Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Decline of Science in England by Charles Babbage

Part 2 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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,

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
QUALIFICATIONS OF THE PERSONS CHOSEN," whilst he delicately hints
to them their dependent situation, by observing, that the

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
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

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
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

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

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

"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

"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

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
10 56.2 Biot
88 56.9 Biot
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

Mean of 1318 Observations, 38deg. 39min. 54.93sec.


Sets of Observations made with a six-inch repeating circle, at

Star. Number of Latitude Observer.
Observations. deduced.

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

Mean latitude deduced from 66 observations 2deg. 31min 43.3sec.

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 Diffe-
by 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 2.7

Jamaica 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 16.1

Hammerfest 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 4.5

Greenland 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
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
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



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 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
...... -----
...... L2594

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

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

Total cost of 500 copies ...... 150 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.

--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

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

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



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

WHITEHALL, December 3d, 1825.


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.

The Council immediately came to the resolution of gratefully
accepting them: and it appears that the President communicated
that resolution, on the 26th, to Mr. Peel, in a letter, which is
found on the minutes of the Council-book of the 26th of January.

At the same Council, the rules for the award of the Royal medals
were decided upon; they were as follow:--

26th January, 1826.


That it is the opinion of the Council, that the medals be awarded
for the most important discoveries or series of investigations,
completed and made known to the Royal Society in the year
preceding the day of their award.

That it is the opinion of the Council, that the presentation of
the medals should not be limited to British subjects. And they
propose, if it should be His Majesty's pleasure, that his effigy
should form the obverse of the medal.

That two medals from the same die should be struck upon each
foundation; one in gold, one in silver.

If these rules are not the wisest which might have been formed,
yet they are tolerably explicit; and it might have been imagined
that even a councillor of the Royal Society, prepared for office
by the education of a pleader, could not have mystified his
brethren so completely, as to have made them doubt on the point
of time. The rules fixed precisely, that the discoveries or
experiments rewarded, must be completed and made known to the
Royal Society, within the YEAR PRECEDING THE DAY of the award.

Perhaps it might have been a proper mark of respect to this
communication, to have convened a special general meeting of the
Society, to have made known to the whole body the munificent
endowment of their Patron: and when his approbation of the laws
which were to govern the distribution of these medals had been
intimated to the Council, such a course would have been in
complete accordance with the wish expressed in Mr. Peel's letter,
generally known.

Let us now examine the first award of these medals: it is
recorded in the following words:--

November 16, 1826.

ONE of the medals of His Majesty's donation for the present year
was awarded to John Dalton, Esq. President of the Philosophical
and Literary Society, Manchester, for his development of the
Atomic Theory, and his other important labours and discoveries in
physical science.

The other medal for the present year was awarded to James Ivory,
Esq. for his paper on Astronomical Refractions, published in the
Philosophical Transactions for the year 1823, and his other
valuable papers on mathematical subjects.

The Copley medal was awarded to James South, Esq. for his
observations of double stars, and his paper on the discordances
between the sun's observed and computed right ascensions,
published in the Transactions.

It is difficult to believe that the same Council, which, in
January, formed the laws for the distribution of these medals,
should meet together in November, and in direct violation of
these laws, award them to two philosophers, one of whom had made,
and fully established, his great discovery almost twenty years
before; and the other of whom (to stultify themselves still more
effectually) they expressly rewarded for a paper made known to
them three years before.

Were the rules for the award of these medals read previous to
their decision? Or were the obedient Council only used to
register the edict of their President? Or were they mocked, as
they have been in other instances, with the semblance of a free

Has it never occurred to gentlemen who have been thus situated,
that although they have in truth had no part in the decision, yet
the Society and the public will justly attribute a portion of the
merit or demerit of their award, to those to whom that trust was

Did no one member of the Council venture, with the most
submissive deference, to suggest to the President, that the
public eye would watch with interest this first decision on the
Royal medals, and that it might perhaps be more discreet to
adjudge them, for the first time, in accordance with the laws
which had been made for their distribution? Or was public
opinion then held in supreme contempt? Was it scouted, as I have
myself heard it scouted, in the councils of the Royal Society?

Or was the President exempt, on this occasion, from the
responsibility of dictating an award in direct violation of the
faith which had been pledged to the Society and to the public?
and, did the Council, intent on exercising a power so rarely
committed to them; and, perhaps, urged by the near approach of
their hour of dinner, dispense with the formality of reading the
laws on which they were about to act?

Whatever may have been the cause, the result was most calamitous
to the Society. Its decision was attacked on other grounds; for,
with a strange neglect, the Council had taken no pains to make
known, either to the Society, or to the public, the rules they
had made for the adjudication of these medals.

