« AnteriorContinuar »
facts," of which the experimenter boasts, but a confused mass of dry results, utterly distasteful to a capacious and inquisitive mind, bent upon the inquiry after truths of any real moment. Mechanics may teach a man how to construct a roof, and Chemistry to dye a coat *; but to suppose these worthy studies for a man who is anything above a carpenter or a dyer, is to degrade the character of the pursuits which befit a truly enlightened mind, or which can be considered as constituting proper topics to form essential parts of a course of liberal and sound education.
With a certain class, and that, too, a class putting forth peculiar and almost exclusive claims to the character of persons of liberal, gentlemanlike, education, we know that there exists a very prevalent disposition to treat Science not only with indifference, but with contempt: a disposition to look upon it as involving pursuits of a minute and frivolous description, which can only be congenial to a very singular turn of mind, characterized no doubt by a petty kind of cleverness, at best extremely quizzical: a sort of genius which bewilders itself, and seeks to mystify others, with certain enigmatical speculations, extremely ingenious, no doubt, but quite beneath the notice of the man of sense and of the world. The profession of Science is represented as full of cant and charlatanry; and the philosopher and experimenter are regarded as doubtless exhibiting wonderful powers of astonishing the world by the display of their extraordinary discoveries, but classed with the thousand other daily prodigies which are exhibited for the amusement of the polite world ; and the eminent experimentalist, and the distinguished astronomer, are stared at, and talked of, along with the unrivalled rope-dancer and the unparalleled professor of legerdemain or of cookery.
And, indeed, amid the various pretensions to Science, the numberless attempts (often surprisingly successful) to acquire a scientific name, and the variety of schemes and projects which dazzle the eyes of men by their philosophic assumptions, it is readily admitted by all who can look a little below the mere surface, that there does prevail so large a proportion of vain and empty affectation and quackery, as often to afford some reasonable ground for the suspicions and censures we have adverted to.
A shallow and superficial smattering of knowledge, joined with a complacent self-sufficiency, sometimes deludes its possessor (but more often the public) with a persuasion of his high philosophic endowments, and thence, either hurries him on in the pursuit of the most visionary theories in Science, in the one case, or of speculations equally visionary to the public, however beneficial to himself, in the other.
Ill-conceived and crude theories may sometimes, indeed, unluckily explode of themselves, or may be provokingly overthrown at the first application of sound experimental criticism; and the ill-qualified aspirant after philosophic fame may receive a salutary check from such experience. But if he be clever enough to shun the risk of such a catastrophe, he may, by due circumspection, rise to a reputation of philosophic eminence in the eyes of the world, and if he know anything of his business, it will be hard if he cannot turn it to substantial account.
These are the reproaches cast upon physical Science (almost verbatim), by an eminent professor, whom we will not name, in a public academical lecture, now printed.
It is clear, that for such unblushing pretenders to make their way at all, there must exist in the public mind some disposition to look favourably on the claims of philosophy; but it is equally manifest, that there exists a great want of well-informed and correct judgment to discriminate between the pretensions of the quack, and the sound teacher,-between the qualifications of the loud but shallow declaimer, and those of the retiring but solid investigator. The class of works on these subjects which acquire popularity, and obtain a wide circulation, may perhaps be taken as no unfair test of the tone and character of the public taste and judgment. And if so, we feel compelled to state our unequivocal opinion, that that taste and judgment greatly need not only the occasional corrective of a scientific censor, but the more steady and salutary influence which will arise from the general diffusion of a wholesome kind of scientific information ; advantages which it must be confessed have been but very sparingly supplied hitherto, but which it will be our anxious desire to furnish.
In some subjects, it is true (especially those which from their nature hardly admit of much diversity of representation), such as Astronomy, Mechanics, &c., the authority of great names has maintained its ascendency; but in others, the case is very different. If we take only as an example the single science of Geology, it is perfectly surprising what a mass of almost incredible absurdity and ignorance is swallowed by a large portion of the public, while the sober researches of really scientific inquirers are disregarded, or condemned as visionary and even dangerous.
