Decline of Science in England by Charles Babbage - HTML preview
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REFLECTIONS ON THE DECLINE OF SCIENCE IN ENGLAND, AND ON SOME OF ITS CAUSES.
HAD I INTENDED TO DEDICATE THIS VOLUME, I SHOULD HAVE INSCRIBED IT TO A NOBLEMAN WHOSE EXERTIONS IN PROMOTING EVERY OBJECT THAT CAN ADVANCE SCIENCE REFLECT LUSTRE UPON HIS RANK. BUT THE KINDNESS OF HIS NATURE MIGHT HAVE BEEN PAINED AT HAVING HIS NAME CONNECTED WITH STRICTURES, PERHAPS TOO SEVERELY JUST. I SHALL, THEREFORE, ABSTAIN FROM MENTIONING THE NAME OF ONE WHO WILL FEEL THAT HE HAS COMMANDED MY ESTEEM AND RESPECT.C. BABBAGE.
MANCHESTER SQUARE, 29th April, 1830.
Of the causes which have induced me to print this volume I have little to say; my own opinion is, that it will ultimately do some service to science, and without that belief I would not have undertaken so thankless a task. That it is too true not to make enemies, is an opinion in which I concur with several of my friends, although I should hope that what I have written will not give just reason for the permanence of such feelings. On one point I shall speak decidedly, it is not connected in any degree with the calculating machine on which I have been engaged; the causes which have led to it have been long operating, and would have produced this result whether I had ever speculated on that subject, and whatever might have been the fate of my speculations.
If any one shall endeavour to account for the opinions stated in these pages by ascribing them to any imagined circumstance peculiar to myself, I think he will be mistaken. That science has long been neglected and declining in England, is not an opinion originating with me, but is shared by many, and has been expressed by higher authority than mine. I shall offer a few notices on this subject, which, from their scattered position, are unlikely to have met the reader's attention, and which, when combined with the facts I have detailed in subsequent pages, will be admitted to deserve considerable attention. The following extract from the article Chemistry, in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, is from the pen of a gentleman equally qualified by his extensive reading, and from his acquaintance with foreign nations, to form an opinion entitled to respect. Differing from him widely as to the cause, I may be permitted to cite him as high authority for the fact.
"In concluding this most circumscribed outline of the History of Chemistry, we may perhaps be allowed to express a faint shade of regret, which, nevertheless, has frequently passed over our minds within the space of the last five or six years. Admiring, as we most sincerely do, the electro-magnetic discoveries of Professor Oersted and his followers, we still, as chemists, fear that our science has suffered some degree of neglect in consequence of them. At least, we remark that, during this period, good chemical analyses and researches have been rare in England; and yet, it must be confessed, there is an ample field for chemical discovery. How scanty is our knowledge of the suspected fluorine! Are we sure that we understand the nature of nitrogen? And yet these are amongst our elements. Much has been done by Wollaston, Berzelius, Guy-Lussac, Thenard, Thomson, Prout, and others, with regard to the doctrine of definite proportions; but there yet remains the Atomic Theory. Is it a representation of the laws of nature, or is it not?"---CHEMISTRY, ENCYC. METROP. p.596.
When the present volume was considerably advanced, the public were informed that the late Sir Humphry Davy had commenced a work, having the same title as the present, and that his sentiments were expressed in the language of feeling and of eloquence. It is to be hoped that it may be allowed by his friends to convey his opinions to posterity, and that the writings of the philosopher may enable his contemporaries to forget some of the deeds of the President of the Royal Society.
Whatever may be the fate of that highly interesting document, we may infer his opinions upon this subject from a sentiment expressed in his last work:-
"--But we may in vain search the aristocracy now for
philosophers."----"There are very few persons who pursue science with true dignity; it is followed more as connected with objects of profit than those of fame."--SIR H. DAVY'S CONSOLATIONS IN TRAVEL.
The last authority which I shall adduce is more valuable, from the varied acquirements of its author, and from the greater detail into which he enters. "We have drawn largely, both in the present Essay, and in our article on LIGHT, from the ANNALES DE CHEMIE, and we take this ONLY opportunity distinctly to acknowledge our obligations to that most admirably conducted work. Unlike the crude and undigested scientific matter which suffices, (we are ashamed to say it) for the monthly and quarterly amusement of our own countrymen, whatever is admitted into ITS pages, has at least been taken pains with, and, with few exceptions, has sterling merit. Indeed, among the original communications which abound in it, there are few which would misbecome the first academical collections; and if any thing could diminish our regret at the long suppression of those noble memoirs, which are destined to adorn future volumes of that of the Institute, it would be the masterly abstracts of them which from time to time appear in the ANNALES, either from the hands of the authors, or from the reports rendered by the committees appointed to examine them; which latter, indeed, are universally models of their kind, and have contributed, perhaps more than any thing, to the high scientific tone of the French SAVANS. What author, indeed, but will write his best, when he knows that his work, if it have merit, will immediately be reported on by a committee, who will enter into all its meaning; understand it, however profound: and, not content with MERELY understanding it, pursue the trains of thought to which it leads; place its
discoveries and principles in new and unexpected lights; and bring the whole of their knowledge of collateral subjects to bear upon it. Nor ought we to omit our acknowledgement to the very valuable Journals of Poggendorff and Schweigger. Less exclusively national than their Gallic compeer, they present a picture of the actual progress of physical science throughout Europe. Indeed, we have been often astonished to see with what celerity every thing, even moderately valuable in the scientific publications of this country, finds its way into their pages.
This ought to encourage our men of science. They have a larger audience, and a wider sympathy than they are perhaps aware of; and however disheartening the general diffusion of smatterings of a number of subjects, and the almost equally general indifference to profound knowledge in any, among their own countrymen, may be, they may rest assured that not a fact they may discover, nor a good experiment they may make, but is instantly repeated, verified, and commented upon, in Germany, and, we may add too, in Italy. We wish the obligation were mutual. Here, whole branches of continental discovery are unstudied, and indeed almost
unknown, even by name. It is in vain to conceal the melancholy truth. We are fast dropping behind. In mathematics we have long since drawn the rein, and given over a hopeless race. In
chemistry the case is not much letter. Who can tell us any thing of the Sulfo-salts? Who will explain to us the laws of
Isomorphism? Nay, who among us has even verified Thenard's experiments on the oxygenated acids,--Oersted's and Berzelius's on the radicals of the earths,--Balard's and Serrulas's on the combinations of Brome,--and a hundred other splendid trains of research in that fascinating science? Nor need we stop here. There are, indeed, few sciences which would not furnish matter for similar remark. The causes are at once obvious and
deep-seated; but this is not the place to discuss them."-- MR. HERSCHEL'S TREATISE ON SOUND, printed in the ENCYCLOPAEDIA METROPOLITANA.
With such authorities, I need not apprehend much doubt as to the fact of the decline of science in England: how far I may have pointed out some of its causes, must be left to others to decide.
Many attacks have lately been made on the conduct of various scientific bodies, and of their officers, and severe criticism has been lavished upon some of their productions. Newspapers, Magazines, Reviews, and Pamphlets, have all been put in requisition for the purpose. Odium has been cast upon some of these for being anonymous. If a fact is to be established by testimony, anonymous assertion is of no value; if it can be proved, by evidence to which the public have access, it is of no consequence (for the cause of truth) who produces it. A matter of opinion derives weight from the name which is attached to it; but a chain of reasoning is equally conclusive, whoever may be its author.
Perhaps it would be better for science, that all criticism should be avowed. It would certainly have the effect of rendering it more matured, and less severe; but, on the other hand, it would have the evil of frequently repressing it altogether, because there exists amongst the lower ranks of science, a "GENUS IRRITABILE," who are disposed to argue that every criticism is personal. It is clearly the interest of all who fear inquiries, to push this principle as far as possible, whilst those whose sole object is truth, can have no apprehensions from the severest scrutiny. There are few circumstances which so strongly distinguish the philosopher, as the calmness with which he can reply to criticisms he may think undeservedly severe. I have been led into these reflections, from the circumstance of its having been stated publicly, that I was the author of several of those anonymous writings, which were considered amongst the most severe; and the assertion was the more likely to be credited, from the fact of my having spoken a few words connected with one of those subjects at the last anniversary of the Royal Society. [I merely observed that the agreement made with the British Museum for exchanging the Arundel MSS. for their duplicates, (which had just been stated by the President,) was UNWISE;
--because it was not to be expected that many duplicates should be found in a library like that of the Museum, weak in the physical and mathematical sciences: that it was IMPROVIDENT and UNBUSINESSLIKE;--because it neither fixed the TIME when the difference was to be paid, in case their duplicates should be insufficient; nor did it appear that there were any FUNDS out of which the money could be procured: and I added, that it would be more advantageous to sell the MSS., and purchase the books we wanted with the produce.] I had hoped in that diminutive world, the world of science, my character had been sufficiently known to have escaped being the subject of such a mistake; and, in taking this opportunity of correcting it, I will add that, in the
present volume, I have thought it more candid to mention distinctly those whose line of conduct I have disapproved, or whose works I have criticised, than to leave to the reader inferences which he might make far more extensive than I have intended. I hope, therefore, that where I have depicted species, no person will be so unkind to others and unjust to me, as to suppose I have described individuals.
With respect to the cry against personality, which has been lately set up to prevent all inquiry into matters of scientific misgovernment, a few words will suffice.
I feel as strongly as any one, not merely the impropriety, but the injustice of introducing private character into such discussions. There is, however, a maxim too well established to need any comment of mine. The public character of every public servant is legitimate subject of discussion, and his fitness or unfitness for office may be fairly canvassed by any person. Those whose too sensitive feelings shrink from such an ordeal, have no right to accept the emoluments of office, for they know that it is the condition to which all must submit who are paid from the public purse.
The same principle is equally applicable to Companies, to Societies, and to Academies. Those from whose pocket the salary is drawn, and by whose appointment the officer was made, have always a right to discuss the merits of their officers, and their modes of exercising the duties they are paid to perform.
This principle is equally applicable to the conduct of a Secretary of State, or to that of a constable; to that of a Secretary of the Royal Society, or of an adviser to the Admiralty.
With respect to honorary officers, the case is in some measure different. But the President of a society, although not
recompensed by any pecuniary remuneration, enjoys a station, when the body over which he presides possesses a high character, to which many will aspire, who will esteem themselves amply repaid for the time they devote to the office, by the consequence attached to it in public estimation. He, therefore, is
answerable to the Society for his conduct in their chair.
There are several societies in which the secretaries, and other officers, have very laborious duties, and where they are unaided by a train of clerks, and yet no pecuniary remuneration is given to them. Science is much indebted to such men, by whose quiet and unostentatious labours the routine of its institutions is carried on. It would be unwise, as well as ungrateful, to judge severely of the inadvertencies, or even of the negligence of such persons: nothing but weighty causes should justify such a course.
Whilst, however, I contend for the principle of discussion and inquiry in its widest sense, because I consider it equally the safeguard of our scientific as of our political institutions, I shall use it, I hope, temperately; and having no personal feelings myself, but living in terms of intercourse with almost all, and of intimacy with several of those from whom I most widely differ, I shall not attempt to heap together all the causes of complaint; but, by selecting a few in different departments, endeavour to convince them that some alteration is essentially necessary for the promotion of that very object which we both by such different roads pursue.
I have found it necessary, in the course of this volume, to speak of the departed; for the misgovernment of the Royal Society has not been wholly the result of even the present race. It is said, and I think with justice, in the life of Young, inserted amongst Dr. Johnson's, that the famous maxim, "DE MORTUIS NIL NISI BONUM," "appears to savour more of female weakness than of manly reason." The foibles and the follies of those who are gone, may, without injury to society, repose in oblivion. But, whoever would claim the admiration of mankind for their good actions, must prove his impartiality by fearlessly condemning their evil deeds. Adopt the maxim, and praise to the dead becomes worthless, from its universality; and history, a greater fable than it has been hitherto deemed.
Perhaps I ought to apologize for the large space I have devoted to the Royal Society. Certainly its present state gives it no claim to that attention; and I do it partly from respect for its former services, and partly from the hope that, if such an Institution can be of use to science in the present day, the attention of its members may be excited to take steps for its restoration. Perhaps I may be blamed for having published extracts from the minutes of its proceedings without the permission of its Council. To have asked permission of the present Council would have been useless. I might, however, have given the substance of what I have extracted without the words, and no one could then have reproached me with any infringement of our rules: but there were two objections to that course. In the first place, it is impossible, even for the most candid, in all cases, to convey precisely the same sentiment in different language; and I thought it therefore more fair towards those from whom I differed, as well as to the public, to give the precise words. Again: had it been possible to make so accurate a paraphrase, I should yet have preferred the risk of incurring the reproach of the Royal Society for the offence, to escaping their censure by an evasion. What I have done rests on my own head; and I shrink not from the responsibility attaching to it.
If those, whose mismanagement of that Society I condemn, should accuse me of hostility to the Royal Society; my answer is, that the party which governs it is not the Royal Society; and that I will only admit the justice of the accusation, when the whole body, becoming acquainted with the system I have exposed, shall, by ratifying it with their approbation, appropriate it to
themselves: an event of which I need scarcely add I have not the slightest anticipation.
CHAP. I. On the Reciprocal Influence of Science and Education. CHAP. II. Of the Inducements to Individuals to cultivate Science.
--Sect. 1. Professional Impulses.
------ 2. Of National Encouragement.
------ 3. Of Encouragement from learned Societies.
CHAP. III. General State of learned Societies in England. CHAP. IV. State of the Royal Society in particular.
--Sect. 1. Mode of becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society.
------ 2. Of the Presidency and Vice-Presidencies.
------ 3. Of the Secretariships
------ 4. Of the Scientific Advisers.
------ 5. Of the Union of several Offices in one person.
------ 6. Of the Funds of the Society.
------ 7. Of the Royal Medals.
------ 8. Of the Copley Medals.
------ 9. Of the Fairchild Lecture.
------ 10. Of the Croonian Lecture.
------ 11. Of the Causes of the Present State of the Royal Society.
------ 12. Of the Plan for Reforming the Society.
CHAP. V. Of Observations.
--Sect. 1. Of Minute Precision.
------ 2. On the Art of Observing.
------ 3. On the Frauds of Observers.
CHAP. VI. Suggestions for the Advancement of Science in England.
--Sect. 1. Of the Necessity that Members of the Royal Society
--------- should express their Opinions.
------ 2. Of Biennial Presidents.
