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Decline of Science in England by Charles Babbage

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it; or else that they are incapable of producing any thing worthy
of being printed in the Transactions of the Royal Society.
Lightly as the conduct of the Society, as a body, has compelled
me to think of it, I do not think so ill of the personal
character of its members as to believe that if the question were
fairly stated to them, many would object to it.

Amongst the alterations which I considered most necessary to the
renovation of the Society, was the recommendation, by the
expiring Council, of those whom they thought most eligible for
that of the ensuing year.

The system which had got into practice was radically bad: it is
impossible to have an INDEPENDENT Council if it is named by ONE
PERSON. Our statutes were framed with especial regard to securing
the fitness of the members elected to serve in the Council; and
the President is directed, by those statutes, at the two ordinary
meetings previous to the anniversary, to give notice of the
elections, and "to declare how much it importeth the good of the
Society that such persons may be chosen into the Council as are
most likely to attend the meetings and business of the Council,
and out of whom may be made the best choice of a President and
other officers." This is regularly done; and, in mockery of the
wisdom of our ancestors, the President has perhaps in his pocket
the list of the future Council he has already fixed upon.

In some other Societies, great advantage is found to arise from
the discussion of the proper persons to be recommended to the
Society for the Council of the next year. A list is prepared, by
the Secretary, of the old Council, and against each name is
placed the number of times he has attended the meetings of the
Council. Those whose attendance has been least frequent are
presumed to be otherwise engaged, unless absence from London, or
engagement in some pursuit connected with the Society, are known
to have interfered. Those members who have been on the Council
the number of years which is usually allowed, added to those who
go out by their own wish, and by non-attendance, are, generally,
more in number than can be spared; and the question is never, who
shall retire?--but, who, out of the rest of the Society, is most
likely to work, if placed on the Council?

If any difference of opinion should exist in a society, it is
always of great importance to its prosperity to have both
opinions represented in the Council. In this age of discussion
it is impossible to stifle opinions; and if they are not
represented in the Council, there is some chance of their being
brought before the general body, or, at last, even before the
public. It is certainly an advantage that questions should be
put, and even that debates should take place on the days
appropriated to the anniversaries of societies. This is the best
check to the commencement of irregularities; and a suspicion may
reasonably be entertained of those who endeavour to suppress

On the other hand, debates respecting the affairs of the Society
should never be entered on at the ordinary meetings, as they
interrupt its business, and only a partial attendance can be
expected. That the conduct of those who have latterly managed
the Royal Society has not led to such discussions, is to be
attributed more to the forbearance of those who disapprove of the
line of conduct they have pursued, than to the discretion of the
party in not giving them cause.

The public is the last tribunal; one to which nothing but strong
necessity should induce an appeal. There are, however,
advantages in it which may, in some cases, render it better than
a public discussion at the anniversary. When the cause of
complaint is a system rather than any one great grievance, it may
be necessary to enter more into detail than a speech will permit;
also the printed statement and arguments will probably come under
the consideration of a larger number of the members. Another and
a considerable benefit is, that there is much less danger of any
expression of temper interrupting or injuring the arguments

There were other points suggested, but I shall subjoin the Report
of the Committee:--


Your Committee having maturely considered the resolution of the
Council under which they have been appointed; and having
satisfied themselves that the progressive increase of the Society
has been in a much higher ratio than the progressive increase of
population, or the general growth of knowledge, or the extension
of those sciences which it has been the great object of the
Society to promote, they have agreed to the following Report:--

Your Committee assume as indisputable propositions, that the
utility of the Society is in direct proportion to its
respectability. That its respectability can only be secured by
its comprising men of high philosophical eminence; and that the
obvious means of associating persons of this eminence will be the
public conviction, that to belong to the Society is an honour.
Your Committee, therefore, think themselves fully borne out in
the conclusion, that it would be expedient to limit the Society
to such a number as should be a fair representation of the talent
of the country; the consequence of which will be, that every
vacancy would become an object of competition among persons of
acknowledged merit.

From the returns which have been laid on your table, of the
Fellows who have contributed papers, and from the best estimate
they can make of the persons without doors who are engaged in the
active pursuit of science, your Committee feel justified in
recommending that those limits should be fixed at four hundred,
exclusive of foreign members, and of such royal personages as it
may be thought proper to admit.

As many years must elapse before the present number of seven
hundred and fourteen can be reduced to those limits by the course
of nature, and as it would be prejudicial to the interests of the
Society and of science, that no fresh accessions should take
place during that long period, your Committee would further
recommend, that till that event takes place, four new members
should be annually admitted.

With respect to the manner of admission, your Committee are of
opinion, that there are several inconveniences in the present
mode of proceeding to a single ballot upon each certificate,
according to its seniority. If the above limitation should be
adopted, it may be presumed, that for every vacancy there will be
many candidates; from amongst them, it must be the general wish
to select the most distinguished individuals; but to accomplish
this, if the present system were to be continued, it would be
necessary to reject all those candidates whose certificates were
of earlier date than theirs; a process not only extremely
irritating, but probably ineffectual from the want of unanimity.
Your Committee, therefore, most earnestly recommend, that one
general election should take place every year towards the end of
the session, and that this should be conducted on the same
principles as the present annual election of the Council and
officers; VIZ. by having lists printed of all the candidates
(whose certificates had been suspended for the usual time,) in
which lists each Fellow would mark the requisite number of

As the charter, however, requires the concurrence of two-thirds
of the Fellows present, your Committee suggest, that after the
choice has been determined by the plurality of votes by ballot in
the above manner, the successful candidates should be again
submitted to a general vote, in accordance with the enactments of
the said charter.

In concluding this part of the subject, your Committee beg leave
to remark, that by the method now proposed, the invidious act of
blackballing would cease, and with it all feelings of resentment
and mortification; as the result of such an open competition
could only be construed by the public into a fair preference of
the superior claims of the successful few, and not into a direct
and disgraceful rejection of the others.

Your Committee are fully aware, that such a reduction in the
usual admissions would materially affect the pecuniary resources
of the Society; but they are at the same time convinced, that by
a vigorous economy its present income might be rendered adequate
to all its real wants, and the aggregate expenditure might be
considerably diminished by many small but wholesome

It appears, from the accounts of last year, that although 1200L.
was received for compositions, in addition to the standing
income, and usual contributions, &c., and although no money was
invested, yet there was a balance only of a few pounds at the end
of the year. It further appears, that 500L. was paid for the
paper, 370L. for engravings, and nearly 340L. for printing; and
from those alarming facts, your Committee submit to your
consideration, whether the expenditure might not be beneficially
controlled by a standing Committee of Finance.

In obedience to the latter part of your resolution, your
Committee now proceed to offer some further suggestions for your
consideration. They conceive that it would afford a beneficial
stimulus to individual exertion, if the Fellows who have received
the medals of the Society, and those who have repeatedly enriched
its Transactions, were distinguished by being collected into a
separate and honourable list. It would also be found, perhaps,
not less a future incentive than an act of retrospective justice,
if the names of all those illustrious Fellows who have formerly
obtained the medals, as well as of all those individuals who have
been large benefactors to the Society, were recorded at the end
of the list. It would be a satisfactory addition likewise to the
annual list, if all those Fellows who have died, or had been
admitted within the preceding year, were regularly noticed. And
your Committee think, that these lists should always form part of
the Transactions, and be stitched up with the last part of the

It requires no argument to demonstrate that the well-being of the
Society mainly depends on the activity and integrity of its
Council; and as their selection is unquestionably of paramount
importance, your Committee hope that our excellent President will
not consider it any impeachment of his impartiality, or any doubt
of his zeal, if they venture to suggest, that the usual
recommendation to the Society of proper members for the future
Council should henceforth be considered as a fit subject for the
diligent and anxious deliberation of the expiring Council.

There is another point of great moment to the character of the
Society, and to the dignified station it occupies among the
learned associations of Europe; for its character abroad can only
be appreciated by the nature and value of its Transactions. Your
Committee allude to the important task of deciding on what papers
should be published; and they are of opinion that it would be a
material improvement on the present mode, if each paper were
referred to a separate Committee, who should have sufficient time
given them to examine it carefully, who should be empowered to
communicate on any doubtful parts with the author; and who should
report, not only their opinion, but the grounds on which that
opinion is formed, for the ultimate decision of the Council.

If it should be thought fit to adopt the suggestions which your
Committee have now had the honour of proposing, they beg leave to
move, that another Committee be appointed, with directions to
frame or to alter the necessary statutes, so that they may be in
strict accordance with the charters.

In concluding the Report, your Committee do not wish to disguise
the magnitude of some of the measures they have thought it their
duty to propose; on the contrary, they would not only urge the
fullest discussion of their expediency; but further, that if you
should even be unanimously disposed to confirm them, your
Committee would recommend, that the several statutes, when they
have been drawn up or modified, should be only entered on your
minutes, and not finally enacted. All innovations in the
constitution, or even the habits of the Royal Society, should be
scrutinized with the most jealous circumspection. It is enough
for the present Council to have traced the plan; let the Council
of the ensuing sessions share the credit of carrying that plan
into effect.

This Report was presented to the Council very ]ate in the session
of 1827, and on the 25th of June there occurs the following entry
on the council-book:--

"The Report of the Committee for considering the best means of
limiting the number of members, and such other suggestions as
they may think conducive to the good of the Society, was received
and read, and ordered to be entered on the minutes; and the
Council, regarding the importance of the subject, and its
bearings on the essential interests of the Society, in conformity
with the concluding paragraph, and considering also the advanced
stage of the session, recommend it to the most serious and early
consideration of the Council for the ensuing year."

