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  • 1830
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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 RESPECT TO THE SOCIETY,” and “AS A PLEDGE TO THE PUBLIC OF THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE PERSONS CHOSEN,” whilst he delicately hints to them their dependent situation, by observing, that the “RESIDENT COMMITTEE IS ALSO ANNUALLY APPOINTED.”

The Secretary knew that, PRACTICALLY speaking, it had been the custom for years for the President of the Royal Society to nominate the Council, and consequently he knew that every scientific adviser must first be indebted to the President for being qualified to advise, and then to the Admiralty for deriving profit from his counsel. Thus then their Lordships, as a “MARK OF RESPECT FOR THE SOCIETY” confirm the dependence of the Council on the President, by making his nomination a qualification for place, and establish a new dependence of the same Council on themselves, by giving a hundred pounds each year to such three members of that Council as they may select. “THE PLEDGE” they offer “TO THE PUBLIC, OF THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE PERSONS CHOSEN,” is, that Mr. Davies Gilbert had previously thought they would do for his Council.

What the Society, when they are acquainted with it, may think of this mark of respect, or what value the public may put upon this pledge, must be left to themselves to express.

In looking over the list of officers and Council of the Royal Society the weakest perhaps (for purposes of science) which was ever made, a consolation arises from the possibility of some of those who were placed there by way of compliment, occasionally attending. In that contracted field Lord Melville’s penetration may not be uselessly employed; and the soldier who presides over our colonies may judge whether the principles which pervade it are open and liberal as his own.

The inconvenience to the public service from such an arrangement is, that the number out of which the advisers are selected must, in any case, be very small; and may, from several circumstances, be considerably reduced. In a council fairly selected, to judge of the merits of the various subjects likely to be brought under the consideration of the Society, anatomy, chemistry, and the different branches of natural history, will share with the numerous departments of physical science, in claiming to be represented by persons competently skilled in those subjects. These claims being satisfied, but few places will be left to fill up with mathematicians, astronomers, and persons conversant with nautical astronomy.

Let us look at the present Council. Is there a single mathematician amongst them, if we except Mr Barlow, whose deservedly high reputation rests chiefly on his physical and experimental inquiries, and whom the President and the Admiralty have clearly shown they do not look upon as a mathematician, by not appointing him an adviser?

Small as the number of those persons on the Council, who are conversant with the three subjects named in the Act of Parliament, must usually be, it may be still further diminished. The President, when he forms his Council, may decline naming those members who are most fit for such situations. Or, on the other hand, some of those members who are best qualified for them, from their knowledge, may decline the honour of being the nominees of Mr. Gilbert, as Vice Presidents, Treasurers, or Councillors, and thus lending their names to support a system of which they disapprove.

Whether the first of these causes has ever operated can be best explained by those gentlemen who have been on the Council. The refusals are, notwithstanding the President’s taciturnity on the subject, better known than he is willing that they should be.

Having discussed the general policy of the measure, with reference both to the Society and to the public, and without the slightest reference to the individuals who may have refused or accepted those situations, I shall now examine the propriety of the appointments that have been made.

Doubtless the gentlemen who now hold those situations either have never considered the influence such a mode of selection would have on the character of the Council; or, having considered it, they must have arrived at a different conclusion from mine. There may, however, be arguments which I have overlooked, and a discussion of them must ultimately lead to truth: but I confess that it appears to me the objections which have been stated rest on principles of human nature, too deeply seated to be easily removed.

That I am not singular in the view I have taken of this subject, appears from several circumstances. A question was asked respecting these appointments at the Anniversary before the last; and, from the nature of the answer, many of the members of the Society have been led to believe the objections have been removed. Several Fellows of the Society, who knew these facts, thought it inexpedient ever to vote for placing any gentleman on the Council who had accepted these situations; and, having myself the same view of the case, I applied to the Council to be informed of the names of the present Scientific Advisers. But although they remonstrated against the PRINCIPLE, they replied that they had “NO COGNIZANCE” of the fact.