------ 3. Of the Influence of the Colleges of Physicians and
--------- Surgeons in the Royal Society.
------ 4. Of the Influence of the Royal Institution on the Royal
------ 5. Of the Transactions of the Royal Society.
------ 6. Order of Merit.
------ 7. Of the Union of Scientific Societies. CONCLUSION.
APPENDIX NO. 1.
------- NO. 2.
------- NO. 3.
It cannot have escaped the attention of those, whose acquirements enable them to judge, and who have had opportunities of examining the state of science in other countries, that in England, particularly with respect to the more difficult and abstract sciences, we are much below other nations, not merely of equal rank, but below several even of inferior power. That a country, eminently distinguished for its mechanical and manufacturing ingenuity, should be indifferent to the progress of inquiries which form the highest departments of that knowledge on whose more elementary truths its wealth and rank depend, is a fact which is well deserving the attention of those who shall inquire into the causes that influence the progress of nations.
To trace the gradual decline of mathematical, and with it of the highest departments of physical science, from the days of Newton to the present, must be left to the historian. It is not within the province of one who, having mixed sufficiently with scientific society in England to see and regret the weakness of some of its greatest ornaments, and to see through and deplore the conduct of its pretended friends, offers these remarks, with the hope that they may excite discussion,--with the conviction that discussion is the firmest ally of truth,--and with the confidence that nothing but the full expression of public opinion can remove the evils that chill the enthusiasm, and cramp the energies of the science of England.
The causes which have produced, and some of the effects which have resulted from, the present state of science in England, are so mixed, that it is difficult to distinguish accurately between them. I shall, therefore, in this volume, not attempt any minute discrimination, but rather present the result of my reflections on the concomitant circumstances which have attended the decay, and at the conclusion of it, shall examine some of the
suggestions which have been offered for the advancement of British science.
That the state of knowledge in any country will exert a directive influence on the general system of instruction adopted in it, is a principle too obvious to require investigation. And it is equally certain that the tastes and pursuits of our manhood will bear on them the traces of the earlier impressions of our education. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that some portion of the neglect of science in England, may be attributed to the system of education we pursue. A young man passes from our public schools to the universities, ignorant almost of the elements of every branch of useful knowledge; and at these latter establishments, formed originally for instructing those who are intended for the clerical profession, classical and mathematical pursuits are nearly the sole objects proposed to the student's ambition.
Much has been done at one of our universities during the last fifteen years, to improve the system of study; and I am confident that there is no one connected with that body, who will not do me the justice to believe that, whatever suggestions I may venture to offer, are prompted by the warmest feelings for the honour and the increasing prosperity of its institutions. The ties which connect me with Cambridge are indeed of no ordinary kind.
Taking it then for granted that our system of academical education ought to be adapted to nearly the whole of the aristocracy of the country, I am inclined to believe that whilst the modifications I should propose would not be great innovations on the spirit of our institutions, they would contribute
materially to that important object.
It will be readily admitted, that a degree conferred by an university, ought to be a pledge to the public that he who holds it possesses a certain quantity of knowledge. The progress of society has rendered knowledge far more various in its kinds than it used to be; and to meet this variety in the tastes and
inclinations of those who come to us for instruction, we have, besides the regular lectures to which all must attend, other sources of information from whence the students may acquire sound and varied knowledge in the numerous lectures on chemistry, geology, botany, history, &c. It is at present a matter of
option with the student, which, and how many of these courses he shall attend, and such it should still remain. All that it would be necessary to add would be, that previously to taking his degree, each person should be examined by those Professors, whose lectures he had attended. The pupils should then be arranged in two classes, according to their merits, and the names included in these classes should be printed. I would then propose that no young man, except his name was found amongst the "List of Honours," should be allowed to take his degree, unless he had been placed in the first class of some one at least of the
courses given by the professors. But it should still be
imperative upon the student to possess such mathematical knowledge as we usually require. If he had attained the first rank in several of these examinations, it is obvious that we should run no hazard in a little relaxing: the strictness of his mathematical trial.
Modern History. Laws of England. Civil Law.Political Economy. Applications of Science to Arts and Manufactures.
Chemistry. Mineralogy. Geology.Zoology, including Physiology and Comparative Anatomy. Botany, including Vegetable Physiology and Anatomy.
One of the great advantages of such a system would be, that no young person would have an excuse for not studying, by stating, as is most frequently done, that the only pursuits followed at Cambridge, classics and mathematics, are not adapted either to his taste, or to the wants of his after life. His friends and relatives would then reasonably expect every student to have acquired distinction in SOME pursuit. If it should be feared that this plan would lead to too great a diversity of pursuits in the same individual, a limitation might be placed upon the number of examinations into which the same person might be permitted to enter. It might also be desirable not to restrict the whole of these examinations to the third year, but to allow the student to enter on some portion of them in the first or second year, if he should prefer it.
By such an arrangement, which would scarcely interfere seriously with our other examinations, we should, I think, be enabled effectually to keep pace with the wants of society, and retaining fully our power and our right to direct the studies of those who are intended for the church, as well as of those who aspire to the various offices connected with our academical institutions; we should, at the same time, open a field of honourable ambition to multitudes, who, from the exclusive nature of our present studies, leave us with but a very limited addition to their stock of knowledge.
Much more might be said on a subject so important to the interests of the country, as well as of our university, but my wish is merely to open it for our own consideration and discussion. We have already done so much for the improvement of our system of instruction, that public opinion will not reproach us for any unwillingness to alter. It is our first duty to be well satisfied that we can improve: such alterations ought only to be the result of a most mature consideration, and of a free interchange of sentiments on the subject, in order that we may condense upon the question the accumulated judgment of many minds.
It is in some measure to be attributed to the defects of our system of education, that scientific knowledge scarcely exists amongst the higher classes of society. The discussions in the Houses of Lords or of Commons, which arise on the occurrence of any subjects connected with science, sufficiently prove this fact, which, if I had consulted the extremely limited nature of my personal experience, I should, perhaps, have doubted.CHAPTER II.
OF THE INDUCEMENTS TO INDIVIDUALS TO CULTIVATE SCIENCE. Interest or inclination form the primary and ruling motives in this matter: and both these exert greater or less proportionate influence in each of the respective cases to be examined.SECTION 1. PROFESSIONAL IMPULSES.
A large portion of those who are impelled by ambition or necessity to advance themselves in the world, make choice of some profession in which they imagine their talents likely to be rewarded with success; and there are peculiar advantages resulting to each from this classification of society into
professions. The ESPRIT DE CORPS frequently overpowers the jealousy which exists between individuals, and pushes on to advantageous situations some of the more fortunate of the profession; whilst, on the other hand, any injury or insult offered to the weakest, is redressed or resented by the whole body. There are other advantages which are perhaps of more importance to the public. The numbers which compose the learned professions in England are so considerable, that a kind of public opinion is generated amongst them, which powerfully tends to repress conduct that is injurious either to the profession or to the public. Again, the mutual jealousy and rivalry excited amongst the whole body is so considerable, that although the rank and estimation which an individual holds in the profession may be most unfairly appreciated, by taking the opinion of his rival; yet few estimations will be found generally more correct than the opinion of a whole profession on the merits of any one of its body. This test is of great value to the public, and becomes the more so, in proportion to the difficulty of the study to which the profession is devoted. It is by availing themselves of it that men of sense and judgment, who have occasion for the services of professional persons, are, in a great measure, guided in their choice.
The pursuit of science does not, in England, constitute a distinct profession, as it does in many other countries. It is therefore, on that ground alone, deprived of many of the advantages which attach to professions. One of its greatest misfortunes arises from this circumstance; for the subjects on which it is conversant are so difficult, and require such unremitted devotion of time, that few who have not spent years in their study can judge of the relative knowledge of those who pursue them. It follows, therefore, that the public, and even that men of sound sense and discernment, can scarcely find means to distinguish between the possessors of knowledge, in the present day, merely elementary, and those whose acquirements are of the highest order. This remark applies with peculiar force to all the more difficult applications of mathematics; and the fact is calculated to check the energies of those who only look to reputation in England.
As there exists with us no peculiar class professedly devoted to science, it frequently happens that when a situation, requiring for the proper fulfilment of its duties considerable scientific attainments, is vacant, it becomes necessary to select from among amateurs, or rather from among persons whose chief attention has been bestowed on other subjects, and to whom science has been only an occasional pursuit. A certain quantity of scientific knowledge is of course possessed by individuals in many professions; and when added to the professional acquirements of the army, the navy, or to the knowledge of the merchant, is highly meritorious: but it is obvious that this may become, when separated from the profession, quite insignificant as the basis of a scientific reputation.
To those who have chosen the profession of medicine, a knowledge of chemistry, and of some branches of natural history, and, indeed, of several other departments of science, affords useful assistance. Some of the most valuable names which adorn the history of English science have been connected with this profession.
The causes which induce the selection of the clerical profession are not often connected with science; and it is, perhaps, a question of considerable doubt whether it is desirable to hold out to its members hopes of advancement from such acquirements. As a source of recreation, nothing can be more fit to occupy the attention of a divine; and our church may boast, in the present as in past times, that the domain of science has been extended by some of its brightest ornaments.
In England, the profession of the law is that which seems to hold out the strongest attraction to talent, from the circumstance, that in it ability, coupled with exertion, even though unaided by patronage, cannot fail of obtaining reward. It is frequently chosen as an introduction to public life. It also presents great advantages, from its being a qualification for many situations more or less remotely connected with it, as well as from the circumstance that several of the highest officers of the state must necessarily have sprung from its ranks.
A powerful attraction exists, therefore, to the promotion of a study and of duties of all others engrossing the time most completely, and which is less benefited than most others by any acquaintance with science. This is one amongst the causes why it so very rarely happens that men in public situations are at all conversant even with the commonest branches of scientific knowledge, and why scarcely an instance can be cited of such persons acquiring a reputation by any discoveries of their own.
But, however consistent other sciences may be with professional avocations, there is one which, from its extreme difficulty, and the overwhelming attention which it demands, can only be pursued with success by those whose leisure is undisturbed by other claims. To be well acquainted with the present state of mathematics, is no easy task; but to add to the powers which that science possesses, is likely to be the lot of but few English philosophers.SECTION 2. OF NATIONAL ENCOURAGEMENT.
The little encouragement which at all previous periods has been afforded by the English Government to the authors of useful discoveries, or of new and valuable inventions, is justified on the following grounds:
1. The public, who consume the new commodity or profit by the new invention, are much better judges of its merit than the government can be.
2. The reward which arises from the sale of the commodity is usually much larger than that which government would be justified in bestowing; and it is exactly proportioned to the consumption, that is, to the want which the public feel for the new article.
It must be admitted that, as general principles, these are correct: there are, however, exceptions which flow necessarily from the very reasoning from which they were deduced. Without entering minutely into these exceptions, it will be sufficient to show that all abstract truth is entirely excluded from reward under this system. It is only the application of principles to common life which can be thus rewarded. A few instances may perhaps render this position more evident. The principle of the hydrostatic paradox was known as a speculative truth in the time of Stevinus; [About the year 1600] and its application to raising heavy weights has long been stated in elementary treatises on natural philosophy, as well as constantly exhibited in lectures. Yet, it may fairly be regarded as a mere abstract principle, until the late Mr. Bramah, by substituting a pump instead of the smaller column, converted it into a most valuable and powerful engine.--The principle of the convertibility of the centres of oscillation and suspension in the pendulum, discovered by Huygens more than a century and a half ago, remained, until within these few years, a sterile, though most elegant proposition; when, after being hinted at by Prony, and distinctly pointed out by Bonenberger, it was employed by Captain Kater as the foundation of a most convenient practical method of determining the length of the pendulum.--The interval which separated the discovery, by Dr. Black, of latent heat, from the beautiful and successful application of it to the steam engine, was comparatively short; but it required the efforts of two minds; and both were of the highest order.--The influence of electricity in producing decompositions, although of inestimable value as an instrument of discovery in chemical inquiries, can hardly be said to have been applied to the practical purposes of life, until the same
powerful genius which detected the principle, applied it, by a singular felicity of reasoning, to arrest the corrosion of the copper-sheathing of vessels. That admirably connected chain of reasoning, the truth of which is confirmed by its very failure as a remedy, will probably at some future day supply, by its successful application, a new proof of the position we are endeavouring to establish.
[I am authorised in stating, that this was regarded by Laplace as the greatest of Sir Humphry Davy's discoveries. It did not fail in producing the effect foreseen by Sir H. Davy,--the preventing the corrosion of the copper; but it failed as a cure of the evil, by producing one of an OPPOSITE character; either by preserving too perfectly from decay the surface of the copper, or by rendering it negative, it allowed marine animals and vegetables to accumulate on its surface, and thus impede the progress of the vessel.]
Other instances might, if necessary, be adduced, to show that long intervals frequently elapse between the discovery of new principles in science and their practical application: nor ought this at all to surprise us. Those intellectual qualifications, which give birth to new principles or to new methods, are of quite a different order from those which are necessary for their practical application.
At the time of the discovery of the beautiful theorem of Huygens, it required in its author not merely a complete knowledge of the mathematical science of his age, but a genius to enlarge its boundaries by new creations of his own. Such talents are not always united with a quick perception of the details, and of the practical applications of the principles they have developed, nor is it for the interest of mankind that minds of this high order should lavish their powers on subjects unsuited to their grasp.
In mathematical science, more than in all others, it happens that truths which are at one period the most abstract, and apparently the most remote from all useful application, become in the next age the bases of profound physical inquiries, and in the succeeding one, perhaps, by proper simplification and reduction to tables, furnish their ready and daily aid to the artist and the sailor.
It may also happen that at the time of the discovery of such principles, the mechanical arts may be too imperfect to render their application likely to be attended with success. Such was the case with the principle of the hydrostatic paradox; and it was not, I believe, until the expiration of Mr. Bramah's patent, that the press which bears his name received that mechanical perfection in its execution, which has deservedly brought it into such general use.
On the other hand, for one person who is blessed with the power of invention, many will always be found who have the capacity of applying principles; and much of the merit ascribed to these applications will always depend on the care and labour bestowed in the practical detail.
If, therefore, it is important to the country that abstract principles should be applied to practical use, it is clear that it is also important that encouragement should be held out to the few who are capable of adding to the number of those truths on which such applications are founded. Unless there exist peculiar institutions for the support of such inquirers, or unless the Government directly interfere, the contriver of a thaumatrope may derive profit from his ingenuity, whilst he who unravels the laws of light and vision, on which multitudes of phenomena depend, shall descend unrewarded to the tomb.