Those who advocated these alterations, were in no hurry for their
hasty adoption; they were aware of their magnitude, and anxious
for the fullest investigation before one of them should be tried.

Unfortunately, the concluding recommendation of the Committee did
not coincide with the views of Mr. Gilbert, whom the party had
determined to make their new President. That gentleman made such
arrangements for the Council of the succeeding year, that when
the question respecting the consideration of the Report of that
Committee was brought forward, it was thrown aside in the manner
I have stated. Thus a report, sanctioned by the names of such a
committee, and recommended by one Council to "THE MOST SERIOUS
and EARLY consideration of the Council for the ensuing year," was
by that very Council rejected, without even the ceremony of
discussing its merits. Was every individual recommendation it
contained, not merely unfit to be adopted, but so totally
deficient in plausibility as to be utterly unworthy of
discussion? Or did the President and his officers feel, that
their power rested on an insecure foundation, and that they did
not possess the confidence of the working members of the



There are several reflections connected with the art of making
observations and experiments, which may be conveniently arranged
in this chapter.



No person will deny that the highest degree of attainable
accuracy is an object to be desired, and it is generally found
that the last advances towards precision require a greater
devotion of time, labour, and expense, than those which precede
them. The first steps in the path of discovery, and the first
approximate measures, are those which add most to the existing
knowledge of mankind.

The extreme accuracy required in some of our modern inquiries
has, in some respects, had an unfortunate influence, by favouring
the opinion, that no experiments are valuable, unless the
measures are most minute, and the accordance amongst them most
perfect. It may, perhaps, be of some use to show, that even with
large instruments, and most practised observers, this is but
rarely the case. The following extract is taken from a
representation made by the present Astronomer-Royal, to the
Council of the Royal Society, on the advantages to be derived
from the employment of two mural circles:--

"That by observing, with two instruments, the same objects at the
same time, and in the same manner, we should be able to estimate
attributed to irregularity of refraction, and how much to THE

In confirmation of this may be adduced the opinion of the late M.
Delambre, which is the more important, from the statement it
contains relative to the necessity of publishing all the
observations which have been made.

"Mais quelque soit le parti que l'on prefere, il me semble qu'on
doit tout publier. Ces irregularites memes sont des faits qu'il
importe de connoitre. LES SOINS LES PLUS ATTENTIFS N'EN
qui ne produiroit que des angles toujours parfaitment d'accord
auroit ete singulierement bien servi par les circonstances ou ne
seroit pas bien sincere."--BASE DU SYSTEME METRIQUE, Discours
Preliminaire, p. 158.

This desire for extreme accuracy has called away the attention of
experimenters from points of far greater importance, and it seems
to have been too much overlooked in the present day, that genius
marks its tract, not by the observation of quantities
inappreciable to any but the acutest senses, but by placing
Nature in such circumstances, that she is forced to record her
minutest variations on so magnified a scale, that an observer,
possessing ordinary faculties, shall find them legibly written.
He who can see portions of matter beyond the ken of the rest of
his species, confers an obligation on them, by recording what he
sees; but their knowledge depends both on his testimony and on
his judgment. He who contrives a method of rendering such atoms
visible to ordinary observers, communicates to mankind an
instrument of discovery, and stamps his own observations with a
character, alike independent of testimony or of judgment.



The remarks in this section are not proposed for the assistance
of those who are already observers, but are intended to show to
persons not familiar with the subject, that in observations
demanding no unrivalled accuracy, the principles of common sense
may be safely trusted, and that any gentleman of liberal
education may, by perseverance and attention, ascertain the
limits within which he may trust both his instrument and himself.

If the instrument is a divided one, the first thing is to learn
to read the verniers. If the divisions are so fine that the
coincidence is frequently doubtful, the best plan will be for the
learner to get some acquaintance who is skilled in the use of
instruments, and having set the instrument at hazard, to write
down the readings of the verniers, and then request his friend to
do the same; whenever there is any difference, he should
carefully examine the doubtful one, and ask his friend to point
out the minute peculiarities on which he founds his decision.
This should be repeated frequently; and after some practice, he
should note how many times in a hundred his reading differs from
his friend's, and also how many divisions they usually differ.

The next point is, to ascertain the precision with which the
learner can bisect an object with the wires of the telescope.
This can be done without assistance. It is not necessary even to
adjust the instrument, but merely to point it to a distant
object. When it bisects any remarkable point, read off the
verniers, and write down the result; then displace the telescope
a little, and adjust it again. A series of such observations
will show the confidence which is due to the observer's eye in
bisecting an object, and also in reading the verniers; and as the
first direction gave him some measure of the latter, he may, in a
great measure, appreciate his skill in the former. He should
also, when he finds a deviation in the reading, return to the
telescope, and satisfy himself if he has made the bisection as
complete as he can. In general, the student should practise each
adjustment separately, and write down the results wherever he can
measure its deviations.

Having thus practised the adjustments, the next step is to make
an observation; but in order to try both himself and the
instrument, let him take the altitude of some fixed object, a
terrestrial one, and having registered the result, let him
derange the adjustment, and repeat the process fifty or a hundred
times. This will not merely afford him excellent practice, but
enable him to judge of his own skill.

The first step in the use of every instrument, is to find the
limits within which its employer can measure the SAME OBJECT
UNDER THE SAME CIRCUMSTANCES. It is only from a knowledge of
this, that he can have confidence in his measures of the SAME

These principles are applicable to almost all instruments. If a
person is desirous of ascertaining heights by a mountain
barometer, let him begin by adjusting the instrument in his own
study; and having made the upper contact, let him write down the
reading of the vernier, and then let him derange the UPPER
adjustment ONLY, re-adjust, and repeat the reading. When he is
satisfied about the limits within which he can make that
adjustment, let him do the same repeatedly with the lower; but
let him not, until he knows his own errors in reading and
adjusting, pronounce upon those of the instrument. In the case
of a barometer, he must also be assured, that the temperature of
the mercury does not change during the interval.

A friend once brought to me a beautifully constructed piece of
mechanism, for marking minute portions of time; the three-
hundredth parts of a second were indicated by it. It was a kind
of watch, with a pin for stopping one of the hands. I proposed
that we should each endeavour to stop it twenty times in
succession, at the same point. We were both equally unpractised,
and our first endeavours showed that we could not be confident of
the twentieth part of a second. In fact, both the time occupied
in causing the extremities of the fingers to obey the volition,
as well as the time employed in compressing the flesh before the
fingers acted on the stop, appeared to influence the accuracy of
our observations. From some few experiments I made, I thought I
perceived that the rapidity of the transmission of the effects of
the will, depended on the state of fatigue or health of the body.
If any one were to make experiments on this subject, it might be
interesting, to compare the rapidity of the transmission of
volition in different persons, with the time occupied in
obliterating an impression made on one of the senses of the same
persons. For example, by having a mechanism to make a piece of
ignited charcoal revolve with different degrees of velocity, some
persons will perceive a continuous circle of light before others,
whose retina does not retain so long impressions that are made
upon it.



Scientific inquiries are more exposed than most others to the
inroads of pretenders; and I feel that I shall deserve the thanks
of all who really value truth, by stating some of the methods of
deceiving practised by unworthy claimants for its honours, whilst
the mere circumstance of their arts being known may deter future

There are several species of impositions that have been practised
in science, which are but little known, except to the initiated,
and which it may perhaps be possible to render quite intelligible
to ordinary understandings. These may be classed under the heads
of hoaxing, forging, trimming, and cooking.

OF HOAXING. This, perhaps, will be better explained by an
example. In the year 1788, M. Gioeni, a knight of Malta,
published at Naples an account of a new family of Testacea, of
which he described, with great minuteness, one species, the
specific name of which has been taken from its habitat, and the
generic he took from his own family, calling it Gioenia Sicula.
It consisted of two rounded triangular valves, united by the body
of the animal to a smaller valve in front. He gave figures of
the animal, and of its parts; described its structure, its mode
of advancing along the sand, the figure of the tract it left, and
estimated the velocity of its course at about two-thirds of an
inch per minute. He then described the structure of the shell,
which he treated with nitric acid, and found it approach nearer
to the nature of bone than any other shell.

The editors of the ENCYCLOPEDIE METHODIQUE, have copied this
description, and have given figures of the Gioenia Sicula. The
fact, however, is, that no such animal exists, but that the
knight of Malta, finding on the Sicilian shores the three
internal bones of one of the species of Bulla, of which some are
found on the south-western coast of England, [Bulla lignaria]
described and figured these bones most accurately, and drew the
whole of the rest of the description from the stores of his own

Such frauds are far from justifiable; the only excuse which has
been made for them is, when they have been practised on
scientific academies which had reached the period of dotage. It
should however be remembered, that the productions of nature are
so various, that mere strangeness is very far from sufficient to
render doubtful the existence of any creature for which there is
evidence; [The number of vertebrae in the neck of the
plesiosaurus is a strange but ascertained fact] and that, unless
the memoir itself involves principles so contradictory, as to
outweigh the evidence of a single witness, [The kind of
contradiction which is here alluded to, is that which arises from
well ascertained final causes; for instance, the ruminating
stomach of the hoofed animals, is in no case combined with the
claw-shaped form of the extremities, frequent in many of the
carniverous animals, and necessary to some of them for the
purpose of seizing their prey] it can only be regarded as a
deception, without the accompaniment of wit.

