The Papers of Joseph Henry


2. FROM ASA GRAY

My Dear Sir

On Saturday I had a letter[1] from our friend Dr. Torrey which contained some account of your views on the plans proper to be pursued in regard to the Smithsonian Institute.
Let me say, hastily that I think they will in the highest degree approve themselves to the real men of science in the country & throughout the world. The idea of `Memoirs accepted & published by the Smithsonian Institute' is admirable, and would do great good. So is that of Reports, like the German Jahresberichten.[2] It seems to me too that a general library is nearly an impossibility,—at least,[B] if attempted, it would aborb all your funds in the purchase & care of books and the erection of buildings;—while a special library of Science & Arts—taken in the most extensive meaning—is attainable, falls into your general plan well, and would be of real utility. I think you are wrong, however, if I understand you to go against a National Cabinet, or Museum. That you should have, and the Expl. Exped. Collections as the[C] nucleus.[D] But surely you may insist that the Government should not whelm you with a present, that will absorb all the income of your foundation to provide for and take care of. I think you would have a right to insist that the Government who impose upon you this charge should provide a building for their reception. You might then properly assume the curatorship, which would be well provided for by one or two such subord subordinates as Breckenridge[3] (who has now charge of the live plants) with a single well-qualified curator, like Pickering.
I read a part of Dr T.' letter to Agassiz, who was with me when it came. His approval of those[E] views was so hearty that I asked him to put them on paper, which he did at once—in the form of the letter I enclose.[4] I thought the opinion of a person so highly qualified to give one on such a subject would be of some weight.[F]
I had a conversation with Pickering, who was much gratified when I told him that you would strenuously endeavor to prevent the absorption of large funds in buildings,—impoverishing yourselves with grandeur. (At Boston, we are experiencing the good effects of the late Mr. Lowell's wise provision on this subject.— A copy of his will, establishing the Lowell Institute, might be useful[G] to you—it could be had by application.)[5]
Pickering thought that, if you could stave off all appointments and all pledges or encouragements there to, you would do well, while a contrary course would soon swamp the whole. But I need not mention this, as I am sure that you have already formed a decided opinion on this subject. I shall take the liberty to confer with Prof. Peirce[6] in reference to your views, as far as expressed in Dr Torrey's letter. I am sure he will approve them as decidedly as I do.
On your return from Washi[ng]ton,[H] can you not make us a visit. When you can, come direc[t][H] to my house, where I need not say you will be a mos[t][H] welcome guest and confer a great favor by coming.

Yours ever

A Gray
Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] Not found.
    [2] Gray may have had in mind Friedrich Link's Jahresbericht über die Arbeiten für physiologische Botanik, which he reviewed in 1844 for Silliman's Journal (47:205), praising its “almost indispensable summaries.” Henry was familiar with other foreign-language reports of this kind, such as the Jahres-Bericht über die Fortschritte der physischen Wissenschaften, commenced in 1821 by Jöns Jacob Berzelius (Henry Papers, 2:189), which had carried notices of his own publications (see Henry Papers, 5:29, 133–134). Henry referred specifically to Berzelius's reports in the explanation of his “Programme of Organization,” terming it “a desideratum in the English language” for the Smithsonian to publish its own series, “posting up all the discoveries in science from time to time, and giving a well digested account of all the important changes in the different branches of knowledge” (Smithsonian Report for 1847, p. 182). For his earlier thinking along this line, see Henry Papers, 6:499, 501, 614n.
    [3] William Dunlop Brackenridge (1810–1893), assistant botanist on the United States Exploring Expedition, and later author of its report on ferns, was now tending the botanical collections in a greenhouse near the Patent Office. Gray and other naturalists regarded him more as a gardener than a botanist. Elliott, Dictionary; Richard H. Eyde, “Expedition Botany: The Making of a New Profession”; Douglas E. Evelyn, “The National Gallery at the Patent Office,” both in Magnificent Voyagers: The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842, ed. Herman J. Viola and Carolyn Margolis (Washington, 1985), pp. 28, 33, 234, 236, 238.
    [4] Doc. 1.
    [5] Under the terms of his will, John Lowell, Jr., established a trust—amounting to some $250,000—to support a program of lectures. He clearly stipulated that none of this fund was to be expended on a building or for any other program that might detract from his intended purpose. See Henry Papers, 4:297.
    [6] Benjamin Peirce, Perkins Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Harvard University. Henry Papers, 5:306.
    [A] Altered from 1846
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    [F] A two-centimeter break separates this paragraph from the following in the original.
    [G] Altered from ussful
    [H] Paper torn.