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This biography is from ANNALS of the Medical Society of the County of Albany, 1806-1851, by Sylvester D. Willard, M. D.

Lewis C. Beck
By Mrs. Catharine E. Van Cortlandt.

Lewis C. Beck was the younger of the brothers so identified with the medical and scientific history of their native state. It has been well and truly said that "there never was a great man, the elements of whose greatness might not be traced to the original characteristics or early training of his mother." This was eminently the case with these brothers. Their mother possessed a well balanced mind, and had received no common training. Mrs. Beck was the only daughter of the Revd. Dr. Derick Romeyn, Professor of Theology in the Reformed Dutch church, a man of great learning and piety; he twice refused the Presidency of Queen's College, New Jersey, and was the founder of Union College in our own state. A Regent of the University, the subject of education demanded and received much of his attention. It was probably owing to this fact that his own children were so well and thoroughly educated; his only son, Dr. John B. Romeyn, was widely known as an eloquent and useful clergyman of the Presbyterian church. Dr. Derick Romeyn was devoted to the cause of liberty, and corresponded with the leaders of the American Revolution, Washington, Clinton, and the other great men of that day, in reference to the cause so dear to them all, becoming by these means obnoxious to the tories in his neighborhood. They charged him with the crime of "preaching liberty," and at one period a reward was offered for his capture. He was pastor of the church in Hackensack when that village was burned by the Hessians, and of Esopus when it shared a similar fate at the hands of the British; his daughter was the companion of his flight from the latter place, and was the inmate of the parsonage at Hackensack where her father and the brave Col. Richard Yarick were secreted during the attack. In this school of trial and endurance Mrs. Beck early learned lessons of fortitude and energy. In 1784 Dr. Romeyn was called to the church in Schenectady, and here Mrs. Beck married and here all her sons were born. Left a widow at the early age of twenty-nine, she determined that no exertion should be spared on her part to give her five sons a liberal education, her ardent desire being that each of them should embrace a profession, a desire encouraged by her father and in furtherance of which she had his advice and assistance while he lived. To attain this object however, demanded much self-denial and active exertion. Studying with them most of their lessons and diligently caring for every household duty, the home of their childhood presents a beautiful picture. Her good sense, industry and tenderness overcame all obstacles; she lived to see her sons useful in their generation, and honored by all who knew her worth; she entered into her rest at the age of eighty-five, "a shock of corn fully ripe."

Lewis C. Beck was born several months after the death of his father, and was an object of peculiar tenderness to his mother. His early education was received at the grammar school of his native city. During his childhood and youth he displayed evidences of that love of nature that characterized his riper years, and was remarkable even then, for the exquisite neatness and careful manipulation that marked every childish experiment and handiwork. He entered Union College at an early age, and graduated in 1815. Immediately commencing the study of medicine with Dr. Thomas Dunlap of Schenectady, a venerable and beloved physician, who survived his pupil several years, dying in 1861. Dr. Beck entered upon the practice of medicine in Schenectady when only a little over nineteen years of age. Abram Beck, the second of the brothers, a man of varied talent and great energy, had the year previous commenced the practice of law in St. Louis, and seeing the opening in that region for men of ability, urged his younger brother to remove thither. In those days the journey was most tedious and trying, but it possessed many advantages for a careful observer. Nothing seemed to escape the eye of that youthful traveler, and he acquired an accurate knowledge of the botany and mineralogy of the country through which he slowly journeyed. On his arrival at St. Louis, he found no advantageous opening for the practice of medicine, a fact that seems to have caused him little regret, for in his journal, he writes of having immediately commenced to make himself acquainted "with the natural productions of the region, and in making collections for some publication that might bring them into notice. "I was," says he, "the more desirous of doing this as it seemed to fall in with my previous pursuits." He also amassed materials for an account of St. Louis, so rich in historical reminiscences; the mass of information gathered was carefully selected and from it was formed The Gazetteer of Illinois and Missouri. This work was published in 1822, but never received from the public the attention it merited. It was a work demanding and receiving great care and neatness, the maps and engravings being executed in the best manner, but probably owing to a want of energy on the part of the publishers was little known. In December, 1820, Dr. Beck left St. Louis for home on professional business for his brother, this time making the journey on horseback; a mode of traveling allowing a most careful and extended observation of the country. He reached Washington in season to hear the discussions on the famous Missouri question, prior to the passage of the Missouri compromise, witnessing also the inauguration of President Monroe. The succeeding year Dr. Beck resided with his brother, Dr. T. Romeyn Beck, at Albany, busily engaged upon the Gazetteer.

