Budget of Paradoxes/A

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A Budget of Paradoxes by Augustus De Morgan
Introductory

PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION. (1872)[edit]

It is not without hesitation that I have taken upon myself the editorship of a work left avowedly imperfect by the author, and, from its miscellaneous and discursive character, difficult of completion with due regard to editorial limitations by a less able hand.

Had the author lived to carry out his purpose he would have looked through his Budget again, amplifying and probably rearranging some of its contents. He had collected materials for further illustration of Paradox of the kind treated of in this book; and he meant to write a second part, in which the contradictions and inconsistencies of orthodox learning would have been subjected to the same scrutiny and castigation as heterodox ignorance had already received.

It will be seen that the present volume contains more than the Athenæum Budget. Some of the additions formed a Supplement to the original articles. These supplementary paragraphs were, by the author, placed after those to which they respectively referred, being distinguished from the rest of the text by brackets. I have omitted these brackets as useless, except where they were needed to indicate subsequent writing.

Another and a larger portion of the work consists of discussion of matters of contemporary interest, for the Budget was in some degree a receptacle for the author's thoughts on any literary, scientific, or social question. Having grown thus gradually to its present size, the book as it was left was not quite in a fit condition for publication, but the alterations which have been made are slight and few, being in most cases verbal, and such as the sense absolutely required, or transpositions of sentences to secure coherence with the rest, in places where the author, in his more recent insertion of them, had overlooked the connection in which they stood. In no case has the meaning been in any degree modified or interfered with.

One rather large omission must be mentioned here. It is an account of the quarrel between Sir James South and Mr. Troughton on the mounting, etc. of the equatorial telescope at Campden Hill. At some future time when the affair has passed entirely out of the memory of living Astronomers, the appreciative sketch, which is omitted in this edition of the Budget, will be an interesting piece of history and study of character.[1]

A very small portion of Mr. James Smith's circle-squaring has been left out, with a still smaller portion of Mr. De Morgan's answers to that Cyclometrical Paradoxer.

In more than one place repetitions, which would have disappeared under the author's revision, have been allowed to remain, because they could not have been taken away without leaving a hiatus, not easy to fill up without damage to the author's meaning.

I give these explanations in obedience to the rules laid down for the guidance of editors at page 15.[2] If any apology for the fragmentary character of the book be thought necessary, it may be found in the author's own words at page 281 of the second volume.[3]

The publication of the Budget could not have been delayed without lessening the interest attaching to the writer's thoughts upon questions of our own day. I trust that, incomplete as the work is compared with what it might have been, I shall not be held mistaken in giving it to the world. Rather let me hope that it will be welcomed as an old friend returning under great disadvantages, but bringing a pleasant remembrance of the amusement which its weekly appearance in the Athenæum gave to both writer and reader.

The Paradoxes are dealt with in chronological order. This will be a guide to the reader, and with the alphabetical Index of Names, etc., will, I trust, obviate all difficulty of reference.

Sophia De Morgan.
6 Merton Road, Primrose Hill.


PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.[edit]

If Mrs. De Morgan felt called upon to confess her hesitation at taking upon herself the labor of editing these Paradoxes, much more should one who was born two generations later, who lives in another land and who was reared amid different influences, confess to the same feeling when undertaking to revise this curious medley. But when we consider the nature of the work, the fact that its present rarity deprives so many readers of the enjoyment of its delicious satire, and the further fact that allusions that were commonplace a half century ago are now forgotten, it is evident that some one should take up the work and perform it con amore.

Having long been an admirer of De Morgan, having continued his work in the bibliography of early arithmetics, and having worked in his library among the books of which he was so fond, it is possible that the present editor, whatever may be his other shortcomings, may undertake the labor with as much of sympathy as any one who is in a position to perform it. With this thought in mind, two definite rules were laid down at the beginning of the task: (1) That no alteration in the text should be made, save in slightly modernizing spelling and punctuation and in the case of manifest typographical errors; (2) That whenever a note appeared it should show at once its authorship, to the end that the material of the original edition might appear intact.

In considering, however, the unbroken sequence of items that form the Budget, it seems clear that readers would be greatly aided if the various leading topics were separated in some convenient manner. After considerable thought it was decided to insert brief captions from time to time that might aid the eye in selecting the larger subjects of the text. In some parts of the work these could easily be taken from the original folio heads, but usually they had to be written anew. While, therefore, the present editor accepts the responsibility for the captions of the various subdivisions, he has endeavored to insert them in harmony with the original text.

As to the footnotes, the first edition had only a few, some due to De Morgan himself and others to Mrs. De Morgan. In the present edition those due to the former are signed A. De M., and those due to Mrs. De Morgan appear with her initials, S. E. De M. For all other footnotes the present editor is responsible. In preparing them the effort has been made to elucidate the text by supplying such information as the casual reader might wish as he passes over the pages. Hundreds of names are referred to in the text that were more or less known in England half a century ago, but are now forgotten there and were never familiar elsewhere. Many books that were then current have now passed out of memory, and much that agitated England in De Morgan's prime seems now like ancient history. Even with respect to well-known names, a little information as to dates and publications will often be welcome, although the editor recognizes that it will quite as often be superfluous. In order, therefore, to derive the pleasure that should come from reading the Budget, the reader should have easy access to the information that the notes are intended to supply. That they furnish too much here and too little there is to be expected. They are a human product, and if they fail to serve their purpose in all respects it is hoped that this failure will not seriously interfere with the reader's pleasure.

In general the present editor has refrained from expressing any opinions that would strike a discordant note in the reading of the text as De Morgan left it. The temptation is great to add to the discussion at various points, but it is a temptation to be resisted. To furnish such information as shall make the reading more pleasant, rather than to attempt to improve upon one of the most delicious bits of satire of the nineteenth century, has been the editor's wish. It would have been an agreeable task to review the history of circle squaring, of the trisection problem, and of the duplication of the cube. This, however, would be to go too far afield. For the benefit of those who wish to investigate the subject the editor can only refer to such works and articles as the following: F. Rudio, Archimedes, Huygens, Lambert, Legendre,—mit einer Uebersicht über die Geschichte des Problemes von der Quadratur des Zirkels, Leipsic, 1892; Thomas Muir, "Circle," in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica; the various histories of mathematics; and to his own article on "The Incommensurability of π" in Prof. J. W. A. Young's Monographs on Topics of Modern Mathematics, New York, 1911.

