Presidential Address to the Royal Society 1885

Nature (November 1885)

[112] At the earliest opportunity after my return to England last spring I offered my very grateful acknowledgments to the Society for the kindness with which the Fellows had condoned my enforced absence from my post during the winter. And I should not venture to occupy your time by recurring to the subject, did not the return of St. Andrew's Day admonish me that duty and inclination alike require me to offer my especial thanks to the Treasurer for the cheerful readiness with which he took upon himself the burden of my duties, and the efficiency with which he discharged them on our last Anniversary.

On the last occasion on which I had the honour to address you, it was my painful duty to commence by lamenting the death of a very eminent member of the Society, who was, at the same time, one of my oldest and most intimate friends. I deeply regret to find myself once more in this position. The lamentable accident which has deprived the Society of one of its oldest and most distinguished Fellows, Dr. Carpenter, has robbed me of a friend, whose kindly sympathy and help were invaluable to me five-and-thirty years ago, and who has never failed me since.

You are all acquainted with Dr. Carpenter's great and long-continued services to science as an investigator and as an expositor of remarkable literary skill; and there must be many here who having worked with him in the University of London of which he was so long Registrar, are familiar with the high integrity, the energy, and the knowledge, which marked him as an administrator. He was a man of varied accomplishments outside the province of science, single-minded in aim, stainless in life, respected by all with whom he came in contact.

Within the last few days, Physics has lost an eminent representative in Dr. Thomas Andrews, of Belfast. Among the cultivators of Chemical Science we have to regret the decease of Mr. Field, who was one of the original members of the Chemical Society; of Mr. Weldon, and of Dr. Voelcker, whose names are well known in connexion with manufacturing and agricultural chemistry. In Biology, we have lost Dr. Davidson, whose elaborate monographs on the fossil Brachiopoda are remarkable examples of accurate malacological work combined with artistic skill; Dr. Gwyn Jeffries, the veteran explorer of our marine molluscous fauna, and a high authority on conchology; and Dr. Morrison Watson, whose early death has cut short the career of an anatomist of much promise. Mineralogy has suffered a similar loss by the premature death of Dr. Walter Flight. In Engineering Science, we have to lament the deaths of Mr. Barlow and Professor Fleeming Jenkin. I may be permitted to dwell for a moment upon the latter name, as that of a most genial and accomplished man and a valued personal [113] friend, with whom it had been my privilege to be associated for a time in his well-directed and successful efforts to improve the sanitary condition of our cities. The elder generation of English geologists will remember the keen interest which the Earl of Selkirk took in their pursuits. The death of Lord Houghton robs us of a connecting link with all the world.

Three very distinguished names have disappeared from the ranks of our Foreign Members: that of Henle, of Göttingen, among whose many merits must stand that of ranking next after Schwann among the founders of histology; that of the venerable Henry Milne-Edwards, of Paris, one of the most distinguished members of the school of Cuvier and admirable no less for his contributions to zoological philosophy than for the extent and the precision of his additions to our knowledge of facts, and lastly that of Von Siebold, of Munich, whose remarkable investigations into the phenomena of parasitism and of sexless reproduction brought about the solution of some of the most difficult problems of zoology, while it would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of his wonderfully accurate and comprehensive "Handbook" on the progress of invertebrate zoology forty years ago.

On the 1st of December last year the total number of Fellows of the Royal Society amounted to 5l9; of these 473 were on the home and 46 on the foreign list. Deducting Her Majesty, our Patron, and four other Royal personages, the number on the home list was 468. At the present moment, we have 49 foreign members, or within one of our full complement; while the total strength of the home list (deducting Royal personages) is 466, or two fewer than twelve months ago. The number of deaths in the home list during the past year is 20. This is a larger mortality than that of last year; and it still exceeds the number of Fellows added to the Society by election, which during the last part of the year was 16: namely, the statutory 15 Fellows elected in the ordinary way and 1 Privy Councillor.

As the Treasurer observed in his address on the last Anniversary, it is obvious that we are rapidly approaching a state of equilibrium between our losses and our gains; and under the present conditions of election, the strength of the home list may be expected to remain somewhere between 460 and 470.

While our number thus tends to remain stationary, the list of candidates for the Fellowship, though it has fluctuated a good deal from year to year, has on the whole become longer, until, at present, the candidates are more than four times as numerous as the annual elections sanctioned by our rules. This state of things has given rise to comment, both within and without the Society, on more than one occasion. It has been said that any restriction upon the number of our Fellows is unwise, inasmuch as we narrow our influence and diminish our revenues thereby; and, by way of a still more unpleasant suggestion, it is hinted that, by such limitations, we lay ourselves open to the charge of a desire to arrogate to ourselves the position of the elect of science.

With respect to the first objection, I venture to point out that the influence of the Society upon the advancement of science is not by any means measured either by its numerical strength or by the amount of the funds at its disposal.

And, as to the second charge or insinuation, if it is worth while to meet it at all (which may be doubtful), I am disposed to think that, in another than the invidious sense of the words, it is highly desirable that the Fellows of the Royal Society should regard themselves, and be regarded by others, as the elect of science. An organisation which was the direct product of the new birth of science in the days of Gilbert, of Galileo, and of Harvey; which was one of the earliest of the associations founded for the sole purpose of promoting natural knowledge; and which has so faithfully performed its functions that it is inseparably associated with all the great strides which science has made for two centuries, has insensibly and without effort become a recognised representative of men of science in these islands: as such, on the one hand, it is consulted by the Government on scientific questions; and, on the other hand, it claims the right to be heard by the Government on all questions of scientific interest. I believe it to be impossible that the Society should discharge the functions which it has not sought, but which have thus devolved upon it, satisfactorily, unless it really does consist, in one sense, of the elect of science; that is to say, unless every care is taken to keep its scientific character at the level of its scientific reputation, and to ensure that it shall be not the mere figure-head of the scientific body, but a living association of representative men engaged in all branches of scientific activity.

