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Full text of "In memoriam-- J. Lawrence Smith, M.D. ..."

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* i * '0i i tm * 



• •• • • • 

• • •• •• 
• • • • • • • 

• •• • • • • 

•••• •• ••• 






IN MEMORIAM 



J. LAWRENCE SMITH, M.D. 



The biography of a great scientist, whose years have been 
wedded to certain departments in the commonwealth of 
kno\¥ledge, is but the record of empirical researches, dis- 
coveries and inventions realized in the quiet retirement of 
the laboratory, divorced from the exciting events of the his- 
toric period by which he may have been surrounded. 

This was particularly the case with Professor J. Lawrence 
Smith, whose devotion to his profession of chemistry, geolo- 
gy and mineralogy excluded active participancy in the mem- 
orable incidents through which he passed. In the peaceful 
paths of science, he continued to prosecute his favorite 
studies with the earnest and sublime devotion that have 
earned for him the highest honors his own and European 
countries could bestow, and have constituted him one of 
America's most distinguished savants. 

Dr. J. Lawrence Smith was born December 17th, 1818. 
He pursued his initiatory studies under the best instructors, 
and we learn that such was his predilection for, and profi- 
ciency in mathematics that before he could read, and indeed 
when only four years old, he added and multiplied figures 
with singular rapidity, was in algebra at eight, and at the 
age of thirteen was already engaged in the study of calculus. 
This asserted familiarity with the highest branches of math- 
ematics inducted him into the study of natural philosophy, 
chemistry and allied branches, in all of which he soon be- 



^f/n 



came conspicuous at the Charleston College, and subse- 
quently at the University of Virginia. 

Civil engineering was at first the profession of his choice, 
in which Ke was actively engaged as assistant engineer dur- 
ing the contemplated project of the railroad between Cin- 
cinnati and Charleston ; but abandoning this pursuit for the 
study of medicine, he soon entered the office of Drs. Hoi 
brook and Ogier in this city. It was during this period that 
a singular interposition of Providence rescued a life which 
would have been otherwise too soon lost to science. While 
on his way to a suburban farm near this city in a vehicle 
with Dr. Ogier and Mr. Grayson, the horses took fright, the 
vehicle was dashed to pieces, Dr. Ogier was thrown and had 
his leg broken, and Smith was dragged a considerable dis- 
tance with onie leg engaged within the fifth wheel, until the 
shock of a collision of the carriage against a tree disentang- 
led his limb, thus saving miraculously both limb and life. 
Mercifully preserved for a life of usefulness and laborious 
original research, Smith became unremittingly engaged in 
his medical studies. He followed three courses of lectures 
at the Medical College of the State of South Carolina, from 
which institution he was graduated in March, 1839; after 
which he visited Paris in the early part of 1840. Here he 
devoted himself more particularly to his favorite studies of 
chemistry arid physics, and subsequently went to Giessen, 
where for more than a year he remained as the favorite 
pupil of Liebig, in whose laboratory he worked as assidu- 
ously as he had done previously with Pelouz in Paris. 

It was in Paris, in the year 1842, that I became acquainted 
with Dr. Smith, and enjoyed the advantages of daily and 
hourly association with one whose friendship and affection 
have ever since served to endear him to me. It was here 
I learned to appreciate the admirable traits of character he 
exhibited, harmoniously blended with exceptional devotion 
to scientific pursuits, and would bear attestation to the 
purity of his character and generosity of his nature. Con- 
secrated from boyhood apparently to scientific thought, his 
only obvious aim was an earnest and determined search after 



truth, under the impulses of a genius that knew no rest, and 
that would not, if it could, evade its destiny. Who would 
suppose a young man, scarce emancipated from the hoiden- 
ish period of youth, could be so engrossed in the fascinations 
of his daily studies and pursuits, that he should walk for 
hours of an evening the thoroughfares and byways, boule- 
vards and gardens, of a metropolis like Paris — that centre 
of fashion and vortex of dissipation — in such oblivious for- 
getfulness of all his surroundings as was expressed in dis- 
cussions, how to expound some intricate point of science, or 
which was the better way perhaps of demonstrating a certain 
problem in Euclid ; yet, the frequent recurrence of such 
profitable, though obstruse debates, plainly declared that 
his mental affluence was ever deeply plunged within the 
mazes of science, and that his was an intelligence so conse- 
crated by nature to the absolute realization of a plan and 
purpose that ultimate fame seemed already as insured as 
his knowledge was fixed and profound. It was this early 
and almost sacred devotion to a mission which won the ad- 
miration of an Orfila, and the commendation of a Liebig! 