The editor wishes to express his appreciation and thanks to Dr. Paul Carus, editor of The Monist and The Open Court for the opportunity of undertaking this work; to James Earl Russell, LL.D., Dean of Teachers College, Columbia University, for his encouragement in its prosecution; to Miss Caroline Eustis Seely for her intelligent and painstaking assistance in securing material for the notes; and to Miss Lydia G. Robinson and Miss Anna A. Kugler for their aid and helpful suggestions in connection with the proof-sheets. Without the generous help of all five this work would have been impossible.

David Eugene Smith.
Teachers College, Columbia University.


A BUDGET OF PARADOXES

INTRODUCTORY.[edit]

If I had before me a fly and an elephant, having never seen more than one such magnitude of either kind; and if the fly were to endeavor to persuade me that he was larger than the elephant, I might by possibility be placed in a difficulty. The apparently little creature might use such arguments about the effect of distance, and might appeal to such laws of sight and hearing as I, if unlearned in those things, might be unable wholly to reject. But if there were a thousand flies, all buzzing, to appearance, about the great creature; and, to a fly, declaring, each one for himself, that he was bigger than the quadruped; and all giving different and frequently contradictory reasons; and each one despising and opposing the reasons of the others—I should feel quite at my ease. I should certainly say, My little friends, the case of each one of you is destroyed by the rest. I intend to show flies in the swarm, with a few larger animals, for reasons to be given.

In every age of the world there has been an established system, which has been opposed from time to time by isolated and dissentient reformers. The established system has sometimes fallen, slowly and gradually: it has either been upset by the rising influence of some one man, or it has been sapped by gradual change of opinion in the many.

I have insisted on the isolated character of the dissentients, as an element of the a priori probabilities of the case. Show me a schism, especially a growing schism, and it is another thing. The homeopathists, for instance, shall be, if any one so think, as wrong as St. John Long; but an [ 2 ] organized opposition, supported by the efforts of many acting in concert, appealing to common arguments and experience, with perpetual succession and a common seal, as the Queen says in the charter, is, be the merit of the schism what it may, a thing wholly different from the case of the isolated opponent in the mode of opposition to it which reason points out.

During the last two centuries and a half, physical knowledge has been gradually made to rest upon a basis which it had not before. It has become mathematical. The question now is, not whether this or that hypothesis is better or worse to the pure thought, but whether it accords with observed phenomena in those consequences which can be shown necessarily to follow from it, if it be true. Even in those sciences which are not yet under the dominion of mathematics, and perhaps never will be, a working copy of the mathematical process has been made. This is not known to the followers of those sciences who are not themselves mathematicians and who very often exalt their horns against the mathematics in consequence. They might as well be squaring the circle, for any sense they show in this particular.

A great many individuals, ever since the rise of the mathematical method, have, each for himself, attacked its direct and indirect consequences. I shall not here stop to point out how the very accuracy of exact science gives better aim than the preceding state of things could give. I shall call each of these persons a paradoxer, and his system a paradox. I use the word in the old sense: a paradox is something which is apart from general opinion, either in subject-matter, method, or conclusion.

Many of the things brought forward would now be called crotchets, which is the nearest word we have to old paradox. But there is this difference, that by calling a thing a crotchet we mean to speak lightly of it; which was not the necessary sense of paradox. Thus in the sixteenth century many spoke of the earth's motion as the paradox of [ 3 ] Copernicus, who held the ingenuity of that theory in very high esteem, and some, I think, who even inclined towards it. In the seventeenth century, the depravation of meaning took place, in England at least. Phillips says paradox is "a thing which seemeth strange"—here is the old meaning: after a colon he proceeds—"and absurd, and is contrary to common opinion," which is an addition due to his own time.

Some of my readers are hardly inclined to think that the word paradox could once have had no disparagement in its meaning; still less that persons could have applied it to themselves. I chance to have met with a case in point against them. It is Spinoza's Philosophia Scripturæ Interpres, Exercitatio Paradoxa, printed anonymously at Eleutheropolis, in 1666. This place was one of several cities in the clouds, to which the cuckoos resorted who were driven away by the other birds; that is, a feigned place of printing, adopted by those who would have caught it if orthodoxy could have caught them. Thus, in 1656, the works of Socinus could only be printed at Irenopolis. The author deserves his self-imposed title, as in the following:[4]

"Quanto sane satius fuisset illam [Trinitatem] pro mysterio non habuisse, et Philosophiæ ope, antequam quod esset statuerent, secundum veræ logices præcepta quid esset cum Cl. Kleckermanno investigasse; tanto fervore ac labore in profundissimas speluncas et obscurissimos metaphysicarum speculationum atque fictionum recessus se recipere ut ab adversariorum telis sententiam suam in tuto collocarent. [ 4 ] Profecto magnus ille vir ... dogma illud, quamvis apud theologos eo nomine non multum gratiæ iniverit, ita ex immotis Philosophiæ fundamentis explicat ac demonstrat, ut paucis tantum immutatis, atque additis, nihil amplius animus veritate sincere deditus desiderare possit."

This is properly paradox, though also heterodox. It supposes, contrary to all opinion, orthodox and heterodox, that philosophy can, with slight changes, explain the Athanasian doctrine so as to be at least compatible with orthodoxy. The author would stand almost alone, if not quite; and this is what he meant. I have met with the counter-paradox. I have heard it maintained that the doctrine as it stands, in all its mystery is a priori more likely than any other to have been Revelation, if such a thing were to be; and that it might almost have been predicted.

After looking into books of paradoxes for more than thirty years, and holding conversation with many persons who have written them, and many who might have done so, there is one point on which my mind is fully made up. The manner in which a paradoxer will show himself, as to sense or nonsense, will not depend upon what he maintains, but upon whether he has or has not made a sufficient knowledge of what has been done by others, especially as to the mode of doing it, a preliminary to inventing knowledge for himself. That a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is one of the most fallacious of proverbs. A person of small knowledge is in danger of trying to make his little do the work of more; but a person without any is in more danger of making his no knowledge do the work of some. Take the speculations on the tides as an instance. Persons with nothing but a little geometry have certainly exposed themselves in their modes of objecting to results which require the higher mathematics to be known before an independent opinion can be formed on sufficient grounds. But persons with no geometry at all have done the same thing much more completely. [ 5 ]