Those among my hearers whose memories go back forty years will remember that, at that time, the Society was in great danger of losing its scientific character, though it would doubtless have taken it a long time, and a good deal of perversity, to get rid of its scientific reputation. It had become the fashion to append F.R.S. to a name, and the scientific members were in danger of being swamped by the invasion of dilettanti. The aim of our eminent colleague, Sir William Grove, and his friends, who fought the battle of 1847, and thereby, to my mind, earned the undying gratitude of all who have the interests of science at heart, was not to create al academy of immortals, but to save the Fellowship of the Society from becoming a sham and an imposture. And they succeeded in their object by carrying a measure of reform which embodied two principles–the first, that of the practical responsibility o the Council for the elections, the second, that of the limitation o the number of candidates annually elected. The result of the steady adherence of the Society to these principles for thirty-eight years is that, year by year, the Society has approached more and more closely to that representative character which, I cannot but think, it is eminently desirable it should possess.

During a great part of this time I have enjoyed more and closer opportunities than most people of watching the working of our system. Mistakes have been made now and then, no doubt, for even members of Council are fallible; but it is more than thirty years since the propriety of the selections made by the Council has been challenged at a general meeting; and I have never heard a question raised as to the conscientiousness with which the work is done, or as to the desire of the Council to mete out even-handed justice to the devotees of all branches of science. I am very strongly of opinion that if the Royal Society were a "Chamber of Science," subject to dissolution and that after such dissolution a general election, by universal suffrage of the members of all scientific bodies in the kingdom took place, an overwhelming majority of the present Fellows would be re-elected.

Such being my conviction, it is natural that I should express a fervent hope that the Society will never he tempted to depart from the principles of the method by which, at present, it recruits its strength. It is quite another question, however, whether it is desirable to retain the present limit to our annual addition or to increase it.

There is assuredly nothing sacred in the number 15; nor any good reason that I know of for restricting the total strength of our home list to 460 or 470; so long as our recruits approve themselves good soldiers of science the more we enrol the better. And if I may pursue the metaphor, I will add that I do not think it desirable that our corps should consist altogether of general officers. Any such exclusiveness would deprive us of much useful service, and seriously interfere with the representative character in which our strength lies. I think we ought to be in touch with the whole world of science in the country, and constitute a microcosm answering to that macrocosm. Those who are in favour of making a change observe that the limit of fifteen was fixed nearly forty years ago, that the number of those who occupy themselves seriously with science and attain a position which would undoubtedly have brought them into the Society at that time, has increased and is constantly increasing; and that it is undesirable that we should be compelled to leave out of our body, year after year, persons whom we should be very glad to see in it. On the other hand, it is to be recollected that a change once made can hardly he revoked, and that, in view of the importance of such a step, the Society will do well to make sure of the consequences before taking it.

I have thought it desirable to raise the question, not for the purpose of suggesting any immediate action–for my personal opinion is that, at present, no change is desirable–but in order that the attention of the Fellows may be directed to a matter which I think is sure to come before them in a practical shape before many anniversaries go by. And, whenever that time arrives, I think another problem may possibly offer itself for solution. Since this Society was founded, English-speaking communities have been planted and are increasing and multiplying m all quarters of the globe–to use a naturalist's phrase their geographical distribution is "world wide." Wherever these communities have had time to develop, the instinct which led our forefathers to come together for the promotion of natural knowledge has worked in them and produced most notable [114] results. The quantity and quality of the scientific work now being done in the United States moves us all to hearty admiration; the Dominion of Canada, and our colonies in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, show that they do not mean to be left behind in the race; and the scientific activity of our countrymen in India needs no comment.

Whatever may be the practicability of political federation for more or fewer of the rapidly growing English-speaking peoples of the globe. some sort of scientific federation should surely be possible. Nothing is baser than scientific Chauvinism, but still blood is thicker than water; and I have often ventured to dream that the Royal Society might associate itself in some special way with all English-speaking men of science, that it might recognise their work in other ways than by the rare opportunities at present offered by election to our foreign Fellowship, or by the award of those medals which are open to everybody; and without imposing upon them the responsibilities of the ordinary Fellowship, while they must needs be deprived of a large part of its privileges. How far this aspiration of mine may be reciprocated by our scientific brethren in the United States and in our colonies I do not know: I make it public, on my own responsibility, for your and their consideration.

I am anxious to call the attention of the Fellows to an alteration in our rules, in virtue of which it is hoped that the valuable library of the Society will be made more extensively useful to them by being accessible up to a later hour than heretofore, and by better provision for the comfort and convenience of those who desire to read or write in the Society's rooms.

The funds of the Society have been augmented in various ways during the past year.

The value of the fee for the Croonian Lecture has been increased from 2/. 18s. 9d. to about 501. a-year, by the falling in of certain leases.

Allusion was made in the Treasurer's address last year to the Darwin Memorial. I am happy to say that Mr. Boehm's admirable statue was formally and publicly accepted by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum, last summer, and now adorns the entrance hall of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. The balance of the sum raised, amounting to 20031., has been handed over to the Royal Society, and the interest thereof will be employed under the name of the "Darwin Fund for the Promotion of Biological Research," in any way the President and Council may think fit. I sincerely trust that this fund may be increased from time to time, as the Donation Fund, founded by Dr. Wollaston, has been; and that its beneficent influence on the progress of biological science may thus keep green the memory of the great man whose name it bears, in the way which assuredly, would have been most agreeable to himself.

