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Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on Some of Its Causes By Charles Babbage Characters: 61902

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02



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 job.

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 HIS PERCENTAGE ON THE TAVERN BILLS.]


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 vigour.

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 be 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.-ENCYCLOPAEDIA METROPOLITANA.]

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 Transactions.

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 discussions.


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 THEM.]

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 posi

tion, 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 objects.

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.


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 academy.

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 savans.

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.-By ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT.

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 art.

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 synonymous, 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

-- 206

Berlin ....... 172

-- 378

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 fellows.




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.

Trans.---- ----

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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