There is a line to be drawn which is constantly put aside in the arguments held by paradoxers in favor of their right to instruct the world. Most persons must, or at least will, like the lady in Cadogan Place,[5] form and express an immense variety of opinions on an immense variety of subjects; and all persons must be their own guides in many things. So far all is well. But there are many who, in carrying the expression of their own opinions beyond the usual tone of private conversation, whether they go no further than attempts at oral proselytism, or whether they commit themselves to the press, do not reflect that they have ceased to stand upon the ground on which their process is defensible. Aspiring to lead others, they have never given themselves the fair chance of being first led by other others into something better than they can start for themselves; and that they should first do this is what both those classes of others have a fair right to expect. New knowledge, when to any purpose, must come by contemplation of old knowledge in every matter which concerns thought; mechanical contrivance sometimes, not very often, escapes this rule. All the men who are now called discoverers, in every matter ruled by thought, have been men versed in the minds of their predecessors, and learned in what had been before them. There is not one exception. I do not say that every man has made direct acquaintance with the whole of his mental ancestry; many have, as I may say, only known their grandfathers by the report of their fathers. But even on this point it is remarkable how many of the greatest names in all departments of knowledge have been real antiquaries in their several subjects.

I may cite, among those who have wrought strongly upon opinion or practice in science, Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy, Euclid, Archimedes, Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Ramus, Tycho Brahé, Galileo, Napier, Descartes, Leibnitz, Newton, Locke. I take none but names known out of their [ 6 ] fields of work; and all were learned as well as sagacious. I have chosen my instances: if any one will undertake to show a person of little or no knowledge who has established himself in a great matter of pure thought, let him bring forward his man, and we shall see.

This is the true way of putting off those who plague others with their great discoveries. The first demand made should be—Mr. Moses, before I allow you to lead me over the Red Sea, I must have you show that you are learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians upon your own subject. The plea that it is unlikely that this or that unknown person should succeed where Newton, etc. have failed, or should show Newton, etc. to be wrong, is utterly null and void. It was worthily versified by Sylvanus Morgan (the great herald who in his Sphere of Gentry gave coat armor to "Gentleman Jesus," as he said), who sang of Copernicus as follows (1652):

"If Tellus winged be,
The earth a motion round;
Then much deceived are they
Who nere before it found.
Solomon was the wisest,
His wit nere this attained;
Cease, then, Copernicus,
Thy hypothesis is vain."

Newton, etc. were once unknown; but they made themselves known by what they knew, and then brought forward what they could do; which I see is as good verse as that of Herald Sylvanus. The demand for previous knowledge disposes of twenty-nine cases out of thirty, and the thirtieth is worth listening to.

I have not set down Copernicus, Galileo, etc. among the paradoxers, merely because everybody knows them; if my list were quite complete, they would have been in it. But the reader will find Gilbert, the great precursor of sound magnetical theory; and several others on whom no censure can be cast, though some of their paradoxes are inadmissible, [ 7 ] some unprovoked, and some capital jokes, true or false: the author of Vestiges of Creation is an instance. I expect that my old correspondent, General Perronet Thompson, will admit that his geometry is part and parcel of my plan; and also that, if that plan embraced politics, he would claim a place for his Catechism on the Corn Laws, a work at one time paradoxical, but which had more to do with the abolition of the bread-tax than Sir Robert Peel.

My intention in publishing this Budget in the Athenæum is to enable those who have been puzzled by one or two discoverers to see how they look in a lump. The only question is, has the selection been fairly made? To this my answer is, that no selection at all has been made. The books are, without exception, those which I have in my own library; and I have taken all—I mean all of the kind: Heaven forbid that I should be supposed to have no other books! But I may have been a collector, influenced in choice by bias? I answer that I never have collected books of this sort—that is, I have never searched for them, never made up my mind to look out for this book or that. I have bought what happened to come in my way at show or auction; I have retained what came in as part of the undescribed portion of miscellaneous auction lots; I have received a few from friends who found them among what they called their rubbish; and I have preserved books sent to me for review. In not a few instances the books have been bound up with others, unmentioned at the back; and for years I knew no more I had them than I knew I had Lord Macclesfield's speech on moving the change of Style, which, after I had searched shops, etc. for it in vain, I found had been reposing on my own shelves for many years, at the end of a summary of Leibnitz's philosophy. Consequently, I may positively affirm that the following list is formed by accident and circumstance alone, and that it truly represents the casualties of about a third of a century. For instance, the large proportion of works [ 8 ] on the quadrature of the circle is not my doing: it is the natural share of this subject in the actual run of events.

[I keep to my plan of inserting only such books as I possessed in 1863, except by casual notice in aid of my remarks. I have found several books on my shelves which ought to have been inserted. These have their titles set out at the commencement of their articles, in leading paragraphs; the casuals are without this formality.[6]]

Before proceeding to open the Budget, I say something on my personal knowledge of the class of discoverers who square the circle, upset Newton, etc. I suspect I know more of the English class than any man in Britain. I never kept any reckoning; but I know that one year with another—and less of late years than in earlier time—I have talked to more than five in each year, giving more than a hundred and fifty specimens. Of this I am sure, that it is my own fault if they have not been a thousand. Nobody knows how they swarm, except those to whom they naturally resort. They are in all ranks and occupations, of all ages and characters. They are very earnest people, and their purpose is bona fide the dissemination of their paradoxes. A great many—the mass, indeed—are illiterate, and a great many waste their means, and are in or approaching penury. But I must say that never, in any one instance, has the quadrature of the circle, or the like, been made a pretext for begging; even to be asked to purchase a book is of the very rarest occurrence—it has happened, and that is all.

These discoverers despise one another: if there were the concert among them which there is among foreign mendicants, a man who admitted one to a conference would be plagued to death. I once gave something to a very genteel French applicant, who overtook me in the street, at my own door, saying he had picked up my handkerchief: whether he picked it up in my pocket for an introduction, I know not. [ 9 ] But that day week came another Frenchman to my house, and that day fortnight a French lady; both failed, and I had no more trouble. The same thing happened with Poles. It is not so with circle-squarers, etc.: they know nothing of each other. Some will read this list, and will say I am right enough, generally speaking, but that there is an exception, if I could but see it.

I do not mean, by my confession of the manner in which I have sinned against the twenty-four hours, to hold myself out as accessible to personal explanation of new plans. Quite the contrary: I consider myself as having made my report, and being discharged from further attendance on the subject. I will not, from henceforward, talk to any squarer of the circle, trisector of the angle, duplicator of the cube, constructor of perpetual motion, subverter of gravitation, stagnator of the earth, builder of the universe, etc. I will receive any writings or books which require no answer, and read them when I please: I will certainly preserve them—this list may be enlarged at some future time.