Even within the more peculiar precincts (as it were) of Science, we continually meet with exemplifications of the same deficiencies and absurdities. In proof of our assertion, we could cite many instances of the childish trash which often passes current as philosophical speculation, in the country of Newton, in the nineteenth century, in works sustaining a scientific reputation, and under the sanction of names really eminent in the philosophical world. A very few examples may suffice. One of the most able and justly distinguished naturalists of the day, has seriously advanced the theory, that the races of enormous reptiles, whose fossil remains occur in some of the older strata, are still existing in vast subterranean abysses. Another writer, in a grave philosophic paper, affirms that a live toad has existed shut up in a cavity without outlet, in a rock, ever since the creation. Philosophers without number, persist in believing, that because the sun's rays heat bodies in proportion to the darkness of their colour, therefore all other kinds of heat do so. A long theory has lately appeared, grounded on the principle that heat radiates through water, a fancy which, it seems, not even the clearest evidence can dispel in some minds. There are still to be found those who claim the title of geologists, and yet deny the clearest inferences from known facts in proof of the immense length of time during which the different formations composing the earth's crust have been successively deposited and elevated.
It would perhaps scarcely be credited by those who have not, as we have, had repeated occasion to witness it, that even at the present day there are vast numbers of aspirants after the glory of squaring the circle ; that not many months since, a highly respectable and even learned individual, actually made a voyage across the Atlantic, for no other purpose than to communicate such a treasure to the British mathematicians, as a solution of this famous problem, which ended in establishing, by the clearest demonstration, that 49 are equal to 50! Mathematical treatises are published, professing to place some of the most keenly contested questions of first principles upon an entirely new and perfectly satisfactory basis; which, on examination, have turned out little more than servile copies of the errors and obscurities of their predecessors. We could add many more examples, but we forbear,—at least for the present. We must pass on from remarks, intended to be merely introductory, to the more substantial matter of our work. Meanwhile, we think it will now be allowed that we have made out our case; that after what we have said, the necessity for such popular views of the state and progress of Science, as we here purpose to supply, and which we trust are sufficiently explained in our Prospectus, will be generally apparent.
We have observed, that if by some the advance of Science is made matter of severe censure, and by others of ridicule, it is because its real nature and pretensions are totally misunderstood. If there be not generally evinced a due sense of its importance, this only shows the necessity for urging its claims. If, again, superficial pretensions are palmed upon the world for substantial philosophical attainments, it is because the world are too little able to discriminate them ; it is from want of due exposure,
and the adoption of adequate means to enable the public to become better judges of such pretensions. In these respects, then, the existing state of things is far from being so favourable as might be supposed, to the substantial advancement of Science: and this consideration will afford a full justification of the assertion, that we still need the application of judicious measures for the encouragement, diffusion, and defence, of real Science, and the detection of false pretensions; and a considerable augmentation of the powers at present wielded by the scientific periodical press.
We thus clearly evince the necessity which exists for the discharge of the united offices of the advocate and the censor, -of the vindicator of true philosophy, and the exposer and castigator of that which falsely usurps its name. The cause of real Science still needs an advocate: not a mere blind, unqualified panegyrist, always obtruding and upholding the claims of philosophy to admiration and pre-eminence, but a discriminating, impartial, and sober supporter of its just pretensions, in opposition to the narrow, illiberal, and ignorant aspersions of one party; and a determined and fearless critic, to expose all false pretensions raised under its name, and all pernicious errors with which the abuse of it may be associated, by another. The state of public opinion and prejudice to which we have alluded, imperatively calls for such an exposition of the real character and objects of physical philosophy as shall vindicate its rank among the worthiest and most ennobling of human pursuits : while the perversions of it in visionary speculation, and the abuse of it to promote more dangerous error, require the severest castigation of the critic. Such defence of the true claims of Science, and such exposure of its abuses, it will be one of our main objects, from time to time, to supply; such an extended dissemination of a sound knowledge of its principles as we have recommended, and such aids at once to the cultivation of a taste for its pursuits, and the formation of a correct judgment on their character, is precisely what is the essential part of our design to provide.