The two first members of the Council, Mr. Herschel and Captain Kater, who were so appointed, and who had previously been Resident Commissioners under the Act, immediately refused the situations. Dr. Young became one of the Advisers; and Captain Sabine and Mr. Faraday were appointed by the Admiralty as the two remaining ones. Of Dr. Young, who died shortly after, I shall only observe that he possessed knowledge which qualified him for the situation.

Whether those who at present fill these offices can be said to belong to that class of persons which the Order in Council and the Act of Parliament point out, is a matter on which doubt may reasonably be entertained. The Order in Council speaks of these three persons as being the same, and having the “SAME DUTIES” as those mentioned in the Act; and it recites the words of the Act, that they shall be persons “WELL VERSED IN THE SCIENCES OF MATHEMATICS ASTRONOMY, AND NAVIGATION.” Of the fitness of the gentlemen who now hold those situations to pronounce judgment on mathematical questions, the public will be better able to form an opinion when they shall have communicated to the world any of their own mathematical inquiries. Although it is the practice to consider that acceptance of office is alone necessary to qualify a man for a statesman, a similar doctrine has not yet prevailed in the world of science. One of these gentlemen, who has established his reputation as a chemist, stands in the same predicament with respect to the other two sciences. It remains then to consider Captain Sabine’s claims, which must rest on his skill in “PRACTICAL ASTRONOMY AND NAVIGATION,”– a claim which can only be allowed when the scientific world are set at rest respecting the extraordinary nature of those observations contained in his work on the Pendulum.

That volume, printed under the authority of the Board of Longitude, excited at its appearance considerable attention. The circumstance of the Government providing instruments and means of transport for the purpose of these inquiries, placed at Captain Sabine’s disposal means superior to those which amateurs can generally afford, whilst the industry with which he availed himself of these opportunities, enabled him to bring home multitudes of observations from situations rarely visited with such instruments, and for such purposes.

The remarkable agreement with each other, which was found to exist amongst each class of observations, was as unexpected by those most conversant with the respective processes, as it was creditable to one who had devoted but a few years to the subject, and who, in the course of those voyages, used some of the instruments for the first time in his life.

This accordance amongst the results was such, that naval officers of the greatest experience, confessed themselves unable to take such lunars; whilst other observers, long versed in the use of the transit instrument, avowed their inability to take such transits. Those who were conversant with pendulums, were at a loss how to make, even under more favourable circumstances, similarly concordant observations. The same opinion prevailed on the continent as well as in England. On whatever subject Captain Sabine touched, the observations he published seemed by their accuracy to leave former observers at a distance. The methods of using the instruments scarcely differed in any important point from those before adopted; and, but for a fortunate discovery, which I shall presently relate, the world must have concluded that Captain Sabine possessed some keenness of vision, or acuteness of touch, which it would be hopeless for any to expect to rival.

The Council of the Royal Society spared no pains to stamp the accuracy of these observations with their testimony. They seem to have thrust Captain Sabine’s name perpetually on their minutes, and in a manner which must have been almost distressing: they recommend him in a letter to the Admiralty, then in another to the Ordnance; and several of the same persons, in their other capacity, as members of the Board of Longitude, after voting him a THOUSAND POUNDS for these observations, are said to have again recommended him to the Master-General of the Ordnance. That an officer, commencing his scientific career, should be misled by such praises, was both natural and pardonable; but that the Council of the Royal Society should adopt their opinion so heedlessly, and maintain it so pertinaciously, was as cruel to the observer as it was injurious to the interests of science.

It might have been imagined that such praises, together with the Copley medal, presented to Captain Sabine by the Royal Society, and the medal of Lalande, given to him by the Institute of France, had arisen from such a complete investigation of his observations, as should place them beyond the reach even of criticism. But, alas! the Royal Society may write, and nobody will attend; its medals have lost their lustre; and even the Institute of France may find that theirs cannot confer immortality. That learned body is in the habit of making most interesting and profound reports on any memoirs communicated to it; nothing escapes the penetration of their committees appointed for such purposes. Surely, when they enter on the much more important subject of the award of a medal, unusual pains must be taken with the previous report, and it might, perhaps, be of some advantage to science, and might furnish their admirers with arguments in their defence, if they would publish that on which the decree of their Lalande’s medal to Captain Sabine was founded.