FORGING differs from hoaxing, inasmuch as in the latter the
deceit is intended to last for a time, and then be discovered, to
the ridicule of those who have credited it; whereas the forger is
one who, wishing to acquire a reputation for science, records
observations which he has never made. This is sometimes
accomplished in astronomical observations by calculating the time
and circumstances of the phenomenon from tables. The observations
of the second comet of 1784, which was only seen by the Chevalier
D'Angos, were long suspected to be a forgery, and were at length
proved to be so by the calculations and reasonings of Encke. The
pretended observations did not accord amongst each other in
giving any possible orbit. But M. Encke detected an orbit,
belonging to some of the observations, from which he found that
all the rest might be almost precisely deduced, provided a
mistake of a unity in the index of the logarithm of the radius
vector were supposed to have been made in all the rest of the
calculations. ZACH. CORR. ASTRON. Tom. IV. p. 456.

Fortunately instances of the occurrence of forging are rare.

TRIMMING consists in clipping off little bits here and there from
those observations which differ most in excess from the mean, and
in sticking them on to those which are too small; a species of
"equitable adjustment," as a radical would term it, which cannot
be admitted in science.

This fraud is not perhaps so injurious (except to the character
of the trimmer) as cooking, which the next paragraph will teach,
The reason of this is, that the AVERAGE given by the observations
of the trimmer is the same, whether they are trimmed or
untrimmed. His object is to gain a reputation for extreme
accuracy in making observations; but from respect for truth, or
from a prudent foresight, he does not distort the position of the
fact he gets from nature, and it is usually difficult to detect
him. He has more sense or less adventure than the Cook.

OF COOKING. This is an art of various forms, the object of which
is to give to ordinary observations the appearance and character
of those of the highest degree of accuracy.

One of its numerous processes is to make multitudes of
observations, and out of these to select those only which agree,
or very nearly agree. If a hundred observations are made, the
cook must be very unlucky if he cannot pick out fifteen or twenty
which will do for serving up.

Another approved receipt, when the observations to be used will
not come within the limit of accuracy, which it has been resolved
they shall possess, is to calculate them by two different
formulae. The difference in the constants employed in those
formulae has sometimes a most happy effect in promoting unanimity
amongst discordant measures. If still greater accuracy is
required, three or more formulae can be used.

It must be admitted that this receipt is in some instances rather
hazardous: but in cases where the positions of stars, as given
in different catalogues, occur, or different tables of specific
gravities, specific heats, &c. &c., it may safely be employed.
As no catalogue contains all stars, the computer must have
recourse to several; and if he is obliged to use his judgment in
the selection, it would be cruel to deny him any little advantage
which might result from it. It may, however, be necessary to
guard against one mistake into which persons might fall.

If an observer calculate particular stars from a catalogue which
makes them accord precisely with the rest of his results,
whereas, had they been computed from other catalogues the
difference would have been considerable, it is very unfair to
accuse him of COOKING; for--those catalogues may have been
notoriously inaccurate; or--they may have been superseded by
others more recent, or made with better instruments; or--the
observer may have been totally ignorant of their existence.

It sometimes happens that the constant quantities in formulae
given by the highest authorities, although they differ amongst
themselves, yet they will not suit the materials. This is
precisely the point in which the skill of the artist is shown;
and an accomplished cook will carry himself triumphantly through
it, provided happily some mean value of such constants will fit
his observations. He will discuss the relative merits of
formulae he has just knowledge enough to use; and, with admirable
candour assigning their proper share of applause to Bessel, to
Gauss, and to Laplace, he will take THAT mean value of the
constant used by three such philosophers, which will make his own
observations accord to a miracle.

There are some few reflections which I would venture to suggest
to those who cook, although they may perhaps not receive the
attention which, in my opinion, they deserve, from not coming
from the pen of an adept.

In the first place, it must require much time to try different
formulae. In the next place it may happen that, in the progress
of human knowledge, more correct formula: may be discovered, and
constants may be determined with far greater precision. Or it
may be found that some physical circumstance influences the
results, (although unsuspected at the time) the measure of which
circumstance may perhaps be recovered from other contemporary
registers of facts. [Imagine, by way of example, the state of
the barometer or thermometer.] Or if the selection of
observations has been made with the view of its agreeing
precisely with the latest determination, there is some little
danger that the average of the whole may differ from that of the
chosen ones, owing to some law of nature, dependent on the
interval between the two sets, which law some future philosopher
may discover, and thus the very best observations may have been
thrown aside.

In all these, and in numerous other cases, it would most probably
happen that the cook would procure a temporary reputation for
unrivalled accuracy at the expense of his permanent fame. It
might also have the effect of rendering even all his crude
observations of no value; for that part of the scientific world
whose opinion is of most weight, is generally so unreasonable, as
to neglect altogether the observations of those in whom they
have, on any occasion, discovered traces of the artist. In fact,
the character of an observer, as of a woman, if doubted is

The manner in which facts apparently lost are restored to light,
even after considerable intervals of time, is sometimes very
unexpected, and a few examples may not be without their use. The
thermometers employed by the philosophers who composed the
Academia Del Cimento, have been lost; and as they did not use the
two fixed points of freezing and boiling water, the results of a
great mass of observations have remained useless from our
ignorance of the value of a degree on their instrument. M.
Libri, of Florence, proposed to regain this knowledge by
comparing their registers of the temperature of the human body
and of that of some warm springs in Tuscany, which have preserved
their heat uniform during a century, as well as of other things
similarly circumstanced.

Another illustration was pointed out to me by M. Gazzeri, the
Professor of Chemistry at Florence. A few years ago an important
suit in one of the legal courts of Tuscany depended on
ascertaining whether a certain word had been erased by some
chemical process from a deed then before the court. The party
who insisted that an erasure had been made, availed themselves of
the knowledge of M. Gazzeri, who, concluding that those who
committed the fraud would be satisfied by the disappearance of
the colouring matter of the ink, suspected (either from some
colourless matter remaining in the letters, or perhaps from the
agency of the solvent having weakened the fabric of the paper
itself beneath the supposed letters) that the effect of the slow
application of heat would be to render some difference of texture
or of applied substance evident, by some variety in the shade of
colour which heat in such circumstances might be expected to
produce. Permission having been given to try the experiment, on
the application of heat the important word reappeared, to the
great satisfaction of the court.





One of the causes which has contributed to the success of the
PARTY, is to be found in the great reluctance with which many of
those whose names added lustre to the Society expressed their
opinions, and the little firmness with which they maintained
their objections. How many times have those whose activity was
additionally stimulated by their interest, proposed measures
which a few words might have checked; whilst the names of those
whose culpable silence thus permitted the project to be matured,
were immediately afterwards cited by their grateful coadjutors,
as having sanctioned that which in their hearts they knew to be a

Even in the few cases which have passed the limits of such
forbearance, when the subject has been debated in the Council,
more than one, more than two instances are known, where
subsequent circumstances have occurred, which proved, with the
most irresistible moral evidence, that members have spoken on one
side of the question, and have voted on the contrary.

This reluctance to oppose that which is disapproved, has been too
extensively and too fatally prevalent for the interests of the
Royal Society. It may partly be attributed to that reserved and
retiring disposition, which frequently marks the man of real
knowledge, as strongly as an officious interference and flippant
manner do the charlatan, or the trader in science. Some portion
of it is due to that improper deference which was long paid to
every dictum of the President, and much of it to that natural
indisposition to take trouble on any point in which a man's own
interest is not immediately concerned. It is to be hoped, for
the credit of that learned body, that no anticipation of the next
feast of St. Andrew ever influenced the taciturnity of their
disposition. [It may be necessary to inform those who are not
members of the Royal Society, that this is the day on which those
Fellows who choose, meet at Somerset House, to register the names
of the Council and Officers the President has been pleased to
appoint for the ensuing year; and who afterwards dine together,
for the purpose of praising each other over wine, which, until
within these few years, was PAID for out of the FUNDS of the
Society. This abuse was attacked by an enterprising reformer,
and of course defended by the coterie. It was, however, given up
as too bad. The public may form some idea of the feeling which
prevails in the Council, when they are informed that this
practice was defended by one of the officers of the Society, on
the ground that, if abolished, THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY WOULD LOSE



The days in which the Royal Society can have much influence in
science seem long past; nor does it appear a matter of great
importance who conduct its mismanaged affairs. Perpetual
Presidents have been tried until the Society has become disgusted
with dictators. If any reform should be attempted, it might
perhaps be deserving consideration whether the practice of
several of the younger institutions might not be worthy
imitation, and the office of President be continued only during
two sessions. There may be some inconveniences attending this
arrangement; but the advantages are conspicuous, both in the
Astronomical and Geological Societies. Each President is
ambitious of rendering the period of his reign remarkable for
some improvement in the Society over which he presides; and the
sacrifice of time which is made by the officers of those
Societies, would become impossible if it were required to be
continued for a much longer period. Another circumstance of
considerable importance is, that the personal character of the
President is less impressed on the Society; and, supposing any
injudicious alterations to be made, it is much less difficult to
correct them.