DESCRIPTION AND INTENTION OF THE MEDAL OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE ILLUSTRATION AND
ENCOURAGEMENT OF PRACTICAL SCIENCE, LONDON. Obverse:—The vestibule of the Gallery Chemistry and Pneumatics are supplying of the Society; beyond and through which the gases, and Mechanics is presenting is seen the gallery itself. The inscription the atory cylinder of lime. Legend: on the frieze is meant to urge the specu- “FROM UNION—LIGHT;” an important truth, lative and the young to action, and the physically and intellectually, inventive to proof. The names of ARCHI- This medal, when struck in silver, is MEDES and WATT are inserted in the field presented to the president and secretaries as the most eminent in Practical Science; of all similar foreign associations, on their the first, among the ancients, the last, arrival in this country; to be by them among the moderns. Legend :-SOCIETY conveyed to their respective societies, as FOR THE ILLUSTRATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT an expression of congratulation by the OF PRACTICAL SCIENCE. INCORP. LONDON, English society to their foreign brother1834, and the locality of the gallery. hoods. The medal, struck in bronze, is
Reverse :-An emblematical design, re- also presented to every member of such presenting the Means and the Aim of the foreign societies, who may visit London. society. The Means—association; and the The possession entitles the bearer to free Aim-advancement and extension of scien- admission, at all times, to the gallery. tific knowledge. The genii of Chemistry, The obverse is used by the society as their Pneumatics, and Mechanics, are combining common seal; and as will have been oband producing the cal-oxy-hydrogen light, served, the reverse is inserted as a distinctive for which the gallery is so pre-eminent. mark in the title-page of this Magazine.
It may be expected that, in this our first number of the Magazine of Popular Science, and Journal of the Useful Arts, some account should be given of the Institution from which it emanates.
The Gallery of Practical Science was projected in the Autumn of 1831, by a few individuals desirous to promote the intercourse between the cultivators of abstract Science, and persons engaged in its practical application; to illustrate scientific subjects in a manner at once interesting and instructive; and to afford to discoverers in philosophy, inventors,
improvers of inventions, manufacturers, and individuals possessing interesting objects of virtu, the opportunity to bring before the public their discoveries or works of art, in an attractive and inexpensive manner.
The finishing and fitting-up of the premises occupied the period till the 4th of June, 1832, when the rooms were opened in the evening to a numerous company invited for the occasion: on the following morning the gallery was opened to the public. The number of visitors contributing to the support of the institution, was found gradually to augment, and the original proprietors were thereby encouraged to extend the basis of the establishment; and the most secure means of effecting that desideratum appeared to be a Royal Charter of Incorporation.
The late Thomas Telford, Esq., the most eminent engineer of his age-whose name will endure longer than even the numerous works of his construction, which have improved whilst they adorn our country, and Francis Giles, Esq., civil-engineer, were the first individuals to join the original projectors; and in answer to their united petition, his Majesty was graciously pleased to grant the charter, which incorporates the shareholders under the title of “The Society for the Illustration and Encouragement of Practical Science.”
Authority is given by the charter to divide the capital of 20,0001.consisting of 4,0001. in money, and 16,0001. invested in the premises and philosophical apparatus placed therein-into 400 shares of 501. each. It also confers the privilege of raising a further capital to the extent of 20,0001., in similar shares, should the proprietors, at a general meeting, specially convened for that purpose, so determine.
All contracts are to be made under the corporate seal of the society, which, with the properties and affairs of the institution, is entrusted to the management of a council, consisting of not fewer than four, nor more than fifteen of the proprietors. The accounts are required to be made up and laid before the proprietors, at least once in every year, when dividends of the profits may be declared.
It must be obvious, that where the arduous task is undertaken of accommodating a public exhibition like the present to the various tastes of a mixed assemblage, there will, of necessity, exist some points which shall be highly attractive to one class of visitors, whilst they will be regarded as comparatively unimportant by others. Thus the Persian rope-dancer, which, with its fairy-like music and elegant movements, is a never-failing source of admiration to the young, may, by others, be held in light estimation; unless, indeed, a love of science shall lead them to examine and inquire into its ingenious and elaborate mechanism. So also with the automaton juggler; there are, however, some other marked features, some central points, as it were, of attraction, deserving especial notice; and to these we shall briefly advert.