It is far from necessary to my present object, to state all that has been written and said respecting these pendulum experiments: I shall confine myself merely to two points; one, the transit observations, I shall allude to, because I may perhaps show the kind of feeling that exists respecting them, and possibly enable Captain Sabine to explain them. The other point, the error in the estimation of the division of the level, I shall discuss, because it is an admitted fact.

Some opinion may be formed of transit observations, by taking the difference of times of the passage of any star between the several wires; supposing the distances of those wires equal, the intervals of time occupied by the star in passing from one to the other, ought to be precisely the same. As those times of passing from one wire to another are usually given to seconds and tenths of seconds, it rarely happens that the accordance is perfect.

The transit instrument used by Captain Sabine was thirty inches in length, and the wires are stated to be equi-distant. Out of about 370 transits, there are eighty-seven, or nearly one-fourth, which have the intervals between all the wires agreeing to the same, the tenth of a second. At Sierra Leone, nineteen out of seventy-two have the same accordance; and of the moon culminating stars, p. 409, twelve out of twenty-four are equally exact. With larger instruments, and in great observatories, this is not always the case.

Captain Kater has given, in the Philosophical Transactions, 1819, p. 427, a series of transits, with a three and a half foot transit, in which about one-eleventh part of them only have this degree of accuracy; and it should be observed that not merely the instrument, but the stars selected, have, in this instance, an advantage over Captain Sabine’s.

The transit of M. Bessel is five feet in length, made by Frauenhofer, and the magnifying power employed is 182; yet, out of some observations of his in January, 1826, only one-eleventh have this degree of accordance. In thirty-three of the Greenwich observations of January, 1828, fifteen have this agreement, or five-elevenths; but this is with a ten-feet transit. Now in none of these instances do the times agree within a tenth of a second between all the wires; but I have accounted those as agreeing in all the wires in which there is not more than four-tenths of a second between the greatest and least.

This superior accuracy of the small instrument requires some explanation. One which has been suggested is, that Captain Sabine employs a chronometer to observe transits with; and that since it beats five times in two seconds, each beat will give four-tenths of a second; and this being the smallest quantity registered, the agreement becomes more probable than if tenths were the smallest quantities noticed. In general, the larger the lowest unity employed the greater will be the apparent agreement amongst the differences. Thus, if, in the transit of stars near the pole, the times of passing the wires were only registered to the nearest minute, the intervals would almost certainly be equal. There is another circumstance, about which there is some difficulty. It is understood that the same instrument,–the thirty-inch transit, was employed by Lieutenant Foster; and it has not been stated that the wires were changed, although this has most probably been the case. Now, in the transits which the later observer has given, he has found it necessary to correct for a considerable inequality between the first and second wires (See Phil. Trans. 1827). If an erroneous impression has gone abroad on this subject, it is doing a service to science to insure its correction, by drawing attention to it.

Should these observations be confirmed by other observers, it would seem to follow that the use of a chronometer renders a transit more exact, and therefore that it ought to be used in observatories.

Among the instruments employed by Captain Sabine, was a repeating circle of six inches diameter, made by order of the Board of Longitude, for the express purpose of ascertaining how far repeating instruments might be diminished in size:–a most important subject, on which the Board seem to have entertained a very commendable degree of anxiety.

The following extract from the “Pendulum Experiments” is important:

“The repeating circle was made by the direction, and at the expense of the Board of Longitude, for the purpose of exemplifying the principle of repetition when applied to a circle of so small a diameter as six inches, carrying a telescope of seven inches focal length, and one inch aperture; and of practically ascertaining the degree of accuracy which might be retained, whilst the portability of the instrument should be increased, by a reduction in the size to half the amount which had been previously regarded by the most eminent artists as the extreme limit of diminution to which repeating circles, designed for astronomical purposes, ought to be carried.