The death of Abram Beck obliged him once more to visit St. Louis, but he had finally at the solicitation of his mother given up "the prospect of successful adventure in a part of the country which seemed to promise a great reward to industry and enterprise, the rich harvest to which its natural histoiy presented, and which I had as it were just begun to gather, made me regret the necessity which seemed laid upon me to return." The manuscript narrative from which these slight notices of Dr. Beck's western tours are drawn, impresses the reader, most forcibly with the sagacity and forethought of its author. The very sites named by him as suitable localities for cities and towns, in the then almost uninhabited region, have since been chosen by the pioneer builders of the great west, and he lived to see his anticipation fully realized. On his return to Albany he commenced anew the practice of medicine. He had, however, the same dislike to the practice that induced his brother to resign it, although like him, pursuing its study with ardent zeal. Two papers written at this time for the Medical and Physical Journal, of which his brother, Dr. John B. Beck, was one of the editors, show his attachment to his profession. They are entitled "Facts relative to a disease generally known by the name of sick stomach, or milk sickness;" and "An account of the small pox, modified small pox and chicken pox, which prevailed in the city ofAlbany during the months of February, March, and April, 1824, with remarks on the identity of these diseases, and upon the anti-variolous power of vaccination." In 1823, the Albany lyceum of natural history was established, in which he took a deep interest, devoting much time to the classification and arrangements of its minerals. This Society held its meetings in one of the rooms of the Albany Academy, and 1828 it, together with the Society for the promotion of useful arts in the state of New York, was merged in a new association called the Albany Institute. Of the thirteen original officers of the institute but four survive: The Hon. Peter Gansevoort, Joseph Henry, Eichard Varick Dewitt, and George W. Clinton.

The venerable President, the patriot and generous patron of science and literature, Stephen Yan Rensselaer; the scholar and man of science, the friend of Washington, Simeon Dewitt; the brothers T. Romeyn and Lewis C. Beck, M. Henry Webster, Wm. Mayell, Henry W. Snyder, Wm. Cooper, all have passed away. Many members of the institute must remember well, the energy and enthusiasm of the brothers in this work and their desire that the home of their choice, Albany, should become in the words of the elder, "A focus in which shall be concentrated all the numerous and diversified productions of our state. Nothing is wanting but a proper devotion of that portion of our time, which can be prudently alloted to it; and we should recollect that we are under peculiar obligations to endeavor to effect this." How well they fulfilled these obligations many can attest; none but those whose privilege it was to see their daily life, can know in the fullest extent, their unceasing industry, and generous self-devotion to the cause of humanity, and the improvement of mankind. Before the institute, Dr. Lewis Beck read a number of papers mainly upon the botany and mineralogy of New York. In 1824 he delivered a course of lectures on botany at the Berkshire Medical Institution, and later in the same year received the appointment of junior professor of botany, mineralogy, and zoology in the Rensselaer school; a school planned by Prof. Amos Easton and supported for many years by the liberality of the patroon. Dr. Beck remained in his school until 1829, his professorship being changed the year previous, to that of chemistryand natural history.

In 1825 he married Hannah Maria, the daughter of Major Israel Smith of Albany. This most estimable woman still survives him. During the summer of the succeeding year he was appointed professor of botany and chemistry in the Vermont Academy of Medicine located at Castleton, and in 1826 he delivered a course of lectures on chemistry at Middlebury College, Vt.; and also a short course on botany at the Western College of Physicians and Surgeons, Fairfield, N. Y.