The honour of belonging to the Royal Society is much sought after
by medical men, as contributing to the success of their
professional efforts, and two consequences result from it. In
the first place, the pages of the Transactions of the Royal
Society occasionally contain medical papers of very moderate
merit; and, in the second, the preponderance of the medical
interest introduces into the Society some of the jealousies of
that profession. On the other hand, medicine is intimately
connected with many sciences, and its professors are usually too
much occupied in their practice to exert themselves, except upon
great occasions.



The Royal Institution was founded for the cultivation of the more
popular and elementary branches of scientific knowledge, and has
risen, partly from the splendid discoveries of Davy, and partly
from the decline of the Royal Society, to a more prominent
station than it would otherwise have occupied in the science of
England. Its general effects in diffusing knowledge among the
more educated classes of the metropolis, have been, and continue
to be, valuable. Its influence, however, in the government of
the Royal Society, is by no means attended with similar
advantages, and has justly been viewed with considerable jealousy
by many of the Fellows of that body. It may be stated, without
disparagement to the Royal Institution, that the scientific
qualifications necessary for its officers, however respectable,
are not quite of that high order which ought to be required for
those of the Royal Society, if the latter body were in a state of

The Royal Institution interest has always been sufficient to
appoint one of the Secretaries of the Royal Society; and at the
present moment they have appointed two. In a short time, unless
some effectual check is put to this, we shall find them
nominating the President and the rest of the officers. It is
certainly not consistent with the dignity of the Royal Society
thus to allow its offices to be given away as the rewards of
services rendered to other institutions. The only effectual way
to put a stop to this increasing interest would be, to declare
that no manager or officer of the Royal Institution should ever,
at the same time, hold office in the Royal Society.

The use the Members of the Royal Institution endeavour to make of
their power in the Council of the Royal Society, is exemplified
in the minutes of the Council of March 11, 1830, which may be
consulted with advantage by those who doubt.



The Transactions of the Royal Society, unlike those of most
foreign academies, contain nothing relating to the history of the
Society. The volumes contain merely those papers communicated to
the Society in the preceding year which the Council have selected
for printing, a meteorological register, and a notice of the
award of the annual medals, without any list of the Council and
officers of the Society, by whom that selection and that award
have been made.

Before I proceed to criticise this state of things, I will
mention one point on which I am glad to he able to bestow on the
Royal Society the highest praise. I refer to the extreme
regularity with which the volumes of the Transactions are
published. The appearance of the half-volumes at intervals of
six months, insures for any communication almost immediate
publicity; whilst the shortness of the time between its reception
and publication, is a guarantee to the public that the whole of
the paper was really communicated at the time it bears date. To
this may also be added, the rarity of any alterations made
previously to the printing, a circumstance which ought to be
imitated, as well as admired, by other societies. There may,
indeed, be some, perhaps the Geological, in which the task is
more difficult, from the nature of the subject. The sooner,
however, all societies can reduce themselves to this rule, of
rarely allowing any thing but a few verbal corrections to papers
that are placed in their hands, the better it will be for their
own reputation, and for the interests of science.

It has been, and continues to be, a subject of deep regret, that
the first scientific academy in Europe, the Institute of France,
should be thus negligent in the regularity of its publications;
and it is the more to be regretted, that it should be years in
arrear, from the circumstance, that the memoirs admitted into
their collection are usually of the highest merit. I know some
of their most active members have wished it were otherwise; I
would urge them to put a stop to a practice, which, whilst it has
no advantages to recommend it, is unjust to those who contribute,
and is only calculated to produce conflicting claims, equally
injurious to science, and to the reputation of that body, whose
negligence may have given rise to them. [Mr. Herschel, speaking
of a paper of Fresnel's, observes--"This memoir was read to the
Institute, 7th of October, 1816; a supplement was received, 19th
of January, 1818; M. Arago's report on it was read, 4th of June,
1821: and while every optical philosopher in Europe has been
impatiently expecting its appearance for seven years, it lies as
yet unpublished, and is only known to us by meagre notices in a
periodical journal."MR HERSCHEL'S TREATISE ON LIGHT, p. 533.

One of the inconveniences arising from having no historical
portion in the volumes of the Royal Society is, that not only the
public, but our own members are almost entirely ignorant of all
its affairs. With a means of giving considerable publicity (by
the circulation of above 800 copies of the Transactions) to
whatever we wish to have made known to our members or to the
world, will it be credited, that no notice was taken in our
volume for 1826, of the foundation of two Royal medals, nor of
the conditions under which they were to be distributed. [That
the Council refrained from having their first award of those
medals thus communicated, is rather creditable to them, and
proves that they had a becoming feeling respecting their former
errors.] That in 1828, when a new fund, called the donation fund,
was established, and through the liberality of Dr. Wollaston and
Mr. Davies Gilbert, it was endowed by them with the respective
sums of 2,000L. and 1,000L. 3 per cents; no notice of such fact
appears in our Transactions for 1829. Other gentlemen have
contributed; and if it is desirable to possess such a fund, it is
surely of importance to inform the non-attending, which is by far
the largest part of the Society, that it exists; and that we are
grateful to those by whom it has been founded and augmented.
Neither did the Philosophical Transactions inform our absent
members, that they could purchase the President's Discourses at
the trade-price.

The list of the Officers, Council, and Members of the Royal
Society is printed annually; yet, who ever saw it bound up with
the Philosophical Transactions, to which it is intended to be
attached? I never met with a single copy of that work so
completed, not even the one in our own library. It is extremely
desirable that the Society should know the names of their
Council; and whilst it would in some measure contribute to
prevent the President from placing incompetent persons upon it,
it would also afford some check, although perhaps but a slight
one, on the distribution of the medals. When I have urged the
expediency of the practice, I have been answered by excuses, that
the list could not be made up in time for the volume. If this is
true of the first part, they might appear with the second; and
even if this were impracticable, the plan of prefixing them to
the volume of the succeeding year, would be preferable to that of
omitting them altogether. The true reason, however, appeared at
last. It was objected to the plan, that by the present
arrangement, the porter of the Royal Society took round the list
to those members resident in London, and got from some of them a
remuneration, in the shape of a Christmas-box; and this would be
lost, if the time of printing were changed. [During the printing
of this chapter, a friend, on whom I had called, complained that
the porter of the Royal Society had demanded half-a-crown for
leaving the list.] Such are the paltry interests to which those
of the Royal Society are made to bow.

Another point on which information ought to be given in each
volume, is the conditions on which the distribution of the
Society's medals are made. It is true that these are, or ought
to be, printed with the Statutes of the Society; but that volume
is only in the hands of members, and it is for the credit of the
medals themselves, that the laws which regulate their award
should be widely known, in order that persons, not members of the
Society, might enter into competition for them.

Information relative to the admissions and deaths amongst the
Society would also be interesting; a list of the names of those
whom the Society had lost, and of those members who had been
added to its ranks each year, would find a proper place in the
historical pages which ought to be given with each volume of our

The want of a distinction between the working members of the
Society, and those who merely honour it with their patronage,
renders many arrangements, which would be advantageous to
science, in some cases, injudicious, and in other instances,
almost impossible.

Collections of Observations which are from time to time given to
the Society, may be of such a nature, that but few of the members
are interested in them. In such cases, the expense of printing
above 800 copies may reasonably induce the Council to decline
printing them altogether; whereas, if they had any means of
discrimination for distributing them, they might be quite willing
to incur the expense of printing 250. Other cases may occur, in
which great advantage would accrue, if the principle were once
admitted. Government, the Universities, public bodies, and even
individuals might, in some cases, be disposed to present to the
Royal Society a limited number of copies of their works, if they
knew that they were likely to be placed in the hands of persons
who would use them. Fifty or a hundred additional copies might,
in some cases, not be objected to on the ground of expense, when
seven or eight hundred would be quite out of the question.

Let us suppose twenty copies of a description of some new
chemical process to be placed at the disposal of the Royal
Society by any public body; it will not surely be contended that
they ought all to remain on the Society's shelves. Yet, with our
present rules, that would be the case. If, however, the list of
the Members of the Society were read over to the Council, and the
names of those gentlemen known to be conversant with chemical
science were written down; then, if nineteen copies of the work
were given to those nineteen persons on this list, who had
contributed most to the Transactions of the Society, they would
in all probability be placed in the fittest hands.

Complete sets of the Philosophical Transactions have now become
extremely bulky; it might be well worth our consideration,
whether the knowledge of the many valuable papers they contain
would not be much spread, by publishing the abstracts of them
which have been read at the ordinary meetings of the Society.
Perhaps two or three volumes octavo, would contain all that has
been done in this way during the last century.

Another circumstance, which would contribute much to the order of
the proceedings of the Council, would be to have a distinct list
made out of all the statutes and orders of the Council relating
to each particular subject.

Thus the President, by having at one view before him all that had
ever been decreed on the question under consideration, would be
much better able to prevent inconsistent resolutions, and to save
the time of the Council from being wasted by unnecessary



Amongst the various proposals for encouraging science, the
institution of an order of merit has been suggested. It is
somewhat singular, that whilst in most of the other kingdoms of
Europe, such orders exist for the purpose of rewarding, by
honorary distinctions, the improvers of the arts of life, or
successful discoverers in science, nothing of the kind has been
established in England. [At the great meeting of the
philosophers at Berlin, in 1828, of which an account is given in
the Appendix; the respect in which Berzelius, Oersted, Gauss, and
Humboldt were held in their respective countries was apparent in
the orders bestowed on them by the Sovereigns of Sweden, of
Denmark, of Hanover, and of Prussia; and there were present many
other philosophers, whose decorations sufficiently attested the
respect in which science was held in the countries from which
they came.]

