The Lazzaroni: Science and Scientists in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America

By Lillian B. Miller; Frederick Voss et al. | Go to book overview

William Barton Rogers 1804-1882

William Barton Rogers was a scientist of both personal and intellectual strength, possessing a capacity for research and a breadth of learning that made him fearless in debate and a formidable opponent. He was known for his "marvelous fluency and clearness of expression and beauty of diction," which when joined with his dedication to "scientific truth," an imagination "which ever clothed truth with beauty," and a commanding physical presence gave him great power as a teacher and public speaker. In 1860, at the height of his powers, Rogers was foremost among his scientific contemporaries when it came to addressing "an intelligent and cultivated audience." Crossing swords with Louis Agassiz from January through April that year at the meetings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Boston Society of Natural History, Rogers probably did more than any of his colleagues except Asa Gray to convince his fellow naturalists of the seriousness with which the Darwinian arguments for evolution had to be evaluated. By 1860 Rogers, like Gray, James D. Dana, and Jeffries Wyman, had come to suspect Agassiz's capacity as a research scientist; like them, he was irritated with Agassiz's assumption of leadership in the American scientific world, and possibly also with Agassiz as a competitor for the private funds he himself was seeking for a projected polytechnic institution that would combine research with practical courses in applied science for the mechanic, the chemist, the manufacturer, and the engineer.

Rogers came to his debates with Agassiz from a solid background of scientific training. He was born in Philadelphia, the son of a physician and professor of physics and chemistry, and one of four brothers, all of whom distinguished themselves in the sciences. Undergraduate education at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, was followed by a lectureship at the Maryland Institute. While at the Institute, he revealed his interest in educational methods by developing

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