newly emerging knowledge changed the very character of the universe: intellectuals active in mid-century had been born in a closed and balanced universe governed by Newtonian mechanical principles. The self-evident design of nature had pointed directly to nature's designer, God, and the study of nature was warranted as a path to understand humankind's place in a universe where natural and moral truth had the same divine source. In the span of a single lifetime, this harmonious picture was strained by astronomy's discovery of deep space and by geology's growing insight into deep time, both difficult to reconcile with Genesis. Once the implications of Charles Darwin's (1809882) theory of evolution had been widely absorbed, the sciences that a generation before had helped to explicate religion were instead superseding it, and their once cozy relationship had fallen apart. At the same time, the comfortable assumption that science formed part of a single, coherent intellectual culture was also coming apart. Early in the century, science seemed accessible to all. Public figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had moved easily across the boundaries dividing science from general literate culture, and education in basic science was deemed essential to a democratic citizenry. By 1870 science had become fully professionalized. Its practitioners needed special training, and its institutions denied access to nonspecialists, leading to tension over the role such an elite enterprise should play in a democratic society.
THE NATURE OF AMERICAN SCIENCE
The great unifying force in nineteenth-century American science was geography, the exploration of new landscapes that in turn opened new worlds of knowledge, from the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803806 to the mid-century's exploring expeditions to the Far West and beyond. "Geography" then had not yet acquired the far more limited meaning of the early twenty-first century: as seen in Cosmos, Alexander von Humboldt's (1769859) popular work in physical geography (published in English in 1850), it encompassed astronomy, geology, natural history, geophysics, meteorology, and anthropology in a grand synthesis that sought a total physical description of the earth as a planetary body. American science in this period is often accused of being practical or even utilitarian, excluding pure research, and of being strictly empirical or Baconian, compelled to gather ever more facts and to refuse hypotheses in a naive belief that the facts alone would add up to truth. Such terms only make sense if projected back from the twentieth century, when science was dominated by theoretical research in chemistry and physics. These fields were nascent in the nineteenth-century United States, but the high cost of equipment and limited access to the necessary training meant that the leading work in such fields was still performed in Europe. By contrast, the leading edge of American science was spatial and temporal, as an avalanche of new data forced a broad-based restructuring of knowledge, from a static, balanced, and closed Newtonian universe to a universe that was dynamic, developmental, and organic. In short, sciencearticularly American scienceas not opposed to but was part of the global movement called Romanticism.
In the early 1800s, Americans could claim only a handful of menerhaps twenty in allho made their living in science. The only way to make science pay was to teach it, and the only full-time science positions were in medical colleges. Hence medicine was the only realistic career path for a young man interested in science. By 1870 the institutional structures of science had taken shape, and science was a paying profession open to middle-class men (and a few women). Even the very word "scientist," coined in 1833 by William Whewell, had come into common usage with the emergence of a distinct class of scientific workers all taking part in a collective, organized enterprise.
THE GROWTH OF SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTIONS
A number of institutions had to take shape if a community of scientists was to be created and supported. First, they needed to be able to find each other. There were scientists in frontier towns and far-flung territories, but until transportation and communication networks improved, their lives were lonely and their interests hard to sustain. By contrast, scientists in urban centers were able to found small scientific societies. In villages these might be little more than local gatherings of a handful of amateur enthusiasts, but cities could multiply the points of contact to create an information center: arranging meetings; housing books, scientific apparatus, and natural history collections; sponsoring lectures and publications; raising money from civic-minded citizens for more ambitious projects. Such groups were open toven dependent onmateurs, hence they tended to be egalitarian and democratic, in contrast to exclusive organizations such as Philadelphia's American Philosophical Society. For example, Henry David Thoreau's (1817862) interest in natural history led him to join one such group founded in 1830, the Boston Society of Natural History; Thoreau traveled often to the society's rooms to borrow books and chat with fellow members.
Whereas Thoreau's Concord was an easy train ride from Boston, scientists without such easy access to cities had to create their own societies. In 1840 several geologists from rural areas across the Northeast and Midwest met in Philadelphia to form the Association of American Geologists, with annual meetings that floated from city to city; soon they expanded their membership base to include natural historians, and in 1848 they flung the doors open to become a national science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, modeled on the British equivalent, the BAAS). An early membership drive tried to net Thoreau, who declined their offer on the basis that he could not attend their meetings (while fulminating in his journal that they would not understand the kind of science he was interested in pursuing), thus turning down the opportunity to participate in a new phenomenon, the nationalization of American science.
