Archive:The Descendants of John Whitney, page 488

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The Descendants of John Whitney, Who Came from London, England, to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1635, by Frederick Clifton Pierce (Chicago: 1895)

Transcribed by the Whitney Research Group, 1999.

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of the literary societies of Leyden, Upsala, and Helsingfors; member or correspon- dent of the Academies of Dublin, Turin, Rome (Lynces), St. Petersburg, and Berlin; also correspondent of the Institute of France; and Foreign Knight of the Prussian order "pour le merite" for science and arts (being elected to fill the vacency made by the death of Thomas CARLYLE)- and so on. Wm. D. WHITNEY married Elizabeth WOOSTER, daughter of Roger SHERMAN and Emily (PERKINS) BALDWIN, of New Haven; her father, a lawyer of the highest rank, had been governor of Connecticut and sen- ator in congress, and inherited his name from Roger SHERMAN, the well-known signer of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the committee charged with drawing it up, whose grandson he was. They have had six children, three sons and three daughters; of these are living one son born Aug. 16, 1857, Edward BALDWIN, a lawyer in New York City (firm Burnett & Whitney, 67 Wall Street), and the three daughters. Very soon after their marriage, WHITNEY and his wife went, partly for health and partly for study, to spend somewhat less than a year in France and Italy (Nov., 1856 to July, 1857), passing several months at Rome. In the summer of 1875 he visited, alone, England and Germany, mainly for the collection of further material for the Atharva-Veda. In 1878, again, having been engaged by German publishers to prepare a Sanskrit grammar, as one of a series of grammars of the principal languages related with our own, he went abroad with his wife and daughters, to write out the work and carry it through the press; and they spent fifteen months in Europe, chiefly at Berlin and Gotha, just accomplishing the prescribed task; the last proof-sheets of the index to the volume were read in the cars on the way to the homeward steamer at Havre. Their way off the continent took them through Switz- erland and across France, and at Berne they had the pleasure of falling in with DAVISON and his family. The life of a college teacher is composed of uneventful years, little marked save by the succession of classes instructed and of literary labors brought to a conclusion. Only now and then comes in a noteworthy variety- as when, in 1873, WHITNEY was invited to take part in the summer campaign of the HAYDEN exploring expedition in Colorado, and passed two full months on horseback and under canvas, coursing over regions which in good part had been till then un- trodden by the feet of white men, and seeing Nature in her naked grandeur-mount- ing some nine times up to or beyond the altitude of 14,000 feet. It is said of him, in the report of the survey for that year (p.8), that he "rendered most valuable assist- ance to Mr. GARDNER in his geographical work, for the months of July and August, without compensation from the government"-the disinterested man! His letters describing the fortunes of the summer were printed in the New York Tribune and afterwards gathered in one of its supplements (Extra No. 14 Scientific Series). The death of William Dwight WHITNEY removed the most distinguished of American scholars. He secured more than any other the admiration both of those who could weigh and appreciate his achievements and of the general public, and had come to be regarded by most as the foremost representative of American learning. When in this land and in others the question has been asked: "Who is the most notable American man of science?" his name came oftenest in answer. Notable as his achievements were, he held this position in the estimation of the public more by virtue of what he was than of what he had done. There has been little in his work, much of which has been conducted in a very special field, to touch the popular imagination. His name is not connected with any great discovery, nor with any striking or revolutionary theory. His positive contributions, also, to the progress of knowledge were, perhaps, not as brilliant as those made by some other Americans. But it was recognized by all who knew him that no one of his contemporaries pos- sessed in larger measure that combination of qualities, that union of untiring industry, breadth and depth of knowledge, grasp of principles, and mental balance which makes the great scholar. He won his commanding position by the force and dignity of his intellectual character. He had, above all, that profound Yankee rev- erence for the plain, unadorned fact, with distrust of speculation, which, though it sometimes, even in brilliant minds, leads perilously near the commonplace, is an efficient check upon intellectual vagaries of all kinds, especially upon that besetting sin of the specialist-the reckless- striving after orginality. He was an apostle of commonsense, simplicity of thought and statement. and self-restraint in science; and these we take to be the most genuine of our national characteristics. Nothing so sharply challenged his contempt as a theory which wilfully ignored essential facts, or went gaily on without any facts at all; and nothing so quickly provoked his mirth as the cheap profundity which tortures the statement of a plain truth into the appearance of abstruseness. Indeed, not the least valuable lesson of his life, for the younger gen- eration, is the evidence which it gives that the national character and genius are quite

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