Early American Science: Needs and Opportunities for Study

Early American Science: Needs and Opportunities for Study

Early American Science: Needs and Opportunities for Study

Early American Science: Needs and Opportunities for Study

Excerpt

At the end of his great History of New-Hampshire, completed in 1792, the Reverend Jeremy Belknap observed that "The book of nature is always open to our view, and we may study it at our leisure. . . . The earth, the air, the sea, the rivers, the mountains, the rocks, the caverns, the animal and vegetable tribes are fraught with instruction. Nature is not half explored; and in what is partly known there are many mysteries, which time, observation and experience must unfold." Belknap adjured the citizens of New Hampshire to establish libraries and to furnish them "with books of natural philosophy, botany, zoology, chemistry, husbandry, geography and astronomy; that inquiring minds may be directed in their inquiries; that they may see what is known and what still remains to be discovered; and that they may employ their leisure and their various opportunities in endeavouring to add to the stock of science, and thus to enrich the world with their observations and improvements."

Belknap's advice and his very words typify the attitude of eighteenth- century Americans toward scientific investigation. They were aware of both their splendid opportunities and their heavy responsibility. They at first contributed their findings to the Royal Society and then founded their own societies for the promotion of useful knowledge. They botanized in their own dooryards, and they traveled to the semitropical South and the unknown reaches of the West to record the natural wonders and useful products of the continent. It is astonishing to find that many of the soldiers on the Sullivan expedition against the Six Nations in 1779 entered all sorts of botanical and ethnological data in the journals they wrote by their watch-fires. Their curiosity about the new world that was, or was going to be theirs, was consuming.

In all this activity there was, of course, a marked element of national pride. The advancement of science was linked with the advancement . . .

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