« EelmineJätka »
consciousness of my own insignificance in this respect. I, a simple admirer, and would-be student of science, to take the place of the chief spokesman of the scientific men of the day, assembled in furtherance of their important objects! The thing appeared to me impossible; yet, on reflection, I came to the conclusion, that if not as a contributor to or director of your labours, I might still be useful to you,-useful to science, by accepting your offer. Remembering that this association is a popular association, not a secret confraternity of men jealously guarding the mysteries of their profession, but inviting the uninitiated—the public at large-to join them; having as one of its objects to break down those imaginary and hurtful barriers which exist between men of science and so-called men of practice, I felt that I could, from the peculiar position in which Providence has placed me in this country, appear as the representative of that large public which profits by and admires your exertions, but is unable actively to join in them; that my election was an act of humility on your part which to reject would have looked like false humility, that is, like pride, on mine ; but I reflected further, and saw in my acceptance the means, of which necessarily so few are offered to Her Majesty, of testifying to you through the instrumentality of her husband, that your labours are not unappreciated by your sovereign, and that she wishes her people to know this as well as yourselves. Guided by these reflections, my choice was speedily made, for the path of duty lay straight before me. If these, however, are the motives which induced me to accept your flattering offer of the presidency, a request on my part is hardly necessary that you will receive my efforts to fulfil its duties with kind indulgence. If it were possible for anything to make me still more aware how much I have need of such indulgence, it would be to succeed as your president a man of whom this country is justly
proud (Professor Owen), and whose name stands among the foremost of the naturalists in Europe for his patience in investigation, conscientiousness in observation, boldness of imagination, and acuteness in reasoning. You have no doubt listened with pleasure to his parting address, and I beg to thank him for the lattering manner in which he has alluded to me in it.
The association meets to-day for the first time in these regions, and in this ancient and interesting city. The poet in his work of fiction has to choose, and anxiously to weigh, where to lay his scene, knowing that, like the painter, he is thus laying in the background of his picture, which will give tone and colour to the whole. The stern and dry reality of life is governed by the same laws; and we are here living, feeling, and thinking under the influence of the local impressions of this northern seaport. The choice appears to me a good one. The travelling philosophers have had to come far, but in approaching the Highlands of Scotland they meet nature in its wild and primitive form, and nature is the object of their studies. The geologist will not find many novelties in yonder mountains, because he will stand there on the bare backbone of the globe. But the primary rocks which stand out in their nakedness exhibit the grandeur and beauty of their peculiar form. And in the splendid quarries of this neighbourhood are seen to peculiar advantage the closeness and hardness of their mass, and their inexhaustible supply made available for the use of man by the application of new mechanical powers. On this primitive soil the botanist and zoologist will be attracted only by a limited range of plants and animals, but they are the very species which the extension of agriculture and increase of population are gradually driving out of many parts of the country. On those blue hills the red deer in vast herds hold undisturbed dominion over the wild
heathery forest, until the sportsman, fatigued and unstrung by the busy life of the bustling town, invades the moor to regain health and vigour by measuring his strength with that of the antlered monarch of the hill. But, notwithstanding all his efforts to overcome an antagonist possessed of such superior power, swiftness, caution, and keenness of all the senses, the sportsman would find himself baffled had not science supplied him with the telescope,
and those terrible weapons which seem daily to progress in the precision with which they carry the deadly bullet, mocking distance, to the mark. In return for the help which science has afforded him, the sportsman can supply the naturalist with many facts which he alone has opportunity of observing, and which may assist the solution of some interesting problems, suggested by the life of the deer.
Man, also, the highest object of our study, is found in vigorous, healthy development, presenting a happy mixture of the Celt, Goth, Saxon, and Dane, acquiring his strength on the hills and the sea. The Aberdeen whaler braves the icy regions of the polar sea, to seek and to battle with the great monster of the deep. He has materially assisted in opening those icebound regions to the researches of science; he fearlessly aided in the search after Sir John Franklin and his gallant companions, whom their country sent forth on this mission, but to whom Providence, alas ! has denied the reward of their labours—the return to their homes, to the affectionate embrace of their families and friends, and the acknowledgments of a grateful nation.
The city of Aberdeen itself is rich in interest for the philosopher-its two lately united universities make it a seat of learning and science. The collection of antiquities formed for the present occasion enables him to dive into olden times, and by contact with the remains of the handiworks of the ancient inhabitants of Scotland, to enter into the spirit of
that peculiar and interesting people, which has always attracted the attention and touched the hearts of men accessible to the influences of heroic poetry. The Spalding Club, founded in this city for the preservation of the historical and literary remains of the north-eastern counties of Scotland, is honourably known by its important publications.
Gentlemen, this is the twenty-ninth anniversary of the foundation of this association, and well may we look back with satisfaction to its operations and achievements throughout the time of its existence. When, on the 27th of September, 1831, the meeting of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society took place at York, in the theatre of the Yorkshire Museum, under the presidency of the late Earl Fitzwilliam, then Viscount Milton, and the Rev. W. Vernon Harcourt eloquently set forth the plan for the formation of a British Association for the promotion of science, which he showed to have become a want for his country, the most ardent supporter of this resolution could not have anticipated that it would start into life, full grown, as it were, enter at once upon its career of usefulness, and pursue it without deviation from the original design, triumphing over the oppositions which it had to encounter in common with everything that is new and claims to be useful.
Gentlemen, this proved that the want was a real, and not an imaginary one, and that the mode in which it was intended to supply that want was based upon a just appreciation of unalterable truths. Mr. Vernon Harcourt summed up the desiderata in graphic words, which have almost identically been retained as the exposition of the objects of the society, printed at the head of the annually appearing volumes of its transactions--to give a stronger impulse and more systematic direction to scientific inquiry; to promote the intercourse of those who cultivate science in different parts of the empire with one another, and with foreign philosophers ; and to obtain a more general attention to the objects of science, and a removal of any disadvantages of a public kind which impede its progress. To define the nature of science, to give an exact and complete definition of what that science (to whose service the association is devoted) is and means, naturally must at all times occupy the metaphysician. He has answered the question in various ways more or less satisfactory to himself or others.
To me science in its most general and comprehensive acceptation means the knowledge of what I know, the consciousness of human knowledge. Hence to know is the object of all science, and all special knowledge, if brought to our consciousness in its separate distinctiveness from, and yet in its recognised relation to, the totality of our knowledge, is scientific knowledge. We require then for science -that is to say, for the acquisition of scientific knowledge—those two activities of our mind which are necessary for the acquisition of any knowledge -analysis and synthesis: the first to dissect and reduce into its component parts the object to be investigated, and to render an accurate account to ourselves of the nature and qualities of these parts by observation; the second to re-compose the observed and understood parts into a unity in our consciousness, exactly answering to the object of our investigation. The labours of the man of science are therefore at once the most humble and the loftiest which man
can undertake. He only does what every little child does from its first awakening into life-and must do every moment of its existence; and yet he aims at the gradual approximation to Divine truth itself. If, then, there exists no diflerence between the work of the man of science and that of the merest child, what constitutes the distinction? Merely the conscious self-determination. The child observes what accident brings before it, and unconsciously forms its notion of it. The so