I am sure that I may express your acknowledgments to Mr. James Budgett for the repetition of his liberal donation of 100l. in aid of the cost of publication of Prof. Parker's important and elaborate monographs on the vertebrate skull, one of which occupies a whole part of the Transactions , and is illustrated by thirty-nine quarto plates.

We are indebted to the subscribers to the Henry Smith Memorial for the marble replica of the bust by Mr. Boehm of that eminent mathematician and most accomplished scholar, which now ornaments our library. The Fine Art Society has presented Mr. Flameng's etching of the portrait of your President, painted by the Hon. John Collier.

Among the presents to the library, I may particularly mention the second volume of Prof. G. Retzius' valuable and splendidly illustrated work, "Das Gehôr-organ der Wirbelthiere," and "Les Habitants de Surinam" by the Prince Roland Bonaparte, by their respective authors and four volumes of the Challenger Report, by Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Five numbers of the Proceedings (about 880 pages) have appeared since the last Anniversary. Only one part of the Philosophical Transactions has been as yet published, but two other parts (Parts I. and II. for 1885) are passing simultaneously through the press.

The possibility of devising means by which papers read before us may be published more rapidly, has seriously engaged the attention of the officers of the Society, and I trust that, before long, the Council may have some well-conceived plan for achieving that end brought under their consideration. While all will agree in deprecating unnecessary retardation, it must be remembered that a certain delay is absolutely necessary, if the Committee of Papers is to discharge with due care its important function of arriving at a sound judgment, after considering the opinions of responsible specialists on the merits of each paper submitted to it. In substance, I do not think that can hope to better our present arrangements; all that can be asked is, they should be improved in some details, and more especially that the time which necessarily intervenes between presentation and publication should be minimised.

The preparation of copy for the Catalogue of Scientific Papers, decade 1874-85, now approaches completion. A total of 290 series have been indexed, giving 85,000 title slips, checked, and distributed. This number, which is within 10,000 of that contained in the two volumes of the preceding decade, nearly exhausts the material in our own library; it remains to supplement this by reference to other libraries.

At the meeting on the 18th of June last, our Fellow Prof. Roy, communicated to the Council the project entertained by himself, Dr. Graham Brown, of Edinburgh, and Mr. Sherrington (G. H. Lewes Student, Cambridge), of proceeding to Spain with a view of investigating the nature of cholera, and requested the assistance of the Royal Society.

In view of the great practical importance of such an investigation, and the desirableness of making a new attempt to solve a problem about which highly competent inquirers have arrived at contradictory results, the President and Council resolved to do everything which lay in their power to assist Dr. Roy and his colleagues. The Secretary was instructed to inquire of the Spanish Minister whether the proposed investigations would be agreeable to the Spanish authorities, and whether Dr. Roy might expect to obtain facilities and assistance. On the receipt of a courteous and sympathetic letter from his Excellency, the Secretary was further instructed to inform the Foreign Office of Dr. Roy's expedition, and to request that Her Majesty's Government would afford him and his colleagues all the assistance in their power. Moreover, 150l. was granted from the Donation Fund in aid of the expenses of the undertaking, which were shared between the Royal Society and the Society for the Advancement of Medicine by Research.

I am sure the Fellows of the Society will join with me in congratulating Dr. Roy, Dr. Brown, and Mr. Sherington on having returned safe and sound from an adventure in which the interest of scientific inquiry must have been heightened by a considerable spice of personal danger. Dr. Roy has furnished me with a brief preliminary report of the work done, the substance of which I proceed to lay before the Society.

The members of the Commission met with very serious difficulties in their attempts to study the pathology of cholera in Spain, where they spent three months; but owing to the powerful support which was given them by the English Embassy in Madrid, they were able eventually to pursue their studies in a satisfactory manner. At Aranjuez and Madrid they obtained free access to the cholera hospitals, and made nearly thirty autopsies of typical cholera cases within very short periods after death. From all of these cases they were able to obtain material for cultivation and thus to make a large series of investigations on the different forms of micro-organisms which are found in the tissues and intestinal content of cholera cases. Owing, however, to the impossibility of obtaining animals for inoculation, and reagents of various kinds, they were obliged to leave the investigations of certain points until their return to England. They have directed their attention chiefly to the relation which the comma bacillus, first described by Koch, bears to the cholera process, and they hope to be able to make important additions to our knowledge of this important subject. They are at present engaged in completing their work, and in the course of a few weeks they hope to be able to present their full report to the Royal Society.

The Marine Biological Association, to the funds of which the Royal Society made a substantial contribution last year, is making good progress. A site for building has been granted by the War Office, at Plymouth; plans have been prepared, and if the Treasury will follow the precedent which it has so largely and beneficially adopted in educational matters, of helping those who help themselves, as I am glad to say my lords seem inclined to do, I trust that, before long, the laboratory will be in working order.

The prosecution of the borings into the Delta of the Nile, which reference has been made on previous Anniversaries, have unfortunately been hindered by various obstacles. Quite recently I have been favoured by Col. H. Maitland, R. E., with an [115] account of the borings made near Rosetta, in which a depth of 84 feet was reached without apparently attaining the bottom of the fluviatile deposits; and I hope that circumstances may shortly permit the resumption of the original project of carrying a line of borings across the Valley of the Nile on the parallel of Tantah or thereabouts.

In the meanwhile the Committee in charge of the investigation has presented a report by Prof. Judd on the results of the examination of the borings already made. I have been favoured by Prof. Judd with the following brief summary of these results which have been fully set forth in a paper read at the first meeting of the Society after the recess.

