« PreviousContinue »
and that the instrument at Greenwich, the most perfect of all, shows none that is sensible to his observation, and he concludes, that if it exist at all, it cannot exceed a very small fraction of a second. Dr Brinkley repeated his observations; he tried other means of discovering the inaccuracy, if any, of his instrument; he certainly showed that the result of divers observations made on eighty-seven days, in thirteen summer solstices, proved it at least to be consistent with itself, and he found that the parallax of a Lyre was sensible in no less than 262 observations. He also found a parallax in some other stars.
It must be observed, that he now makes larger allowances for aberration and solar nutation, which bring down the parallax, as evinced by the mean of his numerous observations, to 1".14, for a Lyræ. It is not unnatural in him, then, to ask, if this constant result is the effect of imperfection in the instrument used, why should not the same cause show a sensible parallax in one star and not in another? Why so considerable a parallax in a Lyra, and none in the Pole star, or in v Draconis, in which we have observed that Dr Bradley had found a parallax of a second, or nearly so ?
In commenting upon this scientific controversy, it gives us real pleasure to observe the testimony borne by the President to the perfectly amicable and dignified temper with which it has been carried on by both the distinguished disputants; a candour every way worthy of the men and the subject, but removed far above the comprehension of little minds. Mr Pond, to his very great honour, we are told, was the member of council who first proposed to bestow the prize-medal upon his antagonist in 1824 ; thus at once sacrificing the sort of preference which might otherwise have appeared to be given by the previous award in his own favour, and relying wholly for the acceptance of his doctrines upon their intrinsic merits.
The prize of 1825 is justly and liberally bestowed upon a celebrated foreigner, a Fellow of the Society, Mr Arago of Paris, for his discovery in Magnetism, by which he has shown that all metals, as well as iron, though in a less degree, and more transiently, are subject to the action of this singular and important fluid; and giving us ground to expect that the law will be extended to other substances. The subjects of Galvanism and Magnetism, and their union, electro-magnetism, have lately made such rapid advances, especially among the Philosophers of the Continent, that while we lament the disproportion of our own contributions to this brilliant harvest of discovery, we cannot avoid thanking the council of the Society for showing, by their
award in Mr Arago's favour, that they deem Science to be of no country. The following remarks on this topic are at once enlightened and ingenious. Truly we may be said to have outlived the day when it was thought loyal and orthodox to decry everything French, and when the literary creatures of a wretched government filled their periodical publications with attacks alike laboured and empty, upon those sublime geniuses of the neighbouring nation, who have never been outshone, except by Sir Isaac Newton himself.
• In transmitting (says Sir Humphry Davy, addressing Mr South) this medal to Mr Arago, assure him of the interest we take in his ingenious and important researches, and inform him that we wait with impatience for the continuation of his labours on this new and fertile subject. As one of our Fellows, his discoveries have the same interest for us that they have for his brethren of the Royal Academy of Sciences, which, for more than a century and a half, has gone on encouraging and emulating our labours. You and our worthy secretary * are recent examples of liberality on their part, and of the respect paid to British talent; we, I trust, shall never be behind them in dignity and nobleness of sentiment; far be from us that narrow policy which would contract the minds of individuals, and injure the interest of nations by cold and exclusive selfishness; which would raise the greatness of one people by lowering the standard of that of another. As in Commerce, so in Science, no country can become worthily preeminent, except in profiting by the wants, resources, and wealth of its neighbours. Èvery new discovery may be considered as a new species of manufacture, awakening moral industry and sagacity, and employing, as it were, new capital of mind. When Newton developed the system of the universe, and established his own glory and that of the country, on imperishable foundations, le might be regarded as giving a boon to the civilized world, for which no adequate compensation could ever be made; yet even in this, the most difficult and sublime field of discovery, Britain has been paid, if not fully, yet fairly, by the labours of Eüler, La Grange, and above all, La Place; perfecting the theory of the lunar motions and planetary perturbations, and affording data of infinite importance in the theory and practice of navigation. Fortunately Science, like that nature to which it belongs, is neither limited by time nor by space. It belongs to the world, and is of no country and no age. The more we know, the more we feel our ignorance, the more we feel how much remains unknown ; and in philosophy, the sentiment of the Macedonian hero can never apply; there are always new worlds to conquer.'
The British Mathematician, who beyond all dispute has approached the nearest to the Eülers, the La Granges, and the La Places, of the Continent, is our countryman, Mr Ivory; and the Transactions of the Royal Society are enriched with much of his extraordinary productions. Those on the Attractions of Spheroids, have received the most unbounded praise from M. de La Place himself: and there is hardly one of his investigations which, whether we regard its originality, or the profound acquaintance it displays with all the resources of modern analysis, could have been produced by any mathematician of the age, except him, whose irreparable loss, though mature in years and full of transcendent glory, the World of Science has lately had to deplore. It is pleasing to see this eminent person rewarded with the prize, and it is a sight, which, during the times that are but just past, we could not have witnessed. In bestowing the medal, the President dwells most justly on the rare endowments of the individual; he closes his well-deserved panegyric with an allusion equally appropriate to the retired unambitious life of one to whom philosophy is its own reward : and then turning to the sublime science itself which he cultivates, pronounces at once an ample recantation of the Society's past errors, and a beautiful eulogy of the highest and most arduous branch of human learning. We have unbounded pleasure in quoting this splendid passage :
* Mr Herschel
• I feel the highest satisfaction in anticipating that this reward may renovate the activity of the Society upon this department of science, and that it will return— Veteris vestigia flammæ'—with new ardour to its so long neglected fields of glory.