I can here recall my first visit to him on reaching Paris, 
April, 1842, when I found him immerse in toxicological ex- 
periments on animals which he had poisoned with arsenic 
and had disintered at various periods after death, with the 
view of searching for evidences of the drug within the tis- 
sues, which researches led to the publication of his papers 
on arsenic in Silliman's Journal, at the time that Orfila's 
experiments on the same subject were exciting such atten- 
tion in the Parisian minds in the memorable case of Madam 
Lafarge*s trial for the poisoning of her husband. 

It was also at this period, 1842, that he undertook, at 
the suggestion of Professor Liebig, to examine the products 
afforded by the distillation of spermaceti, dissatisfied as he 
was by the undetermined nature of this part of Chevreurs 
researches upon the fats. His publication on this subject 
added greatly to his reputation as an experimental inquirer. 
With a reputation already established in both continents, 
he returned to his native home in 1844, and was invited to 



the memory of Professor Smith presented to the American 
Academy of Arts and Sciences of Boston, remarked : J* His 
*' discovery of emery in Asia Minor destroyed the rapacious 
** monopoly of this article at Naxos, in the Grecian Archi- 
** pelago, extended its use and greatly reduced its price. 
** His studies on emery and its associate minerals led direct- 
** ly to its discovery in America. In Massachusetts and 
** North Carolina a large industrial product of emery is now 
** carried on. To Dr. Smith belongs the credit of having 
*• done almost every thing for these commercial enterprises 
** by his successful researches on emery and corundum." 
We must record the discovery of two new minerals which 
he found associated with a specimen of pitchblende in the 
neighborhood of Adrianople, Turkey, which he respectively 
called mcdjiditc and liebigiti\ in honor of the then reigning 
Sultan, Abdul-Medjid, and of his distinguished friend Liebig, 
of Giessen. I also remember his telling me of the astound- 
ing and amusing effect he produced upon the Turks when 
he struck the oxycalcium light in the dome of the Mosque 
of Constantinople, as it spread the bright effulgence of day 
over the Capital, when they imagined it must be some ex- 
traordinary luminary of the nocturnal skies ! In his travels 
in Western Asia Minor he provided himself with proper 
appliances for safely transporting to his laboratory, from 
twenty distinct localities, specimens of those Thermal 
Waters which were held in such high estimation by the 
ancient Romans and Greeks for supplying their baths, but 
which never had been examined. The result of these re- 
searches which he made have greatly enhanced their value 
from a scientific standpoint. Such was the impression of 
these labors upon the Turkish government, and the large 
revenues it received from his discoveries, that he was decor- 
ated by the Sultan and loaded with valuable presents. 

He returned to Charleston in 1850. We had shared but 
a few months the pleasure which his return to his own peo- 
ple had inspired, when again in November, 1850, he went 
to New Orleans as nominal professor of chemistry in the 
Univemity of Louisiana ; engaged in lectures and researches 



deliver a course of lectures on toxicology at the Medical 
College of this city, and shortly after he accepted the office 
tendered him of Assayer of the State of South Carolina, in 
the discharge of which office he soon discovered the com- 
me^rcial value of the extensive marl beds of Carolina, con- 
cerning which he published an important report. 

Though he never actively engaged in the practice of 
medicine, such was his interest in the progress of his profes- 
sion that he established a Charleston Medical and Surgical 
Journal, conjointly with Dr. Seaman Sinclair, in 1846. With 
the exception of a similar effort made as early as 1820, when 
Dr. Thomas Y. Simons and Dr. William Michel edited the 
first medical journal ever published in the South, the ful- 
fillment again of such an enterprise in the hands of Dr. 
Smith successfully developed the literary resources of this 
section, in centralizing in his journal for many years the 
authorial ability of the South, at a time when, it must be 
conceded, we were fairly and impressively convinced of de- 
ficiency in this department, in which we were not simply be- 
hind our Northern brethren, but, what was yet more regretta- 
ble, were literally considered as hors de combat ! His work in 
the direction of agricultural chemistry, particularly so far as 
the growth of cotton was concerned, attracted the attention 
of the Turkish government, who solicited the aid of America 
in this connection. Mr. Buchanan approached Professor 
Smith upon the subject through Mr. Elmore, and he finally 
accepted the appointment tendered him by the President of 
the United States. In 1847 ^^ ^^ft his home once more to 
counsel, advise, and direct in the cultivation of cotton in Asia 
Minor. He no sooner became fully engaged in the important 
official work of mining engineering, an office which the Sul- 
tan created for him, as an inducement for him to remain in 
Turkey, that he made the discovery of certain coal mines, 
chrome ores, and more especially those of emery which in 
the interest of that country, secured his operations for a 
series of four years. The publication of an elaborate mono- 
graph on emery excited great attention everywhere when 
it appeared. Dr. J. B. Marvin, in his eloquent tribute to 