Perhaps it may be urged, that sufficient encouragement is already afforded to abstract science in our different universities, by the professorships established at them. It is not however in the power of such institutions to create; they may foster and aid the development of genius; and, when rightly applied, such stations ought to be its fair and honourable rewards. In many instances their emolument is small; and when otherwise, the lectures which are required from the professor are not perhaps in all cases the best mode of employing the energies of those who are capable of inventing.
I cannot resist the opportunity of supporting these opinions by the authority of one of the greatest philosophers of a past age, and of expressing my acknowledgments to the author of a most interesting piece of scientific biography. In the correspondence which terminated in the return of Galileo to a professorship in his native country, he remarks, "But, because my private lectures and domestic pupils are a great hinderance and interruption of my studies, I wish to live entirely exempt from the former, and in great measure from the latter."--LIFE OF GALILEO, p.18. And, in another letter to Kepler, he speaks with gratitude of Cosmo, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who "has now invited me to attach myself to him with the annual salary of 1000 florins, and with the title of Philosopher and principal Mathematician to his Highness, without the duties of any office to perform, but with most complete leisure; so that I can complete my treatise on Mechanics, &c."--p.31." [Life of Galileo, published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.]
Surely, if knowledge is valuable, it can never be good policy in a country far wealthier than Tuscany, to allow a genius like Mr. Dalton's, to be employed in the drudgery of elementary instruction. [I utter these sentiments from no feelings of private friendship to that estimable philosopher, to whom it is my regret to be almost unknown, and whose modest and retiring merit, I may, perhaps, have the misfortune to offend by these remarks. But Mr. Dalton was of no party; had he ever moved in that vortex which has brought discredit, and almost ruin, on the Royal Society of England;--had he taken part with those who vote to each other medals, and, affecting to be tired of the fatigues of office, make to each other requisitions to retain places they would be most reluctant to quit; his great and splendid discovery would long since have been represented to government. Expectant mediocrity would have urged on his claims to remuneration, and those who covered their selfish purposes with the cloak of science, would have hastened to shelter themselves in the mantle of his glory.--But the philosopher may find consolation for the tardy approbation of that Society, in the applause of Europe. If he was insulted by their medal, he escaped the pain of seeing his name connected with their proceedings.] Where would have been the military renown of England, if, with an equally improvident waste of mental power, its institutions had forced the Duke of Wellington to employ his life in drilling recruits, instead of planning campaigns?
If we look at the fact, we shall find that the great inventions of the age are not, with us at least, always produced in universities. The doctrines of "definite proportions," and of the "chemical agency of electricity,"-- principles of a high order, which have immortalized the names of their discoverers,
--were not produced by the meditations of the cloister: nor is it in the least a reproach to those valuable institutions to mention truths like these. Fortunate circumstances must concur, even to the greatest, to render them eminently successful. It is not permitted to all to be born, like Archimedes, when a science was to be created; nor, like Newton, to find the system of the world "without form and void;" and, by disclosing gravitation, to shed throughout that system the same irresistible radiance as that with which the Almighty Creator had illumined its material substance. It can happen to but few philosophers, and but at distant intervals, to snatch a science, like Dalton, from the chaos of indefinite combination, and binding it in the chains of number, to exalt it to rank amongst the exact. Triumphs like these are necessarily "few and far between;" nor can it be expected that that portion of encouragement, which a country may think fit to bestow on science, should be adapted to meet such instances. Too extraordinary to be frequent, they must be left, if they are to be encouraged at all, to some direct interference of the government.
The dangers to be apprehended from such a specific interference, would arise from one, or several, of the following
circumstances:--That class of society, from whom the government is selected, might not possess sufficient knowledge either to judge themselves, or know upon whose judgment to rely. Or the number of persons devoting themselves to science, might not be sufficiently large to have due weight in the expression of public opinion. Or, supposing this class to be large, it might not enjoy, in the estimation of the world, a sufficiently high character for independence. Should these causes concur in any country, it might become highly injurious to commit the encouragement of science to any department of the government. This reasoning does not appear to have escaped the penetration of those who advised the abolition of the late Board of Longitude.
The question whether it is good policy in the government of a country to encourage science, is one of which those who cultivate it are not perhaps the most unbiassed judges. In England, those who have hitherto pursued science, have in general no very reasonable grounds of complaint; they knew, or should have known, that there was no demand for it, that it led to little honour, and to less profit.
That blame has been attributed to the government for not fostering the science of the country is certain; and, as far as regards past administrations, is, to a great extent, just; with respect to the present ministers, whose strength essentially depends on public opinion, it is not necessary that they should precede, and they cannot remain long insensible to any expression of the general feeling. But supposing science were thought of some importance by any administration, it would be difficult in the present state of things to do much in its favour; because, on the one hand, the higher classes in general have not a profound knowledge of science, and, on the other, those persons whom they have usually consulted, seem not to have given such advice as to deserve the confidence of government. It seems to be forgotten, that the money allotted by government to purposes of science ought to be expended with the same regard to prudence and economy as in the disposal of money in the affairs of private life.
[Who, for instance, could have advised the government to incur the expense of printing SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY copies of the Astronomical Observations made at Paramatta, to form a third part of the Philosophical Transactions for 1829, whilst of the Observations made at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, two hundred and fifty copies only are printed?
Of these seven hundred and fifty copies, seven hundred and ten will be distributed to members of the Royal Society, to six hundred of whom they will probably be wholly uninteresting or useless; and thus the country incurs a constantly recurring annual expense. Nor is it easy to see on what principle a similar destination could be refused for the observations made at the Cape of Good Hope.]
To those who measure the question of the national encouragement of science by its value in pounds, shillings, and pence, I will here state a fact, which, although pretty generally known, still, I think, deserves attention. A short time since it was
discovered by government that the terms on which annuities had been granted by them were erroneous, and new tables were introduced by act of Parliament. It was stated at the time that the erroneous tables had caused a loss to the country of between two and three millions sterling. The fact of the sale of those annuities being a losing concern was long known to many; and the government appear to have been the last to be informed on the subject. Half the interest of half that loss, judiciously applied to the encouragement of mathematical science, would, in a few years, have rendered utterly impossible such expensive errors.
To those who bow to the authority of great names, one remark may have its weight. The MECANIQUE COELESTE, [The first volume of the first translation of this celebrated work into our own
language, has just arrived in England from--America.] and the THEORIE ANALYTIQUE DES PROBABILITES, were both dedicated, by Laplace, to Napoleon. During the reign of that extraordinary man, the triumphs of France were as eminent in Science as they were splendid in arms. May the institutions which trained and rewarded her philosophers be permanent as the benefits they have conferred upon mankind!
In other countries it has been found, and is admitted, that a knowledge of science is a recommendation to public appointments, and that a man does not make a worse ambassador because he has directed an observatory, or has added by his discoveries to the extent of our knowledge of animated nature. Instances even are not wanting of ministers who have begun their career in the inquiries of pure analysis. As such examples are perhaps more frequent than is generally imagined, it may be useful to mention a few of those men of science who have formerly held, or who now hold, high official stations in the governments of their
France .. Marquis Laplace Mathematics President of the Conservative
France .. Baron Cuvier Comparative Minister of Anatomy, Public
Modena . Marquis Rangoni Mathematics Minister of Finance and
 Author of the MECANIQUE COELESTE.
 Author of TRAITE DE CHIMIE APPLIQUE AUX ARTS.
 Author of LECONS D'ANATOMIE COMPAREE--RECHERCHES SUR OSSEMENS FOSSILES &c. &c.
 Author of MEMORIA SULLE FUNZIONI GENERATRICI, Modena, 1824, and of various other memoirs on mathematical subjects.
 Author of several memoirs on mechanics and hydraulics, in the
Transactions of the Academy of Forty.
 Author of TABLES BAROMETRIQUES, Gotha, 1809--TABULAE VENERIS, NOVAE ET CORRECTAE, Gothae, 1810--INVESTIGATIO NOVA ORBITAE A MERCURIO CIRCA SOLEM DESCRIPTAE, Gothae, 1813, and of other works.
M. Lindenau, the Minister from the King of Saxony to the King of the Netherlands, commenced his career as astronomer at the observatory of the Grand Duke of Gotha, by whom he was sent as his representative at the German Diet. On the death of the late reigning Duke, M. Lindenau was invited to Dresden, and filled the same situation under the King of Saxony; after which he was appointed his minister at the court of the King of the
Netherlands. Such occurrences are not to be paralleled in our own country, at least not in modern times. Newton was, it is true, more than a century since, appointed Master of the Mint; but let any person suggest an appointment of a similar kind in the present day, and he will gather from the smiles of those to whom he proposes it that the highest knowledge conduces nothing to success, and that political power is almost the only
There are several circumstances which concur in inducing persons pursuing science, to unite together, to form societies or
academies. In former times, when philosophical instruments were more rare, and the art of making experiments was less perfectly known, it was almost necessary. More recently, whilst numerous additions are constantly making to science, it has been found that those who are most capable of extending human knowledge, are frequently least able to encounter the expense of printing their investigations. It is therefore convenient, that some means should be devised for relieving them from this difficulty, and the volumes of the transactions of academies have accomplished the desired end.
There is, however, another purpose to which academies contribute. When they consist of a limited number of persons, eminent for their knowledge, it becomes an object of ambition to be admitted on their list. Thus a stimulus is applied to all those who cultivate science, which urges on their exertions, in order to acquire the wished-for distinction. It is clear that this envied position will be valued in proportion to the difficulty of its attainment, and also to the celebrity of those who enjoy it; and whenever the standard of scientific knowledge which qualifies for its ranks is lowered, the value of the distinction itself will be diminished. If, at any time, a multitude of persons having no sort of knowledge of science are admitted, it must cease to be sought after as an object of ambition by men of science, and the class of persons to whom it will become an object of desire will be less intellectual.
Let us now compare the numbers composing some of the various academies of Europe.-The Royal Society of London, the Institute of France, the Italian Academy of Forty, and the Royal Academy of Berlin, are amongst the most distinguished.
Name Number of Number Population. Members of
Country. of its Foreign Academy. Members
1. England. 22,299,000 685 50
2. France . 32,058,000 76 8 Mem. 100 Corr.
8. Prussia . 12,915,000 38 16
4. Italy . . 12,000,000 40 8
It appears then, that in France, one person out of 427,000 is a member of the Institute. That in Italy and Prussia, about one out of 300,000 persons is a member of their Academies. That in England, every 32,000 inhabitants produces a Fellow of the Royal Society. Looking merely at these proportions, the estimation of a seat in the Academy of Berlin, must be more than nine times as valuable as a similar situation in England; and a member of the Institute of France will be more than thirteen times more rare in his country than a Fellow of the Royal Society is in England.
Favourable as this view is to the dignity of such situations in other countries, their comparative rarity is by no means the most striking difference in the circumstances of men of science. If we look at the station in society occupied by the SAVANS of other countries, in several of them we shall find it high, and their situations profitable. Perhaps, at the present moment, Prussia is, of all the countries in Europe, that which bestows the greatest attention, and most unwearied encouragement on science. Great as are the merits of many of its philosophers, much of this support arises from the character of the reigning family, by whose enlightened policy even the most abstract sciences are fostered.
The maxim that "knowledge is power," can be perfectly comprehended by those only who are themselves well versed in science; and to the circumstance of the younger branches of the royal family of Prussia having acquired considerable knowledge in such subjects, we may attribute the great force with which that maxim is appreciated.
In France, the situation of its SAVANS is highly respectable, as well as profitable. If we analyze the list of the Institute, we shall find few who do not possess titles or decorations; but as the value of such marks of royal favour must depend, in a great measure, on their frequency, I shall mention several particulars which are probably not familiar to the English reader. [This analysis was made by comparing the list of the Institute, printed for that body in 1827, with the ALMANACH ROYALE for 1823.]
Number of the Members of the Total Number of each Class Institute of France who belong of the Legion of Honour. to the Legion of Honour.
GrandCroix......... 3 80 GrandOfficier ..... 3 160 Commandeur ........ 4 400 Officier .......... 17 2,000 Chevalier ......... 40 Not limited.
Number of Members of the Institute Total Number decorated with of
the Order of St. Michel. that Order.
Grand Croix ....... 2 100
Chevalier ......... 27
Amongst the members of the Institute there are,-
Dukes ................... 2
Marquis ................. 1
Counts .................. 4
Barons .................. 14
We might, on turning over the list of the 685 members of the Royal Society, find a greater number of peers than there are in the Institute of France; but a fairer mode of instituting the comparison, is to inquire how many titled members there are amongst those who have contributed to its Transactions. In 1827, there were one hundred and nine members who had contributed to the Transactions of the Royal Society; amongst these were found:
Peer ........................ 1 Baronets .................... 5 Knights ..................... 5
It should be observed, that five of these titles were the rewards of members of the medical profession, and one only, that of Sir H. Davy, could be attributed exclusively to science.
It must not be inferred that the titles of nobility in the French list, were all of them the rewards of scientific eminence; many are known to have been such; but it would be quite sufficient for the argument to mention the names of Lagrange, Laplace, Berthollet, and Chaptal.
The estimation in which the public hold literary claims in France and England, was curiously illustrated by an incidental
expression in the translation of the debates in the House of Lords, on the occasion of His Majesty's speech at the
commencement of the session of 1830. The Gazette de France stated, that the address was moved by the Duc de Buccleugh, "CHEF DE LA MAISON DE WALTER SCOTT." Had an English editor wished to particularize that nobleman, he would undoubtedly have employed the term WEALTHY, or some other of the epithets characteristic of that quality most esteemed amongst his countrymen.
If we turn, on the other hand, to the emoluments of science in France, we shall find them far exceed those in our own country. I regret much that I have mislaid a most interesting memorandum on this subject, which I made several years since: but I believe my memory on the point will not be found widely incorrect. A foreign gentleman, himself possessing no inconsiderable acquaintance with science, called on me a few years since, to present a letter of introduction. He had been but a short time in London; and, in the course of our conversation, it appeared to me that he had imbibed very inaccurate ideas respecting our encouragement of science.