The evils resulting from this decision were many. In the first
place, it was most indecorous and ungrateful to treat with such
neglect the rules which had been approved by our Royal Patron.
In the next place, the medals themselves became almost worthless
from this original taint: and they ceased to excite "competition
amongst men of science," because no man could feel the least
security that he should get them, even though his discoveries
should fulfil all the conditions on which they were offered,

The great injury which accrued to science from this proceeding,
induced me, in the succeeding session, when I found myself on the
Council of the Royal Society, to endeavour to remove the stigma
which rested on our character. Whether I took the best means to
remedy the evil is now a matter of comparatively little
consequence: had I found any serious disposition to set it
right, I should readily have aided in any plans for doing that
which I felt myself bound to attempt, even though I should stand
alone, as I had the misfortune of doing on that occasion. [It is
but justice to Mr. South, who was a member of that Council, to
state, that the circumstance of his having had the Copley medal
of the same year awarded to him, prevented him from taking any
part in the discussion.]

The impression which the whole of that discussion made on my mind
will never be effaced. Regarding the original rules formed for
the distribution of the Royal medals, when approved by his
Majesty, as equally binding in honour and in justice, I viewed
the decision of the Council, which assigned those medals to Mr.
Dalton and Mr. Ivory, as void, IPSO FACTO, on the ground that it
was directly at variance with that part which CONFINES the medals
to discoveries made known to the Society within ONE YEAR PREVIOUS
TO THE DAY OF THEIR AWARD. I therefore moved the following

"1st, That the award of the Royal medals, made on the 16th of
November, 1826, being contrary to the conditions under which they
were offered, is invalid.

"2dly, That the sum of fifty guineas each be presented to J.
Dalton, Esq. and James Ivory, Esq. from the funds of the Society;
and that letters be written to each of those gentlemen,
expressing the hope of the Council that this, the only method
which is open to them of honourably fulfilling their pledges,
will be received by those gentlemen as a mark of the high sense
entertained by the Council of the importance and value of their
discoveries, which require not the aid of medals to convey their
reputation to posterity, as amongst the greatest which
distinguished the age in which they lived."

It may be curious to give the public a specimen of the reasoning
employed in so select a body of philosophers as the Council of
the Royal Society. It was contended, on the one hand, that
although the award was SOMEWHAT IRREGULAR, yet nothing was more
easy than to set it right. As the original rules for giving the
medals were merely an order of the Council,-- it would only be
necessary to alter them, and then the award would agree perfectly
with the laws. On the other hand, it was contended, that the
original rules were unknown to the public and to the Society; and
that, in fact, they were only known to the members of the Council
and a few of their friends; and therefore the award was no breach
of faith.

All comment on such reasoning is needless. That such propositions
could not merely be offered, but could pass unreproved, is
sufficient to show that the feelings of that body do not
harmonize with those of the age; and furnishes some explanation
why several of the most active members of the Royal Society have
declined connecting their names with the Council as long as the
present system of management is pursued.

The little interest taken by the body of the Society, either in
its peculiar pursuits, or in the proceedings of the Council, and
the little communication which exists between them, is an evil.
Thus it happens that the deeds of the Council are rarely known to
the body of the Society, and, indeed, scarcely extend beyond that
small portion who frequent the weekly meetings. These pages will
perhaps afford the first notice to the great majority of the
Society of a breach of faith by their Council, which it is
impossible to suppose a body, consisting of more than six hundred
gentlemen, could have sanctioned.



An important distinction exists between scientific
communications, which seems to have escaped the notice of the
Councils of the Royal Society. They may contain discoveries of
new principles,-- of laws of nature hitherto unobserved; or they
may consist of a register of observations of known phenomena,
made under new circumstances, or in new and peculiar situations
on the face of our planet. Both these species of additions to
our knowledge are important; but their value and their rarity are
very different in degree. To make and to repeat observations,
even with those trifling alterations, which it is the fashion in
our country (in the present day) to dignify with the name of
discoveries, requires merely inflexible candour in recording
precisely the facts which nature has presented, and a power of
fixing the attention on the instruments employed, or phenomena
examined,--a talent, which can be much improved by proper
Instruction, and which is possessed by most persons of tolerable
abilities and education.* To discover new principles, and to
detect the undiscovered laws by which nature operates, is another
and a higher task, and requires intellectual qualifications of a
very different order: the labour of the one is like that of the
computer of an almanac; the inquiries of the other resemble more
the researches of the accomplished analyst, who has invented the
formula: by which those computations are performed.