There are three subjects which I have hardly anything upon; astrology, mechanism, and the infallible way of winning at play. I have never cared to preserve astrology. The mechanists make models, and not books. The infallible winners—though I have seen a few—think their secret too valuable, and prefer mutare quadrata rotundis—to turn dice into coin—at the gaming-house: verily they have their reward.

I shall now select, to the mystic number seven, instances of my personal knowledge of those who think they have discovered, in illustration of as many misconceptions.

1. Attempt by help of the old philosophy, the discoverer not being in possession of modern knowledge. A poor schoolmaster, in rags, introduced himself to a scientific friend with whom I was talking, and announced that he had found out the composition of the sun. "How was that done?"—"By consideration of the four elements."—"What are [ 10 ] they?"—"Of course, fire, air, earth, and water."—"Did you not know that air, earth, and water, have long been known to be no elements at all, but compounds?"—"What do you mean, sir? Who ever heard of such a thing?"

2. The notion that difficulties are enigmas, to be overcome in a moment by a lucky thought. A nobleman of very high rank, now long dead, read an article by me on the quadrature, in an early number of the Penny Magazine. He had, I suppose, school recollections of geometry. He put pencil to paper, drew a circle, and constructed what seemed likely to answer, and, indeed, was—as he said—certain, if only this bit were equal to that; which of course it was not. He forwarded his diagram to the Secretary of the Diffusion Society, to be handed to the author of the article, in case the difficulty should happen to be therein overcome.

3. Discovery at all hazards, to get on in the world. Thirty years ago, an officer of rank, just come from foreign service, and trying for a decoration from the Crown, found that his claims were of doubtful amount, and was told by a friend that so and so, who had got the order, had the additional claim of scientific distinction. Now this officer, while abroad, had bethought himself one day, that there really could be no difficulty in finding the circumference of a circle: if a circle were rolled upon a straight line until the undermost point came undermost again, there would be the straight line equal to the circle. He came to me, saying that he did not feel equal to the statement of his claim in this respect, but that if some clever fellow would put the thing in a proper light, he thought his affair might be managed. I was clever enough to put the thing in a proper light to himself, to this extent at least, that, though perhaps they were wrong, the advisers of the Crown would never put the letters K.C.B. to such a circle as his.

4. The notion that mathematicians cannot find the circle for common purposes. A working man measured the altitude of a cylinder accurately, and—I think the process of [ 11 ] Archimedes was one of his proceedings—found its bulk. He then calculated the ratio of the circumference to the diameter, and found it answered very well on other modes of trial. His result was about 3.14. He came to London, and somebody sent him to me. Like many others of his pursuit, he seemed to have turned the whole force of his mind upon one of his points, on which alone he would be open to refutation. He had read some of Kater's experiments, and had got the Act of 1825 on weights and measures. Say what I would, he had for a long time but one answer—"Sir! I go upon Captain Kater and the Act of Parliament." But I fixed him at last. I happened to have on the table a proof-sheet of the Astronomical Memoirs, in which were a large number of observed places of the planets compared with prediction, and asked him whether it could be possible that persons who did not know the circle better than he had found it could make the calculations, of which I gave him a notion, so accurately? He was perfectly astonished, and took the titles of some books which he said he would read.

5. Application for the reward from abroad. Many years ago, about twenty-eight, I think, a Jesuit came from South America, with a quadrature, and a cutting from a newspaper announcing that a reward was ready for the discovery in England. On this evidence he came over. After satisfying him that nothing had ever been offered here, I discussed his quadrature, which was of no use. I succeeded better when I told him of Richard White, also a Jesuit, and author of a quadrature published before 1648, under the name of Chrysæspis, of which I can give no account, having never seen it. This White (Albius) is the only quadrator who was ever convinced of his error. My Jesuit was struck by the instance, and promised to read more geometry—he was no Clavius—before he published his book. He relapsed, however, for I saw his book advertised in a few days. I may say, as sufficient proof of my being no collector, that I had not the curiosity to buy his book; and my friend the [ 12 ] Jesuit did not send me a copy, which he ought to have done, after the hour I had given him.

6. Application for the reward at home. An agricultural laborer squared the circle, and brought the proceeds to London. He left his papers with me, one of which was the copy of a letter to the Lord Chancellor, desiring his Lordship to hand over forthwith 100,000 pounds, the amount of the alleged offer of reward. He did not go quite so far as M. de Vausenville, who, I think in 1778, brought an action against the Academy of Sciences to recover a reward to which he held himself entitled. I returned the papers, with a note, stating that he had not the knowledge requisite to see in what the problem consisted. I got for answer a letter in which I was told that a person who could not see that he had done the thing should "change his business, and appropriate his time and attention to a Sunday-school, to learn what he could, and keep the litle children from durting their close." I also received a letter from a friend of the quadrator, informing me that I knew his friend had succeeded, and had been heard to say so. These letters were printed—without the names of the writers—for the amusement of the readers of Notes and Queries, First Series, xii. 57, and they will appear again in the sequel.

[There are many who have such a deep respect for any attempt at thought that they are shocked at ridicule even of those who have made themselves conspicuous by pretending to lead the world in matters which they have not studied. Among my anonyms is a gentleman who is angry at my treatment of the "poor but thoughtful" man who is described in my introduction as recommending me to go to a Sunday-school because I informed him that he did not know in what the difficulty of quadrature consisted. My impugner quite forgets that this man's "thoughtfulness" chiefly consisted in his demanding a hundred thousand pounds from the Lord Chancellor for his discovery; and I may add, that his greatest stretch of invention was finding out that "the clergy" [ 13 ] were the means of his modest request being unnoticed. I mention this letter because it affords occasion to note a very common error, namely, that men unread in their subjects have, by natural wisdom, been great benefactors of mankind. My critic says, "Shakspeare, whom the Pror (sic) may admit to be a wisish man, though an object of contempt as to learning ..." Shakespeare an object of contempt as to learning! Though not myself a thoroughgoing Shakespearean—and adopting the first half of the opinion given by George III, "What! is there not sad stuff? only one must not say so"—I am strongly of opinion that he throws out the masonic signs of learning in almost every scene, to all who know what they are. And this over and above every kind of direct evidence. First, foremost, and enough, the evidence of Ben Jonson that he had "little Latin and less Greek"; then Shakespeare had as much Greek as Jonson would call some, even when he was depreciating. To have any Greek at all was in those days exceptional. In Shakespeare's youth St. Paul's and Merchant Taylor's schools were to have masters learned in good and clean Latin literature, and also in Greek if such may be gotten. When Jonson spoke as above, he intended to put Shakespeare low among the learned, but not out of their pale; and he spoke as a rival dramatist, who was proud of his own learned sock; and it may be a subject of inquiry how much Latin he would call little. If Shakespeare's learning on certain points be very much less visible than Jonson's, it is partly because Shakespeare's writings hold it in chemical combination, Jonson's in mechanical aggregation.]