Our orders of knighthood are favourable only to military
distinction. It has been urged, as an argument for such
institutions, that they are a cheap mode of rewarding science,
whilst, on the other hand, it has been objected, that they would
diminish the value of such honorary distinctions by making them
common. The latter objection is of little weight, because the
numbers who pursue science are few, and, probably, will long
continue so. It would also be easily avoided, by restricting the
number of the order or of the class, if it were to form a
peculiar class of another order. Another objection, however,
appears to me to possess far greater weight; and, however strong
the disposition of the Government might be (if such an order
existed) to fill it properly, I do not believe that, in the
present state of public opinion respecting science, it could be
done, and, in all probability, it would be filled up through the
channels of patronage, and by mere jobbers in science.

Another proposal, of a similar kind, has also been talked of, one
which it may appear almost ridiculous to suggest in England, but
which would be considered so in no other country. It is, to
ennoble some of the greatest scientific benefactors of their
country. Not to mention political causes, the ranks of the
nobility are constantly recruited from the army, the navy, and
the bar; why should not the family of that man, whose name is
imperishably connected with the steam-engine, be enrolled amongst
the nobility of his country? In utility and profit, not merely
to that country, but to the human race, his deeds may proudly
claim comparison even with the most splendid of those achieved by
classes so rich in glorious recollections. An objection, in most
cases fatal to such a course, arises from the impolicy of
conferring a title, unless a considerable fortune exists to
support it; a circumstance very rarely occurring to the
philosopher. It might in some measure be removed, by creating
such titles only for life. But here, again, until there existed
some knowledge of science amongst the higher classes, and a sound
state of public opinion relative to science, the execution of the
plan could only be injurious.



This idea has occurred to several persons, as likely to lead to
considerable advantages to science. If the various scientific
societies could unite in the occupation of one large building,
considerable economy would result from the union. By properly
arranging their evenings of meeting, one meeting-room only need
be required. The libraries might either be united, or arranged
in adjoining rooms; and such a system would greatly facilitate
the inquiries of scientific persons.

Whether it would be possible to reunite in any way the different
societies to the Royal Society, might be a delicate question; but
although, on some accounts, desirable, that event is not
necessary for the purpose of their having a common residence.

The Medico-Botanical Society might, perhaps, from sympathy, be
the first to which the Royal Society would apply; and by a proper
interchange of diplomas, [A thing well understood by the
INITIATED, both at HOME and ABROAD.] the two societies might be
inoculated with each other. But even here some tact would be
required; the Medico-Botanical is a little particular about the
purity of its written documents, and lately attributed blame to
one of its officers for some slight tampering with them, a degree
of illiberality which the Council of the Royal Society are far
from imitating.

The Geological and the Astronomical Societies nourish no feelings
of resentment to the parent institution for their early
persecution; and though they have no inducement to seek, would
scarcely refuse any union which might be generally advantageous
to science.


In a work on the Decline of Science, at a period when England has
so recently lost two of its brightest ornaments, I should hardly
be excused if I omitted to devote a few words to the names of
Wollaston and of Davy. Until the warm feelings of surviving
kindred and admiring friends shall be cold as the grave from
which remembrance vainly recalls their cherished forms, invested
with all the life and energy of recent existence, the volumes of
their biography must be sealed. Their contemporaries can expect
only to read their eloge.

In habits of intercourse with both those distinguished
individuals, sufficiently frequent to mark the curiously
different structure of their minds, I was yet not on such terms
even with him I most esteemed, as to view his great qualities
through that medium which is rarely penetrated by the eyes of
long and very intimate friendship.

Caution and precision were the predominant features of the
character of Wollaston, and those who are disposed to reduce the
number of principles, would perhaps justly trace the precision
which adorned his philosophical, to the extreme caution which
pervaded his moral character. It may indeed be questioned whether
the latter quality will not in all persons of great abilities
produce the former.

Ambition constituted a far larger ingredient in the character of
Davy, and with the daring hand of genius he grasped even the
remotest conclusions to which a theory led him. He seemed to
think invention a more common attribute than it really is, and
hastened, as soon as he was in possession of a new fact or a new
principle, to communicate it to the world, doubtful perhaps lest
he might not be anticipated; but, confident in his own powers, he
was content to give to others a chance of reaping some part of
that harvest, the largest portion of which he knew must still
fall to his own share.

Dr. Wollaston, on the other hand, appreciated more truly the
rarity of the inventive faculty; and, undeterred by the fear of
being anticipated, when he had contrived a new instrument, or
detected a new principle, he brought all the information that he
could collect from others, or which arose from his own
reflection, to bear upon it for years, before he delivered it to
the world.

The most singular characteristic of Wollaston's mind was the
plain and distinct line which separated what he knew from what he
did not know; and this again, arising from his precision, might
be traced to caution.

It would, however, have been visible to such an extent in few
except himself, for there were very few so perfectly free from
vanity and affectation. To this circumstance may be attributed a
peculiarity of manner in the mode in which he communicated
information to those who sought it from him, which was to many
extremely disagreeable. He usually, by a few questions,
ascertained precisely how much the inquirer knew upon the
subject, or the exact point at which his ignorance commenced, a
process not very agreeable to the vanity of mankind; taking up
the subject at this point, he would then very clearly and shortly
explain it.

His acquaintance with mathematics was very limited. Many years
since, when I was an unsuccessful candidate for a professorship
of mathematics, I applied to Dr. W. for a recommendation; he
declined it, on the ground of its not being his pursuit. I told
him I asked it, because I thought it would have weight, to which
he replied, that it ought to have none whatever. There is no
doubt his view was the just one. Yet such is the state of
ignorance which exists on these subjects, that I have several
times heard him mentioned as one of the greatest mathematicians
of the age. [This of course could only have happened in England.]
But in this as in all other points, the precision with which he
comprehended and retained all he had ever learned, especially of
the elementary applications of mathematics to physics, was such,
that he possessed greater command over those subjects than many
of far more extensive knowledge.

In associating with Wollaston, you perceived that the predominant
principle was to avoid error; in the society of Davy, you saw
that it was the desire to see and make known truth. Wollaston
never could have been a poet; Davy might have been a great one.

A question which I put, successively, to each of these
distinguished philosophers, will show how very differently a
subject may be viewed by minds even of the highest order.

About the time Mr. Perkins was making his experiments on the
compression of water, I was much struck with the mechanical means
he had brought to bear on the subject, and was speculating on
other applications of it, which I will presently mention.

Meeting Dr. Wollaston one morning in the shop of a bookseller, I
proposed this question: If two volumes of hydrogen and one of
oxygen are mixed together in a vessel, and if by mechanical
pressure they can be so condensed as to become of the same
specific gravity as water, will the gases under these
circumstances unite and form water? "What do you think they will
do?" said Dr. W. I replied, that I should rather expect they
would unite. "I see no reason to suppose it," said he. I then
inquired whether he thought the experiment worth making. He
answered, that he did not, for that he should think it would
certainly not succeed.

A few days after, I proposed the same question to Sir Humphry
Davy. He at once said, "they will become water, of course;" and
on my inquiring whether he thought the experiment worth making,
he observed that it was a good experiment, but one which it was
hardly necessary to make, as it must succeed.

These were off-hand answers, which it might perhaps be hardly
fair to have recorded, had they been of persons of less eminent
talent: and it adds to the curiosity of the circumstance to
mention, that I believe Dr. Wollaston's reason for supposing no
union would take place, arose from the nature of the electrical
relations of the two gases remaining unchanged, an objection
which did not weigh with the philosopher whose discoveries had
given birth to it.

[The result of the experiment appeared, and still appears to me,
to be of the highest importance; and I will shortly state the
views with which it was connected. The next great discovery in
chemistry to definite proportions, will be to find means of
forming all the simple unions of one atom with one, with two, or
with more of say other substance: and it occurred to me that the
gaseous bodies presented the fairest chance of success; and that
if wishing, for instance, to unite four atoms of one substance
with one of another, we could, by mechanical means, reduce the
mixed gases to the same specific gravity as the substance would
possess which resulted from their union, then either that such
union would actually take place, or the particles of the two
substances would be most favourably situated for the action of
caloric, electricity, or other causes, to produce the
combination. It would indeed seem to follow, that if combination
should take place under such circumstances, then the most
probable proportion in which the atoms would unite, should be
that which furnished a fluid of the least specific gravity: but
until the experiments are made, it is by no means certain that
other combinations might not be produced.]

The singular minuteness of the particles of bodies submitted by
Dr. Wollaston to chemical analysis, has excited the admiration of
all those who have had the good fortune to witness his
experiments; and the methods he employed deserve to be much more
widely known.

It appears to me that a great mistake exists on the subject. It
has been adduced as one of those facts which prove the
extraordinary acuteness of the bodily senses of the individual,
--a circumstance which, if it were true, would add but little to
his philosophical character; I am, however, inclined to view it
in a far different light, and to see in it one of the natural
results of the admirable precision of his knowledge.