During all this period Dr. Beck's pen was not idle. Many interesting and useful articles were from time to time published in Silliman's Journal, in the New York Medical and Physical Journaland the Transactions of the Albany Institute. Among the most important of these are the "account of the salt springs at Salina, and a chemical examination of the water,'' and an article on "the nature of the compound known as chlorides of soda, lime, &c., and their uses as disinfecting agents." About this time the Hon. Joseph Henry, the distinguished secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, with Dr. Beck, published a scale of chemical equivalents, an improvement upon the original instrument constructed under the direction of the celebrated Dr. Wollaston; Prof. Henry arranging the divisions and furnishing the account of the mathematical construction, Dr. Beck arranging the substances according to their atomic weight, and preparing the copy for the engraver, a labor needing all his accuracy and exceeding neatness. During the intervals of his lectures while residing in Albany, he devoted much time to the study of the ferns and mosses of the United States. After more than a year of labor he relinquished the idea of publishing a work on the subject; finding no publisher willing to incur the risk of venturing on a branch of botany so little known and studied at that time. Dr. Beck did not consider his time lost, preparing him as it did for labors of a similar kind. It was also the means of making him acquainted with an ardent fellow traveler in the walks of science. This was the Rev. Lewis De Schweinitz a Moravian clergyman of Bethlehem, Penn. Seeing Dr. Beck's paper on ferns and mosses in Silliman's Journal, De Schweinitz wrote to him, proffering most valuable assistance, and eventually transmitting to him his extensive collection for examination.

In 1830 Dr. Beck was elected professor of chemistry and natural history in Rutger's College, New Brunswick. He did not, however, enter upon his duties until the ensuing year. Remaining still a resident of Albany, he was busily engaged upon a manual of chemistry intended as a text book for colleges and medical schools. In the winter of 1830-31 he, in connection with Dr. T. Romeyn Beck and Professor Henry, delivered a popular course of chemical lectures at the Albany Academy.

In 1832 the Asiatic cholera appeared upon this continent; and so intense was the alarm felt at the approach of this dreaded visitant, that the governor of the state, Enos T. Throop, convened a special session of the legislature to devise such measures as might be thought necessary to prevent its spread. By a special act of this body, Governor Throop was clothed with extraordinary authority to meet any contingencies. Dr. Beck received the appointment of agent to visit the northern and western frontiers of the state, and to procure all possible information in relation to this terrible disease. He was also charged with the duty of arranging with all local boards of health, to procure complete statistics of its ravages. On his return to Albany he presented a full and valuable report on the nature of the disease, its geographical march, its causes, its treatment and the sanitary regulations needed to arrest its progress. The report was published in the transactions of the New York State Medical Society, and republished in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal. During the same year, Dr. Beck wrote a most valuable paper on the commercial potash of New York. He had been chosen by the legislature to examine into the process adopted for the manufacture of potash, and to analyze samples with a view to protect as much as possible the consumer against negligence and fraud on the part of the manufacturer. This paper appeared in Silliman's Journal. In 1833 Dr. Beck resigned his professorship in the Vermont Academy of Medicine, and during the same year published a volume on the botany of the northern and middle states; dedicating it to his friend, De Schweinitz.

The following year he received an appointment as professor of chemistry in the University of New York, which position he held until 1838, when all the professors, with a single exception, were removed by most arbitrary action on the part of the council and chancellor.

