« EelmineJätka »
the poor man lived and died in the conviction that astro
were ashamed to confess their error. Now the essential point, rarely explained in popular books, is, that if the earth were of exactly the same shape it is now, but did not turn on its axis, then degrees of latitude at and near the pole would really be shorter than those at and near the equator ; but the bulging out at the equator is caused by the rotation, owing to centrifugal force diminishing the force of gravity there, and causing the true sphere, which gravity would produce in a non-rotating fluid or flexible mass, to be changed into a spheroid of greater diameter at the equator, where the rotating motion is swifter, and therefore the centrifugal force greater. The surface will therefore become a surface of equilibrium, due to the two forces everywhere acting upon it, and the direction of a plumb-line will be also determined by the same two forces, and will necessarily be at right angles to that surface. It follows that as the curvature along a meridian is more rapid near the equator than that of a sphere of the mean diameter of the earth, and less rapid or flatter near the poles, therefore two or more plumblines near the equator will meet at a point nearer than the geometrical centre of the earth, while those near the poles will meet at a point beyond the geometrical centre, and therefore the degrees near the latter, being measured on a circle of longer radius, will be longer than those near the equator. It appears, then, that the problem is not a geometrical one, as the mere statement of the fact seems to make it, but one of mechanics and the laws of motion, and what we really measure is the amount of curvature on different parts of the earth's surface, not an equal angle measured from its centre, which is what the term “degree" usually and properly
From this point of view the astronomers are all wrong, since they use the term “degree” of latitude in a technical sense, which is not its geometrical meaning, and they very rarely explain this to their readers. Degrees of latitude are dynamical, not geometrical quantities.
This rather long digression may be considered to be out of place, but it is given in order to illustrate the steps by
which I gradually acquired confidence in my own judgment, so that in dealing with any body of facts bearing upon a question in dispute, if I clearly understood the nature of the facts and gave the necessary attention to them, I would always draw my own inferences from them, even though I had men of far greater and more varied knowledge against me. Thus I have never hesitated to differ from Lyell, Darwin, and even Spencer, and, so far as I can judge, in all the cases in which I have so differed, the weight of scientific opinion is gradually turning in my direction. In reasoning power upon the general phenomena of nature or of society, I feel able to hold my own with them; my inferiority consists in my limited knowledge, and perhaps also in my smaller power of concentration for long periods of time.
With Huxley also I felt quite on an equality when dealing with problems arising out of facts equally well known to both of us; but wherever the structure or functions of animals were concerned, he had the command of a body of facts so extensive and so complex that no one who had not devoted years to their practical study could safely attempt to make use of them. I therefore never ventured to infringe in any way on his special departments of study, though I occasionally made use of some of the results which he so lucidly explained.
One of my near neighbours while I lived in London was Dr. W. B. Carpenter, the well-known physiologist and microscopist, and a voluminous writer on various branches of natural science. I often called on him in the evening, when I usually found him at work with his microscope, and he always took pleasure in showing me some special structure or some obscure organism, and explaining the nature of what I saw. The great controversy was then at its height as to the alleged animal nature of a substance found in the Laurentian formation of Canada, supposed to be the oldest of all the stratified rocks. Dr. Carpenter maintained that it was a low form of Foraminifera, a group of which he had made a special study. This supposed organism had been named by Sir William
Dawson, the geologist, Eozoon Canadense, and he was supported in his view by Dr. Carpenter, to whom he sent the finest procurable specimens. By making sections in various directions, and by the knowledge he possessed of the minute structure of living and fossil Foraminifers, he arrived at his conclusions; while other observers declared that this supposed primitive organism was entirely of mineral origin, and that all the apparent details of organic structure were deceptive. Dr. Carpenter showed me these specimens, and pointed out the details of structure on which he relied, but having no knowledge of the actual structures with which he compared them, I could myself see nothing sufficiently definite to settle such an important question. The discussion went on very fiercely for years, but the general opinion now is that all the appearances are due to forms of crystallization in these very ancient metamorphic rocks. Dr. Carpenter was also at work on the anatomy and physiology of the Crinoidea or sea-lilies, on which he published some important papers, and these, too, he would dilate upon and explain, though not much to my enlightenment.
