23 December 2008

A budding 19th century malacologist and the short-lived association that published his first paper

Bryant Walker (1856-1936), a lawyer by training, was an authority on terrestrial and freshwater mollusks of North America in the early 20th century. Yesterday, while skimming thru his list of publications detailed by Goodrich in this 1939 paper, I noticed that Walker’s first paper on mollusks titled "List of Land and Fresh-Water Shells found within a Circuit of Four Miles about Ann Arbor, Mich." and coauthored with Charles E. Beecher (1856-1904), had been published in 1876 in the Proceedings of Ann Arbor Scientific Association.

Bryant Walker: the lawyer-malacologist with crooked glasses. Picture from Goodrich (1939).

Several searches on the Internet for more information about the Ann Arbor Scientific Association was fruitless until I realized that Goodrich himself had provided more details about it and the paper by Walker & Beecher in this publication from 1943.

It turned out that the Ann Arbor Scientific Association had a very short, but busy and tumultuous lifespan of about a year. Goodrich wrote:
In that first and only year of the organization were lectures on geology, zoology, archeology, chemistry, botany, and meteorology. Probably the most ambitious paper of all was one on the flora in and about Ann Arbor, wherein 848 species of plants were recited. Walker and Beecher joined the society at the same time, in June, 1875...
The "Proceedings" of the Association that had the Walker & Beecher paper was nothing more than an appendix to its Constitution and By-Laws. But what became of the Ann Arbor Scientific Association? Goodrich continued:
Naturally, the short career of the association is a matter to wonder about. It has to be admitted that in America societies of the kind are commonly of few years and full of trouble, and that a certain inanition, if nothing worse, quickly comes upon them. Then, too, the Ann Arbor association came into being in the midst of the depression that followed the "panic of '73" and might be expected, as a result, to suffer difficulties with membership dues and printing bills.
But apparently there was another circumstance behind the early demise of the Association:
Dr. [Silas H.] Douglas was an active charter member. Professor [P. B.] Rose was secretary. These two entered upon a controversy which developed aspects of a mountain feud. If, as it is written, the University underwent earthquake-like reactions to the quarrel and the town became filled with highly vocal partisans, it can hardly be thought strange that a germinating scientific society, containing two resolute men at odds with each other, could not sustain the breath of life.
Goodrich didn't explain what the 2 men were quarreling about.

Walker, a junior at the University of Michigan at that time, survived the "earthquake" and had a long career in law and a successful avocation in malacology with 155 publications, while his coauthor Beecher went on to become professor of geology at Yale University until his untimely death in 1904.

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