the memory of Professor Smith presented to the American 
Academy of Arts and Sciences of Boston, remarked : J* His 
••discovery of emery in Asia Minor destroyed the rapacious 
•* monopoly of this article at Naxos, in the Grecian Archi- 
"pelago, extended its use and greatly reduced its price. 
** His studies on emery and its associate minerals led direct- 
**ly to its discovery in America. In Massachusetts and 
"North Carolina a large industrial product of emery is now 
"carried on. To Dr. Smith belongs the credit of having 
"done almost every thing for these commercial enterprises 
"by his successful researches on emery and corundum.*' 
We must record the discovery of two new minerals which 
he found associated with a specimen of pitchblende in the 
neighborhood of Adrianople, Turkey, which he respectively 
called medjidite and liebigitc, in honor of the then reigning 
Sultan, Abdul-Medjid, and of his distinguished friend Liebig, 
of Giessen. I also remember his telling me of the astound- 
ing and amusing effect he produced upon the Turks when 
he struck the oxycalcium light in the dome of the Mosque 
of Constantinople, as it spread the bright effulgence of day 
over the Capital, when they imagined it must be some ex- 
traordinary luminary of the nocturnal skies ! In his travels 
in Western Asia Minor he provided himself with proper 
appliances for safely transporting to his laboratory, from 
twenty distinct localities, specimens of those Thermal 
Waters which were held in such high estimation by the 
ancient Romans and Greeks for supplying their baths, but 
which never had been examined. The result of these re- 
searches which he made have greatly enhanced their value 
from a scientific standpoint. Such was the impression of 
these labors upon the Turkish government, and the large 
revenues it received from his discoveries, that he was decor- 
ated by the Sultan and loaded with valuable presents. 

He returned to Charleston in 1850. We had shared but 
a few months the pleasure which his return to his own peo- 
ple had inspired, when again in November, 1850, he went 
to New Orleans as nominal professor of chemistry in the 
University of Louisiana ; engaged in lectures and researches 



8 



in that city until May, 1852; when there occurred a vacan- 
cy in the chair of chemistry in the University of Virginia, 
occasioned by the death of Professor Rodgers, which trans- 
ferred him to that position, by invitation, in his Alma Ma- 
ter. In 1854 the resignation of Professof B. Silliman from 
the Medical Department of the University of Louisville, 
induced those who had the interest of this institution at 
heart to tender him the professorship of chemistry, which 
he promptly accepted. Circumstances influenced him in 
resigning after many years from these public duties, devo- 
ting himself to private laboratory work in an establishment 
of his own, in which much of his most important and 
heaviest work was accomplished. 

An exhaustive memoir. on Meteorites frgm his pen at this 
period, calls to mind one of his most important publications, 
inasmuch as his large collection of these extraordinary bodies 
from all parts of the world, gave great weight to his opinion 
and made him a high authority on this debatable subject. 
The special attraction of this study to the general reader 
invests with intense interest the author*s speculative inquir- 
ies into the origin and history of Meteorites ; and one pe- 
ruses with fascinated abstraction the comprehensive analyses 
by which he rejects the cosmical and interplanetary theories 
on the one hand, while enforcing chemical, mathematical, 
and astronomical arguments for the adoption of his more 
eligible view of the selenic origin of these aerolites with 
masterly authority. Another paper on Artesian Wells, 
their nature and origin, chemical and medicinal properties 
of their waters, was also suggested and published, at this 
time, in connection with an instructive account of the Du- 
pont's Artesian Well in Louisville, Ky. This was again 
issued in pamphlet form in 1859. 

Had Professor Smith's researches been confined solely to 
the department of mineralogy, his reputation would never- 
theless have been equally great. Besides his individual 
contributions to this branch of science, he was also engaged 
while in Virginia in a re-examination of American minerals, 
and in preparing an elaborate analytic report on the sub- 



9 



ject. It has been conjectured that his discovery of a new 
element, which he named Mosandrum, contributed with his 
previous and subsequent labors in securing that remarkable 
vote which placed him among the Members of the Institute 
of France. 

His creative genius was signally exemplified in numerous 
inventions, of which we must mention his inverted micro- 
scope, with which reagents may be safely used upon the 
stage without danger to the objectives, since by the use of 
a prism in the cylinder of the instrument the image of 
the object is obtained from beneath the slide. Queckett 
acknowledges the worth of this instrument to the chemist 
particularly. His calcarimetcr is especially valuable from 
simplicity of construction and easy application ; since in the 
hands of the uninitiated, without even a knowledge of the 
principle of the instrument, very accurate results arc easily 
obtained in first experiments upon calcareous manures. His 
eye-piece, micrometer and goniometer arc also other inven- 
tions well known to all microHcopistH. 