A handful of scientific societies attempted to publish transactions of their meetings, an expensive process that met with limited success. What was needed was a truly national journal that could connect all American scientists with each other and communicate American science to the rest of the world. This was the achievement of Benjamin Silliman (1779864), who in 1818 founded the American Journal of Science and Arts. "Silliman's Journal," as it was called, probably did more than any other single factor to found and sustain a national community of American scientists and bring American science to the attention of Europe, pointing to the essential role of writing in creating and communicating what would come to be accepted as scientific knowledge.
If science were to grow as an information system, it had to find a place in American colleges. The standard curriculum already included a certain amount of science: natural philosophy or physics, astronomy, often some natural history, all within the overarching rubric of natural theology, the study of the grand design of nature insofar as it proved the existence and attributes of God. Separate schools of science began to emerge at mid-century: in 1847 a grant by the cotton manufacturer Abbott Lawrence funded the formation of Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School, which scored a tremendous coup by hiring Louis Agassiz (1807873), the Swiss zoologist who came to give a few lectures and stayed to reshape American science into a profession on the European model. Other science schools followed (New York's Cooper Union in 1858, the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale in 1861), and science increasingly found its way into the general university curriculum, opening new teaching jobs for young scientists. Once they attained a firm institutional base, professors of science could establish massive research collections, such as the herbarium established by the botanist Asa Gray (1810888) at Harvard or Louis Agassiz's Museum of Comparative Zoology. Nor were museums restricted to higher education: the lack of a national repository for natural history specimens was addressed in 1858, when the new Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., accepted the collections gathered by the federally funded Wilkes expedition of 1838842. Another kind of opportunity arose in 1864 with the burning of New York's natural history collection (which had included the ornithologist and artist John James Audubon's birds). This national tragedy led to a fund-raising campaign and the founding of the new public American Museum of Natural Historyoused in a fireproof building. Astronomical observations also needed to be made, collected, and housed: in 1836 Williams College established America's first observatory,
This tremendous growth in science was funded in part by higher education, as professors built academic bases for science. Government support played a huge role at both state and federal levels: starting in the 1830s, numerous states conducted surveys of geological and other natural resources, employing a whole cadre of young scientists; by 1860 twenty-nine of the thirty-three states had sponsored surveys. Starting with Meriwether Lewis (1774809) and William Clark (1770838), the federal government poured its resources into exploring expeditions, such as the force sent out in 1838 under the command of Charles Wilkes (1798877) to survey the Pacific Ocean and its coasts and investigate geology, natural history, and anthropology; and the expeditions led by Charles Frémont and William H. Emory in the 1840s to map and survey the unknown territories west of the Mississippi. One historian estimates that a third of antebellum American scientists were on the government payroll and another that up to one-third of the American government's total income was invested in funding explorations. Finally, private industry employed a growing number of scientists to turn knowledge into practical products, and private philanthropy turned American businessmen like Abbot Lawrence and wealthy Englishmen like James Smithson into patrons of American science.
Such growth, however funded, would still have been impossible without a parallel growth in networks of transportation and communication. While visiting the United States in 1841, the British geologist Charles Lyell (1797875) and his wife Mary had to endure crowded, dirty, and bumpy carriages, long waits for erratic steamboats, even long rides in borrowed canoes. By their return trip in 1852 the Lyells marveled at the speed and ease with which the new railroads whisked them across the same country. Mass distribution of journals and books was impractical until printing costs dropped, and mailing them was ruinously expensive until postal rates dropped too: only when specimens, data, publications, and the scientists themselves could travel easily would science grow exponentially, built as it is on the exchange of ideas and the collection of texts and objects. Nor could science flourish in a democracy without public interest and support. By mid-century popular science books were easily available for sale even in midwestern villages such as Milwaukee, and periodicals and newspapers regularly fed the public appetite for science with popular articles and reports on the latest wonders. Public lectures were the main channels for disseminating information about science: starting in the 1830s, the lyceum movementn which both Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803882) and Thoreau were activepread rapidly across the United States (in 1839 Horace Mann counted 137 in Massachusetts alone). One historian estimates that about one-fifth of lyceum platform time was given over to scientific subjects. Lecture series could also reach huge numbers of people. Lyell and Agassiz were both induced to come to the United States by the large fees offered by the Lowell Institute lectures, funded in 1837 by a bequest from the industrialist John Lowell. Benjamin Silliman inaugurated the institute in 1839 with a lecture series on geology, and a second on chemistry was so popular the crowds overflowed into the streets. Demand for Agassiz's lecture course was so great that it had to be offered twice, to an estimated audience of five thousand.