Although two of the recent borings in the Nile Delta have attained depths of 73 and 84 feet respectively, yet neither of them has reached the rocky floor of the old Nile Valley, nor, indeed, have they afforded any indications of an approach to the solid rock. The samples of the Delta deposits obtained by these boring operations are found to be in all cases mixtures in varying proportions of Nile mud, or material carried in suspension by the river, and desert sand, or particles swept up from the surrounding districts by the action of winds. The study of these materials by the aid of the microscope has revealed a number of facts which may be made the basis of generalisations of considerable interest to geologists.

The minerals present in these sands and muds are found to be such as characterise the granitic and highly crystalline metamorphic rocks; there can be little doubt, therefore, that the vast regions included within the Nile basin are in the main composed of rocks belonging to those classes, or of sedimentary deposits derived from them.

Of still greater interest is the fact that the fragments of felspars and other complex silicates in the Delta deposits exhibit but slight evidences of kaolinisation or other chemical change. This points to the conclusion that, in rainless districts drained by the Nile, the disintegration of rocks is effected by mechanical rather than by chemical agencies. A very striking confirmation of this conclusion is afforded by the study of the composition of the waters of the Nile, our knowledge of which has been greatly advanced by the recent researches by Dr. C. M. Tidy. In spite of the circumstance that the waters of the Nile must undergo great concentration during its passage of 1400 miles through regions of exceptional heat and drought, it is found that those waters actually hold in solution little more than one-half the percentage of mineral matter which is present in the river waters of temperate and rainy regions. The chemical disintegration of rocks being so largely due to the action of rain and vegetation, it is not surprising to find that where these agencies are almost entirely absent the rocks exhibit but few signs of chemical change.

The Krakatao Committee, which is now rather a large one consisting of thirteen members, has been steadily at work during the year; and the discussion of the very varied and large mass of data has been undertaken by sub-committees, dealing

respectively with the following branches:–

Geological–including eruption and earthquake phenomena and the geological features of the distribution of dust and pumice.

Meteorological (A)–including air-waves, sounds, and the geographical distribution of dust and pumice.

Meteorological (B)–including twilight effects, coronal appearances, cloud haze, coloured sun, moon, &c.

Magnetic and electric phenomena.

Tidal waves.

With the exception of the last-named Sub-Committee, viz. that upon Tidal Waves, of which the work has been delayed by the illness of Sir F. Evans, all the reports are now in a forward state. and there seems to be every prospect of the work being concluded in the course of a very few months.

The question of the proper administration of the funds administered on behalf of the Government by the representatives of the Royal Society and of other scientific bodies, who constitute the Government Grant Committee, has frequently been debated with much care by the President and Council, who are held responsible for the final assignment of the grant by the Government.

On the 20th of May last the Council determined, once again to devote special attention to the subject, and on the 25th June the minutes will inform you that the following resolutions were passed:–

"That in every case of renewed application for a personal grant, after such grant has been received by the applicant in two consecutive years, the application be made not less than three months before it is to be considered, accompanied by a full statement of the case from the applicant, and that before being presented to the Committee, it be referred by the Council to two referees, who shall report to the Council on its merits."

"That the Secretaries be instructed to return to the applicants for aid from the Government Grant such applications as do not in all particulars comply with the conditions laid down in the circular to applicants."

It is very desirable that our intention to enforce the latter resolution strictly should be widely promulgated. I may add that we have considerable reason to complain that too frequently those who have obtained grants through the Committee make no report of the work done to the Society, but leave information on that head to reach us as it may through the publications in which the results obtained by the grantee are made known.

Nineteen large royal quarto volumes of the Official Reports on the Scientific Results of the Challenger Expedition have now been issued from the press. These contain thirty-seven zoological, three botanical, and eight physical and chemical reports, together with the narrative of the voyage, which contains the general scientific results of the Expedition. Six more volumes are now passing through the press, a considerable part of each being already printed off. The work connected with the remaining memoirs is in a forward state. The whole of the investigations and the manuscript will be completed during the next financial year, and in the course of the year 1887 the whole of the Reports will be published, and the work connected with the Expedition brought to a close.

In the Treasurer's address last year the Society was fully in formed of the action taken by the President and Council in the matter of the position of this country with respect to the international "Bureau des Poids et Mesures." I am happy to be able to report to the Society that, last December, we received a letter from the Treasury, stating that my Lords had asked the Secretary of State to instruct the British Ambassador at Paris to make known to the Comité International des Poids et Mesures that Her Majesty's Government were willing to join the Convention on the terms described in our Secretary's letter of the 18th August, 1884, and that the proposal had been accepted.

Your President is, ex officio , Chairman of the Board of Visitors of the Royal Observatory. As such, it was my duty to preside at a recent meeting of that body, when my colleagues agreed to recommend the adoption of a day, commencing at midnight, in all observatories and in the Nautical Almanac , from and after the commencement of the year 1891.

Much to my regret, I have been unable to take part in the work of the City and Guilds Institute during the past year, but I have reason to know that considerable progress has been made towards the attainment of its object–the advancement of technical education in London and in the provinces. The Finsbury Technical College is fulfilling its purpose in the most satisfactory manner, and its day and evening classes are so numerously attended that an extension of the building is under consideration About 250 technical classes in different parts of the Kingdom are now affiliated to the Institute, and some of them are already developing into efficient technical schools. The assistance which the Institute is enabled to afford to these classes is restricted by want of means; but there can be no doubt that far larger opportunities of obtaining evening instruction in the application of the different branches of science to industry are afforded to the artisans of London now than was the case even four or five years ago.

Large additions have been made to the equipment of the Central Institution at South Kensington. The engineering laboratory and the extensive chemical and physical laboratories are organised, and the systematic instruction of students has commenced. Scholarships of the value of 30l. a year, tenable for three years, have been offered to, and accepted by, the Governors of a number of public and other schools. These scholarships are to be awarded by the head-master (not necessarily on the result of a competitive examination) to any pupil who is competent to pass the entrance examination of the Central Institution.

