The Papers of Joseph Henry


21. FROM [SPENCER FULLERTON BAIRD][1]

Prof. J. Henry,

Sir

I wrote to you some weeks ago,[2] stating that having heard that the situation of Curator to the Smithsonian Institute was to be filled shortly, and being advised thereto by some of my friends, I wished to become a candidate. I also mentioned my intention of sending on letters from different individuals as soon as I could procure them. I accordingly take the liberty of sending the accompanying, which I have received ↑from Dr. Morton,[3] J. J. Audubon,[4] John Cassin,[5] J. D. Dana, &c.[6] Dr. Gray has kindly offered to write personally to you on the subject↓.[7] Some I retain on account of the too partial terms in which I am mentioned, and of those forwarded to you, many contain opinions to which my utmost self conceit will not allow me to subscribe.
I have been told by my friends to mention in my application to yourself,[A] such places and passages[B] of Scientific works as refer to my name ↑and any ↑scientific↓ publication I myself have made↓. The number of these is limited, Mr. Audubon, Dr. Gray and a few others are all who have put my name in print. My own publications are few. Various catalogues of the Plants and Animals of this region some of which I enclosed to you a few weeks ago constitute[C] the principal,[8] except various descriptions of new species of North American birds in Silliman's Journal, Journal of the Academy of Nat. Sciences[9] Supplement to Audubon's Birds of North America,[10] &c.
My constant labor on One[D] or two works have[E]confined my attention for a number of years. The principal[F] of which is a complete↑My labors for several years past have been directed principally to the collection[G] of materials for two works, a a work on the↓ Synonymies[H] of the Birds of North America. To do this in the most complete manner I have spared no pains. Every work to[I] be found by me in the Public and Private libraries of Boston, New-York, Philadelphia New Haven and Washington has been carefully examined. The result of this is that many[J] discoveries, have been made as to the correct nomenclature of our Species.[K] The whole occupies several hundred foolscap pages and is nearly ready for publication.[11] I am only waiting the arrival of ↑until I can consult↓ several Swedish[L] and German works to publish the results of my labors, the corrected list of our birds at least, if not all the Synonymies— All my ornithological friends at home and abroad have kindly urged the speedy[M] completion of this labor ↑work↓ as a very great desideratum, among them Hugh E. Strickland of Oxford,[12] Charles Bonaparte,[13] H. Schlegel[14] Curator of the Museum at Leyden, and others. (Bibliography
Should I go to Washington[N] my[O] collections would[P] of course accompany me. The principal of these are Specimens of North American Birds, Quadrupeds, Reptiles, and Fishes. ↑Complete skeletons & Crania of numerous vertebrata, and Forest tres↓ My ornithological collection is probably the richest in N. American species of any in the world containing with very few exceptions all those figured and described by Audubon, with many others ↑unknown to him↓. I possess numerous new species which I intend to publish in monographs of Families or genera. They are all in skins, about three thousand in number, properly labelled & well preserved. Especial care has been taken to procure every variety of age and[Q] sex. I have besides a good series of European birds and eggs obtained from various correspondants in that country.[15]
In addition to the skins and bodies of animals I have a good collection of American Forest trees and shrubs Photographed some years ago— Complete skeletons of numerous vertebrata, beside various crania &c.
A principal object also of my studies has been the preparation of a Bibliography of Ornithology and of American Natural History in general.[16] With this view I have consulted all the Catalogues great and small of England France, Germany, Holland &c ↑which I could find.↓. I have had the honor of being called on to assist in perfecting the great Bibliographia Zoologia of Prof. Agassiz,[17] and to furnish various lists of desirable books in different branches of Zoology ↑& Nat. History↓ to different persons and Societies.
You will I hope pardon me for having said so much about myself and for repeating what I wrote to you before. May I hope for a speedy information as to what are the possibilities of sucess,[R] and whether any election has been decided on to take place shortly. I have the permission of the writers of the accompanying letters, Dr.[S] Morton, Mr. Cassin, J. J. Audubon, James D. Dana and of others as Dr. Gray, Major Le Conte,[18] &c. to use their names as references.
Draft, Folder "Copies of Correspondence Regarding Position for Curator of the Smithsonian Institution, 1847," Box 40, Baird Papers, Smithsonian Archives. Reply: Doc. 22.
    [1] Professor of natural history at Dickinson College, Baird (1823–1887) specialized in ornithology. In 1850 he became assistant secretary at the Smithsonian, responsible for natural history collections, the foreign exchanges, and publications. DSB; Smithsonian Report for 1850, p. 10.
    [2] Draft, February 6, 1847, same location as present letter.
    [3] Samuel George Morton was one of America's leading physical anthropologists and paleontologists. Henry Papers, 1:461n; DSB.
    [4] John James Audubon, the artist and naturalist. Henry Papers, 2:58n.
    [5] The leading American ornithologist of the day, John Cassin (1813–1869) was curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Elliott, Dictionary.
    [6] Copies of letters from Morton, February 13, 1847; Audubon, February 11, 1847; and Dana, February 7, 1847; same location as present letter.
    [7] Not found, but according to Gray's letter to Baird of February 23, 1847 (Baird Papers, Smithsonian Archives), written that day.
    [8] Three catalogues were published in the Literary Record and Journal of the Linnaean Association of Pennsylvania College. George Brown Goode, The Published Writings of Spencer Fullerton Baird, 1843–1882, Bulletin of the United States National Museum, No. 20 (Washington, 1883), pp. 1–3.
    [9] Two articles in Silliman's Journal and one in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia were co-authored with his brother, William M. Baird (1817–1872). Goode, Published Writings, p. 1.
    [10] Birds of North America, 7 vols. (New York, 1840–1844), 7:359.
    [11] Not published.
    [12] Hugh Edwin Strickland (1811–1853) had drawn up the authoritative rules for zoological nomenclature. DNB.
    [13] Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte (1803–1857), Napoleon's nephew and a former resident of Philadelphia, was an expert in both ornithology and ichthyology. DSB.
    [14] The ornithologist Hermann Schlegel (1804–1884) was on the staff of the Leiden Museum. Erwin Stresemann, Ornithology: From Aristotle to the Present (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1975), pp. 192–219.
    [15] For a summary of Baird's collections, which he brought with him to the Smithsonian in 1850, see Smithsonian Report for 1850, pp. 42–43.
    [16] Not published.
    [17] Bibliographia zoologiae et geologiae, 4 vols. (London, 1848–1854).
    [18] A former army topographical engineer, John Eatton LeConte, Jr. (1784–1860), was best known for his work on North American Lepidoptera. Elliott, Dictionary.
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