THE EMERGENCE OF POPULAR SCIENCE
The Reverend William Ellery Channing observed in 1841 that science had left its retreats to begin the work of instructing the race: "Through the press, discoveries and theories, once the monopoly of philosophers, have become the property of the multitudes. . . . Science, once the greatest of distinctions, is becoming popular" (quoted in Zochert, p. 448). Yet the very popularity of science pointed to a source of tension: lectures and popular articles could give the public only the most superficial of overviews, and often audiences were entertained more with wonders and marvels than with deeper scientific reasoning. In August 1851 Thoreau grumbled in his journal about a visit to a menagerie at which not a cage was labeled, and instead of some descendent of Baron Georges Cuvier there to lecture on natural history, a ring was formed for "Master Jack & the poney" (Journal 3:351).
Optimistically speaking, perhaps acquaintance with wonders would awaken interest and lead to deeper theoretical understandings, but even then the theoretical frameworks developed by scientists were moving ever farther from widespread public comprehension. For example, the major reform in botanical and zoological classification was the "natural" system, which examined a number of overall relations that could be judged only by someone with specialized training. By contrast, the older Linnaean system had relied on obvious characteristics that could be easily grasped, such as the number of stamens in a flower. Whereas the old system had made botany readily available to a family on an educational outing, the new system turned botany into a specialty suitable only for trained scientists.
Into the breach flowed popularizing texts, such as the botany textbooks by Asa Gray and Almira Phelps,
The foundational notion that the universe was harmoniously ordered by a designing deity was most obvious if one looked to the heavens. As one popular astronomy text proclaimed, "An undevout astronomer is mad" (Ferguson 1:1). American schoolchildren were taught astronomy as part of natural philosophy, making astronomical facts a part of basic education. The craft of practical astronomy was essential to navigation and to explorers of both land and sea, who used celestial observations to plot coordinates and draw accurate maps. Periodically public interest in astronomy was excited by marvels such as comets: the Great Comet of 1843, which confirmed to the millenarian William Miller and his followers that the end of the world was at hand, generated a fad that lasted for the duration of its passage. More sustained interest was generated by John Herschel's (1792871) bestselling Treatise on Astronomy (1833), which introduced modern astronomy to America and was responsible for a meteoric rise in its popularity. Herschel's readers were shocked to learn that America had not a single fixed observatory, and in the next three decades Americans built nearly thirty observatories, several of them first-class.
The astronomy boom was encouraged by improved telescope technology and the increasing availability of good instruments. Maria Mitchell became the only woman to achieve recognition in science in this period for her discovery of a comet in 1847 as part of Alexander Ballas Bache's far-flung U.S. Coast Survey. At the other extreme, Thoreau noted with pride in his journal his 1854 purchase of a telescope for eight dollars. When turned to the heavens, the telescopes revealed exciting new insights into the physical structure of the universe: the immensity of deep space, as measured by the newly calculated speed of light; the astonishing variety of celestial objects; a new perspective on earth as itself a planetary body; the intriguing thought that intelligent life might be found on other worlds. Perhaps most exciting of all was the visual evidence for Pierre Laplace's (1749827) nebular hypothesis, proposed in 1796 but not popularly known until the 1840. According to Laplace, the earth and other planets had coalesced out of clouds of matter surrounding the sun in a process that for many was the first hint of evolutionary science.
All of these discoveries widened God's universe infinitely, yet none was seen as a threat to religionven the nebular hypothesis could be embraced as a model for God's primal creation. The same could also be said for geology, which seemed at first to fit comfortably with theology. American geologists were making great advances on European theories of stratigraphy by successfully working out long sequences of geological succession. Yet the discontinuities between formations seemed to point to periods of disruption, even to periodic catastrophes when all life had been wiped out to start anew. The Massachusetts geologist Edward Hitchcock (1793864) used such evidence to defend against the view of a mechanistic universe operating by eternal law rather than by God's providence. According to Hitchcock, the geologic record showed that God had repeatedly erased the earth of its creatures and populated it with new life; the biblical account of creation in Genesis recorded only the most recent erasure. By contrast, Benjamin Silliman claimed that Genesis portrayed the whole of creation, for the "days" were really long ages, corresponding to the vast periods of time evident in geological history. The evidence of the rocks clearly showed that creation had occurred not in six days but over untold millennia, and although no geologist questioned this evidence, such differences of opinion pointed to unresolved problems over how to reconcile geology and Genesis. For, as James Hutton had said in the eighteenth century, geology showed "no vestige of a beginning,o prospect of an end" (Hutton, p. 304). By the 1830s Charles Lyell had updated this view by emphasizing that natural laws operating in the present could explain all the phenomena of the past. Americans geologizing in the West who observed the power of erosion used Lyellian thinking to speculate that it was this force of nature, rather than a destructive God, that caused the breaks in the geological record.