It must devolve, however, upon chcfnistHto speak author!- 
tatively concerning his many contributions to their Mcicnce ; 
many, though by no means half of which wcMe in 1873 col- 
lected from different periodicals and piihlishrd in a volume 
of great interest. His labors in the laboratory and with his 
pen secured the attention of the sijentifif world M an r^U'ly 
period of his life, as we hav<; seem ; and thr^e, the hUlU of 
his life-work, have .served not alone to place him in the 
foremost rank among scic;ntists, but have illf»tin^jiii«»hf?»l him 
as the recipient of the very highest reward allainablr rtmony 
his contemporaries, for at the death of Sir C'httrlr»« LytJil, 
the vacancy left in the: Institute of I^Vance watt iinaniintuiHly 
filled by the election of Professor Smith as member of that 
illustrious body of the world's scientists. This n)em«Hable 
event occurred, as evcrry South Carolinian shall ever remem- 
ber, in 1879, an honor which identifies him with Franklin 
of our own country. In his own country he was also Presi- 
dent of the American Association for the Advancement of 
Science. 
2 



10 



It has not always been given to the learned to communi- 
cate extemporaneously to others what they themselves so 
well understand ; we should not, therefore, disingenuously 
disguise the fact that in his academic teachings he did not 
probably realize in the estimation of some that success 
which so extended a reputation would seem to have implied. 
If, as Collier declares, **a graceful presence bespeaks accept- 
ance,*' his surely was so attractive as at once to rivet atten- 
tion and prejudice an audience in his favor. His preposses- 
sing appearance, his chiseled features of almost effeminate 
beauty, his light blue eyes an/d flaxen hair, and the fore- 
head — that showboard of one's intellectual ware — stood 
revealed as the pediment of a temple dedicated to science; 
but the accuracy of his knowledge which with him con- 
sisted only in what was demonstrable made his teachings 
apodeictic and his style laconic. His intellectual processes 
seemed never deflected for an instant from their rectilinear 
course, and his utterances interpreted them without oratorial 
embellishment. Borrowing neither the aid of imagery, nor 
observant even of chastening the language of familiar dis- 
course, it must be confessed that when he became enthusi- 
astic in his subject, in the infelicity of extemporaneous 
delivery he failed perhaps as a lecturer in fixing the atten- 
tion of any but of those of a select few who were competent 
to penetrate his meaning, and fathom the extent of his 
inferences. 

His cheerful nature must have been connate with the se- 
ductive attractions of his daily occupations. Dr. Marvin, 
his family physician, informed me that though he had been 
declining in health from a chronic affection of the liver 
for two or three years, yet he continued his indefatigable 
labors uncomplainingly. Indeed, we may assume that there 
never was time for despondency so long as he could wander 
through Nature's store-house in wonderment and in love. 
He could at all times have exclaimed with the laureat 
poet : 

" And forth into the fields I went. 
And Nature's living motion lent 
The pulse of hope to discontent." 



11 



It is but a few moivths since, on the I2th October, 1883, 
at 3 P. M., silently, painlessly, happily, because hopefully, in 
the distant State of his adoption, the friend of my youthful 
days passed away ; without eulogistic discourse, at his own 
request, in modest self-forgetfulness of his fame, but after 
the simple reading of the service of the dead, when his re- 
mains were taken to their appointed resting place in Cave 
Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky, leaving us all to mourn 
the death of a renowned scientist. 

Professor Smith married the daughter of the Hon. James 
Guthrie of Louisville, Kentucky; this accomplished lady 
survives him. He was a member of the following socie- 
ties: Corresponding Member of the Academy of Scien- 
ces of the Institute of France; The Anierican National 
Academy of Sciences; The Chemical Society of Berlin; 
The Chemical Society of Paris; Chemical Society of Lon- 
don ; Society d* Encouragement pour I'lndustrie Nation- 
ale ; Imperial Mineralc^ical Society of St. Petersburg; 
American Association for the Advancement of Science; 
British Association for the Advancement of Science ; 
Polytechnic Society of Kentucky ; Corresponding Member 
of the Boston Society of Natural History ; American Acad- 
emy of Arts and Sciences; American Philosophical Society; 
American Bureau of Mines; Society des Sciences et des 
Arts de Hainaut ; Royal Society of Gottingen ; Chevalier 
de la Legion d'Honneur; Member of the Order of Nichan 
Iftahar of Turkey; Member of the Order of Medjidiah of 
Turkey; Chevalier of the Imperial Order of St. Stanilas of 
Russia.