[*That the use even of the large astronomical instruments in a
national observatory, does not require any very profound
acquirements, is not an opinion which I should have put forth
without authority. The Astronomer-Royal ought to be the best

On the minutes of the Council of the Royal Society, for April 6,
1826, with reference to the Assistants necessary for the two
mural circles, we find a letter from Mr. Pond on the subject,
from which the following passage is extracted:

"But to carry on such investigations, I want indefatigable,
hard-working, and above all, obedient drudges (for so I must call
them, although they are drudges of a superior order), men who
will be contented to pass half their day in using their hands and
eyes in the mechanical act of observing, and the remainder of it
in the dull process of calculation."]

Such being the distinction between the merits of these inquiries,
some difference ought to exist in the nature of any rewards that
may be proposed for their encouragement. The Royal Society have
never marked this difference, and consequently those: honorary
medals which are given to observations, gain a value which is due
to those that are given for discoveries; whilst these latter are
diminished in their estimation by such an association.

I have stated this distinction, because I think it a just one;
but the public would have little cause of complaint if this were
the only ground of objection to the mode of appropriating the
Society's medals. The first objection to be noticed, is the
indistinct manner in which the object for which the medals are
awarded is sometimes specified. A medal is given to A. B. "for
his various papers."

There are cases, few perhaps in number, where such a reason may
be admissible; but it is impossible not to perceive the weakness
of those who judge these matters legibly written in the phrase,
"and for his various other communications," which comes in as the
frequent tail-piece to these awards. With a diffidence in their
own powers, which might be more admired if it were more
frequently expressed, the Council think to escape through this
loop-hole, should the propriety of their judgment on the main
point be called in question. Thus, even the discovery which made
chemistry a science, has attached to it in their award this
feeble appendage.

It has been objected to the Royal Society, that their medals have
been too much confined to a certain set. When the Royal medals
were added to their patronage, the past distribution of the
Copley medals, furnished grounds to some of the journals to
predict the future possessors of the new ones. I shall,
doubtless, be told that the Council of the Royal Society are
persons of such high feeling, that it is impossible to suppose
their decision could be influenced by any personal motives. As I
may not have had sufficient opportunities, during the short time
I was a member of that Council, to enable me to form a fair
estimate, I shall avail myself of the judgment of one, from whom
no one will be inclined to appeal, who knew it long and
intimately, and who expressed his opinion deliberately and

The late Dr. Wollaston attached, as a condition to be observed in
the distribution of the interest of his munificent gift of
2,000L. to the Royal Society, the following clause:--"And I
hereby empower the said President, Council, and Fellows, after my
decease, in furtherance of the above declared objects of the
trust, to apply the said dividends to aid or reward any
individual or individuals of any country, SAVING ONLY THAT NO

Another improvement which might be suggested, is, that it is
generally inexpedient to vote a medal until the paper which
contains the discovery is at least read to the Society; perhaps
even it might not be quite unreasonable to wish that it should
have been printed, and consequently have been perused by some few
of those who have to decide on its merits. These trifles have
not always been attended to; and even so lately as the last year,
they escaped the notice of the President and his Council. The
Society was, however, indebted to the good sense of Mr. Faraday,
who declined the proffered medal; and thus relieved us from one
additional charge of precipitancy. [When this hasty adjudication
was thus put a stop to, one of the members of the Council
inquired, whether, as a Copley medal must by the will he annually
given, some other person might not be found deserving of it. To
which the Secretary replied, "We do not intend to give any this
year." All further discussion was thus silenced.]

Perhaps, also, as the Council are on some occasions apt to be
oblivious, it might be convenient that the President should read,
previously to the award of any medals or to the decision of any
other important subjects, the statutes relating to them. He
might perhaps propitiate their attention to them, by stating, HOW

If those who have been conversant with the internal management of
the Council, would communicate their information, something
curious might perhaps be learned respecting a few of these
medals. Concerning those of which I have had good means of
information, I shall merely state-- of three of them--that
whatever may have been the official reasons for their award, I
had ample reasons to convince me of the following being the true

First.--A medal was given to A, at a peculiarly inappropriate

Second.--Subsequently a medal was given to B, in order TO DESTROY

Third.--A medal was given to C, "BECAUSE WE THINK HE HAS BEEN ILL

I will now enter on an examination of one of their awards, which
was peculiarly injudicious. I allude to that concerning the mode
of rendering platina malleable. Respecting, as I did, the
illustrious philosopher who invented the art, and who has left
many other claims to the gratitude of mankind, I esteem it no
disrespect to his memory to place that subject in its proper

An invention in science or in art, may justly be considered as
possessing the rights of property in the highest degree. The
lands we inherit from our fathers, were cultivated ere they were
born, and yielded produce before they were cultivated. The
products of genius are the actual creations of the individual;
and, after yielding profit or honour to him, they remain the
permanent endowments of the human race. If the institutions of
our country, and the opinions of society, support us fully in the
absolute disposal of our fields, of which we can, by the laws of
nature, be only the transitory possessors, who shall justly
restrict our discretion in the disposal of those richer
possessions, the products of intellectual exertion?