“The practical value of the six-inch repeating circle may be estimated, by comparing the differences of the partial results from the mean at each station, with the correspondence of any similar collection of observations made with a circle, on the original construction, and of large dimensions; such, for instance, as the latitudes of the stations of the French are, recorded in the Base du Systeme Metrique: when, if due allowance be made for the extensive experience and great skill of the distinguished persons who conducted the French observations, the comparison will scarcely appear to the disadvantage of the smaller circle, even if extended generally through all the stations of the present volume; but if it be particularly directed to Maranham and Spitzbergen,–at which stations the partial results were more numerous than elsewhere, and obtained with especial regard to every circumstance by which their accuracy might be affected, the performance of the six-inch circle will appear fully equal to that of circles of the larger dimension. The comparison with the two stations, at which a more than usual attention was bestowed, is the more appropriate, because it was essential to the purposes for which the latitudes of the French stations were required, that the observations should always be conducted with the utmost possible regard to accuracy.

“It would appear, therefore, that in a repeating circle of six inches, the disadvantages of a smaller image enabling a less precise contact or bisection, and of an arch of less radius admitting of a less minute subdivision, may be compensated by the principle of repetition.”

Captain Sabine has pointed out Maranham and Spitzbergen as places most favourable to the comparison. Let us take the former of these places, and compare the observations made there with the small repeating instrument of six inches diameter, with those made by the French astronomers at Formentera, with a repeating circle of forty-one centi-metres, or about sixteen inches in diameter, made by Fortin. It is singular that this instrument was directed, by the French Board of Longitude, to be made expressly for this survey, and the French astronomers paid particular attention to it, from the circumstance of some doubts having been entertained respecting the value of the principle of repetition.

The following series of observations were made with the two instruments. [I have chosen the inferior meridian altitude of Polaris, merely because the number of sets of observations are rather fewer. The difference between the extremes of the altitude of Polaris, deduced from sets taken above the pole by the same observers, amounts to seven seconds and a half.]

Latitude deduced from Polaris, with a repeating circle, 16 inches diameter.–BASE DU SYSTEME METRIQUE, tom. iv. p. 376. 1807.

Number of Latitude Names of Observers. Observations. of Formentera.

deg. min. sec.
64 38 39 55.3 Biot
100 54.7 Arago
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 Maranham.

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 the latitudes “WERE OBTAINED, WITH ESPECIAL REGARD TO EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE BY WHICH THEIR ACCURACY MIGHT BE AFFECTED,” and where “A MORE THAN USUAL ATTENTION WAS BESTOWED,” it appears, that if we take Captain Sabine’s own test, namely, “the differences of the partial results from the mean at each station,” the deviations become nearly ten times as large as they were before; a circumstance which might be expected to have some influence in the decision of the question.

There is, however, another light in which it is impossible to avoid looking at this singular oversight. The second column of the table of latitudes must now be considered the true one, as that which really resulted from the observations. Now, on examining the column of true latitudes, the differences between the different sets of observations is so considerable as naturally to excite some fear of latent error, more especially as nearly the greatest discordance arises from the same star, Alph.Lyrae, observed after an interval of only three days. It becomes interesting to every person engaged in making astronomical observations, to know what is the probability of his being exposed to an error so little to be guarded against, and so calculated to lull the suspicions of the unfortunate astronomer to whom it may happen.

In fact, the question resolves itself into this: the true latitude of a place being determined by sets of observations as in the first of the following columns–

Latitudes as
True latitudes observed. computed by a mistake of Capt. Sabine’s.

deg.min.sec. deg.min.sec. Alph.Lyrae, 28th Aug. . . . 2 31 22.0 2 31 42.4 Alph.Lyrae, 29th Aug. . . . 31.8 43.8 Alph.Pavonis, 29th Aug. . . 44,0 44.5 Alph.Lyrae, 31st Aug. . . . 42.6 44.6 Alph.Cygni, 31st Aug. . . . 39.2 42.0 Alph.Gruris, 2d Sept. . . . 27.4 42.2

what are the chances that, by one error all the latitudes in the first column should be brought so nearly to an agreement as they are in the second column? The circumstance of the number of divisions of the level being almost arbitrary within limits, might perhaps be alleged as diminishing this extraordinary improbability: but let any one consider, if he choose the error of each set, as independent of the others, still he will find the odds against it enormous.

