Thursday, July 20, 2017

Edward Drinker Cope

On December 29, 1906, a meeting was held in the American Museum of Natural History to present an installation of ten marble busts commemorating “Pioneers of American Science”. The personal character, the contributions and the significance of each scientist was the subject of an address given by a presenter, of which there were ten.  Here is the text of the address commemorating Edward Drinker Cope delivered by Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Curator, Department of Vertebrate Palæontology:
In the marble portrait of Edward Drinker Cope, you see the man of large brain, of keen eye and of strong resolve, the ideal combination for a life of science, the man who scorns obstacles, who while battling with the present looks above and beyond. The portrait stands in its niche as a tribute to a great leader and founder of American Palæontology, as an inspiration to young Americans. In unison with the other portraits its forcible words are: “Go thou and do likewise.
Cope, a Philadelphian, born July 28, 1840, passed away at the early age of fifty-seven. Favored by heredity, through distinguished ancestry of Pennsylvania Quakers, who bequeathed intellectual keenness and a constructive spirit. As a boy of eight entering a life of travel and observation, and with rare precocity giving promise of the finest qualities of his manhood. Of incessant activity of mind and body, tireless as an explorer, early discovering for himself that the greatest pleasure and stimulus of life is to penetrate the unknown in Nature. In personal character fearless, independent, venturesome, militant, far less of a Quaker in disposition than his Teutonic fellow citizen Leidy. Of enormous productiveness, as an editor conducting the American Naturalist for nineteen years, as a writer leaving a shelf-full of twenty octavo and three great quarto volumes of original research.  A man of fortitude, bearing material reverses with good cheer, because he lived in the world of ideas and to the very last moment of his life drew constant refreshment from the mysterious regions of the unexplored.
In every one of the five great lines of research into which he ventured, he reached the mountain peaks where exploration and discovery guided by imagination and happy inspiration gave his work a leadership. His studies among fishes alone would give him a chief rank among zoölogists, on amphibians and reptiles there never has been a naturalist who has published so many papers, while from 1868 until 1897, the year of his death, he was a tireless student and explorer of the mammals. Among animals of all these classes his generalizations marked new epochs. While far from infallible, his ideas acted as fertilizers on the minds of other men. As a palæontologist, enjoying with Leidy and Marsh the Arcadian period when all the wonders of our great West were new, from his elevation of knowledge which enabled him to survey the whole field with keen eye he swooped down like an eagle upon the most important point.
In breadth, depth and range we see in Cope the very antithesis of the modern specialist, the last exponent of the race of the Buffon, Cuvier, Owen and Huxley type. Of ability, memory and courage sufficient to grasp the whole field of natural history, as comparative anatomist he ranks with Cuvier and Owen; as palæontologist with Owen, Marsh and Leidy—the other two founders of American palæontology; as natural philosopher less logical but more constructive than Huxley. America will produce men of as great, perhaps greater genius, but Cope represents a type which is now extinct and never will be seen again.

Source:  The American Museum Journal, Vol. VII, No. 2, February, 1907, p. 25-26.

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