• Whether we consider the nature of mathematical science or its results, it appears equally amongst the noblest objects of human pursuit and ambition. Arising a work of intellectual creation from a few self-evident propositions on the nature of magnitudes and numbers, it is gradually formed into an instrument of pure reason of the most refined kind, applying to and illustrating all the phenomena of nature and art, and embracing the whole system of the visible universe ; and the same calculus measures and points out the application of labour, whether by animals or machines, determines the force of vapour, and confines the power of the most explosive agents in the steam-engine, -regulates the forms and structures best fitted to move through the waves—ascertains the strength of the chain-bridge necessary to pass across arms of the ocean—fixes the principles of permanent foundations in the most rapid torrents, and leaving the earth filled with monuments of its power, ascends to the stars, measures and weighs the sun and the planets, and determines the laws of their motions, and can bring under its dominion those cometary masses that are, as it were, strangers to us, wanderers in the immensity of space; and applies data gained from contemplation of the sidereal heavens to measure and establish time, and movement, and magnitudes below.' VOL. XLVI. NO. 92.
We most willingly hail in such sentiments, pronounced from this place, the prospect of this ancient and illustrious body renewing its youth, by recurring to its pristine occupations; and we should be truly glad to say of it as an historian of the Roman EmpireConsenuit atque decoxit, nisi quod sub Tra‘jano Principe movet lacertos, et, præter spem omnium, Senectus Imperii quasi redditâ juventute revirescit.'-(Flor. Pro.) But of this we feel well assured, that the second youth so much to be wished can only be hoped for in a careful retracing of the steps so lately made—not to call them strides—towards decay. The revival of the honour most due to the severer sciences, we reckon one very auspicious sign; that the President had himself begun to cultivate them, we gather from many parts of the Discourses before us. Another step, and a still more important one, will be the better choice of the Council; and the exclusive preference of learning and merit in the selection. It is true, that the patronage of wealthy, and noble, and powerful individuals fosters learning, by protecting and encouraging learned men; but among the personages endowed with those means of usefulness from the accident of fortune or station, there are always some to be found who join to such recommendations, some taste and some capacity for the studies which the Society was formed to promote. Let those individuals be distinguished by the learned body among their fellows, and then it receives the benefit of patronage as a return for the distinctions legitimately bestowed, in the encouragement of scientific pursuits among the wealthy and the great. Above all, should the President's health unfortunately require him to leave the chair he has so ably filled, let especial care be taken, in bestowing it, to select a successor by the consent of all so well fitted for the exalted station, that the choice shall not only be above blame, but above suspicion.
We trust, that in the remarks which we have thrown out on the present occasion, we shall not be thought to have in any the least degree departed from the perfect respect due to the highly-gifted individual whose discourses we have observed upon. Towards his part of the work, we repeat, there can be but one feeling. He has performed as well as possible a task which never should have been imposed on him, and the faults are altogether in the design, which is none of his contriving, and not at all in the execution, for which alone he is answerable. In addition to the admirable passages with which we have already taken a pride in adorning our pages, we cannot resist the temptation of imprinting upon them the eloquent and touching con
clusion of his address upon the late geological discoveries. If such discourses are fit for such bodies, it would be vain to look for any one better able to pronounce them with surpassing effect.
• If we look with wonder upon the great remains of human works, such as the columns of Palmyra, broken in the midst of the desert; the temples of Pæstum, beautiful in the decay of twenty centuries, or the mutilated fragments of Greek sculpture in the Acropolis of Athens, or in our own Museum, as proofs of the genius of artists, and and riches of nations now past away ; with how much deeper a feeling of admiration must we consider these grand monuments of nature, which mark the revolutions of the globe; continents broken into islands ; one land produced, another destroyed; the bottom of the ocean become a fertile soil ; whole races of animals become extinct, and the bones and exuviæ of one class covered with the remains of another; and upon those graves of past generations, the marble or rocky tombs, as it were, of a former animated world, new generations rising, and order and harmony established, and a system of life and beauty produced as it were out of chaos and death; proving the infinite power, wisdom, and goodness of the Great Cause of all being !
For our strictures upon the author of this work, then, we have no need to apologize; we have not found occasion to deliver any upon his part of the work. For the freedom of our remarks on the Society itself—on its late history and present condition-and on the abuses which have mixed themselves with the management of its affairs, we have no apology to offer. The day is long gone by when learned bodies could be reckoned exempt from discussion, merely because they might deem such an exemption desirable.
We live in times when the light is let in every moment upon all who fill a public station; and bodies of men are of necessity public. Matters of science are not indeed fit subjects for discussion before the multitude, whether assembled together, or reading the daily and the weekly journals. But the conduct of corporations touching the interests of science, and of individuals bearing office, connected with scientific affairs, is not matter of science; it is matter of policy, and enjoys no exemption from the most free and searching inquiry, in whatever shape may be most likely to promote the great end of all discussion upon public measures, prevent abuse, and see right and justice done. The eyes of the country may soon be fixed upon the Royal Society, with a yet more scrutinizing look than has hitherto been deemed requisite; and there is, we trust and believe, no manner of reason why it should shrink from the inquiry.