Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE CANADIAN JOURNAL.

NEW SERIES.

No. XXVI.-MARCH, 1860.

THE

PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS.

BY DANIEL WILSON, LL.D., PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND ENGLISH LITERATURE, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, TORONTO.

Read before the Canadian Institute, January 7th, 1860.

GENTLEMEN OF THE CANADIAN INSTITUTE,

Once more we assemble here to renew the work of another Session, as a body specially inviting its members to devote their energies to the investigation of the laws of nature, the advancement of science, and the discovery of new truths. The position in which you have placed me as your President was altogether unexpected by me, and I had anticipated a very different choice ; but it would be as ungracious as unseemly for me now to cavil at a deviation from precedents indicated in the distinguished series of occupants of this chair, when I owe to it so honorable a distinction, conferred on me in so cordial and gratifying a manner.

The functions of this Institute are of a peculiarly important kind, and claim for it a generous encouragement from all who desire the true welfare and advancement of this Province. Of its future progress I entertain no doubt ; for it is impossible that Canada can attain to true greatness apart from such elements of mental and moral vigor as it is the special object of the Canadian Institute to develop. And when that greatness has been achieved, and this young Institute has advanced with it to maturity, I doubt not that among the earnest

VOL. V.

K

thinkers and intellectual workers of Canada, the honors of this chair will be esteemed among the most coveted distinctions that this Province has to bestow. Meanwhile, however, I experience somewhat of the same difficulty which I believe some of my predecessors have felt, with an Annual Presidential Address to deliver, and nothing very definite to address

you

about. I might enlarge upon the steady progress of the Institute, and in a special manner congratulate you, that—thanks to the zeal and wise courage of my predecessor in this chair,-our roll has been purged of an accumulation of defaulters, mere men of buckram and straw to us, -a source of weakness instead of strength ; but a very thorn in the side of our too forbearing and courteous Treasurer. It is a duty which all societies, constituted as we are, find it necessary from time to time to perform ; and it is due to the neglect of this unwelcome duty by former Councils, until forbearance had become almost culpable, that my predecessor has had the opportunity of signalizing his close of office by a stern execution of rigorous justice, which confers no slight boon on his successor and on the Institute at large. These, however, and other facts connected with the history of our progress, have already been fully set forth in the Annual Report ; and I must turn to other themes for the subject of your Annual Address.

A resumé of the progress of Science and Literature in the Province would be peculiarly suitable to this occasion, but we are scarcely yet in such a condition as to furnish fresh materials for any very elaborate annual report of scientific progress. Our position as Canadians is a very peculiar one, when we consider that only sixty-two years have elapsed since Colonel Bouchette described the site of this capital of Upper Canada as a scene of dense trackless forests, where the wandering savage had constructed his ephemeral habitation beneath the luxurious foliage, while the bay and the neighbouring marshes were the haunts of such multitudes of wild-fowl as to destroy the stillness of night by their cries. But while we reflect with just pride on the changes which have been wrought on that untamed wilderness within the

memory of some of our number, we are not forgetful that we are a part of the British empire, claiming our share in her greatness, and seeking to assume our part in her inherited duties; and in proof of this we can point at least to two Canadian Institutions worthy of a people sprung from the old stock that gave a Bacon and a Newton to the world.

The Provincial Geological Survey continues its valuable labours, under the guidance of Sir William Logan, whose former occupancy of this chair reflects an honor on any one who succeeds to it; and during the past year two of the illustrated decades of Canadian Organic Remains have been issued, in a style peculiarly creditable to our young Province. The head quarters of the Geological Survey and its Provincial Museum, are established in the commercial capital of Lower Canada; while in Toronto, the Provincial Magnetic Observatory, originated under your first President, Captain Lefroy, continues in full activity, and the data of another year's magnetic and meteorological phenomena have been recorded by its director, Professor Kingston, for future publication.

Perhaps no more striking illustrations of the changes which a century has wrought on this Province could be selected, than are embodied in those two evidences of Anglo-Canadian enterprise and intellectual activity. That on the old trail of the Missassauga and the Huron, the wild forest and the swamp have given way to the busy marts and the crowded thoroughfares of an industrious and thriving city, is no trifling evidence of the healthful revolution which has been effected; and this change has all been wrought by the busy hands and the hardy endurance of the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic supplanters of the Aboriginal Indians,-by those to whom, as colonists, the well-known language of Burke is still applicable : “A people but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.”