Thinking this a good opportunity of instituting a fair comparison between the emoluments of science in the two countries, I placed a sheet of paper before him, and requested him to write down the names of six Englishmen, in his opinion, best known in France for their scientific reputation. Taking another sheet of paper, I wrote upon it the names of six Frenchmen, best known in England for their scientific discoveries. We exchanged these lists, and I then requested him to place against each name (as far as he knew) the annual income of the different appointments held by that person. In the mean time, I performed the same operation on his list, against some names of which I was obliged to place a ZERO. The result of the comparison was an average of nearly 1200L. per annum for the six French SAVANS whom I had named. Of the average amount of the sums received by the English, I only remember that it was very much smaller. When we consider what a command over the necessaries and luxuries of life 1200L. will give in France, it is underrating it to say it is equal to 2000L. in this
Let us now look at the prospects of a young man at his entrance into life, who, impelled by an almost irresistible desire to
devote himself to the abstruser sciences, or who, confident in the energy of youthful power, feels that the career of science is that in which his mental faculties are most fitted to achieve the reputation for which he pants. What are his prospects? Can even the glowing pencil of enthusiasm add colour to the blank before him? There are no situations in the state; there is no position in society to which hope can point, to cheer him in his laborious path. If, indeed, he belong to one of our universities, there are some few chairs in his OWN Alma Mater to which he may at some distant day pretend; but these are not numerous; and whilst the salaries attached are seldom sufficient for the sole support of the individual, they are very rarely enough for that of a family. What then can he reply to the entreaties of his friends, to betake himself to some business in which perhaps they have power to assist him, or to choose some profession in which his talents may produce for him their fair reward? If he have no fortune, the choice is taken away: he MUST give up that line of life in which his habits of thought and his ambition qualify him to succeed eminently, and he MUST choose the bar, or some other profession, in which, amongst so many competitors, in spite of his great talents, he can be but moderately successful. The loss to him is great, but to the country it is greater. We thus, by a
destructive misapplication of talent which our institutions create, exchange a profound philosopher for but a tolerable lawyer.
If, on the other hand, he possess some moderate fortune of his own; and, intent on the glory of an immortal name, yet not blindly ignorant of the state of science in this country, he resolve to make for that aspiration a sacrifice the greater, because he is fully aware of its extent;--if, so circumstanced, he give up a business or a profession on which he might have entered with advantage, with the hope that, when he shall have won a station high in the ranks of European science, he may a little augment his resources by some of those few employments to which science leads;--if he hope to obtain some situation, (at the Board of Longitude, for example,) [This body is now dissolved] where he may be permitted to exercise the talents of a philosopher for the paltry remuneration of a clerk, he will find that other qualifications than knowledge and a love of science are necessary for its attainment. He will also find that the high and independent spirit, which usually dwells in the breast of those who are deeply versed in these pursuits, is ill adapted for such appointments; and that even if successful, he must hear many things he disapproves, and raise no voice AGAINST them.
Thus, then, it appears that scarcely any man can be expected to pursue abstract science unless he possess a private fortune, and unless he can resolve to give up all intention of improving it. Yet, how few thus situated are likely to undergo the labour of the acquisition; and if they do from some irresistible impulse, what inducement is there for them to deviate one step from those inquiries in which they find the greatest delight, into those which might be more immediately useful to the public?CHAPTER III. GENERAL STATE OF LEARNED SOCIETIES IN ENGLAND.
The progress of knowledge convinced the world that the system of the division of labour and of cooperation was as applicable to science, as it had been found available for the improvement of manufactures. The want of competition in science produced effects similar to those which the same cause gives birth to in the arts. The cultivators of botany were the first to feel that the range of knowledge embraced by the Royal Society was too comprehensive to admit of sufficient attention to their favourite subject, and they established the Linnean Society. After many years, a new science arose, and the Geological Society was produced. At an another and more recent epoch, the friends of astronomy, urged by the wants of their science, united to establish the Astronomical Society. Each of these bodies found, that the attention devoted to their science by the parent establishment was insufficient for their wants, and each in succession experienced from the Royal Society the most determined opposition.
Instituted by the most enlightened philosophers, solely for the promotion of the natural sciences, that learned body justly conceived that nothing could be more likely to render these young institutions permanently successful, than discouragement and opposition at their commencement. Finding their first attempts so eminently successful, they redoubled the severity of their persecution, and the result was commensurate with their exertions, and surpassed even their wildest anticipations. The Astronomical Society became in six years known and respected throughout Europe, not from the halo of reputation which the glory of its vigourous youth had thrown around the weakness of its declining years; but from the sterling merit of "its
unpretending deeds, from the sympathy it claimed and received from every practical astronomer, whose labours it relieved, and whose calculations it lightened."
But the system which worked so well is now changed, and the Zoological and Medico-Botanical Societies were established without opposition: perhaps, indeed, the total failure of the latter society is the best proof of the wisdom which guided the councils of the Royal. At present, the various societies exist with no feelings of rivalry or hostility, each pursuing its separate objects, and all uniting in deploring with filial regret, the second childhood of their common parent, and the evil councils by which that sad event has been anticipated.
It is the custom to attach certain letters to the names of those who belong to different societies, and these marks of ownership are by many considered the only valuable part of their purchase on entry. The following is a list of some of these societies. The second column gives the ready-money prices of the tail-pieces indicated in the third.
SOCIETIES. Fees on Admission Appended including Composition Letters for Annual Payments.
L. s. d.
Royal Society ............. 50 0 0 F.R.S. Royal Society of Edinburgh. 25 4 0* F.R.S.E. Royal Academy of Dublin ... 26 5 0 M.R.I.A. Royal Society of Literature 36 15 0 F.R.S.Lit. Antiquarian ............... 50 8 0 F.A.S. Linnean ................... 36 0 0 F.L.S. Geological ................ 34 15 0 F.G.S. Astronomical .............. 25 4 0 M.A.S. Zoological ................ 26 5 0 F.Z.S. Royal Institution ......... 50 0 0 M.R.I. Royal Asiatic.............. 31 10 0 F.R.A.S. Horticultural ............. 43 6 0 F.H.S. Medico-Botanical .......... 21 0 0 F.M.B.S.
[* The Royal Society of Edinburgh now requires, for composition in lieu of annual contributions, a sum dependent on the value of the life of the member.]
Thus, those who are ambitious of scientific distinction, may, according to their fancy, render their name a kind of comet, carrying with it a tail of upwards of forty letters, at the average cost of 10L. 9s. 9d. per letter.
Perhaps the reader will remark, that science cannot be declining in a country which supports so many institutions for its
cultivation. It is indeed creditable to us, that the greater
part of these societies are maintained by the voluntary
contributions of their members. But, unless the inquiries which have recently taken place in some of them should rectify the SYSTEM OF MANAGEMENT by which several have been oppressed, it is not difficult to predict that their duration will be short. Full
PUBLICITY, PRINTED STATEMENTS OF ACCOUNTS, and occasional DISCUSSIONS and inquiries at GENERAL MEETINGS, are the only safeguards; and a due degree of VIGILANCE should be exercised on those who DISCOURAGE these principles. Of the Royal Society, I shall speak in a succeeding page; and I regret to add, that I
might have said more. My object is to amend it; but, like all
deeply-rooted complaints, the operation which alone can
contribute to its cure, is necessarily painful. Had the words of remonstrance or reproof found utterance through other channels, I had gladly been silent, content to support by my vote the
reasonings of the friend of science and of the Society. But this has not been the case, and after frustrated efforts to introduce improvements, I shall now endeavour, by the force of plain, but perhaps painful truths, to direct public opinion in calling for
such a reform, as shall rescue the Royal Society from contempt in our own country, from ridicule in others.
On the next five societies in the list, I shall offer no remarks. Of the Geological, I shall say a few words. It possesses all the freshness, the vigour, and the ardour of youth in the pursuit of a youthful science, and has succeeded in a most difficult experiment, that of having an oral discussion on the subject of each paper read at its meetings. To say of these discussions, that they are very entertaining, is the least part of the praise which is due to them. They are generally very instructive, and sometimes bring together isolated facts in the science which, though insignificant when separate, mutually illustrate each other, and ultimately lead to important conclusions. The continuance of these discussions evidently depends on the taste, the temper, and the good sense of the speakers. The things to be avoided are chiefly verbal criticisms--praise of each other beyond its reasonable limits, and contest for victory. This latter is, perhaps, the most important of the three, both for the interests of the Society and of truth. With regard to the published volumes of their Transactions, it may be remarked, that if members were in the habit of communicating their papers to the Society in a more finished state, it would be attended with several advantages; amongst others, with that of lightening the heavy duties of the officers, which are perhaps more laborious in this Society than in most others. To court publicity in their accounts and proceedings, and to endeavour to represent all the feelings of the Society in the Council, and to avoid permanent Presidents, is a recommendation not peculiarly addressed to this Society, but would contribute to the well-being of all.
Of the Astronomical Society, which, from the nature of its pursuits, could scarcely admit of the discussions similar to those of the Geological, I shall merely observe, that I know of no secret which has caused its great success, unless it be attention to the maxims which have just been stated.
On the Zoological Society, which affords much rational amusement to the public, a few hints may at present suffice. The largeness of its income is a frightful consideration. It is too tempting as the subject for jobs, and it is too fluctuating and uncertain in its amount, not to render embarrassment in the affairs of the Society a circumstance likely to occur, without the greatest circumspection. It is most probable, from the very recent formation of this Institution, that its Officers and Council are at present all that its best friends could wish; but it is still right to mention, that in such a Society, it is essentially necessary to have men of business on the Council, as well as persons possessing extensive knowledge of its pursuits. It is more dangerous in such a Society than in any other, to pay compliments, by placing gentlemen on the Council who have not the qualifications which are requisite; a frequent change in the members of the Council is desirable, in order to find out who are the most regular attendants, and most qualified to conduct its business. Publicity in its accounts and proceedings is, from the magnitude of its funds, more essential to the Zoological than to any other society; and it is rather a fearful omen, that a check was attempted to be given to such inquiries at the last
anniversary meeting. If it is to be a scientific body, the
friends of science should not for an instant tolerate such attempts.
It frequently happens, that gentlemen take an active part in more than one scientific society: in that case, it may be useful to derive instruction as to their merits, by observing the success of their measures in other societies.
The Asiatic Society has, amongst other benefits, caused many valuable works to be translated, which could not have otherwise been published.
The Horticultural Society has been ridden almost to death, and is now rousing itself; but its constitution seems to have been
somewhat impaired. There are hopes of its purgation, and
ultimate restoration, notwithstanding a debt of 19,000L., which the Committee of Inquiry have ascertained to exist. This, after all, will not be without its advantage to science, if it puts a
stop to HOUSE-LISTS, NAMED BY ONE OR TWO PERSONS,-- to making COMPLIMENTARY councillors,--and to auditing the accounts WITHOUT EXAMINING EVERY ITEM, or to omitting even that form altogether.
The Medico-Botanical Society suddenly claimed the attention of the public; its pretensions were great--its assurance unbounded. It speedily became distinguished, not by its publications or discoveries, but by the number of princes it enrolled in its list. It is needless now to expose the extent of its short-lived quackery; but the evil deeds of that institution will long remain in the impression they have contributed to confirm throughout Europe, of the character of our scientific establishments. It would be at once a judicious and a dignified course, if those lovers of science, who have been so grievously deceived in this Society, were to enrol upon the latest page of its history its highest claim to public approbation, and by signing its dissolution, offer the only atonement in their power to the insulted science of their country. As with a singular inversion of principle, the society contrived to render EXPULSION* the highest HONOUR it could confer; so it remains for it to
exemplify, in suicide, the sublimest virtue of which it is
capable. [* They expelled from amongst them a gentleman, of whom it is but slight praise to say, that he is the first and most philosophical botanist of our own country, and who is admired abroad as he is respected at home. The circumstance which surprised the world was not his exit from, but his previous entrance into that Society.]
As the venerable first parent of English, and I might perhaps say, of European scientific societies; as a body in the welfare of which, in the opinions of many, the interests of British science are materially involved, I may be permitted to feel anxiously, and to speak more in detail.SECTION 1. MODE OF BECOMING A FELLOW OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY.
I have no intention of stating what ought to be the qualifications of a Fellow of the Royal Society; but, for years, the practical mode of arriving at that honour, has been as follows:-
A. B. gets any three Fellows to sign a certificate, stating that he (A. B.) is desirous of becoming a member, and likely to be a useful and valuable one. This is handed in to the Secretary, and suspended in the meeting-room. At the end of ten weeks, if A. B. has the good fortune to be perfectly unknown by any literary or scientific achievement, however small, he is quite sure of being elected as a matter of course. If, on the other hand, he has unfortunately written on any subject connected with science, or is supposed to be acquainted with any branch of it, the members begin to inquire what he has done to deserve the honour; and, unless he has powerful friends, he has a fair chance of being black-balled. [I understand that certificates are now read at the Council, previously to their being hung up in the meeting-room; but I am not aware that this has in the slightest degree diminished their number, which was, at the time of writing this note, TWENTY-FOUR.]
In fourteen years' experience, the few whom I have seen rejected, have all been known persons; but even in such cases a hope remains;-- perseverance will do much, and a gentleman who values so highly the distinction of admission to the Royal Society, may try again; and even after being twice black-balled, if he will a third time condescend to express his desire to become a member, he may perhaps succeed, by the aid of a hard canvass. In such circumstances, the odds are much in favour of the candidate possessing great scientific claims; and the only objection that could then reasonably be suggested, would arise from his estimating rather too highly a distinction which had become insignificant from its unlimited extension.
It should be observed, that all members contribute equally, and that the sum now required is fifty pounds. It used, until lately, to be ten pounds on entrance, and four pounds annually. The amount of this subscription is so large, that it is calculated to prevent many men of real science from entering the Society, and is a very severe tax on those who do so; for very few indeed of the cultivators of science rank amongst the wealthy classes. Several times, whilst I have been consulting books or papers at Somerset House, persons have called to ask the Assistantsecretary the mode of becoming a member of the Royal Society. I should conjecture, from some of these applications, that it is not very unusual for gentlemen in the country to order their agents in London to take measures for putting them up at the Royal Society.SECTION 2. OF THE PRESIDENCY AND VICE-PRESIDENCIES.
Why Mr. Davies Gilbert became President of the Royal Society I cannot precisely say. Let him who penned, and those who supported this resolution solve the enigma:"It was Resolved,
"That it is the opinion of the Council that Davies Gilbert, Esq. is by far the most fit person to be proposed to the Society at the approaching anniversary as President, and that he be recommended accordingly."
To resolve that he was a FIT person might have been sufficiently flattering: to state that he was the most fit, was a little hard upon the rest of the Society; but to resolve that he was "BY FAR THE MOST FIT" was only consistent with that strain of compliment in which his supporters indulge, and was a eulogy, by no means unique in its kind, I believe, even at that very Council.