THE EVOLUTIONARY DEBATE IN AMERICA
Emerson began reading Lyell in 1826 and immediately saw the evolutionary implications of a universe unfolding according to law across deep time. Thoreau used Lyell to assert that careful observation of the present was the key to understanding the past, an insight he used to deduce the history of the Massachusetts forest and to assert in Walden (1854) that creation had not happened once for all time but was continuous, that humans live in "not a fossil earth, but a living earth" (p. 309). American earth proved indeed to be rich in fossils, such as the enormous mammoth bones unearthed in New York. These deepened the puzzle even more: Thomas Jefferson had believed that Lewis and Clark would surely find mammoths grazing in the West, for the notion that a whole species might go extinct seemed a clear violation of the balance of nature. Meanwhile, German scientists were just beginning to theorize that certain forms of life had become extinct in the past, an idea taken up by Georges Cuvier (1769832), who used fossils to characterize entire geological periods. As evidence mounted that life forms were not static but had an immensely long history of development, the problem of how to account for species change became ever more pressing.
The French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744829) offered one theory: individual organisms could create new capabilities, which would then be inherited by their descendants. Lamarck was roundly rejected by British scientists, and Lyell offered a contrasting view of life forms cycling eternally in and out of existence in response to changing climates. The first popular theory of evolution was offered by Robert Chambers (1802871) in his best-selling Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, published anonymously in 1844. According to Vestiges, evolution occurred when a developing embryo developed just a bit more than the usual, so that succeeding generations rose incrementally through the ranks of ever higher and more complex life forms, replaced at the bottom by the spontaneous generation of new life. Scientists attacked Vestiges as both unscientific and ungodly with such ferocity that Darwin shelved his own theory and lived in terror that his colleagues would learn of his own, equally scandalous ideas. Yet the scorn heaped on Vestiges by the scientific community only encouraged popular fascination with evolution, including such enthusiasts as Emerson, who drew on Vestiges to refine his own evolutionary theory of "arrested and progressive development" ( Journals 11:158), and Walt Whitman, whose "Song of Myself" gave to Chambers's abstract evolutionary process poetic expression.
In the years of public controversy over Vestiges, support for evolution was coming from all directions, particularly from American scientists. Comparative morphologists from Cuvier on drew attention to the way both animal and plant forms seemed to converge on certain fundamental patterns or plans. This insight had major implications for classification, as taxono-mists strove to create a "natural" system that would group species by resemblance and structure rather than a few arbitrarily chosen characteristics. Such natural groupings would soon provide Darwin with some of his most compelling evidence. American scientists such as John Torrey and Asa Gray were instrumental in gaining acceptance for the natural system, even as scientific explorers compounded the problem by flooding taxonomists with new species. As the number of new species rose, the very definition of a species came into question, and variations collected from different geographical locations made the once clear boundaries between species increasingly difficult to define. Darwin would use such evidence from American scientists to break down the species concept altogether, suggesting instead that species intergraded continuously and variations were new species just coming into being.
In addition, the geographical scope from which scientific specimens were being collected raised some puzzling problems of distribution. On the one hand, why were certain species suited to, say, a dry climate not found wherever the climate was dry? Instead, regions with similar climates were populated, oddly enough, with different species. On the other hand, why were similar or even the same species found in widely separated locations? In the 1850s, Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz entered into a heated debate over this issue. Agassiz declared that all species had been separately created by God in their present numbers and location, whereas Gray dismissed such a view as unscientific and offered the alternative theory that species had migrated, spreading from one location to others. Thoreau, who knew Agassiz personally and owned Gray's works, followed the debate closely. In June 1858, when he encountered frogs on the "bare rocky top" of Mount Monadnock, he wondered how they had got there: Could they possibly have hopped up, as Gray might suggest? Or had they been created on the spot, as Agassiz would have insisted? (Journal 10:46768).