During the many opportunities I have enjoyed of seeing his minute
experiments, I remember but one instance in which I noticed any
remarkable difference in the acuteness of his bodily faculties,
either of his hearing, his sight, or of his sense of smell, from
those of other persons who possessed them in a good degree.
[This was at Mr. South's observatory, and the object was, the
dots on the declination circle of his equatorial; but, in this
instance, Dr. Wollaston did not attempt to TEACH ME HOW TO SEE

He never showed me an almost microscopic wire, which was visible
to his, and invisible to my own eye: even in the beautiful
experiments he made relative to sounds inaudible to certain ears,
he never produced a tone which was unheard by mine, although
sensible to his ear; and I believe this will be found to have
been the case by most of those whose minds had been much
accustomed to experimental inquiries, and who possessed their
faculties unimpaired by illness or by age.

It was a much more valuable property on which the success of such
inquiries depended. It arose from the perfect attention which he
could command, and the minute precision with which he examined
every object. A striking illustration of the fact that an object
is frequently not seen, FROM NOT KNOWING HOW TO SEE IT, rather
than from any defect in the organ of vision, occurred to me some
years since, when on a visit at Slough. Conversing with Mr.
Herschel on the dark lines seen in the solar spectrum by
Fraunhofer, he inquired whether I had seen them; and on my
replying in the negative, and expressing a great desire to see
them, he mentioned the extreme difficulty he had had, even with
Fraunhofer's description in his hand and the long time which it
had cost him in detecting them. My friend then added, "I will
prepare the apparatus, and put you in such a position that they
shall be visible, and yet you shall look for them and not find
them: after which, while you remain in the same position, I will
instruct you how to see them, and you shall see them, and not
merely wonder you did not see them before, but you shall find it
impossible to look at the spectrum without seeing them."

On looking as I was directed, notwithstanding the previous
warning, I did not see them; and after some time I inquired how
they might be seen, when the prediction of Mr. Herschel was
completely fulfilled.

It was this attention to minute phenomena which Dr. Wollaston
applied with such powerful effect to chemistry. In the ordinary
cases of precipitation the cloudiness is visible in a single drop
as well as in a gallon of a solution; and in those cases where
the cloudiness is so slight, as to require a mass of fluid to
render it visible, previous evaporation, quickly performed on
slips of window glass, rendered the solution more concentrated.

The true value of this minute chemistry arises from its cheapness
and the extreme rapidity with which it can be accomplished: it
may, in hands like those of Wollaston, be used for discovery, but
not for measure. I have thought it more necessary to place this
subject on what I consider its true grounds, for two reasons. In
the first place, I feel that injustice has been done to a
distinguished philosopher in attributing to some of his bodily
senses that excellence which I think is proved to have depended
on the admirable training of his intellectual faculties. And, in
the next place, if I have established the fact, whilst it affords
us better means of judging of such observations as lay claim to
an accuracy "MORE THAN HUMAN," it also opens, to the patient
inquirer into truth, a path by which he may acquire powers that
he would otherwise have thought were only the gift of nature to a
favoured few.


In presenting to my readers the account of the meeting of men of
science at Berlin, in the autumn of 1828, I am happy to be able
to state, that its influence has been most beneficial, and that
the annual meeting to be held in 1831, will take place at Vienna,
the Emperor of Austria having expressed a wish that every
facility which his capital affords should be given to promote its

It is gratifying to find that a country, which has hitherto been
considered adverse to the progress of knowledge, should become
convinced of its value; and it is sincerely to be hoped, that
every one of the numerous members of the Society will show, by
his conduct, that the paths of science are less likely than any
others to interfere with those of politics.

APRIL, 1829.

The existence of a large society of cultivators of the natural
sciences meeting annually at some great capital, or some central
town of Europe, is a circumstance almost unknown to us, and
deserving of our attention, from the important advantages which
may arise from it.

About eight years ago, Dr. Okens, of Munich, suggested a plan for
an annual meeting of all Germans who cultivated the sciences of
medicine and botany. The first meeting, of about forty members,
took place at Leipsic, in 1822, and it was successively held at
Halle, Wurtzburg, Frankfort on the Maine, Dresden, Munich, and
Berlin. All those who had printed a certain number of sheets of
their inquiries on these subjects were considered members of this

The great advantages which resulted to these sciences from the
communication of observations from all quarters of Germany, soon
induced an extension of the plan, and other departments of
natural knowledge were admitted, until, at the last meeting, the
cultivators even of pure mathematics were found amongst the ranks
of this academy.

Several circumstances, independent of the form and constitution
of the academy, contributed to give unwonted splendour to the
last meeting, which took place at Berlin in the middle of
September of the last year.

The capital selected for its temporary residence is scarcely
surpassed by any in Europe in the number and celebrity of its

The taste for knowledge possessed by the reigning family, has
made knowledge itself fashionable; and the severe sufferings of
the Prussians previous to the war, by which themselves and Europe
were freed, have impressed on them so strongly the lesson that
"knowledge is power," that its effects are visible in every
department of the government; and there is no country in Europe
in which talents and genius so surely open for their possessors
the road to wealth and distinction.

Another circumstance also contributed its portion to increase the
numbers of the meeting of the past year. The office of president,
which is annually changed, was assigned to M. Alexander de
Humboldt. The universality of his acquirements, which have left
no branch within the wide range of science indifferent or
unexplored, has connected him by friendship with almost all the
most celebrated philosophers of the age; whilst the polished
amenity of his manners, and that intense desire of acquiring and
of spreading knowledge, which so peculiarly characterizes his
mind, renders him accessible to all strangers, and insures for
them the assistance of his counsel in their scientific pursuits,
and the advantage of being made known to all those who are
interested or occupied in similar inquiries.

Professor Lichtenstein, (Director of the Museum of Zoology,) as
secretary of the academy, was indefatigable in his attentions,
and most ably seconded the wishes of its distinguished president.

These two gentlemen, assisted by several of the residents at
Berlin, undertook the numerous preliminary arrangements necessary
for the accommodation of the meeting.

On the 18th of September, 1828, there were assembled at Berlin
377 members of the academy, whose names and residences (in
Berlin) were printed in a small pamphlet, and to each name was
attached a number, to indicate his seat in the great concert
room, in which the morning meetings took place. Each member was
also provided with an engraved card of the hall of meeting, on
which the numbers of the seats were printed in black ink, and his
own peculiar seat marked in red ink, so that every person
immediately found his own place, and knew where to look for any
friend whom he might wish to find.

At the hour appointed for the opening of the meeting, the members
being assembled, and the galleries and orchestra being filled by
an assemblage of a large part of the rank and beauty of the
capital, and the side-boxes being occupied by several branches of
the royal family, and by the foreign ambassadors, the session of
the academy was opened by the eloquent address of the president.

SPEECH made at the Opening of the Society of German Naturalists
and Natural Philosophers at Berlin, the 18th of September, 1828.

Since through your choice, which does me so much honour, I am
permitted to open this meeting, the first duty which I have to
discharge is one of gratitude. The distinction which has been
conferred on him who has never yet been able to attend your
excellent society, is not the reward of scientific efforts, or of
feeble and persevering attempts to discover new phenomena, or to
draw the light of knowledge from the unexplored depths of nature.
A finer feeling, however, directed your attention to me. You have
assured me, that while, during an absence of many years, and in a
distant quarter of the globe, I was labouring in the same cause
with yourselves, I was not a stranger in your thoughts. You have
likewise greeted my return home, that, by the sacred tie of
gratitude, you might bind me still longer and closer to our
common country.

What, however, can the picture of this, our native land, present
more agreeable to the mind, than the assembly which we receive
to-day for the first time within our walls; from the banks of the
Neckar, the birth-place of Kepler and of Schiller, to the
remotest border of the Baltic plains; from hence to the mouths of
the Rhine, where, under the beneficent influence of commerce, the
treasuries of exotic nature have for centuries been collected and
investigated, the friends of nature, inspired with the same zeal,
and, urged by the same passion, flock together to this assembly.
Everywhere, where the German language is used, and its peculiar
structure affects the spirit and disposition of the people. From
the Great European Alps, to the other side of the Weichsel,
where, in the country of Copernicus, astronomy rose to renewed
splendour; everywhere in the extensive dominions of the German
nation we attempt to discover the secret operations of nature,
whether in the heavens, or in the deepest problems of mechanics,
or in the interior of the earth, or in the finely woven tissues
of organic structure.

Protected by noble princes, this assembly has annually increased
in interest and extent. Every distinction which difference of
religion or form of government can occasion is here annulled.
Germany manifests itself as it were in its intellectual unity;
and since knowledge of truth and performance of duty are the
highest object of morality, that feeling of unity weakens none of
the bonds which the religion, constitution, and laws of our
country, have rendered dear to each of us. Even this emulation in
mental struggles has called forth (as the glorious history of our
country tells us,) the fairest blossoms of humanity, science, and

The assembly of German naturalists and natural philosophers since
its last meeting, when it was so hospitably received at Munich,
has, through the flattering interest of neighbouring states and
academies, shone with peculiar lustre. Allied nations have
renewed the ancient alliance between Germany and the ancient
Scandinavian North.

Such an interest deserves acknowledgment the more, because it
unexpectedly increases the mass of facts and opinions which are
here brought into one common and useful union. It also recalls
lofty recollections into the mind of the naturalist. Scarcely
half a century has elapsed since Linne appears, in the boldness
of the undertakings which he has attempted and accomplished, as
one of the greatest men of the last century. His glory, however
bright, has not rendered Europe blind to the merits of Scheele
and Bergman. The catalogue of these great names is not completed;
but lest I shall offend noble modesty, I dare not speak of the
light which is still flowing in richest profusion from the North,
nor mention the discoveries in the chemical nature of substances,
in the numerical relation of their elements, or the eddying
streams of electro-magnetic powers. [The philosophers here
referred to are Berzelius and Oersted.] May those excellent
persons, who, deterred neither by perils of sea or land, have
hastened to our meeting from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland,
England, and Poland, point our the way to other strangers in
succeeding years, so that by turns every part of Germany may
enjoy the effects of scientific communication with the different
nations of Europe.