That Mr. Gilbert is a most amiable and kind-hearted man will be instantly admitted by all who are, in the least degree,
acquainted with him: that he is fit for the chair of the Royal Society, will be allowed by few, except those who have committed themselves to the above-quoted resolution.
Possessed of knowledge and of fortune more than sufficient for it, he might have been the restorer of its lustre. He might have called round him, at the council board, those most actively engaged in the pursuits of science, most anxious for the improvement of the Royal Society. Instead of himself proposing resolutions, he might have been, what a chairman ought to be, the organ of the body over which he presides. By the firmness of his own conduct he might have taught the subordinate officers of the Society the duties of their station. Instead of paying
compliments to Ministers, who must have smiled at his simplicity, he might have maintained the dignity of his Council by the dignity of knowledge.
But he has chosen a different path; with no motives of interest to allure, or of ambition to betray him, instead of making himself respected as the powerful chief of a united republic,-that of science,--he has grasped at despotic power, and stands the feeble occupant of its desolated kingdom, trembling at the force of opinions he might have directed, and refused even the patronage of their names by those whose energies he might have commanded.
Mr. Gilbert told the Society he accepted the situation for a year; and this circumstance caused a difficulty in finding a Treasurer: an office which he had long held, and to which he wished to return.
Another difficulty might have arisen, from the fact of the late Board of Longitude comprising amongst its Members the PRESIDENT of the Royal Society, and three of its Fellows, appointed by the President and Council. Of course, when Mr. Gilbert accepted the higher situation, he became, EX OFFICIO, a Member of the Board of Longitude; and a vacancy occurred, which ought to have been filled up by the President and Council. But when this subject was brought before them, in defiance of common sense, and the plain meaning of the act of parliament, which had enacted that the Board of Longitude should have the assistance of four persons belonging to the Royal Society, Mr. Gilbert refused to allow it to be filled up, on the ground that he should not be President next year, and had made no vacancy.
Next year Mr. Gilbert wished again to be President one other year; but the Board of Longitude was dissolved, otherwise we might have had some LOCUM TENENS to retire at Mr. Gilbert's pleasure.
These circumstances are in themselves of trifling importance, but they illustrate the character of the proceedings: and it is not becoming the dignity of science or of the Society that its officers should be so circumstanced as to have an apparent and direct interest in supporting the existing President, in order to retain their own places; and if such a system is once discovered, doubt immediately arises as to the frequency of such arrangements.SECTION 3. OF THE SECRETARISHIPS.
Whether the present Secretaries are the best qualified to aid in reforming the Society, is a question I shall not discuss. With regard to the senior Secretary, the time of his holding office is perhaps more unfortunate than the circumstance. If I might be permitted to allude for a moment to his personal character, I should say that the mild excellencies of his heart have prevented the Royal Society from deriving the whole of that advantage from his varied knowledge and liberal sentiments which some might perhaps have anticipated; and many will agree with me in regretting that his judgment has not directed a larger portion of the past deeds of the Councils of the Royal Society. Of the junior Secretary I shall only observe, that whilst I admit his industry, his perseverance, and his talents, I regret to see such valuable qualities exerted at a disadvantage, and that I sincerely wish them all the success they merit in situations more adapted for their developement.
There are, however, some general principles which it may be important to investigate, which relate to the future as well as to the past state of the office of Secretary of the Royal Society. Inconvenience has already arisen from having had at a former period one of our Secretaries the conductor of a scientific journal; and this is one of the points in which I can agree with those who now manage the affairs of the Society. [These observations were written previous to the late appointment, to which I now devote Section 6. Experience seems to be lost on the Council of the Royal Society.] Perhaps it might be advantageous to extend the same understanding to the other officers of the Society at least, if not to the members of its Council.
Another circumstance worthy of the attention of the Society is, to consider whether it is desirable, except in special cases, to have military persons appointed to any of its offices. There are several peculiarities in the military character, which, though they do not absolutely unfit their possessors for the individual prosecution of science, may in some degree disqualify such persons from holding offices in scientific institutions. The habits both of obedience and command, which are essential in military life, are little fitted for that perfect freedom which should reign in the councils of science. If a military chief commit an oversight or an error, it is necessary, in order to retain the confidence of those he commands, to conceal or mask it as much as possible. If an experimentalist make a mistake, his only course to win the confidence of his fellow-labourers in science, and to render his future observations of any use, is to acknowledge it in the most full and explicit manner. The very qualifications which contribute to the professional excellence of the soldier, constitute his defects when he enters the paths of science; and it is only in those rare cases where the force of genius is able to control and surmount these habits, that his admission to the offices of science can be attended with any advantage to it.
Another objection deserving notice, although not applying exclusively to the military profession, is, that persons not imbued with the feelings of men of science, when they have published their observations, are too apt to view every criticism upon them as a personal question, and to consider that it is as offensive to doubt the accuracy of their observations as it is to doubt their word. Nothing can be more injurious to science than that such an opinion should be tolerated. The most unreserved criticism is necessary for truth; and those suspicions respecting his own accuracy, which every philosophical experimenter will entertain concerning his own researches, ought never to be considered as a reproach, when they are kept in view in examining the experiments of others. The minute circumstances and apparently trivial causes which lend their influence towards error, even in persons of the most candid judgment, are amongst the most curious phenomena of the human mind.
The importance of affording every aid to enable others to try the merits of observations, has been so well expressed by Mayer, that I shall conclude these remarks with an extract from the Preface to his Observations:
"Officii enim cujusque observatoris ease reor, de habitu instrumenti sui, de cura ac precautione, qua usus est, ad illud recte tractandum, deque mediis in errores ejus inquirendi rationem reddere publice, ut aliis quoque copia sit judicandi, quanta fides habenda conclusionibus ex nostris observationibus deductis aut deducendis. Hoc cum minus fecissent precedentis saeculi astronomi, praxin nimis secure, nimisque theoretice tractantes, factum inde potissimum est, ut illorum observationes tot vigiliis tantoque labore comparatae tam cito obsoleverint." P. viii.
There are certain duties which the Royal Society owes to its own character as well as to the public, which, having been on some occasions apparently neglected, it may be here the proper place to mention, since it is reasonable to suppose that attention to them is within the province of its Secretaries.
The first to which I shall allude is the singular circumstances attending the fact of the Royal Society having printed a volume of Astronomical Observations which were made at the Observatory of Paramatta (New South Wales), bearing the title of "The Third Part of the Philosophical Transactions for the Year 1829."
Now this Observatory was founded at the private expense of a British officer; the instruments were paid for out of his purse; two observers were brought from Europe, to be employed in making use of those instruments, at salaries defrayed by him. A considerable portion of the observations so printed were made by these astronomers during their employment in his service, and some of them are personally his own. Yet has the Royal Society, in adopting them as part of its Transactions, omitted all mention, either in their title-page, preface, or in any part of the volume, of the FACT that the world owed these valuable observations to the enlightened munificence of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Brisbane; whose ardent zeal in the pursuit of science induced him to found, at his own private expense, an establishment which it has been creditable to the British Government to continue as a national institution. Had any kindred feelings existed in the Council, instead of endeavouring to shift the responsibility, they would have hastened to rectify an omission, less unjust to the individual than it was injurious to English science.
Another topic, which concerns most vitally the character and integrity of the Royal Society, I hardly know how to approach. It has been publicly stated that confidence cannot be placed in the written minutes of the Society; and an instance has been adduced, in which an entry has been asserted to have been made, which could not have been the true statement of what actually passed at the Council.
The facts on which the specific instance rests are not difficult to verify by members of the Royal Society. I have examined them, and shall state them before I enter on the reasoning which may be founded upon them. In the minutes of the Council, 26th November, 1829, we find-
"Resolved, that the following gentlemen be recommended to be put upon the Council for the ensuing year." [Here follows a list of persons, amongst whom the name of Sir John Franklin occurs [Sir John Franklin was absent from London, and altogether unacquainted with this transaction, until he saw it stated in the newspapers some months after it had taken place. That his name was the one substituted for that of Captain Beaufort I know, from other evidence which need not be produced here, as the omission of the latter name is the charge that has been made.], and that of Captain Beaufort is not found. [Any gentleman may satisfy himself that this is not a mistake of the Assistant Secretary's, in copying, by consulting the rough minutes of that meeting of the Council, which it might perhaps be as well to write in a rough minute-book, instead of upon loose sheets of paper; nor can it be attributed to any error arising from accidentally mislaying the real minutes, for in that case the error would have been rectified immediately it was detected; and this has remained uncorrected, although publicly spoken of for months. As there is no erasure in the list, one is reluctantly compelled to
conjecture that the real minutes of that meeting have been destroyed.]]
Now this could not be the list actually recommended by the Council on the morning of the 26th of November, because the President himself, on the evening of that day, informed Capt. Beaufort that he was placed on the house list; and that officer, with the characteristic openness of his profession, wrote on the next or the following day to the President, declining that situation, and stating his reasons for the step.
Upon the fact, therefore, of the suppression of part of a resolution of the Council, on the 26th of November, there can be no doubt; but in order to understand the whole nature of the transaction, other information is necessary. It has been the wish of many members of the Society, that the President should not absolutely name his own Council, but that the subject should be discussed fairly at the meeting previous to the Anniversary-this has always been opposed by Mr. Gilbert, and those who support him. Now, it has been stated, that, at the meeting of the Council on the 26th of November, the President took out of his pocket a bit of paper, from which he read the names of several persons as fit to be on the Council for the ensuing year;--that it was not understood that any motion was made, and it is certain that none was seconded, nor was any ballot taken on such an important question; and it was a matter of considerable surprise to some of those present, to discover afterwards that it was entered on the minutes as a resolution. This statement I have endeavoured to verify, and I believe it to be substantially correct; if it was a resolution, it was dictated, not discussed. It is also important to observe, that no similar resolution stands on the council-books for any previous year.
On examining the minutes of the succeeding Council, no notice of the letter of Captain Beaufort to the President is found. Why was it omitted? If the first entry had been truly made, there would have been no necessity for the omission; and after the insertion of that letter, a resolution would naturally have followed, recommending another name instead of the one withdrawn. Such was the natural and open course; but this would have exposed to the Society the weakness of those who manage it. If the rough minutes of each meeting of the Council were read over before it separated, and were copied previously to the next meeting, such a substitution could hardly have occurred; but, unfortunately, this is not the case, and the delay is in some cases considerable. Thus, the minutes of the three Councils, held on February 4, on February 11, and on March 11, were not entered on the minutebooks of the Council on Tuesday, the 16th March; nor was this the fault of the Assistant-secretary, for up to that day the rough minutes of no one of those Councils had been transmitted to him. Deeply as every friend to the Royal Society must regret such an occurrence, one slight advantage may accrue. Should that resolution be ever quoted hereafter to prove that the Council of 1829 really discussed the persons to be recommended as their successors, the detection of this suppression of one portion of it, will furnish better means of estimating the confidence due to the whole.SECTION 4. OF THE SCIENTIFIC ADVISERS.
Whether it was feared by the PARTY who govern the Royal Society, that its Council would not be sufficiently tractable, or whether the Admiralty determined to render that body completely subservient to them, or whether both these motives concurred, I know not; but, low as has been for years its character for independence, and fallen as the Royal Society is in public estimation, it could scarcely be prepared for this last insult. In order to inform the public and the Society, (for I believe the fact is known to few of the members,) it will be necessary to trace the history of those circumstances which led to the institution of the offices of Scientific Advisers, from the time of the existence of the late Board of Longitude.
That body consisted, according to the act of parliament which
established it, of certain official members, who usually
possessed no knowledge of the subjects it was the duty of the
Board to discuss--of certain professors of the two universities,
and the Astronomer Royal, who had some knowledge, and who were
paid 100L. a year for their attendance;--of three honorary
members of the Royal Society, who combined the qualifications of
the two preceding classes; and, lastly, of "three other persons,"
named Resident Commissioners, who were supposed to be "WELL
VERSED IN THE SCIENCES OF MATHEMATICS, ASTRONOMY, OR NAVIGATION," and who were paid a hundred a year to do the work of the Board.
The first three classes were permanent members, but the "three other persons" only held the appointment for ONE YEAR, and were renewable at the pleasure of the Admiralty. This Board was abolished by another act of parliament, on the ground that it was useless. Shortly after, the Secretary of the Admiralty
communicated to the Council of the Royal Society, the copy of an Order in Council:
ADMIRALTY OFFICE, November 1, 1828.
I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, to send herewith, for the information of the President and Council of the Royal Society, a copy of His Majesty's Order in Council of the 27th of last month; explaining that the salaries heretofore allowed to the Resident Commissioners of the Board of Longitude, and to the Superintendents of the Nautical Almanac, and of Chronometers, shall be continued to them, notwithstanding the abolition of the Board of Longitude. And I am to acquaint you, that the necessary orders have been given to the Navy Board for the payment of the said salaries.
Whereas, there was this day read at the Board a Memorial from the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, dated 4th of this instant, in the words following, viz.-
Whereas, by an Act of the 58th of his late Majesty's reign, cap. 20, instituted "An Act for the more effectually discovering the Longitude at sea, and encouraging attempts to find a Northern passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and to approach the North Pole," three persons well versed in the sciences of Mathematics, Astronomy, or Navigation, were appointed as a Resident Committee of the Board of Commissioners for discovery of the Longitude at sea, and a Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac and of Chronometers was also appointed, with such salaries for the execution of those services as his Majesty might, by any Order in Council, be pleased to direct; and, whereas, your Majesty was in consequence, by your Order in Council of the 27th of May, 1828, most graciously pleased to direct, that the three said Resident Commissioners should be paid at the rate of 100L. a year each; and by your further Order in Council, of the 31st October, 1818, that the Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac should be allowed a salary of 300L., and the Superintendent of Chronometers 100L. a year; and, whereas, the act above mentioned has been repealed, and the Board of Longitude abolished; and doubts have therefore arisen, whether the said Orders in Council shall still continue in force; and whereas it is expedient that the said appointments be continued; We beg leave most humbly to submit to your Majesty, that your Majesty may be graciously pleased, by your Order in Council, to direct that the said offices of Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac, and of Superintendent of Chronometers; and also the three persons before-mentioned as a Resident Committee, to advise with the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral, on all questions of discoveries, inventions, calculations, and other scientific subjects, be continued, with the same duties and salaries, and under the same regulations as heretofore; and further beg most humbly to propose, that such three persons to form the Resident Committee, be chosen annually by the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral, from among the Council of the Royal Society.