The City and Guilds Institute is the outcome of the perception of the necessity for technical education, in the interests of industry, by the wealthiest city and the wealthiest guilds in the world; it may, therefore, seem singular that the chief obstacle to the proper development of the important schools which it has [116] founded is poverty. Such, however, I understand to be the case. The Central Institution requires an assured income of at least 15,0001. a year if it is to work properly; but the joint resources of the City and Guilds of London, at present, appear to be able to afford it only a precarious, annually-voted, subsidy of 9000I. a year–far less, that is to say, than the private income of scores of individual Londoners. In Germany, a similar institution would demand and receive 20,0001. a year as a matter of course; but Englishmen are famous for that which a perplexed Chancellor of the Exchequer (I think it was) once called their "ignorant impatience of taxation," and there is no occasion on which they so readily display that form of impatience as when they are asked for money for education, especially scientific education. I am bound to add, however, that my experience on the Council and Committees of the Institute has left no doubt on my mind that my colleagues have every desire to carry out the work they have commenced thoroughly; and that the money difficulty will disappear along with certain other difficulties which, I am disposed to think, need never have arisen.

Such are the chief matters of business, if I may so call them, which it is proper for me, in my Presidential capacity, to bring before the Society. But it has been not unusual, of late years, for the occupant of the Chair to offer some observations of a wider bearing for the consideration of the Society; and I am the more tempted to trespass upon your patience for this purpose, as it is the last occasion on which I shall be able to use, or abuse, the President's privileges.

So far as my own observations, with respect to some parts of the field of natural knowledge, and common report, with respect to others, enable me to form an opinion, the past year exhibits no slackening in the accelerated speed with which the physical sciences have been growing, alike in extent and in depth, during several decades. We are now so accustomed to this "unhasting but unresting" march of physical investigation; it has become so much a part of the customary course of events, that, with every day, I might almost say with every hour, something should be added to our store of information respecting the constitution of nature, some new insight into the order of the cosmos should be gained, that you would probably listen with incredulity to any account of the year's work which could not be summed up in this commonplace of Presidential addresses.

Nor shall I be chargeable with innovation if I add that there is no reason to suspect that the future will bring with it any retardation in the advance of science.. The adverse influences, which, in the middle ages, arrested the work commenced by the older Greek philosophers, are so much weakened that they no longer offer any serious obstacle to the growth of natural knowledge; while they are powerless to prevent the extension of scientific methods of inquiry and the application of scientific conceptions to all the problems with which the human mind is confronted. If any prophecy is safe of fulfilment, it is that, in the twentieth century, the influence of these methods and conceptions will be incomparably greater than it is now; and that the interpenetration of science with the common affairs of life, which is so marked a feature of our time, will be immeasurably closer. For good or for evil, we have passed into a new epoch of human history–the age of science.

It may seem superfluous that I should adduce evidence in support of propositions which must have so much of the nature of truisms to you who are sharers in the work of science and daily witnesses of the effects of its productive energy. But the proverbial tendency of familiarity to be incompatible with due respect is noticeable even in our appreciation of the most important truths, and our strongest convictions need furbishing up now and then, if they are to retain their proper influence. I certainly cannot accuse myself of ever having consciously entertained a low estimate of the past work or the future progress of science; but, a few months ago, enforced leisure and the attainment of an age when retrospection tends to become a habit, not to say a foible, led me to look at the facts anew; and I must confess that the spectacle of the marvellous development of science, alike in theory and practice, within my own life time, appeared to me to justify a faith, even more robust than mine, in its future greatness.

For, if I do not greatly err, the greater part of the vast body of knowledge which constitutes the modern sciences of physics, chemistry, biology, and geology, has been acquired, and the widest generalisations therefrom have been deduced, within the last sixty years; and, furthermore, the majority of those applications of scientific knowledge to practical ends, which have brought about the most striking differences between our present civilisation and that of antiquity, have been made within that period of time.

To begin with the latter point–the practical achievements of science. The first railway for locomotives, which was constructed between Stockton and Darlington, was opened in September 1825, so that I have the doubtful advantage of about four months' seniority over the ancestral representative of the vast reticulated fetching and carrying organism which now extends its meshes over the civilised world. I confess it fills me with astonishment to think that the time when no man could travel faster than horses could transport him, when our means of locomotion were no better than those of Achilles or of Ramses Maimun, lies within my memory. The electric telegraph, as a thing for practical use, is far my junior. So are arms of precision, unless the old rifle be regarded as such. Again, the application to hygiene, and to the medical and surgical treatment of men and animals, of our knowledge of the phenomena of parasitism, and the very discovery of the true order of these phenomena, is a long way within the compass of my personal knowledge.

It is unnecessary for me to enumerate more than these four of the many rich gifts made by science to mankind during the last sixty years. Arresting the survey here, I would ask if there is any corresponding period in previous history which can take credit for so many momentous applications of scientific knowledge to the wants of mankind? Depreciators of the value of natural knowledge are wont to speak somewhat scornfully of these and such-like benefactions as mere additions to material welfare. I must own to the weakness of believing that material welfare is highly desirable in itself, and I have yet to meet with the man who prefers material illfare. But even if this should be, as some may say, painful evidence of the materialistic tendencies incidental to scientific pursuits, it is surely possible, without much ingenuity, or any prejudice in favour of one or other view of the mutual relations of material and spiritual phenomena, to show that each of these four applications of science has exerted a prodigious influence on the moral, social, and political relations of mankind, and that such influence can only increase as time goes on.