But although I must restrain the expression of my personal
feelings in presence of this assembly, I must be permitted at
least to name the patriarchs of our national glory, who are
detained from us by a regard for those lives so dear to their
country;--Goethe, whom the great creations of poetical fancy have
not prevented from penetrating the ARCANA of nature, and who now
in rural solitude mourns for his princely friend, as Germany for
one of her greatest ornaments;--Olbers, who has discovered two
bodies where he had already predicted they were to be found;--the
greatest anatomists of our age--Soemmering, who, with equal zeal,
has investigated the wonders of organic structure, and the spots
and FACULAE of the sun, (condensations and openings of the
photosphere;) Blumenbach, whose pupil I have the honour to be,
who, by his works and his immortal eloquence, has inspired
everywhere a love of comparative anatomy, physiology, and the
general history of nature, and who has laboured diligently for
half a century. How could I resist the temptation to adorn my
discourse with names which posterity will repeat, as we are not
favoured with their presence?

These observations on the literary wealth of our native country,
and the progressive developement of our institution, lead us
naturally to the obstructions which will arise from the
increasing number of our fellow-labourers, The chief object of
this assembly does not consist, as in other societies whose
sphere is more limited, in the mutual interchange of treatises,
or in innumerable memoirs, destined to be printed in some general
collection. The principal object of this Society is, to bring
those personally together who are engaged in the same field of
science. It is the immediate, and therefore more obvious
interchange of ideas, whether they present themselves as facts,
opinions, or doubts. It is the foundation of friendly connexion
which throws light on science, adds cheerfulness to life, and
gives patience and amenity to the manners.

In the most flourishing period of ancient Greece, the distinction
between words and writing first manifested itself most strongly
amongst a race, which had raised itself to the most splendid
intellectual superiority, and to whose latest descendants, as
preserved from the shipwreck of nations, we still consecrate our
most anxious wishes. It was not the difficulty of interchange of
ideas alone, nor the want of German science, which has spread
thought as on wings through the world, and insured it a long
continuance, that then induced the friends of philosophy and
natural history in Magna Graecia and Asia Minor to wander on long
journeys. That ancient race knew the inspiring influence of
conversation as it extemporaneously, freely, and prudently
penetrates the tissue of scientific opinions and doubts. The
discovery of the truth without difference of opinion is
unattainable, because the truth, in its greatest extent, can
never be recognized by all, and at the same time. Each step,
which seems to bring the explorer of nature nearer to his object,
only carries him to the threshold of new labyrinths. The mass of
doubt does not diminish, but spreads like a moving cloud over
other and new fields; and whoever has called that a golden
period, when difference of opinions, or, as some are accustomed
to express it, the disputes of the learned, will be finished, has
as imperfect a conception of the wants of science, and of its
continued advancement, as a person who expects that the same
opinions in geognosy, chemistry, or physiology, will be
maintained for several centuries.

The founders of this society, with a deep sense of the unity of
nature, have combined in the completest manner, all the branches
of physical knowledge, and the historical, geometrical, and
experimental philosophy. The names of natural historian and
natural philosopher are here, therefore, nearly synonimous,
chained by a terrestrial link to the type of the lower animals.
Man completes the scale of higher organization. In his
physiological and pathological qualities, he scarcely presents to
us a distinct class of beings. As to what has brought him to this
exalted object of physical study, and has raised him to general
scientific investigation, belongs principally to this society.
Important as it is not to break that link which embraces equally
the investigation of organic and inorganic nature, still the
increasing ties and daily developement of this institution
renders it necessary, besides the general meeting which is
destined for these halls, to have specific meetings for single
branches of science. For it is only in such contracted circles,
--it is only among men whom reciprocity of studies has brought
together, that verbal discussions can take place. Without this
sort of communication, would the voluntary association of men in
search of truth be deprived of an inspiring principle.

Among the preparations which are made in this city for the
advancement of the society, attention has been principally paid
to the possibility of such a subdivision into sections. The hope
that these preparations will meet with your approbation, imposes
upon me the duty of reminding you, that, although you had
entrusted to two travellers, equally, the duty of making these
arrangements, yet it is to one alone, my noble friend, M.
Lichtenstein, that the merit of careful precaution and
indefatigable activity is due. Out of respect to the scientific
spirit which animates the Society of German Naturalists and
Natural Philosophy, and in acknowledgment of the utility of their
efforts, government have seconded all our wishes with the
greatest cheerfulness.

In the vicinity of the place of meeting, which has in this manner
been prepared for our general and special labours, are situated
the museums dedicated to anatomy, zoology, oryctognosy, and
geology. They exhibit to the naturalist a rich mine for
observation and critical discussion. The greater number of these
well-arranged collections have existed, like the University of
Berlin, scarcely twenty years. The oldest of them, to which the
Botanical Garden, (one of the richest in Europe) belongs, have
during this period not only been increased, but entirely
remodelled. The amusement and instruction derived from such
institutions, call to our minds, with deep feelings of gratitude,
that they are the work of that great monarch, who modestly and in
simple grandeur, adorns every year this royal city with new
treasures of nature and art; and what is of still greater value
than the treasures themselves,--what inspires every Prussian with
youthful strength, and with an enthusiastic love for the ancient
reigning family,--that he graciously attaches to himself every
species of talent, and extends with confidence his royal
protection to the free cultivation of the understanding.

This was followed by a paper on magnetism, by Professor Oersted;
and several other memoirs were then read.

The arrival of so many persons of similar pursuit, (for 464
members were present,) rendered it convenient to have some
ordinary, at which those who chose might dine, and introduce
their friends or families. This had been foreseen, and his
Majesty had condescended to allow the immense building used for
the exercise of his troops, to be employed for this purpose.
One-third of it was floored on the occasion, and tables were
arranged, at which, on one occasion, 850 persons sat down to
dinner. On the evening of the first day, M. de Humboldt gave a
large SOIREE in the concert rooms attached to the theatre. About
1200 persons assembled on this occasion, and his Majesty the King
of Prussia honoured with his presence the fete of his illustrious
chamberlain. The nobility of the country, foreign princes, and
foreign ambassadors, were present. It was gratifying to observe
the princes of the blood mingling with the cultivators of
science, and to see the heir-apparent to the throne, during the
course of the evening, engaged in conversation with those most
celebrated for their talents, of his own, or of other countries.

Nor were the minor arrangements of the evening beneath the
consideration of the President. The words of the music selected
for the concert, were printed and distributed to the visitors.
The names of the most illustrious philosophers which Germany had
produced, were inscribed in letters of gold at the end of the
great concert room.

In the first rank amongst these stood a name which, England, too,
enrolls amongst the brightest in her scientific annals; and
proud, as well she may be, of having fostered and brought to
maturity the genius of the first Herschel, she has reaped an
ample reward in being able to claim as entirely her own, the
inheritor of his talents and his name.

The six succeeding days were occupied, in the morning, by a
meeting of the academy, at which papers of general interest were
read. In the afternoon, through the arrangement of M. de Humboldt
and M. Lichtenstein, various rooms were appropriated for
different sections of the academy. In one, the chemical
philosophers attended to some chemical memoir, whilst the
botanists assembled in another room, the physiologists in a
third, and the natural philosophers in a fourth. Each attended to
the reading of papers connected with their several sciences. Thus
every member was at liberty to choose that section in which he
felt most interest at the moment, and he had at all times power
of access to the others. The evenings were generally spent at
some of the SOIREES of the savans, resident at Berlin, whose
hospitality and attentions to their learned brethren of other
countries were unbounded. During the unoccupied hours of the
morning, the collections of natural history, which are rapidly
rising into importance, were open to examination; and the various
professors and directors who assisted the stranger in his
inquiries, left him equally gratified by the knowledge and
urbanity of those who so kindly aided him.

A map of Europe was printed, on which those towns only appeared
which had sent representatives to this scientific congress; and
the numbers sent by different kingdoms appeared by the following
table, which was attached to it;--
Russia. . . . . . . . . 1
Austria . . . . . . . . 0
England . . . . . . . . 1
Holland . . . . . . . . 2
Denmark . . . . . . . . 7
France . . . . . . . . 1
Sardinia . . . . . . . 0
Prussia . . . . . . . . 95
Bavaria . . . . . . . . 12
Hanover . . . . . . . . 5
Saxony . . . . . . . . 21
Wirtemburg . . . . . . 2
Sweden . . . . . . . . 13
Naples . . . . . . . . 1
Poland . . . . . . . . 3
German States . . . . . 43
Berlin . . . . . . . 172

The proportion in which the cultivators of different sciences
appeared, was not easy to ascertain, because there were few
amongst the more eminent who had not added to more than one
branch of human knowledge. The following table, though not
professing to be very accurate, will afford, perhaps, a tolerably
fair view:--

Geometers . . . . . . . 11
Astronomers . . . . . . 5
Natural Philosophers . 23
-- 39

Mines . . . . . . . . . 5
Mineralogy . . . . . . 16
Geology . . . . . . . . 9
-- 30

Chemistry . . . . . . . . . 18
Geography . . . . . . . . . 8
Anatomy . . . . . . . . . . 12

Zoology . . . . . . . . 14
Natural History . . . . 8
Botany . . . . . . . . . 35
-- 57

Physicians . . . . . . . 175
Amateurs . . . . . . . 9
Various . . . . . . . . 35

A medal was struck in commemoration of this meeting, and it was
proposed that it should form the first of a series, which should
comprise all those persons most celebrated for their scientific
discoveries in the past and present age.


