Benjamin Silliman: A Life in the Young Republic

Benjamin Silliman: A Life in the Young Republic

Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 400
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    Benjamin Silliman: A Life in the Young Republic
    Book Description:

    Poet, essayist, chemist, geologist, educator, entrepreneur, publisher--Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) was one of the virtuosi of the Early Republic and a founder of the American scientific community. This absorbing biography is not only a study of the youth and early career of a complex and remarkable man but also a window on his times. In lively and often moving detail, Chandos Michael Brown opens the broad context of Silliman's life in his native Connecticut. From Silliman's father's disastrous captivity among the British during the Revolution to the intensities of New England religious revivals, from the international celebrity of the Weston Meteor to the economic hazards of introducing artificial mineral waters to the New York market, here is an engaging portrayal of the growth of an American scientist within his rich cultural setting. Brown tells how the young Silliman confronted the declining fortunes of his distinguished family and how he strove to invent a new career worthy of his ambition and social standing. He describes Silliman's education at Yale College and in Philadelphia, his European tour, and his subsequent activities as a professor of chemistry and mineralogy, founder of the Yale Medical School, and editor of the American Journal of Science. Throughout this cultural biography, Silliman appears as the concerned member of an often troubled family--a man who nonetheless managed to achieve that elusive quality, greatly admired by his contemporaries, that of the representative American.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6022-7
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. I 1796 Indigo Connecticut
    (pp. 3-28)

    At the age of seventy-seven, Benjamin Silliman began to transcribe the manuscript of his mother’s autobiography into a fine notebook that he had purchased in Rome. “I recommend the perusal of it to my children and their descendants,” he wrote in the preface, “for except in the Scriptures, they will find no higher example of female character, as exhibited in a wife and good life, protracted to four score years and two, during many trying vicissitudes.”¹* Although the Sillimans were by no means unique in their veneration of the past, the family had managed to preserve a remarkable collection of...

  6. II 1797–1801 Within the Walls of Yalensia
    (pp. 29-61)

    Silliman returned to Yale late in the spring of 1796 and graduated with his class in September. At commencement, President Dwight preached to the degree candidates on the duties connected with a professional life, taking his text from Proverbs: “My son attend to my words; incline thine ear to my sayings.” Because this was the first commencement sermon of his presidency, Dwight took care to describe what he considered his role as head of the college. The president stood “as a Father to the Youths” entrusted to his care, and it was a cardinal rule of the Connecticut way that...

  7. III 1801–1802 The Hindu Philosopher
    (pp. 62-99)

    Joseph’s plan to restore the Silliman farm on Holland Hill was visionary from the start, and merchants familiar with his reputation were unwilling to extend credit even to provide for his basic needs. He had no choice but to leave the farm. The general decline of agriculture in Connecticut, which accompanied the exhaustion of farmland that had been worked for nearly a century, resulted in a massive migration to the Western Reserve during the last decade of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth. As reports filtered back from “Mesopotamia, New Connecticut,” of the availability of cheap...

  8. IV 1802–1805 The Acquisition of Science
    (pp. 100-155)

    The awakening in the college subsided into a dull glow of piety, and Silliman prepared to go to Philadelphia before the roads became difficult to travel. He took it for granted, after Dwight made clear his intention to establish a chair of natural history, that he would have some chance to study the subject; and when it became apparent that he could learn no more without assistance, there was but one place to go. “To see and perform experiments and become familiar with many substances was indispensable to any progress in Chemistry,” he concluded, and one naturally had to “resort...

  9. V 1805–1806 Pilgrimage
    (pp. 156-197)

    TheOntariowas not spacious. The captain and mate had each a stateroom. Two Englishmen, two Americans, and two Scots shared the cabin and, in rough seas, jostled together most uncomfortably. Each traveler provided his own larder and drink, but they soon pooled these into a common store. “The temptation to indulge in the pleasures of the table is very great at sea,” Silliman recorded toward the end of the voyage, “where time hangs heavy on one’s hands.” For diversion they organized each day around a truly bacchanalian repast. “Our fresh provisions have been in the main fowls & fresh...

  10. VI 1806–1809 Civic Man
    (pp. 198-239)

    Favorable winds sped the well-builtSallyon her western passage, and Gorham’s company helped to ease the boredom of a long voyage. Silliman thought ocean travel on the whole rather like “detention in a rainy day in travelling on land,” although the comparison afforded scant room for the complications of seasickness and icebergs, both of which accompanied the crossing to New York. Silliman read casually in the novels, poetry, and collection of theRamblerthat he had purchased especially for the trip. He could not concentrate on more serious pursuits and apologized in his journal for descending to popular literature,...

  11. VII 1809–1817 Magnum donum Dei
    (pp. 240-276)

    The manufacture of artificial mineral waters called upon the most advanced technological resources of the early Republic, often to no avail. Though Silliman thought it more convenient to import laboratory apparatus than to construct it at home, the embargo against British goods, intermittently in force since December 1807, restricted this avenue of commerce.¹ Silliman had to contract with local craftsmen to manufacture the equipment he needed in the business. The production methods were not simple and required a fair degree of technical sophistication. It was critically important, for instance, that the waters be available in predictable quantities and that they...

  12. VIII 1812–1820 An American Klaproth
    (pp. 277-310)

    There is not, I presume, an Englishman, who regards the character, and politics, of Mr. Jefferson, and Mr. Madison, with less approbation than myself,” Dwight wrote inRemarks on a Review of Inchiquin’s Lettersin 1815; “the former I consider a cunning, the latter as a weak man; and both as hollow in their professions, insincere in their declarations, disposed without reluctance to sacrifice their country to the acquisition, and retention of power, and actually sacrificing it, so far as they have been able, for the accomplishment of horrid, and despicable purposes.”¹ Republican weakness of character brought great misery to...

  13. IX 1815–1820 Envoy
    (pp. 311-324)

    Joseph delaplaine was disappointed in his attempt to obtain a likeness of Silliman for his gallery of famous Americans, but Nathaniel Rogers painted a miniature on ivory in 1818 for the use of the family. Silliman was thirty-nine. He no longer wore his hair “à la mode Washington,” a style that had passed with frocked coats, great boots, and cocked hats. Cropped close, it receded slightly at the temple to reveal the fair, broad expanse of forehead. His eyes are dark and piercing and stare directly at the viewer. They are sunken a little in their sockets, and he appears...

  14. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 325-326)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 327-358)
  16. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 359-360)
  17. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 361-362)
  18. Index
    (pp. 363-377)