If the senseless antipathies, born of isolation. which formerly converted neighbours, whether they belonged to adjacent families or to adjacent nations, into natural enemies, are dying away, improved means of communication deserve the chief credit of change; if war becomes less frequent, it will be chiefly because its horrors are being intensified beyond bearing by the close interdependence and community of interest thus established between nations, no less than by the improvement of the means of destruction by scientific invention. Arms of precision have taken the mastery of the world out of the hands of brute force and given it into those of industry and intelligence. If railways and electric telegraphs have rendered it unnecessary that modern empires should fall to pieces by their own weight as ancient empires did, arms of precision have provided against the possibility of their being swept away by barbarous invasions. Health means not merely wealth, not merely bodily welfare, but intellectual and moral soundness; and I doubt if, since the time of the father of medicine, any discovery has contributed so much to the promotion of health and the cure of disease as that of the part played by fungoid parasites in the animal economy, and that of the means of checking them, even though, as yet, unfortunately, it be only in a few cases.

But though these practical results of scientific work, during only two generations, are calculated to impress the imagination, the Fellows of this Society know well enough that they are of vastly less real importance than the additions which have been made to fact and theory and serviceable hypothesis in the region of pure science. But it is exactly in these respects that the record of the past half century is so exceptionally brilliant. It is sometimes said that our time is a day of small things–in science it has been a day of the greatest things, for, within this time, falls the establishment, on a safe basis, of the greatest of all the generalisations of science, the doctrines of the Conservation of Energy and of Evolution.

As for work of less wide scope, I speak in the hearing of those who can correct me if I am wrong, when I say that the larger moiety of our present knowledge of light, heat, electricity, and magnetism, has been acquired within the time to which I refer; and that our present chemistry has been in great part created, while the whole science has been remodelled from [117] foundation to roof. It may be natural that progress should appear most striking to me among those sciences to which my own attention has been directed, but I do not think this will wholly account for the apparent advance "by leaps and bounds" of the biological sciences within my recollection. The cell theory was the latest novelty when I began to work with the microscope, and I have watched the building of the whole vast fabric of histology; I can say almost as much of embryology, since Von Baer's great work was published in 1828. Our knowledge of the morphology of the lower animals and plants, and a great deal of that of the higher forms, has very largely been obtained in my time; while physiology has been put upon a totally new foundation, and, as it were reconstructed, by the thorough application of the experimental method to the study of the phenomena of life, and by the accurate determination of the purely physical and chemical components of these phenomena. The exact nature of the processes of sexual and non-sexual reproduction has been brought to light. Our knowledge of geographical and geological distribution, and of the extinct forms of life has been increased a hundredfold. As for the progress of geological science, what more need be said than that the first volume of Lyell's "Principles" bears the date of 1830?

This brief enumeration of the salient achievements of science in the course of the last sixty years is sufficient not only to justify what I have said respecting their absolute value, but to show how much it excels, both in quantity and quality, the work produced in any corresponding period since the revival of science. It suggests, as I have said, that science is advancing and will continue to advance with accelerated velocity.

It seems to me, in fact, not only that this is so, but that there are obvious reasons why it must be so. In the first place, the interdependence of all the phenomena of nature is such that a seemingly unimportant discovery in one field of investigation may react in the most wonderful manner upon those which are most widely remote from it. The investments of science bear compound interest. Who could have imagined that a curious inquiry into the relations of electricity with magnetism would lead to the construction of the most delicate instruments for investigating the phenomena of heat; to means of measuring not only the smallest intervals of time, but the greatest depths of the ocean, to methods of exploring some of the most hidden secrets of life? What an enormous revolution would be made in biology, if physics or chemistry could supply the physiologist with a means of making out the molecular structure of living tissues comparable to that which the spectroscope affords to the inquirer into the nature of the heavenly bodies. At the present moment the constituents of our own bodies are more remote from our ken than those of Sirius, in this respect. In the next place, the vast practical importance of the applications of scientific knowledge has created a growing demand for technical education based upon science. If this is to be effective, it means the extension of scientific teaching to all classes of the community, and the encouragement and assistance of those who are fit for the work of scientific investigation to adopt that calling. Lastly, the attraction of the purely intellectual aspects of science and the rapid growth of a sense of the necessity of some knowledge of the phenomena of nature, and some discipline in scientific methods of inquiry, to every one who aspires to take part in, or even to understand, the tendencies of modern thought, have conferred a new status upon science in the seats of learning, no less than in public estimation.

Once more reverting to reminiscence, the present state of scientific education surely presents a marvellous and a most satisfactory contrast to the time, well within my memory, when no systematic practical instruction in any branch of experimental or observational science, except anatomy, was to be had in this country; and when there was no such thing as a physical, chemical, biological, or geological laboratory open to the students of any University, or to the pupils of any school, in the three kingdoms. Nor was there any University which recognised science as a faculty, nor a school, public or private, in which scientific instruction was represented by much more than the occasional visit of a vagrant orrery.

At the present moment, any one who desires to obtain a thoroughly scientific training has a choice among a dozen institutions; and elementary scientific instruction is, so to speak, brought to the doors of the poorer classes. If the rich are debarred from like advantages, it is their own affair, but even the most careful public school education does not now wholly exclude the knowledge that there is such a thing as science from the mind of a young English gentleman. If science is not allowed a fair share of the children's bread, it is at any rate permitted to pick up the crumbs which fall from the time-table and that is a great deal more than I once hoped to see in my life-time.

I have followed precedent in leading you to the point at which it might be fair, as it certainly would be customary, to end by congratulating you, as Fellows of the Royal Society, on the past progress and the future prospects of the work which, for two centuries, it has been the aim of the Society to forward. But it will perhaps be more profitable to consider that which remains to be done for the advancement of science, than to "rest and be thankful" in the contemplation of that which has been done.

