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O.C. Marsh, Pioneer in Paleontology

O. C. Marsh, Pioneer in Paleontology, by Charles Schuchert and Clara M. LeVene. 8 vo., 541 pages, with illustrations. NewHaven: Yale University Press, 1940. Price $5.00.

Every Yale man who ever studied geology in the old Peabody Museum knows the name of Marsh—appended to the descriptions of that array of fossil Brontosaurs, Triceratops, Pterodactyls, or Dispar, the bird with teeth. But to many of that generation, the name of Marsh on those descriptions is slightly confused with the name of Marsh at the old Kent Laboratory next door where we studied Marsh gas and, under a hood, the Marsh test for arsenic, so it is not at all amiss that this biography comes along, forty years after Marsh’s death, to fix the name of Marsh, so clearly in our minds, whence came what we know about dinosaurs—whether we use Sinclair gasoline with the dinosaur trade-mark or not.

The biographical part of the book gives way continually to accounts of what his field expeditions or assistants accomplished; he had between forty and fifty individuals on his personal payroll and never even drew any salary as professor until 1893!

The Wind River region, the Tetons, the Denver Basin, and the neighborhood of Canyon City furnished many items for the immense collection of fossils which Marsh acquired, making the Peabody Museum the site of one of the most outstanding collections of the world, and among his associates are many names which figure today in the annals of the American Alpine Club—peaks named for Geikie, Hayden or Lyell—or the names of members of the Club today whose forebears were active fifty to seventy-five years ago in outdoors; and one of our present members, Dr. H. F. Reid, in the plate opposite page 261; plenty of reason for including this book in any climber’s library, even if the climber does not specialize in geology. (It was Whymper, I think, who said a geologist could never be a good climber, he was always wanting to stop to study the rock where it was rotten!)

Bits of humor find their way into the book, seasoning what may seem like very dry descriptions of some of the fossils, and plenty of scrapping was needed to acquire this outstanding collection of fossils—other scientists also were trying to accumulate them. In describing the collections, much is said of “type” specimens. One cannot help remarking that Marsh, himself, may be considered as a “type” specimen of the genus which today gives us our climbers. Physically powerful, and at his best outdoors, hardly gregarious but a good picker of men; a good organizer, determined, perhaps too much so at times; cool-headed, cautious, methodical and careful; all climbers will agree in being true to type, when he is pointed out as attractive personally—all climbers will wish they were true to type in reading how he inherited ample means from his bachelor uncle—and he remained a bachelor. But all climbers will claim they are not true to type (but can they all correctly claim this), in reading of Marsh’s perennial procrastination!

J. E. F.