Gould, Augustus Addison

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Gould, Augustus Addison

(b. New Ipswich, New Hampshire, 23 April 1805; d. Boston, Massachusetts, 15 September 1866)

conchology, medicine.

Gould was born into an old Yankee family. He was the son of Nathaniel Duren Gould and Sally Andrews Prichard. At fifteen he took complete charge of the work on his father’s farm while at the same time continuing his studies at the New Ipswich Appleton Academy. In 1821, when he was seventeen, he entered Harvard College where he worked diligently to support himself, and it was during these undergraduate years that his interest in natural history began to develop. Noted among his classmates for his industry and determination, he graduated with respectable grades.

After graduating with a B.A. from Harvard in 1825, he was employed as a private tutor by the McBlair family of Baltimore County. Maryland. Simultaneously, he began the study of medicine and from 1828 to 1829 he studied with James Jackson and Walter Channing at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He received the M.D. in 1830 from Harvard Medical School.

A quiet contemplative man, Gould married Harriet Cushing Sheafe on 25 November 1833. He was a religious man, and for more than thirty years was an active member of the Baptist Church.

Gould’s interest in natural history remained keen throughout his life and led him to his first publication. “Lamarck’s Genera of Shells.” Following the publication of Cicindelidae of Massachusetts (Boston, 1833), Gould began his lifelong devotion to the study of mollusks. Six years later, in 1840, he described thirteen new species of shells from Massachusetts, the first of such descriptions that would number 1,100 at the time of his death. Also in 1840, Gould demonstrated his artistic skill by illustrating an article on pupa with thirty drawings of small land snails.

In 1837 the General Court of Massachusetts authorized a geological survey of the state which was to include reports on botany and zoology. Gould was assigned the Invertebrata, exclusive of insects. His preliminary findings were published in a paper entitled “Results of an Examination of the Species of Shells of Massachusetts and Their Geographical Distribution” (Boston Journal of Natural History, 3 [1840], 483–494). This was an epoch-making work since the problem of geographical distribution had received very little attention in other countries and none in the United States. He noted that Cape Cod formed a barrier to some species; of 203 species, eighty were not found south of the Cape and thirty were not found north. Certain species, he noticed, appeared and disappeared suddenly in an area, and he stated that it is necessary to collect data over a period of years to be certain of the distribution.

His Report on the Invertebrata of Massachusetts (1841), an octavo volume of almost 400 pages, was the first monograph published in the United States that attempted to describe the entire molluskan fauna of a geographical region. The book was illustrated with more than 200 figures drawn by Gould himself, who said,

Every species described, indeed almost every species mentioned, has passed under my own eye. The descriptions of species previously known, have been written anew; partly, that they may be more minute in particulars, and party, with the hope of using language some what less technical than is ordinarily employed by scientific men.

The volume gave him an international reputation, and it remains the definitive text on New England mollusks.

In 1846 Gould began his major descriptive work on shells that had been collected by conchologist Joseph Pitty Couthouy during the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842. This work, which forms volume XII of the United States Exploring Expedition... (1852) was also published under the title “Mollusca and Shells...” in Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History (1846–1850).

When Louis Agassiz came to the United States in 1846, he immediately became a close friend of Gould, with whom he had previously corresponded. Agassiz and Gould collaborated on Principles of Zoology (1848), which was published in Boston at the firm of Gould’s brother. This work was, revised in 1852 and had three additional printings: 1860, 1861, and 1872. A German edition came out in 1851 and a British edition, enlarged by Thomas Wright, was published. in 1867.

One of the founders of the Boston Society of Natural History, Amos Binney, died in 1847, leaving an unfinished work, The Terrestrial Air Breathing Mollusks of the United States, and instructions in his will that someone be appointed to finish the work. Since Binney had been a man of wealth, no expense was spared. Gould completed the work while Joseph Leidy of Philadelphia did the anatomical drawings. The plates were engraved by Alexander Lawson and the result (published between 1851 and 1857) was one of the most artistic monographs on American Mollusca ever printed in the United States.