When it is considered that an error, almost arbitrary in its law, has thus had the effect of bringing discordant observations into an almost unprecedented accordance, as at Maranham; and not merely so, but that at eight of the nine stations it has uniformly tended to diminish the differences between the partial results, and that at the ninth station it only increased it by a small fraction of a second, I cannot help feeling that it is more probable even that Captain Kater, with all his admitted skill, and that Captain Sabine himself, should have been both mistaken in their measures of the divisions of the level, than that so singular an effect should have been produced by one error; and I cannot bring myself to believe that such an anticipation is entirely without foundation.

Whatever may be the result of a re-examination, it was a singular oversight NOT TO MEASURE the divisions of a level intended to be used for determining so important a question; more particularly as, in the very work to which reference was made by Captain Sabine for the purpose of comparing the observations, it was the very first circumstance which occupied the French philosophers, and several pages [See pages 265 to 275 of the RECUEIL D’OBSERVATIONS GEODESIQUES, &c. PAR MM. BIOT ET ARAGO, which forms the fourth volume of the BASE DU SYSTEME METRIQUE.] are filled with the details relative to the determination of the value of the divisions of the level. It would also have been satisfactory, with such an important object in view, to have read off some of the sets after each pair of observations, in order to see how far the system of repetition made the results gradually converge to a limit, and in order to know how many repetitions were sufficient. Such a course would almost certainly have led to a knowledge of the true value of the divisions of the level; for the differences in the altitude of the same star, after a few minutes of time, must, in many instances, have been far too great to have arisen from the change of its altitude: and had these been noticed, they must have been referred to some error in the instrument, which could scarcely, in such circumstances, have escaped detection.

I have now mentioned a few of the difficulties which attend Captain Sabine’s book on the pendulum, difficulties which I am far from saying are inexplicable. He would be bold indeed who, after so wonderful an instance of the effect of chance as I have been just discussing, should venture to pronounce another such accident impossible; but I think enough has been said to show, that the feeling which so generally prevails relative to it, is neither captious nor unreasonable.

Enough also has appeared to prove, that the conduct of the Admiralty in appointing that gentleman one of their scientific advisers, was, under the peculiar circumstances, at least, unadvised. They have thus lent, as far as they could, the weight of their authority to support observations which are now found to be erroneous. They have thus held up for imitation observations which may induce hundreds of meritorious officers to throw aside their instruments, in the despair of ever approaching a standard which is since admitted to be imaginary; and they have ratified the doctrine, for I am not aware their official adviser has ever even modified it, that diminutive instruments are equal almost to the largest.

To what extent this doctrine is correct, may perhaps yet admit of doubt. It cannot, however, admit of a doubt, that it is unwise to crown it with official authority, and thus expose the officers of their service to depend on means which may be quite insufficient for their purpose.

How the Board of Longitude, after EXPRESSLY DIRECTING THIS INSTRUMENT TO BE MADE AND TRIED, could come to the decision at which they arrived, appears inexplicable. The known difference of opinion amongst the best observers respecting the repeating principle, ought to have rendered them peculiarly cautious, nor ought the opinion of a Troughton, that instruments of less than one foot in diameter may be considered, “FOR ASTRONOMY, AS LITTLE BETTER THAN PLAYTHINGS,” [Memoirs of the Astronomical Society, Vol.I. p.53.] to have been rejected without the most carefully detailed experiments. There were amongst that body, persons who must have examined minutely the work on the Pendulum. Captain Kater must have felt those difficulties in the perusal of it which other observers have experienced; and he who was placed in the Board of Longitude especially for his knowledge of instruments, might, in a few hours, have arrived at more decisive facts. But perhaps I am unjust. Captain Kater’s knowledge rendered it impossible for him to have been ignorant of the difficulties, and his candour would have prevented him from concealing them: he must, therefore, after examining the subject, have been outvoted by his lay-brethren who had dispensed with that preliminary.

