Folks at Home: February 17, 1863
“Folks at Home: February 17, 1863” was sent to the Smithsonian Institution Archives by The Grove National Historic Landmark. In this letter, Robert Kennicott, co-founder of the Megatherium Club, wrote about his life at the Smithsonian Castle and described his relationship to the club’s members. This letter acts as a great segue into further research of the Megatherium Club and its members. Note: Kennicott mentions sending photographs with this letter, however we do not know which ones. Some of the photographs included below may or may not have been sent. They are included to show some of the members of the club.
February 17, 1863
“Folks at Home”
“You all ask me for details of my life here; and I can readily understand that these must interest you—Now as I’m quite too egotistical by nature to have it desirable that I should cultivate egotism by writing altogether of myself, I’ll rather give you somewhat in detail some account of the Megatherium Club who compose my principal associates. (Of Prof. Henry & Prof. Baird I think I’ve sometimes written already.) By knowing of these men you’ll get a better idea of my doings.
I’ll send the photographs of all I can.
Stimpson is one of those kind of men that add a charm to any pursuit with which they are connected. His presence produces a most happy effect here, giving a rosy tint to the atmosphere of science which pervades this building, while his pleasant style of hard work helps one to be industrious. Stim’s specialty is marine invertebrates of all kinds.
He has published of late the most enormous amount of matter chiefly on the classification of fishes and has described as many new genera & families as he has species – Whether his genera are all good is another question, though many of them are adopted by the highest authorities in Europe. From his not studying species with sufficient thoroughness I should think he would be very liable to make many mistakes even where his views are correct. Agassiz has from this and some other causes made some woefully bad work.
You see this matter of working in genera and the higher groups is something different from that on species, and sometimes the man who is capable of doing the best work in investigating and describing species correctly is not as good on classification even where he has the requisite knowledge.
Thus in my own case though I believe I’ve really done good work in the species of N. Am. Serpents, I’ve not attempted anything in the higher classification, nor would I be at all competent for it; though I’m flattered by finding that the few genera I discovered all stand, even one which Cope at first rejected. (This side zoological matter may interest the paternal who can understand it.)
To return to Gill he is as you see from his photograph, not the handsomest fellow in the world, yet he’s especially vain of his personal appearance and devotes considerable time to adoring himself and giving ladies an opportunity to admire him!
He is not without a good opinion of his intellectual qualities by any means but he prides himself especially upon his personal beauty -- Fortunately he takes any amount of chaffing and laughing at and affords us no end of fun.
He is a little bald and wears his hat indoors a great deal, so Prof. Dana told him to have his photog taken with it on which he did – The result is to give him somewhat the look of a fast “bhoy” the very reverse of his character. Father will perhaps remember him as he was one of the old Megatheria – He it is that has done the scientific work on the numerous papers published by “Meek & Hayden.”
Eglestone is a mineralogist, young, very learned and wealthy, but a good hard worker and a P.B. and conductor – He may be called a Pious Conductor, being very high High Church Episcopalian, sticking up for all the forms, etc. He is the sixth resident Megatherian.
Dr. Allen is a young Philadelphian whom Prof. Baird set at work to study and monograph the N Am. Bats of which very little was known – He has prepared a splendid little work and proved himself an able Naturalist; as he also proved himself a P.B. and conductor worthy to be a part of the Megatherium, during a three weeks stay here a short time since when Prof. Baird got him a leave of absence avowedly for the purpose of finishing his monograph! (He is an Ast. Surgeon in the regular Army.) You see the Smithsonian has long arms! Allen by S. I. Influence – that is at Baird’s request to the Surgeon Gen. – will soon be ordered to a hospital in Washington where we will see a good deal of him as he will come here and work frequently – Allen is an excellent fellow, very young, but learned and clever.
Dr. Cooper, one of the old Megatheria, is now in California, a surgeon in the regular army.