Two courses are open to those individuals who are thus endowed
with Nature's wealth. They may lock up in their own bosoms the
mysteries they have penetrated, and by applying their knowledge
to the production of some substance in demand in commerce, thus
minister to the wants or comforts of their species, whilst they
reap in pecuniary profit the legitimate reward of their

It is open to them, on the other hand, to disclose the secret
they have torn from Nature, and by allowing mankind to
participate with them, to claim at once that splendid reputation
which is rarely refused to the inventors of valuable discoveries
in the arts of life.

The two courses are rarely compatible, only indeed when the
discoverer, having published his process, enters into equal
competition with other manufacturers.

If an individual adopt the first of these courses, and retaining
his secret, it perish with him, the world have no right to
complain. During his life, they profited by his knowledge, and
are better off than if the philosopher had not existed.

Monopolies, under the name of patents, have been devised to
assist and reward those who have chosen the line of pecuniary
profit. Honorary rewards and medals have been the feeble
expressions of the sentiments of mankind towards those who have
preferred the other course. But these have been, and should
always be, kept completely distinct. [It is a condition with the
Society of Arts, never to give a reward to any thing for which a
patent has been, or is to be, taken out.]

Let us now consider the case of platina. A new process was
discovered of rendering it malleable, and the mere circumstance
of so large a quantity having been sent into the market, was a
positive benefit, of no ordinary magnitude, to many of the arts.
The discoverer of this valuable process selected that course for
which no reasonable man could blame him; and from some
circumstance, or perhaps from accident, he preserved no written
record of the manipulations. Had Providence appointed for that
disorder, which terminated too fatally, a more rapid career, all
the knowledge he had acquired from the long attention he had
devoted to the subject, would have been lost to mankind. The
hand of a friend recorded the directions of the expiring
philosopher, whose anxiety to render useful even his unfinished
speculations, proves that the previous omission was most probably

Under such circumstances it was published to the world in the
Transactions of the Royal Society. But what could induce that
body to bestow on it their medal? To talk of adding lustre to
the name of Wollaston by their medal, is to talk idly. They must
have done it then as an example, as a stimulus to urge future
inquiries in the career of discovery. But did they wish
discoveries to be so endangered?

The discoveries of Professor Mitscherlick, of Berlin, had long
been considered, by a few members of the Society, as having
strong claims on one of its honorary rewards; but difficulties
had arisen, from so few members of the Council having any
knowledge of discoveries which had long been familiar to Europe.
The Council were just on the point of doing justice to the merits
of the Prussian philosopher, when it was suggested that its medal
should be given to Dr. Wollaston, and they immediately altered
their intention, and thus enabled themselves to reserve their
medal to Professor Mitscherlick for another year; at which
period, for aught they knew, his discoveries might possess the
additional merit of having been made prior to the limit allowed
by their regulations. That medal was, in fact, voted at a
meeting, at which no one member present was at all conversant
with the subjects rewarded. I shall, however, say no more on
this subject. They erred from feeling, an error so very rare
with them, that it might be pardoned even for its singularity.

I will, however, add one word to those whose censures have been
unjustly dealt, to those who have reproached the philosopher for
receiving pecuniary advantage from his inventions.

Amongst the many and varied contrivances for the demands of
science, or the arts of life, with which we were enriched by the
genius of Wollaston, was it too much to allow him to retain,
during his fleeting career, one out of the multitude, to furnish
that: pecuniary supply, without which, the man will want food
for his body, and the philosopher be destitute of tools for his
inventions? Had he been, as, from the rank he held in science,
he certainly would have been in other kingdoms, rich in the
honours his country could bestow, and receiving from her a reward
in some measure commensurate with his deserts,--then, indeed,
there might have been reason for that reproach; but I am
convinced that, in such circumstances, the philosopher would have
balanced, with no "niggard" hand, the claims of his country, and
would have given to it, unreservedly, the produce of his powerful



Mr. Fairchild left by will twenty-five pounds to the Royal
Society. This was increased by several subscriptions, and 100L.
3 per cent. South Sea Annuities was purchased, the interest of
which was to be devoted annually to pay for a sermon to be
preached at St.Leonard's, Shoreditch.