It would be unjust, before quitting this subject, not to mention with respect the acknowledgment made by an officer of the naval service of the errors into which he also fell from this same level. Lieutenant Foster, aware of the many occasions on which Captain Sabine had employed this instrument, and knowing that he considered each division as equal to one second, never thought that a doubt could exist on the subject, and made all his calculations accordingly. When Captain Kater made him acquainted with the mistake, Lieutenant Foster immediately communicated a paper [The paper of Lieutenant Foster is printed in the Philosophical Transactions, 1827, p.122, and is worth consulting.] to the Royal Society, in which he states the circumstance most fully, and recomputed all the observations in which that instrument was used. Unfortunately, from the original observations of Mr. Ross being left on board the Fury at the time of her loss, the transcripts of his results could not be recomputed like the rest, and were consequently useless.



Although the number of situations to which persons conversant with science may hope to be appointed, is small, yet it has somewhat singularly happened, that instances of one individual, holding more than one such appointment, are frequent. Not to speak of those held by the late Dr. Young, we have at present:–

MR. POND–Astronomer Royal, Inspector of Chronometers, and Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac.

CAPTAIN SABINE — An officer of artillery on leave of absence from his regiment; Secretary of the Royal Society; and Scientific Adviser of the Admiralty.

MR. BRANDE–Clerk of the Irons at the Royal Mint; Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution; Analyser of Rough Nitre, &c. to the East-India Company; Lecturer on Materia Medica, Apothecaries’ Hall; Superintending Chemical Operator at ditto; Lecturer on Chemistry at ditto; Editor of the Royal Institution Journal; and Foreign Secretary to the Royal Society.

One should be led to imagine, from these unions of scientific offices, either that science is too little paid, and that gentlemen cannot be found to execute the offices separately at the salaries offered; or else, that it is too well paid, since each requires such little attention, that almost any number can be executed by one person.

The Director of the Royal Observatory has a larger and better collection of instruments, and more assistants to superintend, than any other astronomer in the world; and, to do it properly, would require the almost undivided attention of a man in the vigour of youth. Nor would a superintendent of the Nautical Almanac, if he made a point of being acquainted with every thing connected with his subject, find his situation at all a sinecure. Slight as are the duties of the Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, it might have been supposed that Mr. Brande would scarcely, amongst his multifarious avocations, have found time even for them. But it may be a consolation to him to know, that from the progress the Society is making, those duties must become shortly, if they are not already, almost extinct.

Doubtless the President, in making that appointment, looked most anxiously over the list of the Royal Society. He doubtless knew that the Academics of Sweden, of Denmark, of Scotland, of Prussia, of Hanover, and of France, derived honour from the discoveries of their Secretaries;–that they prided themselves in the names of Berzelius, of Oersted, of Brewster, of Encke, of Gauss, and of Cuvier. Doubtless the President must have been ambitious that England should contribute to this galaxy of glory, that the Royal Society should restore the lost Pleiad [Pleiades, an assemblage of seven stars in the neck of the constellation Taurus. There are now only six of them visible to the naked eye.–HUTTON’S DICTIONARY–Art. Pleiades.] to the admiring science of Europe. But he could discover no kindred name amongst the ranks of his supporters, and forgot, for a moment, the interest of the Society, in an amiable consideration for the feelings of his surrounding friends. For had the President chosen a brighter star, the lustre of his other officers might have been overpowered by its splendour: but relieved from the pain of such a contrast, he may still retain the hope, that, by their united brightness, these suns of his little system shall yet afford sufficient light to be together visible to distant nations, as a faint NEBULA in the obscure horizon of English science.



Although the Society is not in a state approaching to poverty, it may be useful to offer a few remarks respecting the distribution of its money.

EXPENSE OF ENGRAVINGS FOR SIR E. HOME’S PAPERS.–The great expense of the engravings which adorn the volumes of the Philosophical Transactions, is not sufficiently known. That many of those engravings are quite essential for the papers they illustrate, and that those papers are fit for the Transactions, I do not doubt; but, some inquiry is necessary, when such large sums are expended. I shall endeavour, therefore, to approximate to the sum these engravings have cost the Royal Society.

Previous to 1810, there are upwards of seventy plates to papers of Sir E. Home’s; in many of these, which I have purposely separated, the workmanship is not so minute as in the succeeding ones. Since 1810, there have occurred 187 plates attached to papers of the same author. Many of these have cost from twelve to twenty guineas each plate; but I shall take five pounds as the average cost of the first portion, and twelve as that of the latter. This would produce,
70 X 5 = 350
187 X 12 = 2244
…… —–
…… 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.”