The Hon. John A. Dix, then secretary of state, presented in 1836, a report to the legislature, setting forth the importance of a geological survey of this state, and a liberal grant of more than one hundred thousand dollars was appropriated for this object. Dr. T. Romeyn Beck was one of the originators of this plan, and ardently supported it. "William L. Marcy, the governor, a man of large views and comprehensive mind, forwarded this grand work. Lewis C. Beck received from him the appointment of mineralogist to the survey, including in its duties, a scientific description, and chemical analysis of all soils and minerals. To this work, so congenial to his tastes, he gave seven years of arduous toil. In his own words: "I commenced the work with a zeal arising from a fondness for the pursuit in which I was engaged, and with a desire to make my researches useful to the people of the state who had made such a liberal appropriation for their completion." Dr. Beck's management of the portion of the state surveycommitted to his charge was marked by his usual industry, rigid economy, and great devotion to the public interests. At the close of each day, the work was regularly posted up, so that if another hand should be obliged to take it up, his labor would be available for its completion. This was characteristic of the man, and his incorruptible integrity. He dealt with the state as he dealt with individuals; scorning to overreach or misappropriate a farthing not rightfully needed for this purpose. Before the completion of his great work, Dr. Beck accepted the professorship of chemistry and pharmacy in the Albany Medical College, and delivered a course of lectures each year, until his death. These lectures with his duties at Rutger's College, New Brunswick, where he now resided, would have fully occupied all the time of an ordinary man; but Lewis Beck was no ordinary man. With unwearying industry, he was preparing a new edition of his botany for the press, and a most valuable and useful book for "the physician, the apothecary and the artisan," on "the adulterations of various substances used in medicine and the arts, with the means of detecting them." Added to these were papers for Silliman's Journal, and an elaborate report for the commissioners of patents on the breadstuffs of the United States, and their adulterations. But all this labor was beginning to tell upon him; and for several years before his death, the slight form grew slighter, and the elastic step was slower. Still he worked on. Like his brother, Dr. John B. Beck , who had gone before him but a little while, and the beloved elder brother who was soon to follow them, he labored for the good of others, and for the furtherance of the ohject that they all had so much at heart. Not for position or for fame they labored, but for the good of mankind; content to wear out, but not to rust out. Each died at his post, believing that their work was a life work; not to be laid down until the Master saw fit to call them.

It was fitting that the last literary labor of Lewis Beck should be in aid of a needy church. He was to deliver a lecture in a neighboring city, the subject, Sir Humphrey Davy, and his times; but a storm prevented its delivery. Feeble as he was, the preparation was too much for him, and no doubt, hastened his death.

The winter of 1852-53 found him as usual at Albany, faithfully lecturing to his class; but his health gradually declined until April, when he suddenly grew worse, and after a few days suffering he died on the 20th of the month, in the 55th year of his age. His sun went down at noon, but he had accomplished more than many a man who lives out his three score years and ten! Who can estimate the value of such a life? The many young men who have from time to time been privileged to listen to his teachings, can attest how reverently he taught them to see the Creator's hand in his works, and can bear witness that in those teachings, science was never made irreconcilable with religion, but rather her handmaid. A Christian man, he taught as such a man should teach. The secret of the thorough respect those pupils felt for their teacher, was the knowledge on their part, boys as some of them were, of his honesty of purpose, and his respect for them. Does this expression seem misplaced? Respect for boys? It is an eminently proper expression. If more teachers felt this, boys would not be the troublesome fellows they are usually deemed, and not unjustly. In the language of an old pupil, "Dr. Beck made you feel that it was his desire, that you should learn what he taught." They felt this, and even to this day, show it whenever an opportunity occurs, of giving their testimony to his fidelity. The notice of his death in the journals of the day brought swift payments of long unsettled accounts for instruction from those whose very names, perchance, had been forgotten by their teacher, and with them heartfelt tributes of respect to his mourning widow.

Six children, of the nine born to him, survive. The eldest son, T. Romeyn Beck, is professor in Holland University, Michigan. The five brothers, and that noble mother, a second Cornelia, have all gone to their reward; but the memory of what they did for their fellow men will not soon perish. A few survivors here and there still recollect the evenings at the old Academy, after the lectures or the meetings of the Institute were over, and the gathering about the hearth to discuss matters of science and humanity, deeming nothing too small or mean, for reverent administration, that their Creator had made. Their keen interchange of thought, their genial companionship was not disturbed, but enhanced by the presence of the mother, ever near; her keen blue eyes kindling as she listened to the noble themes of discussion, with her clear judgment and well stored mind; her guests were welcome. "Having served their generation, they fell on sleep." What nobler eulogy can be written of them than those simple words of Holy Writ! We leave them to their hallowed rest, and, remembering how they served their generation, let us take courage and humbly endeavor, each one of us, in our appropriate sphere, to do what our hands find to do for our fellow man. "Then, whether in the morning of life, or at its fevered bustling noon-day, or in the declining hour we depart, our memories will be cherished, and our names implore the passing tribute of a sigh." 2

1 J. V. P. Quackenbush, M. D., Surg. Gen., N. Y.
2T. R. Beck's Eulogium on Simeon De Witt.

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