« PreviousContinue »
SIR HUMPHREY DAVY, BART.
CONSIDERING the honorable situation you at present occupy, as president of one of the most learned societies in the world, I naturally suppose you must feel a lively interest in whatever tends to the advancement of science in general; but more particularly of those branches, for the improvement of which, the Royal Society was first instituted.
The charters granted by King Charles the Second, and confirmed by his royal successors, I observe expressly state, that the society was ordained, constituted and appointed, for the improvement of natural knowledge;" and every person, on becoming a member, subscribes an obligation, binding himself to promote its advancement and prosperity. That it has, in an eminent degree, fulfilled the professed intention of its first institution, will readily be admitted by all
who have looked into the records of its transactions: and when it is considered, that those ample volumes contain the results of the united labours of its numerous members; men of accomplished abilities, and diligent students in every department of natural philosophy; that they have, in succession, zealously cultivated each one his favourite subject, during one hundred and sixty years; it may, at this late period of time, seem almost presumptuous in any one to announce, that he has something new and useful to submit to the consideration of a society so deservedly celebrated in the annals of human improvement:—more particularly when it is further considered, how very few subjects, at the time when it commenced its labours, remained to be examined, that had not previously been investigated and illustrated by the venerated sages of former times.
However, Sir, it appears to me, that much still remains to be done; and, may
presume to add, more, perhaps, remains to be undone. It is only necessary to take a corsory view of the garden of the sciences, to satisfy ourselves, that the plants which are really nutritive, and the flowers that yield a reviving fragrance, bear but a small proportion to the useless and noxious weeds that every where poison the springs of health, offend the senses,
encumber the ground, and obstruct us in our mental walks: while the husbandmen have slept, enemies have cast in tares, and the world is now reaping the bitter harvest. Since men, from mercenary and other unworthy motives, became authors by profession: since they began to prostitute the immortal talent committed to them, by catering for the public taste, to gratify the sickly and ever-craving appetite for novelty;—these tares have multiplied beyond all measure;-and the sowers of the pernicious seeds have been rapidly advanced to affluence, raised to flattering distinctions, and to temporary fame. By what neglect, or by what means, the garden has thus been brought into a state of disorder overshadowed with unprofitable weeds, I shall not further enquire. That it is so, every attentive observer, who possesses a reflecting mind, may easily perceive: and I think it is equally obvious that many nations are now feeling the calamitous consequences of it. Seeing that WISDOM has declared, that “ the multitude of the wise is the welfare of the world;" and in another place, while contemplating prospectively the blessings of a future age, the same Divine SOURCE has promised, that “ WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE shall be the STABILITY of it;"—it clearly follows, from the daily symptoms of INSTABILITY in religion,
philosophy, laws and politics, which is universally manifested in all civilized nations, that real beneficial knowledge is either ill administered, 'or but little attended to: or, that its advancement is impeded by a variety of erroneous principles plausibly imposed upon the world by GREAT NAMES, and thoughtlessly adopted by those to whose care is committed the education of the superior ranks of society.
But, to come more immediately to the subject of my letter;- it is to ONE GREAT ERROR in public education that I particularly wish to call your attention; and I consider this, in its tendency, of greater importance than all the rest put together. This error, which has been considered the glory of our nation, holds a conspicuous place in the course prescribed to the students at all our universities and public schools;—THE MODERN PHYSICS; or, in more precise terms, the modern system of astronomy-the Solar System; which combines the Copernican, Keplerian and Newtonian hypotheses. I do not hesitate to say, that, to hold a firm belief in this system, and, at the same time, in the sacred records, is an incongruity that cannot rationally exist in any intelligent and reflecting mind. This is a proposition, the substance of which, among other things, I have main