7. An elderly man came to me to show me how the universe was created. There was one molecule, which by vibration became—Heaven knows how!—the Sun. Further vibration produced Mercury, and so on. I suspect the nebular hypothesis had got into the poor man's head by reading, in some singular mixture with what it found there. Some modifications of vibration gave heat, electricity, etc. I [ 14 ] listened until my informant ceased to vibrate—which is always the shortest way—and then said, "Our knowledge of elastic fluids is imperfect." "Sir!" said he, "I see you perceive the truth of what I have said, and I will reward your attention by telling you what I seldom disclose, never, except to those who can receive my theory—the little molecule whose vibrations have given rise to our solar system is the Logos of St. John's Gospel!" He went away to Dr. Lardner, who would not go into the solar system at all—the first molecule settled the question. So hard upon poor discoverers are men of science who are not antiquaries in their subject! On leaving, he said, "Sir, Mr. De Morgan received me in a very different way! he heard me attentively, and I left him perfectly satisfied of the truth of my system." I have had much reason to think that many discoverers, of all classes, believe they have convinced every one who is not peremptory to the verge of incivility.

My list is given in chronological order. My readers will understand that my general expressions, where slighting or contemptuous, refer to the ignorant, who teach before they have learned. In every instance, those of whom I am able to speak with respect, whether as right or wrong, have sought knowledge in the subject they were to handle before they completed their speculations. I shall further illustrate this at the conclusion of my list.

Before I begin the list, I give prominence to the following letter, addressed by me to the Correspondent of October 28, 1865. Some of my paradoxers attribute to me articles in this or that journal; and others may think—I know some do think—they know me as the writer of reviews of some of the very books noticed here. The following remarks will explain the way in which they may be right, and in which they may be wrong. [ 15 ]


THE EDITORIAL SYSTEM.[edit]

"Sir,—I have reason to think that many persons have a very inaccurate notion of the Editorial System. What I call by this name has grown up in the last centenary—a word I may use to signify the hundred years now ending, and to avoid the ambiguity of century. It cannot conveniently be explained by editors themselves, and edited journals generally do not like to say much about it. In your paper perhaps, in which editorial duties differ somewhat from those of ordinary journals, the common system may be freely spoken of.

"When a reviewed author, as very often happens, writes to the editor of the reviewing journal to complain of what has been said of him, he frequently—even more often than not—complains of 'your reviewer.' He sometimes presumes that 'you' have, 'through inadvertence' in this instance, 'allowed some incompetent person to lower the character of your usually accurate pages.' Sometimes he talks of 'your scribe,' and, in extreme cases, even of 'your hack.' All this shows perfect ignorance of the journal system, except where it is done under the notion of letting the editor down easy. But the editor never accepts the mercy.

"All that is in a journal, except what is marked as from a correspondent, either by the editor himself or by the correspondent's real or fictitious signature, is published entirely on editorial responsibility, as much as if the editor had written it himself. The editor, therefore, may claim, and does claim and exercise, unlimited right of omission, addition, and alteration. This is so well understood that the editor performs his last function on the last revise without the 'contributor' knowing what is done. The word contributor is the proper one; it implies that he furnishes materials without stating what he furnishes or how much of it is accepted, or whether he be the only contributor. All this applies both to political and literary journals. No editor acknowledges [ 16 ] the right of a contributor to withdraw an article, if he should find alterations in the proof sent to him for correction which would make him wish that the article should not appear. If the demand for suppression were made—I say nothing about what might be granted to request—the answer would be, 'It is not your article, but mine; I have all the responsibility; if it should contain a libel, I could not give you up, even at your own desire. You have furnished me with materials, on the known and common understanding that I was to use them at my discretion, and you have no right to impede my operations by making the appearance of the article depend on your approbation of my use of your materials.'

"There is something to be said for this system, and something against it—I mean simply on its own merits. But the all-conquering argument in its favor is, that the only practicable alternative is the modern French plan of no articles without the signature of the writers. I need not discuss this plan; there is no collective party in favor of it. Some may think it is not the only alternative; they have not produced any intermediate proposal in which any dozen of persons have concurred. Many will say, Is not all this, though perfectly correct, well known to be matter of form? Is it not practically the course of events that an engaged contributor writes the article, and sends it to the editor, who admits it as written—substantially, at least? And is it not often very well known, by style and in other ways, who it was wrote the article? This system is matter of form just as much as loaded pistols are matter of form so long as the wearer is not assailed; but matter of form takes the form of matter in the pulling of a trigger, so soon as the need arises. Editors and contributors who can work together find each other out by elective affinity, so that the common run of events settles down into most articles appearing much as they are written. And there are two safety-valves; that is, when judicious persons come together. In the first place, the editor himself, when he has selected his contributor, feels that [ 17 ] the contributor is likely to know his business better than an editor can teach him; in fact, it is on that principle that the selection is made. But he feels that he is more competent than the writer to judge questions of strength and of tone, especially when the general purpose of the journal is considered, of which the editor is the judge without appeal. An editor who meddles with substantive matter is likely to be wrong, even when he knows the subject; but one who prunes what he deems excess, is likely to be right, even when he does not know the subject. In the second place, a contributor knows that he is supplying an editor, and learns, without suppressing truth or suggesting falsehood, to make the tone of his communications suit the periodical in which they are to appear. Hence it very often arises that a reviewed author, who thinks he knows the name of his reviewer, and proclaims it with expressions of dissatisfaction, is only wrong in supposing that his critic has given all his mind. It has happened to myself more than once, to be announced as the author of articles which I could not have signed, because they did not go far enough to warrant my affixing my name to them as to a sufficient expression of my own opinion.