His Majesty, having taken the said Memorial into consideration, was pleased, by and with the advice of his Privy Council, to approve thereof and the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty are to give the necessary directions herein accordingly.(Signed) JAMES HILLER.
Thus, it appeared that the Admiralty were to choose three persons from among the Council of the Royal Society, who were to have a hundred a year each during the pleasure of the Admiralty.
Such an open attack on the independence of the Council could not escape the remarks of some of the members, and a kind of mild remonstrance was made, in which the real ground of complaint was omitted.MINUTE OF COUNCIL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY. December 18, 1823.
RESOLVED, That in acknowledging the communication of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, made to the Council of the Royal Society, on the 20th of November last, it be represented to them that inconvenience may arise from the plan therein specified, from the circumstance of all the members of the Council being annually elected by the Society at large; and that body being consequently subject to continual changes from year to year.This was answered by the following letter from the Secretary of the Admiralty : ADMIRALTY OFFICE, DEC. 30, 1828.
Having submitted to my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty your Letter of the 18th instant, subjoining an extract from the Minutes of the proceedings of the Council of the Royal Society, arising out of the communication made to them by their Lordships, on the subject of his Majesty's Order in Council, of the fifth of October last, I have their Lordships' command to acquaint you, for the information of the President and Council, and with reference to what they have stated as to the inconvenience which may arise from the intended plan of limiting their Lordships' choice of members of the Resident Committee of Scientific Advice to the Council of the Royal Society, that their Lordships were induced to recommend this plan to his Majesty as a mark of respect to the Society, and as a pledge to the public of the qualification of the persons chosen. Nor did their Lordships apprehend any inconvenience from the circumstance stated in the Minute of the Council, of the Members being annually elected, as the Resident Committee is also annually appointed; and, in point of fact, no practical inconvenience has been felt during the ten years that the Committee has been in existence, as four of the distinguished gentlemen whom their Lordships have successively appointed to this office, have continued during the whole period to be members of the Council; and if any such difficulty or inconvenience should hereafter arise, their Lordships will be ready to take proper measures for remedying it.
Their Lordships' intention therefore is, to propose to Captain Kater and Mr. Herschel, to continue to fill this office; and to Dr.Young, who had resigned it, on receiving the appointment of Secretary to the late Board of Longitude, to be appointed.I am, Sir, Your obedient servant, JOHN BARROW.
The representation made by the Council was not calculated to produce much effect; but the Secretary of the Admiralty, who knew well the stuff of which Councils of the Royal Society are composed, might have spared the bitter irony of making their Lordships say, that they recommended this plan "AS A MARK OF RESPECT TO THE SOCIETY," and "AS A PLEDGE TO THE PUBLIC OF THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE PERSONS CHOSEN," whilst he delicately hints to them their dependent situation, by observing, that the
"RESIDENT COMMITTEE IS ALSO ANNUALLY APPOINTED."
The Secretary knew that, PRACTICALLY speaking, it had been the custom for years for the President of the Royal Society to
nominate the Council, and consequently he knew that every
scientific adviser must first be indebted to the President for
being qualified to advise, and then to the Admiralty for deriving profit from his counsel. Thus then their Lordships, as a "MARK OF RESPECT FOR THE SOCIETY" confirm the dependence of the Council on the President, by making his nomination a qualification for place, and establish a new dependence of the same Council on themselves, by giving a hundred pounds each year to such three members of that Council as they may select. "THE PLEDGE" they offer "TO THE PUBLIC, OF THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE PERSONS CHOSEN," is, that Mr. Davies Gilbert had previously thought they would do for his Council.
What the Society, when they are acquainted with it, may think of this mark of respect, or what value the public may put upon this pledge, must be left to themselves to express.
In looking over the list of officers and Council of the Royal Society the weakest perhaps (for purposes of science) which was ever made, a consolation arises from the possibility of some of those who were placed there by way of compliment, occasionally attending. In that contracted field Lord Melville's penetration may not be uselessly employed; and the soldier who presides over our colonies may judge whether the principles which pervade it are open and liberal as his own.
The inconvenience to the public service from such an arrangement is, that the number out of which the advisers are selected must, in any case, be very small; and may, from several circumstances, be considerably reduced. In a council fairly selected, to judge of the merits of the various subjects likely to be brought under the consideration of the Society, anatomy, chemistry, and the different branches of natural history, will share with the numerous departments of physical science, in claiming to be represented by persons competently skilled in those subjects. These claims being satisfied, but few places will be left to fill up with mathematicians, astronomers, and persons conversant with nautical astronomy.
Let us look at the present Council. Is there a single
mathematician amongst them, if we except Mr Barlow, whose deservedly high reputation rests chiefly on his physical and experimental inquiries, and whom the President and the Admiralty have clearly shown they do not look upon as a mathematician, by not appointing him an adviser?
Small as the number of those persons on the Council, who are conversant with the three subjects named in the Act of Parliament, must usually be, it may be still further diminished. The President, when he forms his Council, may decline naming those members who are most fit for such situations. Or, on the other hand, some of those members who are best qualified for them, from their knowledge, may decline the honour of being the nominees of Mr. Gilbert, as Vice Presidents, Treasurers, or Councillors, and thus lending their names to support a system of which they disapprove.
Whether the first of these causes has ever operated can be best explained by those gentlemen who have been on the Council. The refusals are, notwithstanding the President's taciturnity on the subject, better known than he is willing that they should be.
Having discussed the general policy of the measure, with reference both to the Society and to the public, and without the slightest reference to the individuals who may have refused or accepted those situations, I shall now examine the propriety of the appointments that have been made.
Doubtless the gentlemen who now hold those situations either have never considered the influence such a mode of selection would have on the character of the Council; or, having considered it, they must have arrived at a different conclusion from mine. There may, however, be arguments which I have overlooked, and a discussion of them must ultimately lead to truth: but I confess that it appears to me the objections which have been stated rest on principles of human nature, too deeply seated to be easily removed.
That I am not singular in the view I have taken of this subject, appears from several circumstances. A question was asked respecting these appointments at the Anniversary before the last; and, from the nature of the answer, many of the members of the Society have been led to believe the objections have been removed. Several Fellows of the Society, who knew these facts, thought it inexpedient ever to vote for placing any gentleman on the Council who had accepted these situations; and, having myself the same view of the case, I applied to the Council to be informed of the names of the present Scientific Advisers. But although they remonstrated against the PRINCIPLE, they replied that they had "NO COGNIZANCE" of the fact.
The two first members of the Council, Mr. Herschel and Captain Kater, who were so appointed, and who had previously been Resident Commissioners under the Act, immediately refused the situations. Dr. Young became one of the Advisers; and Captain Sabine and Mr. Faraday were appointed by the Admiralty as the two remaining ones. Of Dr. Young, who died shortly after, I shall only observe that he possessed knowledge which qualified him for the situation.
Whether those who at present fill these offices can be said to belong to that class of persons which the Order in Council and the Act of Parliament point out, is a matter on which doubt may reasonably be entertained. The Order in Council speaks of these three persons as being the same, and having the "SAME DUTIES" as those mentioned in the Act; and it recites the words of the Act, that they shall be persons "WELL VERSED IN THE SCIENCES OF MATHEMATICS ASTRONOMY, AND NAVIGATION." Of the fitness of the gentlemen who now hold those situations to pronounce judgment on mathematical questions, the public will be better able to form an opinion when they shall have communicated to the world any of their own mathematical inquiries. Although it is the practice to consider that acceptance of office is alone necessary to qualify a man for a statesman, a similar doctrine has not yet prevailed in the world of science. One of these gentlemen, who has
established his reputation as a chemist, stands in the same
predicament with respect to the other two sciences. It remains then to consider Captain Sabine's claims, which must rest on his skill in "PRACTICAL ASTRONOMY AND NAVIGATION,"-- a claim which can only be allowed when the scientific world are set at rest respecting the extraordinary nature of those observations
contained in his work on the Pendulum.
That volume, printed under the authority of the Board of Longitude, excited at its appearance considerable attention. The circumstance of the Government providing instruments and means of transport for the purpose of these inquiries, placed at Captain Sabine's disposal means superior to those which amateurs can generally afford, whilst the industry with which he availed himself of these opportunities, enabled him to bring home multitudes of observations from situations rarely visited with such instruments, and for such purposes.
The remarkable agreement with each other, which was found to exist amongst each class of observations, was as unexpected by those most conversant with the respective processes, as it was creditable to one who had devoted but a few years to the subject, and who, in the course of those voyages, used some of the instruments for the first time in his life.
This accordance amongst the results was such, that naval officers of the greatest experience, confessed themselves unable to take such lunars; whilst other observers, long versed in the use of the transit instrument, avowed their inability to take such transits. Those who were conversant with pendulums, were at a loss how to make, even under more favourable circumstances, similarly concordant observations. The same opinion prevailed on the continent as well as in England. On whatever subject Captain Sabine touched, the observations he published seemed by their accuracy to leave former observers at a distance. The methods of using the instruments scarcely differed in any important point from those before adopted; and, but for a fortunate discovery, which I shall presently relate, the world must have concluded that Captain Sabine possessed some keenness of vision, or acuteness of touch, which it would be hopeless for any to expect to rival.
The Council of the Royal Society spared no pains to stamp the accuracy of these observations with their testimony. They seem to have thrust Captain Sabine's name perpetually on their minutes, and in a manner which must have been almost distressing: they recommend him in a letter to the Admiralty, then in another to the Ordnance; and several of the same persons, in their other capacity, as members of the Board of Longitude, after voting him a THOUSAND POUNDS for these observations, are said to have again recommended him to the Master-General of the Ordnance. That an officer, commencing his scientific career, should be misled by such praises, was both natural and pardonable; but that the Council of the Royal Society should adopt their opinion so heedlessly, and maintain it so pertinaciously, was as cruel to the observer as it was injurious to the interests of science.
It might have been imagined that such praises, together with the Copley medal, presented to Captain Sabine by the Royal Society, and the medal of Lalande, given to him by the Institute of France, had arisen from such a complete investigation of his observations, as should place them beyond the reach even of criticism. But, alas! the Royal Society may write, and nobody will attend; its medals have lost their lustre; and even the Institute of France may find that theirs cannot confer
immortality. That learned body is in the habit of making most interesting and profound reports on any memoirs communicated to it; nothing escapes the penetration of their committees appointed for such purposes. Surely, when they enter on the much more important subject of the award of a medal, unusual pains must be taken with the previous report, and it might, perhaps, be of some advantage to science, and might furnish their admirers with arguments in their defence, if they would publish that on which the decree of their Lalande's medal to Captain Sabine was founded.
It is far from necessary to my present object, to state all that has been written and said respecting these pendulum experiments: I shall confine myself merely to two points; one, the transit observations, I shall allude to, because I may perhaps show the kind of feeling that exists respecting them, and possibly enable Captain Sabine to explain them. The other point, the error in the estimation of the division of the level, I shall discuss, because it is an admitted fact.
Some opinion may be formed of transit observations, by taking the difference of times of the passage of any star between the several wires; supposing the distances of those wires equal, the intervals of time occupied by the star in passing from one to the other, ought to be precisely the same. As those times of passing from one wire to another are usually given to seconds and tenths of seconds, it rarely happens that the accordance is perfect.
The transit instrument used by Captain Sabine was thirty inches in length, and the wires are stated to be equi-distant. Out of about 370 transits, there are eighty-seven, or nearly one-fourth, which have the intervals between all the wires agreeing to the same, the tenth of a second. At Sierra Leone, nineteen out of seventy-two have the same accordance; and of the moon culminating stars, p. 409, twelve out of twenty-four are equally exact. With larger instruments, and in great observatories, this is not always the case.
Captain Kater has given, in the Philosophical Transactions, 1819, p. 427, a series of transits, with a three and a half foot transit, in which about one-eleventh part of them only have this degree of accuracy; and it should be observed that not merely the instrument, but the stars selected, have, in this instance, an advantage over Captain Sabine's.
The transit of M. Bessel is five feet in length, made by Frauenhofer, and the magnifying power employed is 182; yet, out of some observations of his in January, 1826, only one-eleventh have this degree of accordance. In thirty-three of the Greenwich observations of January, 1828, fifteen have this agreement, or five-elevenths; but this is with a ten-feet transit. Now in none of these instances do the times agree within a tenth of a second between all the wires; but I have accounted those as agreeing in all the wires in which there is not more than four-tenths of a second between the greatest and least.
This superior accuracy of the small instrument requires some explanation. One which has been suggested is, that Captain Sabine employs a chronometer to observe transits with; and that since it beats five times in two seconds, each beat will give four-tenths of a second; and this being the smallest quantity registered, the agreement becomes more probable than if tenths were the smallest quantities noticed. In general, the larger the lowest unity employed the greater will be the apparent agreement amongst the differences. Thus, if, in the transit of stars near the pole, the times of passing the wires were only registered to the nearest minute, the intervals would almost certainly be equal. There is another circumstance, about which there is some difficulty. It is understood that the same instrument,--the thirty-inch transit, was employed by Lieutenant Foster; and it has not been stated that the wires were changed, although this has most probably been the case. Now, in the transits which the later observer has given, he has found it necessary to correct for a considerable inequality between the first and second wires (See Phil. Trans. 1827). If an erroneous impression has gone abroad on this subject, it is doing a service to science to insure its correction, by drawing attention to it.
Should these observations be confirmed by other observers, it would seem to follow that the use of a chronometer renders a transit more exact, and therefore that it ought to be used in observatories.
Among the instruments employed by Captain Sabine, was a repeating circle of six inches diameter, made by order of the Board of Longitude, for the express purpose of ascertaining how far repeating instruments might be diminished in size:--a most important subject, on which the Board seem to have entertained a very commendable degree of anxiety.The following extract from the "Pendulum Experiments" is important:
"The repeating circle was made by the direction, and at the expense of the Board of Longitude, for the purpose of exemplifying the principle of repetition when applied to a circle of so small a diameter as six inches, carrying a telescope of seven inches focal length, and one inch aperture; and of practically ascertaining the degree of accuracy which might be retained, whilst the portability of the instrument should be increased, by a reduction in the size to half the amount which had been previously regarded by the most eminent artists as the extreme limit of diminution to which repeating circles, designed for astronomical purposes, ought to be carried.