During the war with Mexico several collections of shells were made along the western coast of the United States and Mexico by army officers and Gould was selected to identify their collections and to describe new species. Gould was also selected to do the report on mollusks collected by the naturalist William Stimpson for the North Pacifica Exploring Expedition of 1853–1855. This work appeared serially from 1859 to 1861 in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History,

The description of the mollusks of the North Pacifica Exploring Expedition was Gould’s last important work on new material. At the time of his death, he was working on a revision of the Report on the Invertebrata of Massachusetts, which was completed by Amos Binney’s son, William. According to William H. Dall, Gould’s 1841 publication of this report initiated a period in the study of natural history that “was characterized by the broader scope of investigation, the interest in geographical distribution, the anatomy of the soft parts, and the more precise definition and exact discrimination of specific forms” (“Some American Conchologists,” p. 97). Fully convinced of Gould’s influence, Dall termed this second epoch of American conchology, the “Gouldian Period.”

Yet despite the fact that Gould’s work in conchology was his greatest contribution to science, his profession always remained that of medicine. According to his daughter, Gould encouraged and advised W. T. G. Morton, the reputed discoverer of ether; helped arrange the first ether demonstration; suggested the use of a valve for the first ether apparatus; gave medical care to some of Morton’s first patients; suggested “letheon” as a name for ether; and acted as a mediator between Charles T. Jackson (who claimed original discovery of ether) and Morton.

As if to demonstrate both aspects of his scientific endeavors, Gould was active in both the Boston Society of Natural History and the Massachusetts Medical Society. In the former he served as curator (1831–1838), corresponding secretary (1834–1850), and second vice-president (1860–1866); in the latter he served as president (1865).


I. Original Works. An exhaustive bibliography of Gould’s publications is in Jeffries Wyman, “Biographical Memoir of Augustus Addison Gould,” in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 5 (1905), 91–113 with adds. by W. H. Dall. The Boston Museum of Science, which holds the material of the old Boston Society of Natural History, has 195 letters relating to Gould; his own annotated copy of Otia Conchologica with notes and sketches laid in; his notebooks and drawings; the MSS for his natural history lectures at Harvard (1834–1836); and sixteen of his letters. Houghton Library at Harvard, the Rare Book Room at the Boston Public Library the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and the Countway Library of Medicine all contain letters relating to Gould as well.

II. Secondary Literature. On Gould or his work, See Harley H. Bartlett, “The Reports of the Wilkes Expedition; and the Work of the Specialists in Science: Gould’s ‘Mollusca and Shel1s,’ Vol. 12” in Proceedings of the Americancan Philosophical society 82 (1940), 650–655; Thomas T. Bouve, Historical Sketch of the Boston Society of Natural History, Anniversary Memoirs. Boston Society of Natural History (1880), with the life of Gould based on Jeffries Wyman’s account (see below), pp. 1l2–116 with Portrait; William H. Dall, “Some American Conchologists” in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 4 (1888). 120–122;and Daniel C. Haskell, The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842. and its Publication 1844–1874 (New York, 1942).

See also Jeffries Wyman, “An Account of the Life and Scientific Career of the Late Dr. A. A. Gould” in Proceedings Of the Boston society of natural History, 11 (1867), 188–205; Richard I, Johnson, The Recent Mollusca of Augustus Addison Gould, Bulletin 239. United States National Museum (Wasington, D.C., 1964); George E. Gifford, Jr.. “The Forgotten Man in the Ether Controversy,” in Harvard the Medical Alumni Bulletin. 40, no. 2 (1965), 14–19; Dictionary of American Biography. VII (New York, 1931), 446–447; and Dictionary of American Medical Biography (New York, 1928), pp. 483–484 For a list of societies and institutions of which Gould was a member see the “Biographical Memoir” cited above.

George E. Gifford, Jr.