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.

ON THE CONVERSION OF THE GREENWICH OBSERVATIONS INTO PASTEBOARD. –Although the printing of these observations is not paid for out of the funds of the Royal Society, yet as the Council of that body are the visitors of the Royal Observatory, it may not be misplaced to introduce the subject here.

Some years since, a member of the Royal Society accidentally learned, that there was, at an old store-shop in Thames Street, a large quantity of the volumes of the Greenwich Observations on sale as waste paper. On making inquiry, he ascertained that there were two tons and a half to be disposed of, and that an equal quantity had already been sold, for the purpose of converting it into pasteboard. The vendor said he could get fourpence a pound for the whole, and that it made capital Bristol board. The fact was mentioned by a member of the Council of the Royal Society, and they thought it necessary to inquire into the circumstances.

Now, the Observations made at the Royal Observatory are printed with every regard to typographical luxury, with large margins, on thick paper, hotpressed, and with no sort of regard to economy. This magnificence is advocated by some who maintain, that the volumes ought to be worthy of a great nation; whilst others, seeing how little that nation spends on science, regret that the sums allotted to it should not be applied with the strictest economy. If the Astronomer Royal really has a right to these volumes, printed by the government at a large expense, it is, perhaps, the most extravagant mode which was ever yet invented of paying a public servant. When that right was given to him,–let us suppose somebody had suggested the impolicy of it, lest he should sell the costly volumes for waste paper,–who would have listened for one moment to such a supposition? He would have been told that it was impossible to suppose a person in that high and responsible situation, could be so indifferent to his own reputation.

A short time since, I applied to the President and Council of the Royal Society, for copies of the Greenwich Observations, which were necessary for an inquiry on which I was at that time engaged. Being naturally anxious to economize the small funds I can devote to science, the request appeared to me a reasonable one. It was, however, refused; and I was at the same time informed that the Observations could be purchased at the bookseller’s. [This was a mistake; Mr. Murray has not copies of the Greenwich Observations prior to 1823.] When I consider that practical astronomy has not occupied a very prominent place in my pursuits, I feel disposed, on that ground, to acquiesce in the propriety of the refusal. This excuse can, however, be of no avail for similar refusals to other gentlemen, who applied nearly at the same time with myself, and whose time had been successfully devoted to the cultivation of that science. [M. Bessel, at the wish of the Royal Academy of Berlin, projected a plan for making a very extensive map of the heavens. Too vast for any individual to attempt, it was proposed that a portion should be executed by the astronomers of various countries, and invitations to this effect were widely circulated. One only of the divisions of this map was applied for by any English astronomer; and, after completing the portion of the map assigned to him, he undertook another, which had remained unprovided for. This gentleman, the Rev. Mr. Hussey, was one of the rejected applicants for the Greenwich Observations.]

There was, however, another ground on which I had weakly anticipated a different result;–but those who occupy official situations, rendered remarkable by the illustrious names of their predecessors, are placed in no enviable station; and, if their own acquirements are confessedly insufficient to keep up the high authority of their office, they must submit to the mortifications of their false position. I am sure, therefore, that the President and officers of the Royal Society must have sympathized MOST DEEPLY with me, when they felt it their duty to propose that the Society over which Newton once presided, should refuse so trifling an assistance to the unworthy possessor of the chair he once filled.

In reply to my application to the President and Council, to be allowed a copy of the Greenwich Observations, I was informed that, “The number of copies placed by government at the disposal of the Royal Society, was insufficient to supply the demands made on them by various learned bodies in Europe; and, consequently, they were unable, however great their inclination, to satisfy the wishes of individual applicants.” Now I have spent some time in searching the numerous proceedings in the council-books of the Royal Society, and I believe the following is the real state of the case:–

In 1785, Lord Sidney, one of His Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State, wrote to the Council a letter, dated Whitehall, March 8, 1785, from which the following is extracted:–

“The King has been pleased to consent, that any copies of the Astronomical Observations, made at the Observatory of Greenwich, (and paid for by the Board of Ordnance, pursuant to His Majesty’s command, of July 21, 1767,) which may at any time remain in the hands of the printer, shall, after you have reserved such copies as you may think proper as presents, be given to the said Nevil Maskelyne, in consideration of his trouble in the superintending the printing thereof. I am to signify His Majesty’s pleasure, that you do, from time to time, give the necessary orders for that purpose, until His Majesty’s further commands shall be communicated to you.