Few members of the Society, perhaps, are aware, either of the
bequest or of its annual payment. I shall merely observe, that
for five years, from 1800 to 1804, it was regularly given to
Mr. Ascough; and that for twenty-six years past, it has been as
regularly given to the Rev. Mr. Ellis.

The annual amount is too trifling to stimulate to any
extraordinary exertions; yet, small as it is, it might, if
properly applied, be productive of much advantage to religion,
and of great honour to the Society. For this purpose, it would
be desirable that it should be delivered at some church or
chapel, more likely to he attended by members of the Royal
Society. Notice of it should be given at the place of worship
appointed, at least a week previous to its delivery, and at the
two preceding weekly meetings of the Royal Society. The name of
the gentleman nominated for that year, and the church at which
the sermon is to be preached, should be stated.

With this publicity attending it, and by a judicious selection of
the first two or three gentlemen appointed to deliver it, it
would soon be esteemed an honour to be invited to compose such a
lecture, and the Society might always find in its numerous list
of members or aspirants, persons well qualified to fulfil a task
as beneficial for the promotion of true religion, as it ever must
be for the interest of science. I am tempted to believe that
such a course would call forth exertions of the most valuable
character, as well as give additional circulation to what is
already done on that subject.

The geological speculations which have been adduced, perhaps with
too much haste by some, as according with the Mosaic history, and
by others, as inconsistent with its truth, would, if this subject
had been attentively considered, have been allowed to remain
until the fullest and freest inquiry had irrevocably fixed their
claim to the character of indisputable facts. But, I will not
press this subject further on my reader's attention, lest he
should think I am myself delivering the lecture. All that I
could have said on this point has been so much more ably stated
by one whose enlightened view of geological science has taken
away some difficulties from its cultivators, and, I hope, removed
a stumbling-block from many respectable individuals, that I
should only weaken by adding to the argument. [I allude to the
critique of Dr. Ure's Geology in the British Review, for July,
1829; an Essay, equally worthy of a philosopher and a Christian.]



The payment [Three pounds.] for this Lecture, like that of the
preceding, is small. It was instituted by Dr. Croone, for an
annual essay on the subject of Muscular Motion. It is a little
to be regretted, that it should have been so restricted; and
perhaps its founder, had he foreseen the routine into which it
has dwindled, might have endeavoured to preserve it, by affording
it a wider range.

By giving it to a variety of individuals, competition might have
been created, and many young anatomists have been induced to
direct their attention to the favourite inquiry of the founder of
the Lecture; but from causes which need not here be traced, this
has not been the custom--one individual has monopolized it year
after year, and it seems, like the Fairchild Lecture, rather to
have been regarded as a pension. There have, however, been some
intervals; and we are still under obligations to those who have
supported THE SYSTEM, for not appointing Sir Everard Home to read
the Croonian Lecture twenty years in SUCCESSION. Had it been
otherwise, we might have heard of vested rights.



The best friends of the Royal Society have long admitted, whilst
they regretted, its declining fame; and even those who support
whatever exists, begin a little to doubt whether it might not
possibly be amended.

The great and leading cause of the present state to which the
Royal Society is reduced, may be traced to years of misrule to
which it has been submitted. In order to understand this, it
will be necessary to explain the nature of that misrule, and the
means employed in perpetuating it.

It is known, that by the statutes, the body of the Society have
the power of electing, annually, their President, Officers, and
Council; and it is also well known, that this is a merely nominal
power, and that printed lists are prepared and put into the hands
of the members on their entering the room, and thus passed into
the balloting box. If these lists were, as in other scientific
societies, openly discussed in the Council, and then offered by
them as recommendations to the Society, little inconvenience
would arise; but the fact is, that they are private nominations
by the President, usually without notice, to the Council, and all
the supporters of the system which I am criticizing, endeavour to
uphold the right of this nomination in the President, and prevent
or discourage any alteration.

The Society has, for years, been managed by a PARTY, or COTERIE,
or by whatever other name may be most fit to designate a
combination of persons, united by no expressed compact or written
regulations, but who act together from a community of principles.
That each individual has invariably supported all the measures of
the party, is by no means the case; and whilst instances of
opposition amongst them have been very rare, a silent resignation
to circumstances has been the most usual mode of meeting measures
they disapproved. The great object of this, as of all other
parties, has been to maintain itself in power, and to divide, as
far as it could, all the good things amongst its members. It has
usually consisted of persons of very moderate talent, who have
had the prudence, whenever they could, to associate with
themselves other members of greater ability, provided these
latter would not oppose the system, and would thus lend to it the
sanction of their name. The party have always praised each other
most highly--have invariably opposed all improvements in the
Society, all change in the mode of management; and have
maintained, that all those who wished for any alteration were
factious; and, when they discovered any symptoms of independence
and inquiry breaking out in any member of the Council, they have
displaced him as soon as they decently could.