We often walked across the Regent's Park into town together, and we were very friendly, though never really intimate ; and a few years later we entered on a rather acute controversy upon mesmerism and clairvoyance, to which I shall refer later on.
Among the more prominent naturalists, one of my chief friends, and the one whose society I most enjoyed, was Professor St. George Mivart, who for some years lived not far from us in London. He was a rather singular compound mentally, inasmuch as he was a sincere but thoroughly liberal Catholic, and an anti-Darwinian evolutionist. But his friendly geniality, his refined manners, his interesting conversation and fund of anecdote of the most varied kind, rendered him a charming companion. His most intimate friends seemed to be priests, one or two of whom were almost always among the guests, and often the only ones, when I dined with him. And they, too, were excellent company, full of humour and
anecdote of the most varied kind, though also ready for serious talk or discussion; but in either case, with none of the reserve or somewhat rigid decorum of the majority of our clergy. Mivart visited a good deal in the country houses of the aristocracy and country gentlemen, and he used often to tell me things that happened in some of them, or that were spoken of as common knowledge, which I could not have believed on less direct authority, and which went to prove that some of the worst features of society morals, such as are occasionally revealed in the divorce courts, are by no means uncommon.
Mivart thoroughly enjoyed a good dinner (as did I myself) and was rather fond of illustrative stories on gastronomic subjects. One that has remained in my memory for its almost pathetic humour was of two friends recalling old times together. “Do you remember," said one, "that splendid dinner we had at Grantham, and how we did enjoy it?” “I do indeed,” said his friend, "and it has been a constant regret to me ever since that I did not have a second helping of that magnificent haunch of mutton!”
He would also sometimes tell of the incredible doings of some of the fashionable roues among the wealthy, and if I doubted the possibility of such things being true, would appeal to the priests, who would assure me that such things, and worse, did really occur.
Mivart was a very severe and often an unfair critic of Darwin, and I never concealed my opinion that he was not justified in going so far as he did. I also criticized some of his own writings, but he took it all very good-naturedly, and we always remained excellent friends. Besides natural history we had other tastes in common. He enjoyed country life, and for some time had a small country house in the wilds of Sussex, about midway between Forest Row and Hayward's Heath, where we sometimes spent a few days; and some years later he built a house on the Duke of Norfolk's estate near Albury, where he had to make a new garden and began to take an interest in horticulture. He was also greatly interested in psychical research and spiritualistic phenomena ;
but this I shall refer to again when I come to my own experiences and inquiries on this intensely interesting subject.
Even more completely than Darwin, Mivart was almost a self-taught biologist. He was educated and trained for the bar, but never practised, his father being a wealthy man. When about five and twenty he began to take an interest in anatomy, and determined to study it systematically; and he one day told me that when he announced his intention, his father remarked, “Well, you never have earned a penny yet, and I suppose you never will." This rather put him on his mettle, and shortly afterwards he wrote an article for some periodical, and on receiving a liberal honorarium he produced the cheque, jokingly telling his father that he had earned it to prove that his prediction was a wrong one. This is a curious parallel to Darwin's statement that when he left school he was considered by his masters and by his father as "a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect.”
Considering the period of life at which Mivart first turned his attention either to science or literature, the amount of knowledge of comparative anatomy he acquired, largely from dissections and study carried on at home, was very great, and placed him in the first rank among the many great anatomists of his time. This is the opinion of the very competent writer of his obituary notice in Nature (vol. lxi. p. 569). His writings on biological subjects were almost as extensive as those of Darwin himself, and his total literary work, largely metaphysical and generally of high merit, was very much larger. In the excellent obituary notice already referred to full justice is done both to the wide knowledge, the intellectual ability, and the charming personality of one whose friendship I continue to look back upon with pleasure and satisfaction.
I will conclude this chapter with a few words about the meetings of the British Association at which I was present. In 1862 I was invited by my kind friend, Professor Alfred Newton, to be his guest at Magdalen College during the