Darwin would provide the breakthrough theory that resolved these puzzlesne reason his theory of evolution was accepted so swiftly by American scientists. Only Agassiz held out, and in a few years even his own son Alexander Agassiz had gone over to Darwin's side. Darwin argued that because more individuals were born than could possibly survive to adulthood, nature must select only a few for survival. Because every individual shows chance variationsn size or color, for exampleome individuals would by accident of birth have some slight advantage that made their survival more likely, and survivors would pass those advantages on to their offspring. Over the course of many generations, a new variety would form that could, over still more generations, become distinct enough to make a new species. Darwin had hesitated to publish his ideas, but as the Vestiges controversy subsided, he began to air his thoughts to selected friends. Asa Gray's articles in "Silliman's Journal" caught Darwin's eye, and in 1857 he wrote to tell Gray of his radical new theory while swearing him to secrecy. Thus when On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, Gray had already helped lay the groundwork, and in a series of essays he took on the task of presenting Darwin's ideas to the American public. Agassiz, furious, leapt to the opposition, and the ensuing controversy acquainted Americans with advanced scientific theories that might otherwise have slept on in the technical journals. Another of Darwin's earliest converts was Thoreau, who read Origin early in 1860 and immediately began incorporating its insights into his own theories of plant distribution and forest succession, on which he was working at the time he contracted the illness that led to his death in 1862. As he wrote in his journal in 1860, "The development theory implies a greater vital force in nature, because it is more flexible and accommodating, and equivalent to a sort of constant new creation" (Journal 14:147).
Thoreau had no objections to Darwin on religious grounds, having long since abandoned conventional Christianity. But for those who held to a conventional Christianity, Darwin seemed to rupture forever the long friendship between religion and science. Individual scientists did find ways to reconcile the two. Gray, for instance, accepted Darwin's theories as an explanation of how God's power was manifested in nature. Yet the consensus of science no longer relied on theological reasoning, and young clergymen increasingly ignored or rejected science, which only a generation earlier had been cast as religion's most powerful ally. Science and religion had been definitively separated.
SLAVERY AND RACE
In the United States the evolutionary debates were at their height during the years leading up to the Civil War, and one of the most vexed questions of the time was what the new theories meant for humanity. Some scientists de-emphasized race as a meaningful category: the English ethnologist James Cowles Prichard argued that there were so many dozens of races that the real emphasis should be on the unity of humankind, and the scientist Charles Pickering returned home from the Wilkes expedition with a complex picture of human diversity, migration, and cross-cultural exchange. Yet for others, the powerful progressive narrative of evolution, with Caucasian people so evidently at the summit, suggested irresistibly that the various races were either evolutionary stages in humanity's upward progression or else degenerations from an earlier state of perfection. Louis Agassiz used his prominent position to argue for "polygenesis": in his view the races of humans were so different as to be the result of multiple separate creations, hence different species. The hard truth was that science proved Genesis wrong. With the support of Samuel George Morton's cranial studies, which had shown the brains of nonwhite races to be distinctly smaller, and the racist theories of Josiah Nott and George Gliddon, Agassiz wrote that science proved the black race to have advanced mentally little beyond the chimpanzee and gorilla.
Polygenesis made little popular headway in the slave-owning South, for it too openly defied the Genesis account of human descent from one couple, Adam and Eve. However, the scientific response to polygenesis was remarkably weaknly South Carolina's John Bachman, a zoologist who had worked with Audubon, publicly argued against itnd it left a legacy of racial stereotypes that lasted through the twentieth century. When Emerson became a prominent speaker for abolitionism, he set about examining the full range of scientific theories for support. Even though the weight of science seemed to be against him, ultimately he repudiated all theories of racial inferiority to insist that evolution showed all races had the capacity to advance equally; hence science, when truly understood in the full context of modern geology and physical geography, lent its support to the abolition of slavery and the political equality of all the races.