"The practical value of the six-inch repeating circle may be estimated, by comparing the differences of the partial results from the mean at each station, with the correspondence of any similar collection of observations made with a circle, on the original construction, and of large dimensions; such, for instance, as the latitudes of the stations of the French are, recorded in the Base du Systeme Metrique: when, if due allowance be made for the extensive experience and great skill of the distinguished persons who conducted the French observations, the comparison will scarcely appear to the disadvantage of the smaller circle, even if extended generally through all the stations of the present volume; but if it be particularly
directed to Maranham and Spitzbergen,--at which stations the partial results were more numerous than elsewhere, and obtained with especial regard to every circumstance by which their accuracy might be affected, the performance of the six-inch circle will appear fully equal to that of circles of the larger dimension. The comparison with the two stations, at which a more than usual attention was bestowed, is the more appropriate, because it was essential to the purposes for which the latitudes of the French stations were required, that the observations should always be conducted with the utmost possible regard to accuracy.
"It would appear, therefore, that in a repeating circle of six inches, the disadvantages of a smaller image enabling a less precise contact or bisection, and of an arch of less radius admitting of a less minute subdivision, may be compensated by the principle of repetition."
Captain Sabine has pointed out Maranham and Spitzbergen as places most favourable to the comparison. Let us take the former of these places, and compare the observations made there with the small repeating instrument of six inches diameter, with those made by the French astronomers at Formentera, with a repeating circle of forty-one centi-metres, or about sixteen inches in diameter, made by Fortin. It is singular that this instrument was directed, by the French Board of Longitude, to be made expressly for this survey, and the French astronomers paid particular attention to it, from the circumstance of some doubts having been entertained respecting the value of the principle of repetition.
The following series of observations were made with the two instruments. [I have chosen the inferior meridian altitude of Polaris, merely because the number of sets of observations are rather fewer. The difference between the extremes of the altitude of Polaris, deduced from sets taken above the pole by the same observers, amounts to seven seconds and a half.]Latitude deduced from Polaris, with a repeating circle, 16 inches diameter.--BASE DU SYSTEME METRIQUE, tom. iv. p. 376. 1807. Number of Latitude Names of Observers. Observations. of Formentera.
deg. min. sec.
64 38 39 55.3 Biot 100 54.7 Arago
120 56.7 Arago 84 54.9 Biot
100 56.5 Arago
102 57.1 Arago 80 54.5 Biot 88 53.3 Arago 90 53.6 Arago 88 53.8 Arago 92 53.7 Arago 42 55.6 Chaix 90 54.1 Chaix 80 53.9 Arago
deg. min. sec.
alpha Lyrae 8 2 31 42.4 Capt. Sabine alpha Lyrae 12 43.8 Ditto alpha Pavonis 10 44.5 Ditto alpha Lyrae 12 44.6 Ditto alpha Cygni 12 42.1 Ditto alpha Gruris 12 42.2 Ditto
In comparing these results, although the French observations were more than twenty times as numerous as the English, yet the deviations of the individual sets from the mean are greater. One second and three-tenths is the greatest deviation from the mean of the Maranham observations; whilst the greatest deviation of those of Formentera, is two seconds and two-tenths. If this mode of comparison should be thought unfair, on account of the greater number of the sets in the French observations, let any six, in succession, of those sets be taken, and compared with the six English sets; and it will be found that in no one instance is the greatest deviation from the mean of the whole of the observations less than in those of Maranham. It must also be borne in mind, that by the latitude deduced by the mean of 1250 superior culminations of Polaris by the same observers, the latitude of Formentera was found to be 38deg. 39min 57.07sec., a result differing by 2.14sec. from the mean of the 1318 inferior culminations given above. [This difference cannot be accounted for by any difference in the tables of refraction, as neither the employment of those of Bradley, of Piazzi, of the French, of Groombridge, of Young, of Ivory, of Bessel, or of Carlini, would make a difference of two-tenths of a second.]
These facts alone ought to have awakened the attention of Captain Sabine, and of those who examined and officially pronounced on the merits of his observations; for, supposing the skill of the observers equal, it seems a necessary consequence that "the performance of the six-inch circle is" not merely "fully equal to that of circles of larger dimensions," but that it is decidedly SUPERIOR to one of sixteen inches in diameter.
This opinion did indeed gain ground for a time; but, fortunately for astronomy, long after these observations were made, published, and rewarded, Captain Kater, having borrowed the same instrument, discovered that the divisions of its level, which Captain Sabine had considered to be equal to one second each, were, in fact, more nearly equal to eleven seconds, each one being 10.9sec. This circumstance rendered necessary a recalculation of all the observations made with that instrument: a re-calculation which I am not aware Captain Sabine has ever thought it necessary to publish. [Above two hundred sets of observations with this instrument are given in the work alluded to. It can never be esteemed satisfactory merely to state the mean results of the corrections arising from this error: for the confidence to be attached to that mean will depend on the nature of the deviations from it.]
This is the more to be regretted, as it bears upon a point of considerable importance to navigation; and if it should have caused any alteration in his opinion as to the comparative merits of great and small instruments, it might have been expected from a gentleman, who was expressly directed by the Board of Longitude, to try the question with an instrument constructed for that especial purpose.
Finding that this has not been done by the person best qualified for the task, perhaps a few remarks from one who has no pretensions to familiarity with the instrument, may tend towards elucidating this interesting question.The following table gives the latitudes as corrected for the error of level: Station. Star Latitude Latitude Diffeby Capt. corrected for rence Sabine error of level. deg.min.sec. deg.min.sec. sec. Sierra Leone Sirius 8 29 27.9 8 29 34.7 6.8 Ascension Alph.Centuri 7 55 46.7 7 55 40.1 6.6
Bahia Alph.Lyrae 12 59 19.4 12 59 21.4 2.0 Alph.Lyrae 21.2 58 49.8 31.4 Alph.Pavonis 22.4 59 5.1 17.3
Maranham Alph.Lyrae 2 31 42.4 2 31 22 20.4 Alph.Lyrae 43.8 31.8 12.0 Alph.Pavonis 44.5 44 .5 Alph.Lyrae 44.6 42.6 2.0 Alph.Cygni 42.1 39.2 2.9 Alph.Gruris 42.2 27.4 14.8
Trinidad Achernar 10 38 56.1 10 38 58.2 2.1 Alph.Gruris 52.2 50.8 1.4 Achernar 59.3 56.6 2.7Jamaica Polaris 17 56 8.6 17 56 4.6 4.0 6.6 3.3 3.3
New York Sun 40 42 40.1 40 42 44.6 4.5 Polaris 48.9 38.2 10.7 Sun 41.4 47.2 5.8 Beta Urs.Min. 42.3 58.4 16.1Hammerfest Sun 70 40 5.3 70 40 7.2 1.9
Spitzbergen Sun 79 49 56.1 79 49 58.6 2.5 Sun 55.9 44.8 11.1 Sun 58.6 52.7 5.9 Sun 59.3 51.6 7.7 Sun 55.8 51.6 4.2 Sun 50 1.5 57.0 4.5Greenland Sun 74 32 19.9 74 32 32.4 12.4 Sun 17.9 18.7 0.8 Drontheim Sun 63 25 51.3 63 26 6.1 14.8 Alph.Urs.Min. 57.2 49.4 7.8
This presents a very different view of the latitudes as
determined by the small repeating circle, from that in Captain
Sabine's book; and confining ourselves still to Maranham, where
the latitudes "WERE OBTAINED, WITH ESPECIAL REGARD TO EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE BY WHICH THEIR ACCURACY MIGHT BE AFFECTED," and where "A MORE THAN USUAL ATTENTION WAS BESTOWED," it appears, that if we take Captain Sabine's own test, namely, "the
differences of the partial results from the mean at each
station," the deviations become nearly ten times as large as they were before; a circumstance which might be expected to have some influence in the decision of the question.
There is, however, another light in which it is impossible to avoid looking at this singular oversight. The second column of the table of latitudes must now be considered the true one, as that which really resulted from the observations. Now, on examining the column of true latitudes, the differences between the different sets of observations is so considerable as naturally to excite some fear of latent error, more especially as nearly the greatest discordance arises from the same star, Alph.Lyrae, observed after an interval of only three days. It becomes interesting to every person engaged in making astronomical observations, to know what is the probability of his being exposed to an error so little to be guarded against, and so calculated to lull the suspicions of the unfortunate astronomer to whom it may happen.
In fact, the question resolves itself into this: the true latitude of a place being determined by sets of observations as in the first of the following columns-Latitudes as True latitudes observed. computed by a mistake of Capt. Sabine's.
deg.min.sec. deg.min.sec. Alph.Lyrae, 28th Aug. . . . 2 31 22.0 2 31 42.4 Alph.Lyrae, 29th Aug. . . . 31.8 43.8 Alph.Pavonis, 29th Aug. . . 44,0 44.5 Alph.Lyrae, 31st Aug. . . . 42.6 44.6 Alph.Cygni, 31st Aug. . . . 39.2 42.0 Alph.Gruris, 2d Sept. . . . 27.4 42.2
what are the chances that, by one error all the latitudes in the first column should be brought so nearly to an agreement as they are in the second column? The circumstance of the number of divisions of the level being almost arbitrary within limits, might perhaps be alleged as diminishing this extraordinary improbability: but let any one consider, if he choose the error of each set, as independent of the others, still he will find the odds against it enormous.
When it is considered that an error, almost arbitrary in its law, has thus had the effect of bringing discordant observations into an almost unprecedented accordance, as at Maranham; and not merely so, but that at eight of the nine stations it has
uniformly tended to diminish the differences between the partial results, and that at the ninth station it only increased it by a small fraction of a second, I cannot help feeling that it is more probable even that Captain Kater, with all his admitted skill, and that Captain Sabine himself, should have been both mistaken in their measures of the divisions of the level, than that so singular an effect should have been produced by one error; and I cannot bring myself to believe that such an anticipation is entirely without foundation.
Whatever may be the result of a re-examination, it was a singular oversight NOT TO MEASURE the divisions of a level intended to be used for determining so important a question; more particularly as, in the very work to which reference was made by Captain
Sabine for the purpose of comparing the observations, it was the very first circumstance which occupied the French philosophers, and several pages [See pages 265 to 275 of the RECUEIL
D'OBSERVATIONS GEODESIQUES, &c. PAR MM. BIOT ET ARAGO, which forms the fourth volume of the BASE DU SYSTEME METRIQUE.] are filled with the details relative to the determination of the
value of the divisions of the level. It would also have been
satisfactory, with such an important object in view, to have read off some of the sets after each pair of observations, in order to see how far the system of repetition made the results gradually converge to a limit, and in order to know how many repetitions were sufficient. Such a course would almost certainly have led to a knowledge of the true value of the divisions of the level;
for the differences in the altitude of the same star, after a few
minutes of time, must, in many instances, have been far too great to have arisen from the change of its altitude: and had these
been noticed, they must have been referred to some error in the instrument, which could scarcely, in such circumstances, have escaped detection.
I have now mentioned a few of the difficulties which attend Captain Sabine's book on the pendulum, difficulties which I am far from saying are inexplicable. He would be bold indeed who, after so wonderful an instance of the effect of chance as I have been just discussing, should venture to pronounce another such accident impossible; but I think enough has been said to show, that the feeling which so generally prevails relative to it, is neither captious nor unreasonable.
Enough also has appeared to prove, that the conduct of the Admiralty in appointing that gentleman one of their scientific advisers, was, under the peculiar circumstances, at least, unadvised. They have thus lent, as far as they could, the weight of their authority to support observations which are now found to be erroneous. They have thus held up for imitation observations which may induce hundreds of meritorious officers to throw aside their instruments, in the despair of ever approaching a standard which is since admitted to be imaginary; and they have ratified the doctrine, for I am not aware their official adviser has ever even modified it, that diminutive instruments are equal almost to the largest.
To what extent this doctrine is correct, may perhaps yet admit of doubt. It cannot, however, admit of a doubt, that it is unwise to crown it with official authority, and thus expose the officers of their service to depend on means which may be quite insufficient for their purpose.
How the Board of Longitude, after EXPRESSLY DIRECTING THIS INSTRUMENT TO BE MADE AND TRIED, could come to the decision at which they arrived, appears inexplicable. The known difference of opinion amongst the best observers respecting the repeating principle, ought to have rendered them peculiarly cautious, nor ought the opinion of a Troughton, that instruments of less than one foot in diameter may be considered, "FOR ASTRONOMY, AS LITTLE BETTER THAN PLAYTHINGS," [Memoirs of the Astronomical Society, Vol.I. p.53.] to have been rejected without the most carefully detailed experiments. There were amongst that body, persons who must have examined minutely the work on the Pendulum. Captain Kater must have felt those difficulties in the perusal of it
which other observers have experienced; and he who was placed in the Board of Longitude especially for his knowledge of
instruments, might, in a few hours, have arrived at more decisive facts. But perhaps I am unjust. Captain Kater's knowledge
rendered it impossible for him to have been ignorant of the
difficulties, and his candour would have prevented him from concealing them: he must, therefore, after examining the
subject, have been outvoted by his lay-brethren who had dispensed with that preliminary.
It would be unjust, before quitting this subject, not to mention with respect the acknowledgment made by an officer of the naval service of the errors into which he also fell from this same level. Lieutenant Foster, aware of the many occasions on which Captain Sabine had employed this instrument, and knowing that he considered each division as equal to one second, never thought that a doubt could exist on the subject, and made all his calculations accordingly. When Captain Kater made him acquainted with the mistake, Lieutenant Foster immediately communicated a paper [The paper of Lieutenant Foster is printed in the
Philosophical Transactions, 1827, p.122, and is worth
consulting.] to the Royal Society, in which he states the circumstance most fully, and recomputed all the observations in which that instrument was used. Unfortunately, from the original observations of Mr. Ross being left on board the Fury at the time of her loss, the transcripts of his results could not be
recomputed like the rest, and were consequently useless.
Although the number of situations to which persons conversant with science may hope to be appointed, is small, yet it has somewhat singularly happened, that instances of one individual, holding more than one such appointment, are frequent. Not to speak of those held by the late Dr. Young, we have at present:-MR. POND--Astronomer Royal, Inspector of Chronometers, and Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac.
CAPTAIN SABINE -- An officer of artillery on leave of absence from his regiment; Secretary of the Royal Society; and Scientific Adviser of the Admiralty.
MR. BRANDE--Clerk of the Irons at the Royal Mint; Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution; Analyser of Rough Nitre, &c. to the East-India Company; Lecturer on Materia Medica, Apothecaries' Hall; Superintending Chemical Operator at ditto; Lecturer on Chemistry at ditto; Editor of the Royal Institution Journal; and Foreign Secretary to the Royal Society.