That in this essentially practical age a race so thoroughly energetic and progressive as that from which the colonists of Canada have sprung, should clear the forest, drain the swamps, pave the roads, and rear costly marts and dwellings where so recently the rude birch-bark wigwam stood, is no slight triumph. Yet we scarcely need to be reminded that such material triumphs are neither the highest nor the most enduring monuments of a nation's progress. That great city Nineveh, and the mighty Babylon, that once queened it so proudly on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, are now but heaps of reedy clay, above which the wandering Arab feeds his flocks; while Athens lives for us still, far more by the pen of Sophocles and Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, than by the marbles of Phidias, or the columns of Callicrates and Ictinus. Even so, among the commercial marts and capitals of the civilized world, both Toronto and Montreal must still be content to claim a very secondary place ; while in their relation to those two great departments of scientific labour on which

this Province has hitherto chiefly concentrated its intellectual energies : the Geological Survey and the Magnetic Observatory, Montreal and Toronto are named with pride wherever science is cultivated and knowledge revered. There is something grand and ennobling in reflecting on the patient labors of the Magnetic, as of the Astronomical observer. In that little building which rears its modest tower in the University Park, apart from all our busy thoroughfares, on a spot so recently hewn out of the forest wilderness, observers are patiently noting, day by day, the minutest phenomena connected with the elements of terrestrial magnetic force, the laws of periodicity, the number, diversity of forms, and intensity of auroral manifestations, and the indications of a solar magnetic influence on the earth, dependent, as it seems, on the changes which the luminous envelope of the sun undergoes. A larger series of magnetic phenomena completes its cycle of variations from the ordinary mean within a decennial period, which coincides with a similar one observed in the solar spots; and a variation of the magnetic declination has also been traced, chiefly by means of our own Toronto observations, to lunar influence; while it has been conclusively established that the elements of the earth's magnetic force are subject to regular diurnal, annual, and decennial ranges of variation from maximum, through minimum, to maximum again. By such observed data glimpses of novel truths of the most remarkable and unexpected kind are being obtained. Through a source so unlikely as our observation of the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism, we are learning somewhat of the constitution of the central luminary of our system. Towards the close of last century, amidst an absolute ignorance of any known data to reason upon, much ingenious speculation was indulged in relative to the nature and constitution of the sun. In seeking to interpret observed solar phenomena, Sir. William Herschell was led to the conclusion that the central body of our system is probably an opaque globe, surrounded by a luminous atmosphere, the disturbance of which he accounted for by the emission of an elastic fluid, ascending from the solid body, and producing by its currents those solar spots, to which our attention has been recently drawn by a series of interesting communications from one of our own number.

The recent ingenious application of photography by Sir John Herschell, for following up the speculations of his father, and making the sun record for us the daily changes wrought on its own luminous surface, is another means whereby materials for further philosophical

induction are being accumulated ; and meanwhile the beautiful reasoning of Arago that solar light corresponds to that emitted by gaseous bodies, in being unpolarized, establishes on indisputable scientific grounds that the sun is no longer to be regarded as a solid incandescent body.

Thus slowly, yet surely, does science widen the range of our knowledge, and also the area wherein fancy may freely speculate. The question of a plurality of inhabited worlds has engaged the inductive reasoning, as well as the fanciful speculations of eminent philosophers in recent years; and that of an inhabited central sun cannot therefore be considered as beyond the pale of such far-reaching thought. That solar luminary may inclose within its glowing atmosphere & world of wondrous compass and beauty. Pure and glorious beings may dwell there, that “lie immortal in the arms of fire ;" or, tempered by an intermediate cloudy vail, it may be that there, beings nobler and higher in the scale of intelligence than we are, bask in an endless summer, and a nightless day. For there is no night there, and fancy may anticipate the light which shall yet make clear to us the revelations of even greater mysteries than these.

But from such speculations I return to the fact that they have been suggested by the daily work going on in our own Provincial Magnetical Observatory. The results of such daily observations, entered in a few columns of figures, or pencilled by the sun's own rays, through the wonderful agency of photography, seem of little apparent value ; yet, meanwhile at Washington, Greenwich and Kew, at Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Christiana, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other European cities; at Bombay, Travancore, and Mauritius, and at British Guiana, Melbourne, and other Colonial sites, similar observations prove the simultaneous occurrence of such phenomena in the most distant parts of the earth, and thus reveal to us glimpses, at least, of the operations of an unknown force acting with corresponding results on the whole globe. Thus the space controlled and brought within the direct range of our knowledge by the records of magnetic observations comprehends not only the earth as a whole, but the distant central sun, and the bounds of the solar system. But great as is this range in space, the range in time is probably still more important. The phenomena of terrestrial mag. netism take hold in many ways of other laws, and disclose irregular, or at least seemingly irregular changes, also simultaneous in

« EelmineJätka »