SCIENCE AND AMERICAN LITERATURE
The intense interest in science shown by such American literary figures as William Cullen Bryant, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe belies the once common myth that Romantic writers rejected science in the name of poetry and emotion. Their oft-quoted expressions of dismay at science turn out to be, on closer examination, either admonishments to scientists for having forgotten their true path or expressions of disgust at the mechanistic materialism of eighteenth-century science, associated with the cold rationalism of deism and the violence of the French Revolution. By contrast, the new science of the nineteenth century was fundamental to Romanticism, for it opened an exciting vision of nature as dynamic process and organic interconnectedness. Poe (1809849) brought his wide reading in astronomy, physics, mathematics, psychology, and medicine to bear in his fictions, and he dedicated his book Eureka (1848) to the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. As Poe's very name suggests, however, there were darker visions of the new science as well. Its imaginative and explanatory power could tempt the unwary explorer into satanic defiance, like Herman Melville's Ahab, using compass, quadrant, and charts to hunt the oceans for the White Whale; or Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, creating the monster that threatens all of humanity. Shelley's Faustian Frankenstein (1818) became the dominant literary story of science, one that Nathaniel Hawthorne explored repeatedly in such narratives as "The Birth-mark," "Rappacini's Daughter," and The Scarlet Letter (1850). A young Henry Adams speculated ominously in a letter of 1863, "Some day science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide by blowing up the world" (Adams 1:135).
Even the writers who most celebrated science expressed ambivalence at its possible misuse. Emerson warned constantly that science should be, as he put it in an 1836 lecture, "humanly studied," and should the scientist become the "slave of nature," science would become "unhallowed, and baneful" (Early Lectures 2:36, 37); in the same year he warned, in Nature (1836), of the dangers of "this half-sight of science" (Collected Works 1:41). Thoreau worried about the "inhumanity of science" (Journal 8:162) that demanded he kill a snake to learn its species, and when he had to kill a box turtle for Agassiz's collection, he berated himself as a murderer. Whitman was capable of walking out in disgust from the lecture of the "learn'd astronomer" to look up "in perfect silence at the stars" (p. 40910), but the more remarkable fact may be that he attended the lecture at all. For Whitman, science was the "fatherstuff" that begot "the sinewy races of bards" (p. 15); the poet who seeks to reconnect fact with spirit can recover the original power of poetry only by starting with science.
THE BEGINNINGS OF ENVIRONMENTALISM
As Adams's eerily prescient speculation suggests, there were good reasons for ambivalence. That humans could alter the face of natureould tinker with, even destroy, the balance of natureas an idea just dawning in these years. In 1811 Humboldt had pointed to the role deforestation played in shrinking Mexico's great Lake Texcoco and changing the climate of its high interior plateau to hotter and drier. Following up on Humboldt's insight, the American George Perkins Marsh showed, in Earth and Man (1864), that deforestation had destroyed the soils of Greece and Italy, rendering them permanently arid and barren. As the United States too leveled its forests, would not the same thing happen there? Thoreau's detailed studies of forests, plant distribution, and hydrology led him to become a pioneer of ecology a full generation before that science came into existence. His calls for the preservation of wild nature, together with his and his friend Emerson's demonstrations of nature's redemptive power, gave rise to a new environmental awareness and the new tradition of American nature writing, developed by their followers John Muir and John Burroughs. As ecology dwindled toward century's end from a central integrative concept uniting humanity and nature to yet another scientific specialty beyond the reach of most Americans, it fell to the nature writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to sustain the rich poetry of the material and factual world of nature.
By the nineteenth century's end, scientists had disciplined themselves into the rigors of scientific method, erecting ideological demands that the character of scientific knowledge must be objective, uninfected by the needs and desires of the self. Meanwhile literature too had begun to seek authority by erecting the same structures of professionalization and institutionalization that had proved so effective in science: academic training, learned journals, professional societies, academic centers in colleges and universities. Matthew Arnold, the Victorian architect of the new profession of literature, told an American audience in 1883 not that poet and scientist should each seek in the other's work their best complement and corrective, as Emerson had insisted, but rather that humane letters would do for humanity precisely what science could not: relate knowledge to human concerns, "to the sense in us for conduct, and to the sense in us for beauty" (p. 391). Hence the proper focus for education should be not the sciences, as the new scientific professionals such as Huxley were claiming, but the humanities. In effect, literature secured its own status as a discipline by separating itself from science, concealing from view much of what makes nineteenth-century American writers distinctive: their fascination with science's reconstruction of their physical and conceptual world and their energy in seeking to participate in that process, to make its power their own.
See also Colleges; Ethnology; Exploration and Discovery; Lyceums; Nature; Popular Science; Religion; Romanticism; Technology
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Laura Dassow Walls