Of the arguments employed by those who support the SYSTEM OF
MANAGEMENT by which the Royal Society is governed, I shall give a
few samples: refutation is rendered quite unnecessary--juxta-
position is alone requisite. If any member, seeing an improper
appointment in contemplation, or any abuse in the management of
the affairs of the Society continued, raise a voice against it,
the ready answer is, Why should you interfere? it may not be
quite the thing you approve; but it is no affair of yours.--If,
on the other hand, it do relate to himself, the reply is equally
ready. It is immediately urged: The question is of a personal
nature; you are the last person who ought to bring it forward;
you are yourself interested. If any member of the Society,
feeling annoyed at the neglect, or hurt by the injuries or
insults of the Council, show signs of remonstrance, it is
immediately suggested to him that he is irritated, and ought to
wait until his feelings subside, and he can judge more coolly on
the subject; whilst with becoming candour they admit the ill-
treatment, but urge forbearance. If, after an interval, when
reflection has had ample time to operate, the offence seems great
as at first, or the insult appears unmitigated by any
circumstances on which memory can dwell,--if it is then brought
forward, the immediate answer is, The affair is out of date--the
thing is gone by--it is too late to call in question a
transaction so long past. Thus, if a man is interested
personally, he is unfit to question an abuse; if he is not, is it
probable that he will question it? and if, notwithstanding
this, he do so, then he is to be accounted a meddler. If he is
insulted, and complain, he is told to wait until he is cool; and
when that period arrives, he is then told he is too late. If his
remonstrance relates to the alteration of laws which are never
referred to, or only known by their repeated breach, he is told
that any alteration is useless; it is perfectly well known that
they are never adhered to. If it relate to the impolicy of any
regulations attaching to an office, he is immediately answered,
that that is a personal question, in which it is impossible to
interfere--the officer, it seems, is considered to have not
merely a vested right to the continuance of every abuse, but an
interest in transmitting it unimpaired to his successors.

In the same spirit I have heard errors of calculation or
observation defended. If small errors occur, it is said that
they are too trifling to be of any importance. If larger errors
are pointed out, it is immediately contended that they can
deceive nobody, because of their magnitude. Perhaps it might be
of some use, if the Council would oblige the world with their
SCALE of ERROR, with illustrations from some of the most RECENT
and APPROVED works, and would favour the uninformed with the
orthodox creed upon all grades, from that which baffles the human
faculties to detect, up to that which becomes innocuous from its

The offices connected with the Royal Society are few in number,
and their emolument small in amount; but the proper disposition
of them is, nevertheless, of great importance to the Society, and
was so to the science of England.

In the first place, the President, having in effect the absolute
nomination of the whole Council, could each year introduce a few
gentlemen, whose only qualification to sit on it would be the
high opinion they must necessarily entertain of the penetration
of him who could discover their scientific merits. He might also
place in the list a few nobles or officials, just to gild it.
Neither of these classes would put any troublesome questions, and
one of them might be employed, from its station in society, to
check any that might be proposed by others.

With these ingredients, added to the regular train of the party,
and a star or two of science to shed lustre over the whole, a
very manageable Council might be formed; and such has been its
frequent composition.

The duties of the Secretaries, when well executed, are laborious,
although not in this respect equal to those of the same officers
who, in several societies, give their gratuitous aid; and their
labours are much lightened by the Assistant Secretary and his
clerk. The following are their salaries:--

The Senior Secretary . . . . . . . . . . . 105L.
The Junior Secretary, 105L. . . . . . . . )
5L. for making Indexto Phil. Trans. . . ) 110L.
The Foreign Secretary . . . . . . . . . . . 20L.

Now it is not customary to change these annually; and as these
offices are amongst the "loaves and fishes" they are generally
given by the President to some staunch supporters of the system.
They have frequently been bestowed, with very little
consideration for the interest, or even for the dignity of the
Society. To notice only one instance: the late Sir Joseph Banks
appointed a gentleman who remained for years in that situation,
although he was confessedly ignorant of every subject connected
with the pursuits of the Society. I will, however, do justice to
his memory, by saying that his respectability was preserved under
such circumstances, by the most candid admission of the fact,
accompanied by a store of other knowledge unfortunately quite
foreign to the pursuits of the Society; and I will add, that I
regretted to see him insulted by one President in a situation
improperly given to him by a former.

Next in order come the Vice-Presidents, who are appointed by the
President; and in this respect the present practice is not

The case, however, is widely different with the office of
Treasurer. The President ought not to usurp the power of his
appointment, which ought, after serious discussion by the
Council, to be made by the Society at large.