One should be led to imagine, from these unions of scientific offices, either that science is too little paid, and that gentlemen cannot be found to execute the offices separately at the salaries offered; or else, that it is too well paid, since each requires such little attention, that almost any number can be executed by one person.
The Director of the Royal Observatory has a larger and better collection of instruments, and more assistants to superintend, than any other astronomer in the world; and, to do it properly, would require the almost undivided attention of a man in the vigour of youth. Nor would a superintendent of the Nautical Almanac, if he made a point of being acquainted with every thing connected with his subject, find his situation at all a sinecure. Slight as are the duties of the Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, it might have been supposed that Mr. Brande would scarcely, amongst his multifarious avocations, have found time even for them. But it may be a consolation to him to know, that from the progress the Society is making, those duties must become shortly, if they are not already, almost extinct.
Doubtless the President, in making that appointment, looked most anxiously over the list of the Royal Society. He doubtless knew that the Academics of Sweden, of Denmark, of Scotland, of Prussia, of Hanover, and of France, derived honour from the discoveries of their Secretaries;--that they prided themselves in the names of Berzelius, of Oersted, of Brewster, of Encke, of Gauss, and of Cuvier. Doubtless the President must have been ambitious that England should contribute to this galaxy of glory, that the Royal Society should restore the lost Pleiad [Pleiades, an assemblage of seven stars in the neck of the constellation Taurus. There are now only six of them visible to the naked eye.--HUTTON'S DICTIONARY--Art. Pleiades.] to the admiring science of Europe. But he could discover no kindred name amongst the ranks of his supporters, and forgot, for a moment, the interest of the Society, in an amiable consideration for the feelings of his surrounding friends. For had the President chosen a brighter star, the lustre of his other officers might have been overpowered by its splendour: but relieved from the pain of such a contrast, he may still retain the hope, that, by their united brightness, these suns of his little system shall yet afford sufficient light to be together visible to distant nations, as a faint NEBULA in the obscure horizon of English science.SECTION 6. OF THE FUNDS OF THE SOCIETY.
Although the Society is not in a state approaching to poverty, it may be useful to offer a few remarks respecting the distribution of its money.
EXPENSE OF ENGRAVINGS FOR SIR E. HOME'S PAPERS.--The great expense of the engravings which adorn the volumes of the Philosophical Transactions, is not sufficiently known. That many of those engravings are quite essential for the papers they illustrate, and that those papers are fit for the Transactions, I do not doubt; but, some inquiry is necessary, when such large sums are expended. I shall endeavour, therefore, to approximate to the sum these engravings have cost the Royal Society.
Previous to 1810, there are upwards of seventy plates to papers of Sir E. Home's; in many of these, which I have purposely separated, the workmanship is not so minute as in the succeeding ones. Since 1810, there have occurred 187 plates attached to papers of the same author. Many of these have cost from twelve to twenty guineas each plate; but I shall take five pounds as the average cost of the first portion, and twelve as that of the latter. This would produce,
70 X 5 = 350
187 X 12 = 2244
As this is only proposed as a rough approximation, let us omit the odd hundreds, and we have two thousand pounds expended in plates only on ONE branch of science, and for one person! Without calling in question the importance of the discoveries contained in those papers, it may be permitted to doubt whether such a large sum might not have been expended in a manner more beneficial to science. Not being myself conversant with those subjects, I can only form an opinion of the value from extraneous circumstances. Had their importance been at all equal to their number, I should have expected to have heard amongst the learned of other countries much more frequent mention of them than I have done, and even the Council of the Royal Society would scarcely have excluded from their Transactions one of those productions which they had paid for as a lecture.
It might also have been more delicate not to have placed on the Council so repeatedly a gentleman, for whose engravings they were annually expending, during the last twenty years, about an hundred pounds. On the other hand, when the Council lent Sir E. Home the whole of those valuable plates to take off impressions for his large work on Comparative Anatomy, of which they constitute almost the whole, it might have been as well not to have obliterated from each plate all indication of the source to which he was indebted for them.
THE PRESIDENT'S DISCOURSES.--I shall mention this circumstance, because it fell under my own observation.
Observing in the annual accounts a charge of 381L 5s. for the President's Speeches, I thought it right to inquire into the nature of this item. Happening to be on the Council the next year, I took an opportunity, at an early meeting of that Council, to ask publicly for an explanation of the following resolution, which stands in the Council-books for Dec. 21, 1828.
"Resolved, That 500 copies of the President's Discourses, about to be printed by Mr. Murray, be purchased by the Society, at the usual trade price."
The answer given to that question was, "THAT THE COUNCIL HAD AGREED TO PURCHASE THESE VOLUMES AT THAT PRICE, IN ORDER TO INDUCE MR. MURRAY TO PRINT THE PRESIDENT'S SPEECHES."I remarked at the time that such an answer was quite unsatisfactory, as the following statement will prove. The volume consists of 160 pages, or twenty sheets, and the following prices are very liberal: L s. d. To composing and printing twenty sheets, at
3L. per sheet........... .... 60 0 0
Twenty reams of paper, at 3L. per ream ..... 60 0 0 Corrections, alterations, &c. ......... 30 0 0
Now upon the subject of the expense of printing, the Council could not plead ignorance. The Society are engaged in printing, and in paying printers' bills, too frequently to admit of such an excuse; and several of the individual members must have known, from their own private experience, that the cost of printing such a volume was widely different from that they were about to pay, as an inducement to a bookseller to print it on his own account. Here, then, was a sum of above two hundred pounds beyond what was necessary for the object, taken from the funds of the Royal Society; and for what purpose? Did the President and his officers ever condescend to explain this transaction to the Council; or were they expected, as a matter of course, to
sanction any thing proposed to them? Could they have been so weak, or so obedient, as to order the payment of above three hundred and eighty pounds, to induce a bookseller to do what they might have done themselves for less than half the sum? Or did they wish to make Mr. Murray a present of two hundred pounds? If so, he must have had powerful friends in the Council, and it is fit the Society should know who they were; for they were not friends, either to its interests or to its honour.
The copies, so purchased, were ordered by the Council to be sold to members of the Society at 15s. each: (the trade price is 15s. 3d.) and out of the five hundred copies twenty-seven only have been sold: the remainder encumber our shelves. Thus, after four years, the Society are still losers of three hundred and sixty Pounds on this transaction.
ON THE CONVERSION OF THE GREENWICH OBSERVATIONS INTO PASTEBOARD.
--Although the printing of these observations is not paid for out of the funds of the Royal Society, yet as the Council of that body are the visitors of the Royal Observatory, it may not be misplaced to introduce the subject here.
Some years since, a member of the Royal Society accidentally learned, that there was, at an old store-shop in Thames Street, a large quantity of the volumes of the Greenwich Observations on sale as waste paper. On making inquiry, he ascertained that there were two tons and a half to be disposed of, and that an equal quantity had already been sold, for the purpose of converting it into pasteboard. The vendor said he could get fourpence a pound for the whole, and that it made capital Bristol board. The fact was mentioned by a member of the Council of the Royal Society, and they thought it necessary to inquire into the circumstances.
Now, the Observations made at the Royal Observatory are printed with every regard to typographical luxury, with large margins, on thick paper, hotpressed, and with no sort of regard to economy. This magnificence is advocated by some who maintain, that the volumes ought to be worthy of a great nation; whilst others, seeing how little that nation spends on science, regret that the sums allotted to it should not be applied with the strictest economy. If the Astronomer Royal really has a right to these volumes, printed by the government at a large expense, it is, perhaps, the most extravagant mode which was ever yet invented of paying a public servant. When that right was given to him,--let us suppose somebody had suggested the impolicy of it, lest he should sell the costly volumes for waste paper,--who would have listened for one moment to such a supposition? He would have been told that it was impossible to suppose a person in that high and responsible situation, could be so indifferent to his own
A short time since, I applied to the President and Council of the Royal Society, for copies of the Greenwich Observations, which were necessary for an inquiry on which I was at that time engaged. Being naturally anxious to economize the small funds I can devote to science, the request appeared to me a reasonable one. It was, however, refused; and I was at the same time informed that the Observations could be purchased at the bookseller's. [This was a mistake; Mr. Murray has not copies of the Greenwich Observations prior to 1823.] When I consider that practical astronomy has not occupied a very prominent place in my pursuits, I feel disposed, on that ground, to acquiesce in the propriety of the refusal. This excuse can, however, be of no avail for similar refusals to other gentlemen, who applied nearly at the same time with myself, and whose time had been successfully devoted to the cultivation of that science. [M. Bessel, at the wish of the Royal Academy of Berlin, projected a plan for making a very extensive map of the heavens. Too vast for any individual to attempt, it was proposed that a portion should be executed by the astronomers of various countries, and invitations to this effect were widely circulated. One only of the divisions of this map was applied for by any English astronomer; and, after completing the portion of the map assigned to him, he undertook another, which had remained unprovided for. This gentleman, the Rev. Mr. Hussey, was one of the rejected applicants for the Greenwich Observations.]
There was, however, another ground on which I had weakly anticipated a different result;--but those who occupy official situations, rendered remarkable by the illustrious names of their predecessors, are placed in no enviable station; and, if their own acquirements are confessedly insufficient to keep up the high authority of their office, they must submit to the mortifications of their false position. I am sure, therefore, that the
President and officers of the Royal Society must have sympathized MOST DEEPLY with me, when they felt it their duty to propose that the Society over which Newton once presided, should refuse so trifling an assistance to the unworthy possessor of the chair he once filled.
In reply to my application to the President and Council, to be allowed a copy of the Greenwich Observations, I was informed that, "The number of copies placed by government at the disposal of the Royal Society, was insufficient to supply the demands made on them by various learned bodies in Europe; and, consequently, they were unable, however great their inclination, to satisfy the wishes of individual applicants." Now I have spent some time in searching the numerous proceedings in the council-books of the Royal Society, and I believe the following is the real state of the case:-
In 1785, Lord Sidney, one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, wrote to the Council a letter, dated Whitehall, March 8, 1785, from which the following is extracted:-
"The King has been pleased to consent, that any copies of the Astronomical Observations, made at the Observatory of Greenwich, (and paid for by the Board of Ordnance, pursuant to His Majesty's command, of July 21, 1767,) which may at any time remain in the hands of the printer, shall, after you have reserved such copies as you may think proper as presents, be given to the said Nevil Maskelyne, in consideration of his trouble in the superintending the printing thereof. I am to signify His Majesty's pleasure, that you do, from time to time, give the necessary orders for that purpose, until His Majesty's further commands shall be communicated to you.Soon after this letter, I find on the council-books:-
"Ordered, That sixty copies of the Greenwich Observations, last published, be retained as presents, and that the rest be delivered to the Astronomer Royal."
It is difficult to be sure of a negative fact, but in searching many volumes of the Proceedings of the Council, I have not discovered any revocation of this order, and I believe none exists. This is confirmed by the circumstance of the Council at the present day receiving precisely the same number of copies as their predecessors, and I believe that in fact they do not know the authority on which the right to those sixty rests.
Supposing this order unrevoked, it was clearly meant to be left to the discretion of the Council, to order such a number to be reserved, "from time to time," as the demands of science might require. When, therefore, they found that the number of sixty copies was insufficient, they ought to have directed the printer to send them a larger number; but when they found out the purpose to which the Astronomer Royal applied them, they ought immediately to have ordered nearly the whole impression, in order to prevent this destruction of public property. If, on the other hand, the above order is revoked, and we really have no right to more than sixty copies; then, on discovering the Observations in their progress towards pasteboard, it was the duty of the Council of the Royal Society, as visitors of the Royal Observatory, immediately to have represented to Government the evil of the arrangement, and to have suggested, that if the Astronomer Royal have the right, it would be expedient to commute it for a liberal compensation.
Whichever be the true view of the case, they have taken no steps on the subject; and I cannot help expressing my belief, that the President and Council were induced to be thus negligent of the interests of science, from the fear of interfering with the perquisites of the Astronomer Royal.
It is, however, but justice to observe, that the injury already done to science, by the conversion of these Observations into pasteboard, is not so great as the public might have feared. Mr. Pond, than whom no one can be supposed better acquainted with their value, and whose right to judge no man can question, has shown his own opinion to be, that his reputation will be best consulted by diminishing the extent of their circulation.
Before I quit the subject of the Royal Observatory, on which much might be said, I will just refer to the report by a Committee of the Royal Society that was made relative to it, some years since, and which, it is imagined, is a subject by no means grateful to the memory of any of the parties concerned in it. My object is to ascertain, whether any amendments have taken place in consequence. To one fact of considerable importance, I was myself a witness, when I was present officially at a visitation. At that time, no original observations made at the transit instrument were ever preserved. Had I not been an eye witness of the process of an observation, I should not have credited the fact.SECTION 7. OF THE ROYAL MEDALS.
At a period when the attention of Government to science had not undergone any marked change, a most unexpected occurrence took place. His Majesty intimated to the Royal Society, through his Secretary of State, his intention to found two gold medals, of the value of fifty guineas each, to be awarded annually by the Council of the Royal Society, according to the rules they were desired to frame for that purpose.The following is the copy of Mr. Peel's letter:- WHITEHALL, December 3d, 1825. SIR,
I am commanded by the King to acquaint you, that His Majesty proposes to found two gold medals, of the value of fifty guineas each, to be awarded as honorary premiums, under the direction of the President and Council of the Royal Society, in such a manner as shall, by the excitement of competition among men of science, seem best calculated to promote the object for which the Royal Society was instituted.
His Majesty desires to receive from the President and Council of the Royal Society their opinion upon the subject generally of the regulations which it may be convenient to establish with regard to the appropriation of the medals; and I have, therefore, to request that you will make the necessary communication to the Council of the Royal Society, in order that His Majesty's wishes may be carried into effect.I have the honour to be, &c. &c. (Signed) R. PEEL.
Nothing could be more important for the interests of science, than this gracious manifestation of His Majesty's concern for its advancement. It was hailed by all who were made acquainted with it, as the commencement of a new era, and the energies which it might have awakened were immense. The unfettered nature of the gift excited admiration, whilst the confidence reposed in the Council was calculated to have insured the wavering faith of any less-gifted body. Even those who, either from knowing the MANAGEMENT of the Society, or from other grounds, doubted the policy of establishing medals, saw much to admire in the tone and spirit in which they were offered.