Comes is a new and young ornithologist of this city, now a medical Cadet. He will enter the regular army as Ast. Surgeon for the sake of being sent to some outpost in the Rocky Mts. Or elsewhere to collect. We don’t see much of him as his hospital duties confine him pretty closely.
Prof. Honsford of Harvard University has been a good deal here of late, and has been a semi Megatherian – living at Prof. Henry’s but coming into our rooms in the evening and telling us good stories and conducing generally.
Dr. Torry (the Dr. Torry) the Botanist has been here for some time – He is a P. P. B., conducive and jolly. He doesn’t look over 45 years old and evidently feels younger – He comes in and yarns with us and is very conducive. He is in charge of the U.S. Assay office in New York – is here lecturing on “Light” – He is a celebrated chemist as well as botanist – He will give me his photog for father – He attended our Potomac Side Naturalists Club meeting last night. It was my entertainment and with Stim’s aid in concocting egg nog etc. I managed to get up a good entertainment, using alcohol bottles for drinking cups and a big shell for ladle etc. – It went off capitally – about 25 present and Dr. Torry, Honsford and others seemed to enjoy it hugely – The fact is the Megatheria are very general favorites and are allowed considerable privileges – We invite people to about the poorest dinners they perhaps ever ate with only ale to drink and yet so excellent is the sauce of conduction that our poor dinners in our coal hole like dining room go off capitally and seem very well liked. At first I felt a little ashamed to invite people to dinner, but I don’t see but conduction goes farther than fine table and good eatables, etc.
Mr. Gavitt of New York, one of the principal men in this great “Am. Bank Note Co.,” has been in town a good deal this winter – He is rather zoological and seems mightily pleased with our clubs society – He came to our meeting last night, and took dinner with us today and made himself generally conducive and agreeable – He rendered himself further agreeable to us by bringing his very pretty daughter to the S.I. several times when I’m afraid I didn’t refuse quite as decidedly as I might have done to spend some time showing her about the Institution. She is exceedingly young and natural though very clever and caused a sad interruption in the work room and kept me away from my working den also – by spending several hours in the work room this afternoon. She was by acclamation elected an Honorary Member of the Megatheria, at Prof. Baird’s suggestion.
I was invited to visit Mr. Gavitt’s house in New York where he is to show me (and Bruno if he comes) some boating, etc., the Bank note establishment, etc. – Reckon I’ll accept the invitation especially as “twas backed by Miss G. I suspect Bruno and I could find something to interest us.
Prof. Henry is an excellent and truly great man and at bottom conducive and P.B. but he stands more on his dignity and doesn’t meet us on the same familiar footing that Prof. Baird does – nor could any other man than Prof. Baird probably. Prof. Henry sometimes is quite conducive with us individually, however, and often comes in and talks with us -- He is a tremendous worker and I suppose now stands at the head of American Physicists. After all Baird is our first zoologist only excepting Dana – and if we consider the results to science of their operations and the time they’ve worked I suppose Baird is even ahead of Dana from his usefulness as a curator, teacher, collector, etc. and manager of the zoological part of this Institution. Dana is considered not only the first general Zoologist but also the best general Geologist.
Dana also is a perfect Brick and conductor – He was here when I was here before and was very kind to me and the rest of the Megatheria.
Exactly a P.B. as he is a little too selfish and egotistical.
Hall the Paleontologist is a kind of a skezeeks – neither Brickish nor conducive – Half his thunder he stole from others.
The Great and good John Casin is a glorious man, a P.P.P.B. and Prime conductor – He is a little on Prof. Baird’s style though not so perfect a man in all respects. He is frequently here and is considered one of the Megatheria.
Dr. Stuckley, now a brigade surgeon, is one of the Megatheria but isn’t here much. Dr. Newbury another but is in the west now.
Now then don’t tell me I don’t write long letters to you.
I commenced this several days since – It’s Feb. 17th now.
I enclose some photogs and will send more of Houseford, Stim, Torry & others – These are to be kept for me, however, as I’ll keep a collection of photogs of naturalists.
Got a telegram from Geo. Walker saying he would be here tomorrow.”