An examination into some charges brought against one of the
twenty-four candidates, mentioned in a note as having their names
suspended in the meeting-room of the Royal Society, at one time,
has caused a printed pamphlet to be circulated amongst the
members of the Society. Of the charges themselves I shall offer
no opinion, but entreat every member to judge for himself. I
shall, however, make one extract, which tends to show how the
ranks of the Society are recruited.


"When I wished you to Propose me at the Geological Society, you
asked me why you should not propose me also at the Royal Society;
and my answer was, that it was an honour to which I did not think
I could aspire; that my talents were too insignificant to warrant
such pretensions. Many days passed, and still you pressed me on
the subject, because your partiality made you think me deserving
of the honour; but I resisted, really through modesty, not that I
did not covet the distinction, until something was said of my
paper on the meteoric mass of iron of Brazil, which was published
some years ago in the Transactions of the Royal Society; when you
insisted on proposing me, and I assented gratefully, because I
was and am desirous of being a Fellow of the Royal Society, if I
can be supposed worthy of having my name so honourably enrolled."


"All that you have said respecting your being a candidate for
admission into the Royal Society, is correct to the letter. I
pressed the subject upon you, and I would do it again to-morrow,
were it necessary."

Here, then, we find Mr. Children, who has been on the Council of
the Royal Society, and who was, a few years since, one of its
Secretaries, pressing one of his friends to become, and actually
insisting on proposing him as, a Fellow of the Royal Society, He
must have been well aware of the feelings which prevail amongst
the Council as to the propriety of such a step, and by publishing
the fact, seems quite satisfied that such a course is
advantageous to the interests of the Society. That similar
applications were not unfrequently made in private, is well
known; but it remains for the Society to consider whether, now
they are publicly and officially announced to them, it will
sanction this mode of augmenting the already numerous list of its



N. B.--The Numbers are made up to the present year for the
Papers, but only to 1827 for Members of the Council.

No. of No. of
Papers years on
printed Council.
in Phil.
-------- -------
3 Aberdeen, Earl of.
3 3 Abernethy, John.
2 Allan, Thomas.
3 Allen, William.
1 Arden, Lord.
1 Atholl, Duke of.
7 2 Babbage, Charles,
1 Babington, William.
1 2 Baily,Francis.
9 Barlow, Peter. (C)
2 Barnard, Sir F. Augusta.
5 Barrow, John.
2 Bauer, Francis.
1 Bayley, John.
1 Beaufort, Francis.
2 Beaufoy, Henry.
5 Bell, Charles.
1 Bingley, Robert.
1 Blackburne, John.
3 Blake, William.
1 3 Blane, Sir Gilbert.
1 1 Blizard, Sir William.
1 1 Bostock, John.
12 10 Brande, Wm. Thos. (C)
16 Brewster, David. (C)
6 1 Brodie, B. Collins. (C)
1 Bromhead Sir E. F.
3 Brougham, Henry.
1 Browne, Henry.
1 Brown, Robert.
2 Brownlow, Earl.
1 Buckland, Rev. W. (C)
1 Burney, Rev. C. Parr.
1 Canterbury, Archbp. of.
1 Carew, Rt. Hon. R. P.
7 Carlisle, Sir Anthony.
2 Carlisle, Nicholas.
1 Carne, Joseph.
1 Carrington, Sir C. E.
2 Charleville, Earl of.
7 2 Chenevix, Richard. (C)
3 4 Children, John George.
10 Christie, Sam. Hunter.
1 Clerk, Sir George.
2 Clift, William.
9 Cloyne, Bishop of. (C)
2 Colby, Colonel Thomas.
1 Colebrooke, Henry T.
2 2 Cooper, Sir Astley P. (C)
1 Crichton, Sir Alex.
5 Croker, John Wilson.
1 Cullum, Sir T. Gery.
2 Dalton, John.
2 Darnley, Earl of
1 Darwin, Robert Waring.
1 Davis, John Francis.
2 Davy, Edmund.
13 Davy, John.
3 Dyllwin, Lewis Weston.
1 Dollond, George.
1 Dudley and Ward, Visc.
2 Earle, Henry.
1 Egremont, Earl of.
1 Fallows, Rev. Fearon.
8 Faraday, Michael.
1 Farnborough, Lord.
1 Fisher, Rev. George.
1 Fly, Rev. Henry.
2 Foster, Henry.
1 1 Frankland, Sir Thomas.
1 Gibbes, Sir Geo, Smith.
2 13 Gilbert, Davies.
2 Gillies, John.
5 Goldingham, John.
3 1 Gompertz, Benjamin.
1 Goodenough, George T.
2 Gordon, Sir James W.
3 Granville, Augustus B.
1 Greatorex, Thomas.
1 Greenough, Geo.Bellas.
1 Griffiths, John.
3 1 Groombridge, Stephen.
1 Halford, Sir Henry.
2 Hall, Basil.
1 Hamilton, Wm. Rich.
2 Hardwicke, Earl of.
2 Harvey, George.
1 Harwood, J.
16 10 Hatchett, Charles. (C)
1 Hawkins, John.
2 2 Heberden, William.
9 Hellins, Rev. John, (C)
1 Henley, Morton Lord.
10 Henry, William. (C)
12 6 Herschel, John F.W. (C)
1 Hoare, Henry Hugh
1 Hoare, Sir Richard Colt.
2 Hobhouse, Sir Benj.
1 Holland, Henry.
109 16 Home, Sir Everard. (C)
2 Hope, Thomas Charles.
1 Hosack, David.
1 1 Horsburgh, James.
1 Howard, Luke.
2 Hume, Sir Abraham.
7 2 Ivory, James.C.
1 Jekyll, Joseph.
4 1 Johnson, Jas. Rawlins.
13 7 Kater, Capt. Henry. (C)
2 Kidd, John.
24 1 Knight, Thomas A. (C)
1 1 Konig, Charles.
2 Lambert, Aylmer B.
1 Lansdowne, Marquis of.
1 1 Latham, John.
2 Lax, Rev. William.
1 Leach, William Elford.
1 Lowther, Viscount.
2 Macartney, James.
2 Macdonald, Lieut. Col.
1 Mac Grigor, Sir James.
2 Mac Leay, Alexander.
1 Mansfield, Earl of
4 11 Marsden, William.
1 Mathias, Thomas Jas.
3 Maton, William George.
1 Miller, Lieut. Col. G.
2 Montagu, Matthew.
7 4 Morgan, William.
1 Mount Edgecumbe, Earl of.
3 Murdoch, Thomas.
2 Nicholl, Rt. Hon. Sir J.
1 Norfolk, Duke of.
2 Ord, Craven.
1 Parry, Charles Henry.
1 Pepys, Sir Lucas.
6 2 Pepys, Wm. Hasledine.
7 Philip, A. P. Wilson.
1 Phillips, Richard.
2 Pitt, William Morton.
1 29 Planta, Joseph.
19 17 Pond, John. (C)
2 Powell, Rev. Baden.
2 Prinsep, James.
4 1 Prout William.
1 Rackett, Rev. Thomas.
1 Redesdale, Lord.
2 Reeves, John.
5 3 Rennell, James (C)
1 Rennie, George.
4 Ritchie,
1 Robertson, James.
1 Rogers, Samuel.
2 1 Roget, Peter Mark.
3 Rudge, Edward.
12 Sabine, Edward. (C)
2 Sabine, Joseph.
1 St. Aubyn, Sir John.
3 Scoresby, jun. William.
2 Scott, John Corse.
3 1 Seppings, Sir Robert. (C)
1 Sewell, Sir John.
3 Somerset, Duke of.
3 Sotheby, William.
3 2 South, James. (C)
5 Spencer, Earl.
3 Stanley, Sir John Thos.
3 Staunton, Sir Geo. Thos.
2 Stowell,Lord.
1 Sumner, George Holme.
1 Thomas, Honoratus L.
2 Thomson, Thomas.
1 Tiarks, Dr. John Lewis.
1 Troughton, Edward. (C)
2 Ure, Andrew.
2 Warburton, Henry.
1 Weaver, Thomas.
1 Whewell, William.
3 Whidbey, Joseph.
2 3 Wilkins, Charles.
3 Williams, John Lloyd.
1 1 Wilson, Sir Giffin.
2 Wilson, Gloucester.
1 Yorke, Rt. Hon. Chas.

I had intended to have printed a list of those persons to whom
the Royal Society had in past years awarded the Copley medals,
and the reasons for which they were given; but having applied to
the Council for permission to employ an amanuensis, to copy those
awards, either from the minutes, or from the volumes of the
Philosophical Transactions, I was surprised at receiving a
refusal. I confess it appeared to me, that as a whole, those
adjudications did us credit, although I doubted the propriety of
many individual cases. As, however, the Council seem to have had
a different opinion, and as I had made the application through
courtesy, I shall decline printing a list, every individual
portion of which has been already published in many ways,
although the whole has never been printed in a collected form.

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