Soon after this letter, I find on the council-books:–

“Ordered, That sixty copies of the Greenwich Observations, last published, be retained as presents, and that the rest be delivered to the Astronomer Royal.”

It is difficult to be sure of a negative fact, but in searching many volumes of the Proceedings of the Council, I have not discovered any revocation of this order, and I believe none exists. This is confirmed by the circumstance of the Council at the present day receiving precisely the same number of copies as their predecessors, and I believe that in fact they do not know the authority on which the right to those sixty rests.

Supposing this order unrevoked, it was clearly meant to be left to the discretion of the Council, to order such a number to be reserved, “from time to time,” as the demands of science might require. When, therefore, they found that the number of sixty copies was insufficient, they ought to have directed the printer to send them a larger number; but when they found out the purpose to which the Astronomer Royal applied them, they ought immediately to have ordered nearly the whole impression, in order to prevent this destruction of public property. If, on the other hand, the above order is revoked, and we really have no right to more than sixty copies; then, on discovering the Observations in their progress towards pasteboard, it was the duty of the Council of the Royal Society, as visitors of the Royal Observatory, immediately to have represented to Government the evil of the arrangement, and to have suggested, that if the Astronomer Royal have the right, it would be expedient to commute it for a liberal compensation.

Whichever be the true view of the case, they have taken no steps on the subject; and I cannot help expressing my belief, that the President and Council were induced to be thus negligent of the interests of science, from the fear of interfering with the perquisites of the Astronomer Royal.

It is, however, but justice to observe, that the injury already done to science, by the conversion of these Observations into pasteboard, is not so great as the public might have feared. Mr. Pond, than whom no one can be supposed better acquainted with their value, and whose right to judge no man can question, has shown his own opinion to be, that his reputation will be best consulted by diminishing the extent of their circulation.

Before I quit the subject of the Royal Observatory, on which much might be said, I will just refer to the report by a Committee of the Royal Society that was made relative to it, some years since, and which, it is imagined, is a subject by no means grateful to the memory of any of the parties concerned in it. My object is to ascertain, whether any amendments have taken place in consequence. To one fact of considerable importance, I was myself a witness, when I was present officially at a visitation. At that time, no original observations made at the transit instrument were ever preserved. Had I not been an eye witness of the process of an observation, I should not have credited the fact.



At a period when the attention of Government to science had not undergone any marked change, a most unexpected occurrence took place. His Majesty intimated to the Royal Society, through his Secretary of State, his intention to found two gold medals, of the value of fifty guineas each, to be awarded annually by the Council of the Royal Society, according to the rules they were desired to frame for that purpose.

The following is the copy of Mr. Peel’s letter:–

WHITEHALL, December 3d, 1825.


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, “TO EXCITE COMPETITION AMONGST MEN OF SCIENCE” by making them 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 discussion?

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 confided?

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 resolutions:

“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 judge.

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 solemnly.

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 PERSON BEING A MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL FOR THE TIME BEING, SHALL RECEIVE OR PARTAKE OF SUCH REWARD.”

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 MUCH IT IMPORTETH TO THE CONSISTENCY OF THE COUNCIL TO BE ACQUAINTED WITH THE LAWS ON WHICH THEY ARE ABOUT TO DECIDE.

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 causes:–

First.–A medal was given to A, at a peculiarly inappropriate time–BECAUSE HE HAD NOT HAD ONE BEFORE.


Third.–A medal was given to C, “BECAUSE WE THINK HE HAS BEEN ILL USED.”

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 light.

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 exertions.

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 accidental.

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 mind.



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 size.

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 inconvenient.

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 SERIOUS ATTENTION.”

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