In all human affairs the irony of fate plays a part, and in the midst of our greatest satisfactions, "surgit amari aliquid." I should have been disposed to account for the particular drop of bitterness to which I am about to refer, by the sexagenarian state of mind, where it not that I find the same complaint in the mouths of the young and vigorous. Of late years it has struck me, with constantly increasing force, that those who have toiled for the advancement of science are in a fair way of being overwhelmed by the realisation of their wishes. We are in the case of Tarpeia, who opened the gates of the Roman citadel to the Sabines, and was crushed under the weight of the reward bestowed upon her. It has become impossible for any man to keep pace with the progress of the whole of any important branch of science. If he were to attempt to do so, his mental faculties would be crushed by the multitudes of journals and of voluminous monographs which a too fertile press casts upon him. This was not the case in my young days. A diligent reader might then keep fairly informed of all that was going on, without robbing himself of leisure for original work, and without demoralising his faculties by the accumulation of unassimilated information. It looks as if the scientific, like other revolutions, meant to devour its own children; as if the growth of science tended to overwhelm its votaries; as if the man of science of the future were condemned to diminish into a narrower and narrower specialist, as time goes on.

I am happy to say that I do not think any such catastrophe a necessary consequence of the growth of science; but I do think it is a tendency to be feared, and an evil to be most carefully provided against. The man who works away at one corner of nature, shutting his eyes to all the rest, diminishes his chances of seeing what is to be seen in that corner; for, as I need hardly remind my present hearers, that which the investigator perceives depends much more on that which lies behind his sense-organs than on the object in front of them.

It appears to me that the only defence against this tendency to the degeneration of scientific workers, lies in the organisation and extension of scientific education, in such a manner as to secure breadth of culture without superficiality; and, on the other hand, depth and precision of knowledge without narrowness.

I think it is quite possible to meet these requirements There is no reason, in the nature of things, why the student who is destined for a scientific career should not, in the first place, go through a course of instruction such as would insure him a real, that is to say, a practical acquaintance with the elements of each of the great divisions of mathematical and physical science, nor why this instruction in what (if I may borrow a phrase from medicine) I may call the institutes of science, should not be followed up by more special instruction, covering the whole field of that particular division in which the student eventually proposes to become a specialist. I say not only that there is no reason why this should not be done, but, on the ground of practical experience, I venture to add that there is no difficulty in doing it. Some thirty years ago, my colleagues and I framed a scheme of instruction on the lines just indicated, for the students of the institution which has grown into what is now known as the Normal School of Science and Royal School of Mines. We have found no obstacles in the way of carrying the scheme into practice except such as arise, partly, from the limitations of time forced upon us from without; and, partly, from the extremely defective character of ordinary education. With respect to the first difficulty, we ought, in my judgment, to bestow at least four, or better five, years on the work which has, at present, to be got through in three. And, as regards the second difficulty, we are hampered not only by the ignorance of even the rudiments of physical science, on the part of the students who come to us [118] from ordinary schools, and by their very poor mathematical acquirements, but by the miserable character of the so-called literary training which they have undergone.

Nothing would help the man of science of the future to rise to the level of his great enterprise more effectually than certain modifications, on the one hand, of primary and secondary school education, and, on the other, of the conditions which are attached by the Universities to the attainment of their degrees and their rewards. As I ventured to remark some years ago, we want a most favoured nation clause inserted in our treaty with educators. We have a right to claim that science shall be put upon the same footing as any other great subject of instruction, that it shall have an equal share in the schools, an equal share in the recognised qualification for degrees, and in University honours and rewards. It must be recognised that science, as intellectual discipline, is at least as valuable, and, as knowledge, is at least as important, as literature, and that the scientific student must no longer be handicapped by a linguistic (I will not call it literary) burden, the equivalent of which is not imposed upon his classical compeer.

Let me repeat that I say this, not as a depreciator of literature but in the interests of literature. The reason why our young people are so often scandalously and lamentably deficient in literary knowledge, and still more in the feeling and the desire for literary excellence, lies in the fact that they have been withheld from a true literary training by the pretence of it, which too often passes under the name of classical instruction. Nothing is of more importance to the man of science than that he should appreciate the value of style, and the literary work of the school would be of infinite value to him if it taught him this one thing. But I do not believe that this is to be done by what is called forming one's self on classical models, or that the advice to give one's days and nights to the study of any great writer, is of much value. "Le style est l'homme même," as a man of science who was a master of style has profoundly said; and aping somebody else does not help one to express one's self. A good style is the vivid expression of clear thinking, and it can be attained only by those who will take infinite pains, in the first place, to purge their own minds of ignorance and half knowledge, and, in the second, to clothe their thoughts in the words which will most fitly convey them to the minds of others. I can conceive no greater help to our scientific students than that they should bring to their work the habit of mind which is implied in the power to write their own language in a good style. But this is exactly what our present so-called literary education so often fails to confer, even on those who have enjoyed its fullest advantages while the ordinary schoolboy has rarely been even made aware that its attainment is a thing to be desired.

I venture to lay these last observations before you, because we have heard a good deal lately of schemes for the remodelling of the University of London, which has done so much, through its Faculties of Science and Medicine, to promote scientific instruction. As a member of the Senate of the University I am necessarily greatly interested in such projects, and I greatly regret that I have been unable to take part in the recent action concerning them. This is not the time or the place for the discussion of any of these proposals, but many of my hearers must be as warmly interested in them as I am myself, and it may not be out of place to submit two questions for their serious consideration.

In the interests of science, will any change be satisfactory which does not lighten the linguistic burden at present imposed on students of science and of medicine by the matriculation examination?