"There are two other ways in which a reviewed author may be wrong about his critic. An editor frequently makes slight insertions or omissions—I mean slight in quantity of type—as he goes over the last proof; this he does in a comparative hurry, and it may chance that he does not know the full sting of his little alteration. The very bit which the writer of the book most complains of may not have been seen by the person who is called the writer of the article until after the appearance of the journal; nay, if he be one of those—few, I daresay—who do not read their own articles, may never have been seen by him at all. Possibly, the insertion or omission would not have been made if the editor could have had one minute's conversation with his contributor. Sometimes it actually contradicts something which is [ 18 ] allowed to remain in another part of the article; and sometimes, especially in the case of omission, it renders other parts of the article unintelligible. These are disadvantages of the system, and a judicious editor is not very free with his unus et alter pannus. Next, readers in general, when they see the pages of a journal with the articles so nicely fitting, and so many ending with the page or column, have very little notion of the cutting and carving which goes to the process. At the very last moment arises the necessity of some trimming of this kind; and the editor, who would gladly call the writer to counsel if he could, is obliged to strike out ten or twelve lines. He must do his best, but it may chance that the omission selected would take from the writer the power of owning the article. A few years ago, an able opponent of mine wrote to a journal some criticisms upon an article which he expressly attributed to me. I replied as if I were the writer, which, in a sense, I was. But if any one had required of me an unmodified 'Yes' or 'No' to the question whether I wrote the article, I must, of two falsehoods, have chosen 'No': for certain omissions, dictated by the necessities of space and time, would have amounted, had my signature been affixed, to a silent surrender of points which, in my own character, I must have strongly insisted on, unless I had chosen to admit certain inferences against what I had previously published in my own name. I may here add that the forms of journalism obliged me in this case to remind my opponent that it could not be permitted to me, in that journal, either to acknowledge or deny the authorship of the articles. The cautions derived from the above remarks are particularly wanted with reference to the editorial comments upon letters of complaint. There is often no time to send these letters to the contributor, and even when this can be done, an editor is—and very properly—never of so editorial a mind as when he is revising the comments of a contributor upon an assailant of the article. He is then in a better position as to information, and a more [ 19 ] critical position as to responsibility. Of course, an editor never meddles, except under notice, with the letter of a correspondent, whether of a complainant, of a casual informant, or of a contributor who sees reason to become a correspondent. Omissions must sometimes be made when a grievance is too highly spiced. It did once happen to me that a waggish editor made an insertion without notice in a letter signed by me with some fiction, which insertion contained the name of a friend of mine, with a satire which I did not believe, and should not have written if I had. To my strong rebuke, he replied—'I know it was very wrong; but human nature could not resist.' But this was the only occasion on which such a thing ever happened to me.

"I daresay what I have written may give some of your readers to understand some of the pericula et commoda of modern journalism. I have known men of deep learning and science as ignorant of the prevailing system as any uneducated reader of a newspaper in a country town. I may perhaps induce some writers not to be too sure about this, that, or the other person. They may detect their reviewer, and they may be safe in attributing to him the general matter and tone of the article. But about one and another point, especially if it be a short and stinging point, they may very easily chance to be wrong. It has happened to myself, and within a few weeks to publication, to be wrong in two ways in reading a past article—to attribute to editorial insertion what was really my own, and to attribute to myself what was really editorial insertion."

 

What is a man to do who is asked whether he wrote an article? He may, of course, refuse to answer; which is regarded as an admission. He may say, as Swift did to Serjeant Bettesworth, "Sir, when I was a young man, a friend of mine advised me, whenever I was asked whether I had written a certain paper, to deny it; and I accordingly tell that I did not write it." He may say, as I often do, [ 20 ] when charged with having invented a joke, story, or epigram, "I want all the credit I can get, and therefore I always acknowledge all that is attributed to me, truly or not; the story, etc. is mine." But for serious earnest, in the matter of imputed criticism, the answer may be, "The article was of my material, but the editor has not let it stand as I gave it; I cannot own it as a whole." He may then refuse to be particular as to the amount of the editor's interference. Of this there are two extreme cases. The editor may have expunged nothing but a qualifying adverb. Or he may have done as follows. We all remember the account of Adam which satirizes woman, but eulogizes her if every second and third line be transposed. As in:

"Adam could find no solid peace
When Eve was given him for a mate,
Till he beheld a woman's face,
Adam was in a happy state."

If this had been the article, and a gallant editor had made the transpositions, the author could not with truth acknowledge. If the alteration were only an omitted adverb, or a few things of the sort, the author could not with truth deny. In all that comes between, every man must be his own casuist. I stared, when I was a boy, to hear grave persons approve of Sir Walter Scott's downright denial that he was the author of Waverley, in answer to the Prince Regent's downright question. If I remember rightly, Samuel Johnson would have approved of the same course.

It is known that, whatever the law gives, it also gives all that is necessary to full possession; thus a man whose land is environed by land of others has a right of way over the land of these others. By analogy, it is argued that when a man has a right to his secret, he has a right to all that is necessary to keep it, and that is not unlawful. If, then, he can only keep his secret by denial, he has a right to denial. This I admit to be an answer against all men except the denier himself; if conscience and self-respect will allow [ 21 ] it, no one can impeach it. But the question cannot be solved on a case. That question is, A lie, is it malum in se, without reference to meaning and circumstances? This is a question with two sides to it. Cases may be invented in which a lie is the only way of preventing a murder, or in which a lie may otherwise save a life. In these cases it is difficult to acquit, and almost impossible to blame; discretion introduced, the line becomes very hard to draw.

I know but one work which has precisely—as at first appears—the character and object of my Budget. It is the Review of the Works of the Royal Society of London, by Sir John Hill, M.D. (1751 and 1780, 4to.). This man offended many: the Royal Society, by his work, the medical profession, by inventing and selling extra-pharmacopœian doses; Garrick, by resenting the rejection of a play. So Garrick wrote:

"For physic and farces his equal there scarce is;
His farces are physic; his physic a farce is."

I have fired at the Royal Society and at the medical profession, but I have given a wide berth to the drama and its wits; so there is no epigram out against me, as yet. He was very able and very eccentric. Dr. Thomson (Hist. Roy. Soc.) says he has no humor, but Dr. Thomson was a man who never would have discovered humor.

Mr. Weld (Hist. Roy. Soc.) backs Dr. Thomson, but with a remarkable addition. Having followed his predecessor in observing that the Transactions in Martin Folkes's time have an unusual proportion of trifling and puerile papers, he says that Hill's book is a poor attempt at humor, and glaringly exhibits the feelings of a disappointed man. It is probable, he adds, that the points told with some effect on the Society; for shortly after its publication the Transactions possess a much higher scientific value.

I copy an account which I gave elsewhere.