Besides the three Secretaries, there is an Assistant Secretary,
and recently another has been added, who may perhaps be called a,
Sub-assistant Secretary. All these places furnish patronage to
the President.

Let us now look at the occasional patronage of the President,
arising from offices not belonging to the Society. He is, EX
OFFICIO, a Trustee of the British Museum; and it may seem harsh
to maintain that he is not a fit person to hold such a situation.
It is no theoretical view, but it is the EXPERIENCE of the past
which justifies the assertion; and I fear that unless he has the
sole responsibility for some specific appointments, and unless
his judgment is sharpened by the fear of public discussion, a
President of the Royal Society, in the Board-room of the British
Museum, is quite as likely as another person to sacrifice his
public duty to the influence of power, or to private friendship.
With respect to the merits of that Institution, I have no
inclination at present to inquire: but when it is considered
that there is at this moment attached to it no one whose
observations or whose writings have placed him even in the second
rank amongst the naturalists of Europe, the President of the
Royal Society has given some grounds for the remark made by
several members of the Society, that he is a little too much
surrounded by the officers of a body who may reasonably be
supposed to entertain towards him feelings either of gratitude or
expectation. [It will be remembered that the name of Mr. Robert
Brown has been but recently attached to the British Museum, and
that it is to be attributed to his possessing a life interest in
the valuable collection of the late Sir Joseph Banks.]

The late Board of Longitude was another source of patronage,
which, although now abolished, it may be useful to hint at.

There were three members to be appointed by the Royal Society:
these were honorary, and, as no salary was attached, it might
have been expected that this limited number of appointments would
have been given in all cases to persons qualified for them. But
no: it was convenient to pay compliments; and Lord Colchester,
whose talents and knowledge insured him respect as Speaker of the
House of Commons, or as a British nobleman, was placed for years
in the situation as one of the Commissioners of the Board of
Longitude, for which every competent judge knew him to be wholly
unfit. What was the return which he made for this indulgence?
Little informed respecting the feelings of the Society, and
probably misinformed by the party whose influence had placed him
there, he saved them in the day of their peril.

When the state of the Society had reached such a point that many
of the more scientific members felt that some amendment was
absolutely necessary to its respectability, a committee was
formed to suggest to the Council such improvements as they might
consider it expedient to discuss. [Amongst the names of the
persons composing this Committee, which was proposed by Mr.
South, were those of Dr. Wollaston and Mr. Herschel.] The
Council received their report at the close of the session; and in
recording it on the journals, they made an appeal to the Council
for the ensuing year to bestow on it "THEIR EARLIEST AND MOST

Now when the party, to whose government some of these
improvements would have been a death-warrant, found that the
subject was likely to be taken up in the Council, they were in
dismay: but the learned and grateful peer came to their
assistance, and aided Mr. Davies Gilbert in getting rid of these
improvements completely.

It has been the fashion to maintain that all classes of the Royal
Society should be represented in the Council, and consequently
that a peer or two should find a place amongst them. Those who
are most adverse to this doctrine would perhaps be the most
anxious to render this tribute to any one really employing his
time, his talents, or his rank in advancing the cause of science.
But when a nobleman, unversed in our pursuits, will condescend to
use the influence of his station in aiding a President to stifle,
WITHOUT DISCUSSION, propositions recommended for consideration by
some of the most highly gifted members of the Society,--those who
doubt the propriety of the principle may reasonably be pardoned
for the disgust they must necessarily entertain for the practical
abuse to which it leads.

Of the other three Commissioners, who received each a hundred
a-year, although the nomination was, in point of form, in the
Admiralty, yet it was well known that the President of the Royal
Society did, in fact, always name them. Of these I will only
mention one fact. The late Sir Joseph Banks assigned to me as a
reason why I need not expect to be appointed, (as he had held out
to me at a former period when I had spoken to him on the subject)
that I had taken a prominent part in the formation of the
ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY. I am proud of the part I did take in
establishing that Society, although an undue share of its honour
was assigned to me by the President.

It may, perhaps, be inquired, why I publish this fact at this
distance of time? I answer, that I stated it publicly at the
Council of the Astronomical Society;--that I always talked of it
publicly and openly at the time;--that I purposely communicated
it to each succeeding President of the Royal Society; and that,
although some may have forgotten the communications I made at the
time, there are others who remember them well.

The Secretary of the late Board of Longitude received 300L., and
200L. more, as Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac.

Another situation, in the patronage of which the President is
known to have considerable influence, is that of Astronomer
Royal; and it is to be observed, that he is kept in the Council
as much as possible, notwithstanding the nature of his duties.

