Edgar A. Mearns: Explorer
Edgar A. Mearns: Naturalist
Edgar A. Mearns: Doctor
Edgar A. Mearns: Daddy
By Sonoe Nakasone, The Field Book Project
Although little is available on the free web on the relationship between Edgar Alexander Mearns and his son, Louis di Zerega Mearns, there is evidence through Mearns’s field notes that the two were close. The small amount of literature I’ve found on the internet seems to confirm this, but you may judge for yourself.
Louis’s name appears many times within the over 200 field books from the Edgar Alexander Mearns Papers, circa 1871-1916, 1934 and undated (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7083) housed at SIA and the Division of Birds. It is clear that much of his early years were spent in the company of his father, travelling and collecting as a family. Five of Edgar Mearns’s field books contain notes from Louis. Like his father, Louis’s interests in collecting ranged widely from various zoological disciplines to botany. These field books date from 1891 to 1903, meaning that Louis began collecting with his father as early as 5 years (possibly earlier). These dates, very roughly correspond to the dates of Louis’s publications, the first of which he published in 1897 at the tender age of 11, and the last in 1903, at age 16 or 17. Mearns’s collection also includes eight notebooks belonging to Louis and containing notes that were probably the basis for many of his publications.
Although I cannot read between the lines of the scientific notes in Edgar Mearns’s notebooks, I felt there was an aura of closeness between father and son. Interesting details culled from publications have strengthened this impression.
A memoir written by Charles W. Richmond published in the January 1918 issue of The Auk, reveals that Mearns was a kind, sympathetic, loyal friend with a serene temperament. This promotes my impression of Mearns as a doting father. Richmond exposes other interesting facts. Like his son, Edgar himself was intrigued by natural science from a young age. Alexander Mearns, Edgar’s father, encouraged his son’s interests, purchasing a large illustrated book on native birds when Edgar was three. Furthermore, just as Edgar would one day traverse the familiar east coast and expanding western frontiers with his son close at hand, Alexander enjoyed many a collecting adventure with his son Edgar. Richmond writes, “[Edgar and his father] would shoulder their arms and wander through the fields together, close companions.” It is the similarity between Edgar Mearns and his son as children and Alexander Mearns and his son as fathers that convince me Edgar and Louis were close kin and colleagues in the field.
In the April 1915 issue of The Auk, Edgar eulogized Louis, who had died young of dyptheria in 1912. In the article, Edgar expresses profound respect and admiration for his son’s achievements, praising him in part thusly:
His observations were recorded with fedility [sic] and clearness. In the field he was a delightful companion, an accurate and quick shot with shotgun or rifle, and a clever and successful mammal trapper.
Above, Edgar's reference to his son as a "delightful companion" sums up the kind of bond the two seemed to share.
Mearns seems to have proved that “the child is the father of the man,” although that’s perhaps not what Wordsworth meant. I like to think that as an adult, Edgar was still able to relate to his experiences from youth. I like to think that is what made him a great father.
Richmond, C. W. (January, 1918). The Auk, 35(1), 1-18. In Memoriam: Edgar Alexander Mearns.
Retrieved from http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Auk/v035n01/p0001-p0018.pdf .