When the Royal Society was founded, the Fellows set [ 22 ] to work to prove all things, that they might hold fast that which was good. They bent themselves to the question whether sprats were young herrings. They made a circle of the powder of a unicorn's horn, and set a spider in the middle of it; "but it immediately ran out." They tried several times, and the spider "once made some stay in the powder." They inquired into Kenelm Digby's sympathetic powder. "Magnetic cures being discoursed of, Sir Gilbert Talbot promised to communicate what he knew of sympathetical cures; and those members who had any of the powder of sympathy, were desired to bring some of it at the next meeting."

June 21, 1661, certain gentlemen were appointed "curators of the proposal of tormenting a man with the sympathetic powder"; I cannot find any record of the result. And so they went on until the time of Sir John Hill's satire, in 1751. This once well-known work is, in my judgment, the greatest compliment the Royal Society ever received. It brought forward a number of what are now feeble and childish researches in the Philosophical Transactions. It showed that the inquirers had actually been inquiring; and that they did not pronounce decision about "natural knowledge" by help of "natural knowledge." But for this, Hill would neither have known what to assail, nor how. Matters are now entirely changed. The scientific bodies are far too well established to risk themselves. Ibit qui zonam perdidit:

"Let him take castles who has ne'er a groat."

These great institutions are now without any collective purpose, except that of promoting individual energy; they print for their contributors, and guard themselves by a general declaration that they will not be answerable for the things they print. Of course they will not put forward anything for everybody; but a writer of a certain reputation, or matter of a certain look of plausibility and safety, [ 23 ] will find admission. This is as it should be; the pasturer of flocks and herds and the hunters of wild beasts are two very different bodies, with very different policies. The scientific academies are what a spiritualist might call "publishing mediums," and their spirits fall occasionally into writing which looks as if minds in the higher state were not always impervious to nonsense.

The following joke is attributed to Sir John Hill. I cannot honestly say I believe it; but it shows that his contemporaries did not believe he had no humor. Good stories are always in some sort of keeping with the characters on which they are fastened. Sir John Hill contrived a communication to the Royal Society from Portsmouth, to the effect that a sailor had broken his leg in a fall from the mast-head; that bandages and a plentiful application of tarwater had made him, in three days, able to use his leg as well as ever. While this communication was under grave discussion—it must be remembered that many then thought tarwater had extraordinary remedial properties—the joker contrived that a second letter should be delivered, which stated that the writer had forgotten, in his previous communication, to mention that the leg was a wooden leg! Horace Walpole told this story, I suppose for the first time; he is good authority for the fact of circulation, but for nothing more.

Sir John Hill's book is droll and cutting satire. Dr. Maty, (Sec. Royal Society) wrote thus of it in the Journal Britannique (Feb. 1751), of which he was editor:

"Il est fâcheux que cet ingénieux Naturaliste, qui nous a déjà donné et qui nous prépare encore des ouvrages plus utiles, emploie à cette odieuse tâche une plume qu'il trempe dans le fiel et dans l'absinthe. Il est vrai que plusieurs de ses remarques sont fondées, et qu'à l'erreur qu'il indique, il joint en même tems la correction. Mais il n'est pas toujours équitable, et ne manque jamais d'insulter. Que peut [ 24 ] après tout prouver son livre, si ce n'est que la quarante-cinquième partie d'un très-ample et très-utile Recueil n'est pas exempte d'erreurs? Devoit-il confondre avec des Ecrivains superficiels, dont la Liberté du Corps ne permet pas de restreindre la fertilité, cette foule de savans du Premier ordre, dont les Ecrits ont orné et ornent encore les Transactions? A-t-il oublié qu'on y a vu fréquemment les noms des Boyle, des Newton, des Halley, des De Moivres, des Hans Sloane, etc.? Et qu'on y trouve encore ceux des Ward, des Bradley, des Graham, des Ellicot, des Watson, et d'un Auteur que Mr. Hill préfère à tous les autres, je veux dire de Mr. Hill lui-même?"[7]

This was the only answer; but it was no answer at all. Hill's object was to expose the absurdities; he therefore collected the absurdities. I feel sure that Hill was a benefactor of the Royal Society; and much more than he would have been if he had softened their errors and enhanced their praises. No reviewer will object to me that I have omitted Young, Laplace, etc. But then my book has a true title. Hill should not have called his a review of the "Works."

It was charged against Sir John Hill that he had tried to become a Fellow of the Royal Society and had failed. This he denied, and challenged the production of the certificate which a candidate always sends in, and which is preserved. [ 25 ] But perhaps he could not get so far as a certificate—that is, could not find any one to recommend him; he was a likely man to be in such a predicament. As I have myself run foul of the Society on some little points, I conceive it possible that I may fall under a like suspicion. Whether I could have been a Fellow, I cannot know; as the gentleman said who was asked if he could play the violin, I never tried. I have always had a high opinion of the Society upon its whole history. A person used to historical inquiry learns to look at wholes; the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the College of Physicians, etc. are taken in all their duration. But those who are not historians—I mean not possessed of the habit of history—hold a mass of opinions about current things which lead them into all kinds of confusion when they try to look back. Not to give an instance which will offend any set of existing men—this merely because I can do without it—let us take the country at large. Magna Charta for ever! glorious safeguard of our liberties! Nullus liber homo capiatur aut imprisonetur ... aut aliquo modo destruatur, nisi per judicium parium ....[8] Liber homo: frank home; a capital thing for him—but how about the villeins? Oh, there are none now! But there were. Who cares for villains, or barbarians, or helots? And so England, and Athens, and Sparta, were free States; all the freemen in them were free. Long after Magna Charta, villains were sold with their "chattels and offspring," named in that order. Long after Magna Charta, it was law that "Le Seigniour poit rob, naufrer, et chastiser son villein a son volunt, salve que il ne poit luy maim."[9]

The Royal Society was founded as a co-operative body, and co-operation was its purpose. The early charters, etc. do not contain a trace of the intention to create a scientific distinction, a kind of Legion of Honor. It is clear that the [ 26 ] qualification was ability and willingness to do good work for the promotion of natural knowledge, no matter in how many persons, nor of what position in society. Charles II gave a smart rebuke for exclusiveness, as elsewhere mentioned. In time arose, almost of course, the idea of distinction attaching to the title; and when I first began to know the Society, it was in this state. Gentlemen of good social position were freely elected if they were really educated men; but the moment a claimant was announced as resting on his science, there was a disposition to inquire whether he was scientific enough. The maxim of the poet was adopted; and the Fellows were practically divided into Drink-deeps and Taste-nots.