Of the three appointments of 100L. a-year each, which have been
instituted since the abolition of the Board of Longitude, the
President is supposed to have the control, thus making him quite
sure of the obedience of his Council.

Besides these sources of patronage, there are other incidental
occasions on which Government apply to the Royal Society to
recommend proper persons to make particular experiments or
observations; and, although I am far from supposing that these
are in many instances given to persons the second or third best
qualified for them, yet they deserve to be mentioned.



The indiscriminate admission of every candidate became at last so
notorious, even beyond the pale of the Society, that some of the
members began to perceive the inconveniences to which it led.
This feeling, together with a conviction that other improvements
were necessary to re-establish the Society in public opinion,
induced several of the most active members to wish for some
reform in its laws and proceedings; and a Committee was appointed
to consider the subject. It was perfectly understood, that the
object of this Committee was to inquire,--First, as to the means
and propriety of limiting the numbers of this Society; and then,
as to other changes which they might think beneficial. The names
of the gentlemen composing this Committee were:--

Dr. Wollaston, Mr. Herschel,
Dr. Young, Mr. Babbage,
Mr. Davies Gilbert, Captain Beaufort,
Mr. South, Captain Kater.

The importance of the various improvements suggested was
different in the eyes of different members. The idea of
rendering the Society so select as to make it an object of
ambition to men of science to be elected into it, was by no means
new, as the following extract from the Minutes of the Council
will prove:--

"MINUTES OF COUNCIL. August 27, 1674

Sir W. Petty, Vice-President,
Sir John Lowther,
Sir John Cutler,
Sir Christopher Wren,
Mr. Oldenburgh,
Sir Paul Neile.

"It was considered by this Council, that to make the Society
prosper, good experiments must be in the first place provided to
make the weekly meetings considerable, and that the expenses for
making these experiments must be secured by legal subscriptions
for paying the contributors; which done, the Council might then
with confidence proceed to the EJECTION OF USELESS FELLOWS."

The reformers of modern times were less energetic in the measures
they recommended. Dr. Wollaston and some others thought the
limitation of the numbers of the Society to be the most essential
point, and 400 was suggested as a proper number to be
recommended, in case a limitation should be ultimately resolved
upon. I confess, such a limit did not appear to me to bring
great advantages, especially when I reflected how long a time
must have elapsed before the 714 members of the Society could be
reduced by death to that number. And I also thought that as long
as those who alone sustained the reputation of the Society by
their writings and discoveries should be admitted into it on
precisely the same terms, and on the payment of the same sum of
money as other gentlemen who contributed only with their purse,
it could never be an object of ambition to any man of science to
be enrolled on its list.

With this view, and also to assist those who wished for a
limitation, I suggested a plan extremely simple in its nature,
and which would become effective immediately. I proposed that,
in the printed list of the Royal Society, a star should be placed
against the name of each Fellow who had contributed two or more
papers which had been printed in the Transactions, or that such a
list should be printed separately at the end.

At that period there were 109 living members who had contributed
papers to the Transactions, and they were thus arranged:

37 Contributors of . . 1 paper
21 . . . . . . . . . . 2 papers
19 . . . . . . . . . . 3 ditto
5 . . . . . . . . . . 4 ditto
3 . . . . . . . . . . 5 ditto
3 . . . . . . . . . . 6 ditto
]2 . . . . from 7 to 12 ditto
14 . . . of more than 12 papers.

100 Contributing Fellows of the Royal Society. 589 Papers
contributed by them.

Now the immediate effect of printing such a list would be the
division of the Society into two classes. Supposing two or more
papers necessary for placing a Fellow in the first class, that
class would only consist of seventy-two members, which is nearly
the same as the number of those of the Institute of France. If
only those who had contributed three or more were admitted, then
this class would be reduced to fifty-one. In either of these
cases it would obviously become a matter of ambition to belong to
the first class; and a more minute investigation into the value
of each paper would naturally take place before it was admitted
into the Transactions. Or it might be established that such
papers only should be allowed to count, as the Committee, who
reported them as fit to be printed, should also certify. The
great objection made to such an arrangement was, that it would be
displeasing to the rest of the Society, and that they had a
vested right (having entered the Society when no distinction was
made in the lists) to have them always continued without one.

Without replying to this shadow of an argument of vested rights,
I will only remark that he who maintains this view pays a very
ill compliment to the remaining 600 members of the Royal Society;
since he does, in truth, maintain that those gentlemen who, from
their position, accidentally derive reputation which does not
belong to them, are unwilling, when the circumstance is pointed
out, to allow the world to assign it to those who have fairly won

Book of the day: