« ZurückWeiter »
riod of the society's operation, when it is not incumbent to show something of the probability of prospective advantage from its continuance. It might be well for those who originated its operations to make out their calculations and estimates, as you do in one of those schemes for carrying a new railroad through the country; but we have at least arrived at a period when we are able to show, not calculations and estimates, but profits and dividends. (Applause). It was easy to foresee and foreshow, from the opportunities for mutual discussion between persons resident in different parts of this country, and in different countries of the globe, that from the collision of such minds light and heat must ensue. It was easy to predict, that from the nomadic principle of this society (if 1 may use such a term), the light of science would be carried in its brightest and purest form into those parts of the country where it has hitherto shone with comparative faintness. All this was easy to predict; and, fortunately, it is not difficult to show, that those predictions have been more than accomplished in many most important points. It was observed last year, by my predecessor in the chair, and I believe it has been remarked at meetings on former occasions, that up to a recent period, of all the main branches of natural science, astronomy was the only one which had received the direct and permanent assistance of goveruments, and, if I may use the expression, had enjoyed in general the patronage of society at large. It was well that precedence should be accorded to that most sublime and most ancient branch of natural science; and there are other reasons, which in this maritime country, most undoubtedly recommend it to that especial patronage of government. Of astronomy we may say, gentlemen, that it was well she should walk first, but not that she should walk alone. There are many other branches of enquiry which stand much and equally in need of the assistance of the state, of combined operations on the part of individuals, and of assistance in respect of pecuniary support. Now, the details are quite beyond my province to state to the meeting; but it might be most satisfactorily shown to any assembly, that in these respects this association has been of the greatest service. There are many subjects on which its advice had been received, and followed ; many objects for the promotion of which the assistance of its funds had been accepted ; and on these points it may be most satisfactorily shown that this association has been of the greatest direct and practical service to the cause of science in this country. (Applause). Astronomy, I have said, took precedence of other sciences, especially in the favour of governments and nations; and undoubtedly now the connection between astronomy and the government, between Greenwich and Downing-street, is lounded on the most solid foundation; but it has not been alWays that astronomy has so won her way to favour in the courts and councils of princes. I believe she once owed that favour to the respect then entertained for the claims of judicial astrology, But astronomers do not now point their telescopes, as Wallenstein did, to the heavenly bodies, in order to read from them the mysterious future. The English soldier knows but one Homeric omen —that the defence of his country is the performance of his duty. (Applause). Some two centuries ago, and I believe Mr. Airy might have been distracted from his more important investigations and calculations, to mark what star was culminating on such occasions as the birth of a royal infant. We do not now watch the configurations of the planets on such events; but to that Providence which has shielded the mother (loud and long applause) and to the prayers unto that Providence of a loyal people, we cheerfully confide the fortunes of the infant hope of England. (Applause). The sun of science has drunk up all those delusions; but, as I have said, substantial grounds still remain, why that connection between science and the state should be powerfully exemplified in the case of astronomical pursuits. Even here, this society has not been wanting in its assistance. I believe that no scientific labour of more importance (as I am informed) has been suggested or exercised, than the reduction of the observations at Greenwich, which has been going on at the expense of this society; unless it be that equally important, which has been suggested to government, tv support the reduction at its own expense : following therein the example and the suggestion of this institution. (Applause). Upon this subject, if I needed any confirmation, I believe at a subsequent period of this meeting I might enjoy the opportunity of appealing to the greatest authority on such subjects that continental Europe can produce; for I find the authority of Professor Bessel (who is not here yet, but who is expected), whose opinion on the records of this society is expressed in the strongest manner with respect to those very observations of which I speak. Should that eminent individual arrive here, as I understand is expected, in company with Sir John Herschel, on Monday, it may be said few railroads have had a more important charge than the London and Birmingham Railway will have on that occasion. It is an old saying of Adam Smith's, that of all luggage man is the most difficult to transport.” (Laughter). It is very fortunate that the difficulty is not commevsurate with the value of the article ; for if it were, whatever power of invention and mechanical skill my friends Sharp and Roberts may possess, I doubt if they could construct a locomotive that could drag those two eminent philosophers to Manchester. (Laughter). You are well aware, that of Sir John Herschel it does not become me to say one word in any British assembly; of Professor Bessel, you are well aware, that he by all the astronomers of Europe, is said lately to have achieved one of the greatest triumphs of astronomical science : the accuracy of whose observation, and the grasp of whose calculations, enable him to overleap the bounds of our visible celestial system and the orbit of Uranus, and to calculate the parallaxes and distances of some, at least, of those remoter bodies, whose distance mocks our powers of contrivance to magnify their bulk to our vision. (Applause). I have only to express my regret that it is not in my power to give him that welcome that I am sure the meeting would bestow upon the presence of so eminent a man. (Applause). The connection between science and the powers of the state is a matter of more importance and difficulty than I can enter into on this occasion, but I think I can show additional proof, besides the mere brief reference to past transactions, to that magnetic expedition which is now proceeding, originally at the suggestion of this society and at the expense of governinent; and beyond the fact of this society's operations, particularly the survey of the kingdom now proceeding, which has been, as to this part of the kingdom, extended in its scale, almost entirely in consequence of the movement and impulse given to the government in that transaction by the same body. But I allude to a more recent instance: to show, that the connection has been established in a striking manner, and upon what I think a sound footing. I wish to see science connected with government, not in any low or dependent form; pot under the undue control of government; not dangling in ante-chambers, or sweeping the dust from the floors of public offices or palaces; but seeking, receiving, and requiting with usury, the occasional assistance of government; enjoying a liberal degree of favour and good will from the powers of the state. It is known, I believe, to most of you, that recently a building which has been left useless, which was formerly appropriated to the purposes of science, was at the disposal of the Crown. A suggestion emanated from this society, that it might be of service-of far more important service than is even now contemplated—that it was a building which might serve as a situation where your instruments may be preserved and compared, and for various other uses applicable to various branches of science. I am happy to say that the sceptre was proniptly and graciously extended towards us, and that the observatory at Kew is now at the disposal, and will shortly be at the use, of the body which I have now the lionour to address. (Applause). On looking through the transactions for the year 1839, I was struck by a passage which seemed to be very illustrative of the practical effect of your proceedings; for, in the preliminary passage of Professor Owen's treatise on the fossil reptiles of this country, he distinctly states, that but for the co-operation and assistance of this society, it would be impossible for one man to have embarked in that subtle and laborious task, which he had since so ably executed and performed. I ask you to look upon the pages which form the commentary on that text. It is a subject which unlearned men like myself may all partially bring within their comprehension ; it does not invole those trains of algebraic formulæ which puzzle the upinitiated, or those symbols which, to such as me, are nothing more than hieroglyphics;—you will there follow Professor Owen through the relics of former worlds ; you will see how he marches, with order and arrangement in his train; how the dislocated vertebræ fall into their places; how the giants of former days assume their due bulk and dimensions--some of them shorn, perhaps, of the proportions which on their first discovery, were attributed to them, and some enlarged;—peruse that work, which tells you that it owes its existence to the encouragement given by this association; and I say, that on the pages of your own transactions you have proof enough, that the operations of this society have not been ineffectual or useless. (Applause). Before I sit down, I would endeavour to illustrate my feelings by reference to another scientific transaction. About two years since, au adventurous party, of which Professor Agassiz was at the head, achieved the ascent of those Alpine heights, which, as its very name implies, had for ages been supposed inaccessible to the foot of man. It is probable, that there were many who from the chalets and the pasturages below, directed their telescopes to those peaks of ice, with the warmest interest for the safety and the success of those adventurers. Perhaps there were some who, by trifling excursions into those regions, had learned to understand and know the difficulties of progress in those higher Alps : who knew something of the dangerous crevices : who could tell of the ascent, cut step by step with hatchets in that precipice of ice, and wbo could appreciate the adventurous magnitude of the enterprise. Be assured, you climbers of the heights of science—and there are many of you here—that there are those below who sympathise with the efforts which they cannot share or emulate; who rejoice in your success, who lament when you are baffled ; and, when you plant your flag upon some hitherto virgin summit, their shout of applause would reach you from below, if it could be conveyed to your organs by the pure and attenuated atmosphere which it is yours alone to breathe. (Loud applause). Dwellers in a dull valley as we are breathers of a heavier and too oft a tainted atmosphere we can yet look upward. We count your triumphs, and, as you gain them we gladly place yonr names on the list of the recorded benefactors of mankind-(applause); for it is the privilege of triumphs like yours, that though they become common property, though they extend advantages wherever civilisation extends over the habitable world, yet at the same time, and for that very reason, they exalt the country from which they originate in the scale of nations, and fulfil the most rational feelings of national pride, while they perform the obligations of our common humanity to the most unrestricted extent.-His lordship resumed his seat amidst loud plaudits from every part of the assembly.
Mr. Murchison : As an old soldier of the British Association, it is my duty to state, that, in compliance with the request of the officers of the association, that the noble lord would undertake the office of president, Lord Francis Egerton is the first individual, who occupying such a high place in public estimation, and of great local influence, who has attempted that task which has been heretofore confined to the officers of the association. (Applause). How much we (I mean particularly Lieut. Col. Sabine and myself) are indebted to the noble lord, has been amply testified. I have always felt, that during the progress of the association a time might arise, when
some one combining in his own person scientific and literary attainments-scientific I say, though the noble lord does not choose to acknowledge acquirements of this sort-united to public station, might become to be the fittest person to preside over us. How truly this anticipation has been verified, the success of the meeting has amply shown. (Applause). The statements which you have just heard from the noble lord must have a great effect on the country. Coming from such an authority, they must have greater influence than from any humble scientific individual. After the advice we have just heard from the noble lord, I think we are bound to express our gratitude for his speech. I move, therefore, that the thanks of the association be given to Lord Francis Egerton for the able and enlightened discourse he has this day given us. (Prolonged cheering).
The Marquis of Northampton: I rise with great pleasure to second that motion. It does not require one word from me to recommend it; but, having attended a great many former meetings of the association, I may be allowed to express the great satisfaction with which I have listened to the speech of my noble friend to night. (Applause). My noble friend has alluded to classical authorities; and I may say, that as long as we have presidents like bim who has just addressed us, if ever it should be the fate of the association to die, our memory will be cara fatæ sacro. But I am certain that the British nation will never allow the British Association to die : nay, that they will not allow its existence to be suspended even for one year. (Applause). I agree with your late president, that as long as fresh “ fields and pastures new” invite us, it is our duty to go to them, with due consideration of the convenience of the association. And whenever the time comes that we have completed our cycle, I am sure there is no place that has received us before, that would not be glad to receive us again. (Applause). I have said this at former meetings of the association, and it has always been responded to as you have responded to it. It is now five years since the association was requested to come to Manchester. Your venerable fellow citizen (Dr. Dalton), the father of science, not only in Manchester, but in the kingdom, came five years ago to Bristol to urge us to come to Manchester. It is only candid to say, that I opposed your claims—(hear)- because I thought it better at the time that we should go to Liverpool. The invitation was repeated again and again, and here we are. And now I anticipate, that that application will be again and again repeated until we come here a second time. (Applause). I don't say, for the purpose of enlisting your assistance and co-operation in the great work in which we are engaged, that you are thereby conferring a benefit on humanity; but I say to you, who depend on commerce, on manufacture, and on your mechanical skill, that the cultivation of science is of the very utmost importance to your existence; and that it is only from following up inquiries, and pursuing studies of this description, that your town, as well as other towns of this empire, will continue to flourish.