And again, in the interests of science, will any change be satisfactory which does not convert the examining University into a teaching University? And, by that last term, I do not mean a mere co-operative society of teacher-examiners, but a corporation which shall embrace a professoriate charged with the exposition and the advancement of the higher forms of knowledge in all its branches.

The future both of pure science and of medicine in this country is, I think, greatly interested in the answer which Fellows of this Society, after due meditation, may be disposed to give to these questions.

I have to announce an unusually large number of changes in the staff of the Society.

Last December we regretted to receive the resignation of Mr. Walter White, so long our Assistant Secretary, whose faithful and efficient services, continued for more than forty years, are well known to all the Fellows of the Society. The minutes of the Council record our appreciation of Mr. White's services, and our endeavour to give as substantial a form as possible to our hearty recognition of his deserts. The vacancy thus caused has been filled up by the appointment of Mr. Herbert Rix, whose work since he has held the office of clerk has been such as to justify the confidence of the officers, not only that the functions hitherto discharged by the Assistant Secretary will be as well performed as heretofore; but that, if the interest of the Society should demand it, we may throw still more important duties upon him. I receive the most favourable reports of the efficiency of Mr. James, who has been appointed to the office of clerk in place of Mr. Rix.

Notwithstanding my release from all serious work, my health remained so very indifferent for some months after my return to England that I felt it my duty to the Society to bring the question of my resignation of the Presidency, on the present Anniversary, before the Council which met on May 20. My colleagues were kind enough to wish that my final decision should be deferred, and I need hardly say how willing I should have been to retain my honourable office if I could have done so with due regard to the interests of the Society, and, perhaps I may add, of self-preservation.

I am happy to say that I have good reason to believe that, with prolonged rest–by which I do not mean idleness, but release from distraction and complete freedom from those lethal agencies which are commonly known as the pleasures of society– I may yet regain so much strength as is compatible with advancing years. But, in order to do so, I must, for a long time yet, be content to lead a more or less anchoritic life. Now it is not fitting that your President should be a hermit, and it becomes me, who have received so much kindness and consideration from the Society, to be particularly careful that no sense of personal gratification should delude me into holding the office of its representative one moment after reason and conscience have pointed out my incapacity to discharge the serious duties which devolve upon the President, with some approach to efficiency.

I beg leave, therefore, with much gratitude for the crowing honour of my life which you have conferred upon me, to be permitted to vacate the chair of the Society as soon as the business of this meeting is at an end.

As I am of opinion that it is very undesirable that the President should even seem to wish to exert any influence, direct or indirect, on the action of the Fellows assembled in General Meeting, I am silent respecting the proposals embodied in the new list of the officers of the Society which my colleagues and I have unanimously agreed to submit for your consideration.

The President then proceeded to the presentation of the Medals:–.

The Copley Medal is awarded to Prof. August Kekulé Bonn, whose researches in organic chemistry, extended over the last five-and-thirty years, have been fruitful of results of high importance in chemical science. The great work of Prof. Kekule's life, that which has raised him to the highest rank among the investigators of the day, is his general theory of the constitution of carbon compounds, in which the now universally accepted conception of the constitution of those compounds was first clearly and definitely stated.

A development of the fundamental theory led Kekulé to the discovery of the constitution of an exceedingly numerous and very complex class of compounds, which he has named the aromatic compounds, and his theory of the constitution of the aromatic compounds has suggested and guided innumerable investigations. The marvellous success obtained by many of his followers and pupils in building up artificially complex substances which had defied the efforts of all previous investigators,

affords tangible evidence that Kekulét's labours have given us a deeper insight into the order of nature.

One of the Royal Medals is awarded to Prof. Hughes, F.R.S., for a series of experimental investigations in electricity and magnetism, which are remarkable alike for ingenuity of contrivance, for the simplicity of the apparatus employed, for the delicacy of the indications afforded, and for the wide applicability of the instruments invented to researches other than those for which they were originally designed.

The microphone, the induction balance, and the sonometer, are instruments by which inconceivably minute electrical and magnetic disturbances not only make themselves loudly audible, but may be definitely measured; and their application has opened up new lines of inquiry.

[119] The other Royal Medal is awarded to Prof. E. Ray Lankester, F.R.S., for his labours, now extending over more than twenty years, in the field of animal morphology (especially invertebrate anatomy and embryology) and of palæontology.

Prof. Lankester has been active in many directions, and has everywhere left his mark, not only as an energetic teacher and accurate worker and a philosophical thinker; but as one who, in times when the example is more than ever valuable, has always been careful to remember that speculation should be the servant and not the master of the biologist.

The Davy Medal is awarded to Prof. Stas of Brussels.

Prof. Stas's great research, for which it is proposed that the Davy Medal be awarded to him, is that on atomic weights. there are probably no researches in chemistry, the results of which appeal so little to the imagination, and which are so little applauded, as those on atomic weights, yet for difficulty and importance they are hardly surpassed by any. The determination of these fundamental constants of chemistry has engaged the attention of many of the leading chemists, and before the time of M. Stas's experiments, an immense amount of careful labour had been bestowed on finding methods for the more accurate and complete purification of the compounds employed for the purpose.

The indefatigable and conscientious care with M. Stas has devoted to the re-determination of a certain number of the most important atomic weights, and the marvellous skill with which he has overcome the various difficulties which successively presented themselves, render his memoir on the subject one of the most remarkable and valuable of chemical monographs.

I regret to say that the state of M. Stas's health has not permitted him to be with us to-day, but the representative of his Sovereign, the King of the Belgians, in this country, has kindly consented to receive the medal for him.

M. le Baron Solvyns, I request your Excellency to be so good as to receive the medal awarded to M. Stas; and to assure him of the pleasure which it gives the Royal Society to show their sense of his high merits, by asking his acceptance of this memorial of his illustrious predecessor, Humphry Davy.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University