I was, in early life, much repelled by the tone taken by the Fellows of the Society with respect to their very mixed body. A man high in science—some thirty-seven years ago (about 1830)—gave me some encouragement, as he thought. "We shall have you a Fellow of the Royal Society in time," said he. Umph! thought I: for I had that day heard of some recent elections, the united science of which would not have demonstrated I. 1, nor explained the action of a pump. Truly an elevation to look up at! It came, further, to my knowledge that the Royal Society—if I might judge by the claims made by very influential Fellows—considered itself as entitled to the best of everything: second-best being left for the newer bodies. A secretary, in returning thanks for the Royal at an anniversary of the Astronomical, gave rather a lecture to the company on the positive duty of all present to send the very best to the old body, and the absolute right of the old body to expect it. An old friend of mine, on a similar occasion, stated as a fact that the thing was always done, as well as that it ought to be done.

Of late years this pretension has been made by a President of the Society. In 1855, Lord Rosse presented a confidential memorandum to the Council on the expediency of enlarging their number. He says, "In a Council so small it [ 27 ] is impossible to secure a satisfactory representation of the leading scientific Societies, and it is scarcely to be expected that, under such circumstances, they will continue to publish inferior papers while they send the best to our Transactions."

And, again, with all the Societies represented on the Council, "even if every Science had its Society, and if they published everything, withholding their best papers [i.e., from the Royal Society], which they would not be likely to do, still there would remain to the Royal Society ...." Lord Rosse seems to imagine that the minor Societies themselves transfer their best papers to the Royal Society; that if, for instance, the Astronomical Society were to receive from A.B. a paper of unusual merit, the Society would transfer it to the Royal Society. This is quite wrong: any preference of the Royal to another Society is the work of the contributor himself. But it shows how well hafted is the Royal Society's claim, that a President should acquire the notion that it is acknowledged and acted upon by the other Societies, in their joint and corporate capacities. To the pretension thus made I never could give any sympathy. When I first heard Mr. Christie, Sec. R. S., set it forth at the anniversary dinner of the Astronomical Society, I remembered the Baron in Walter Scott:

"Of Gilbert the Galliard a heriot he sought,
Saying, Give thy best steed as a vassal ought."

And I remembered the answer:

"Lord and Earl though thou be, I trow
I can rein Buck's-foot better than thou."

Fully conceding that the Royal Society is entitled to preeminent rank and all the respect due to age and services, I could not, nor can I now, see any more obligation in a contributor to send his best to that Society than he can make out to be due to himself. This pretension, in my mind, was hooked on, by my historical mode of viewing things already mentioned, to my knowledge of the fact that the Royal [ 28 ] Society—the chief fault, perhaps, lying with its President, Sir Joseph Banks—had sternly set itself against the formation of other societies; the Geological and Astronomical, for instance, though it must be added that the chief rebels came out of the Society itself. And so a certain not very defined dislike was generated in my mind—an anti-aristocratic affair—to the body which seemed to me a little too uplifted. This would, I daresay, have worn off; but a more formidable objection arose. My views of physical science gradually arranged themselves into a form which would have rendered F.R.S., as attached to my name, a false representation symbol. The Royal Society is the great fortress of general physics: and in the philosophy of our day, as to general physics, there is something which makes the banner of the R.S. one under which I cannot march. Everybody who saw the three letters after my name would infer certain things as to my mode of thought which would not be true inference. It would take much space to explain this in full. I may hereafter, perhaps, write a budget of collected results of the a priori philosophy, the nibbling at the small end of omniscience, and the effect it has had on common life, from the family parlor to the jury-box, from the girls'-school to the vestry-meeting. There are in the Society those who would, were there no others, prevent my criticism, be its conclusions true or false, from having any basis; but they are in the minority.

There is no objection to be made to the principles of philosophy in vogue at the Society, when they are stated as principles; but there is an omniscience in daily practice which the principles repudiate. In like manner, the most retaliatory Christians have a perfect form of round words about behavior to those who injure them; none of them are as candid as a little boy I knew, who, to his mother's admonition, You should love your enemies, answered—Catch me at it!

Years ago, a change took place which would alone have [ 29 ] put a sufficient difficulty in the way. The co-operative body got tired of getting funds from and lending name to persons who had little or no science, and wanted F.R.S. to be in every case a Fellow Really Scientific. Accordingly, the number of yearly elections was limited to fifteen recommended by the Council, unless the general body should choose to elect more; which it does not do. The election is now a competitive examination: it is no longer—Are you able and willing to promote natural knowledge; it is—Are you one of the upper fifteen of those who make such claim. In the list of candidates—a list rapidly growing in number—each year shows from thirty to forty of those whom Newton and Boyle would have gladly welcomed as fellow-laborers. And though the rejected of one year may be the accepted of the next—or of the next but one, or but two, if self-respect will permit the candidate to hang on—yet the time is clearly coming when many of those who ought to be welcomed will be excluded for life, or else shelved at last, when past work, with a scientific peerage. Coupled with this attempt to create a kind of order of knighthood is an absurdity so glaring that it should always be kept before the general eye. This distinction, this mark set by science upon successful investigation, is of necessity a class-distinction. Rowan Hamilton, one of the greatest names of our day in mathematical science, never could attach F.R.S. to his name—he could not afford it. There is a condition precedent—Four Red Sovereigns. It is four pounds a year, or—to those who have contributed to the Transactions—forty pounds down. This is as it should be: the Society must be supported. But it is not as it should be that a kind of title of honor should be forged, that a body should take upon itself to confer distinctions for science, when it is in the background—and kept there when the distinction is trumpeted—that the wearer is a man who can spare four pounds a year. I am well aware that in England a person who is not gifted either by nature or art, with this amount of money power, [ 30 ] is, with the mass, a very second-rate sort of Newton, whatever he may be in the field of investigation. Even men of science, so called, have this feeling. I know that the scientific advisers of the Admiralty, who, years ago, received 100 pounds a year each for his trouble, were sneered at by a wealthy pretender as "fellows to whom a hundred a year is an object." Dr. Thomas Young was one of them. To a bookish man—I mean a man who can manage to collect books—there is no tax. To myself, for example, 40 pounds worth of books deducted from my shelves, and the life-use of the Society's splendid library instead, would have been a capital exchange. But there may be, and are, men who want books, and cannot pay the Society's price. The Council would be very liberal in allowing books to be consulted. I have no doubt that if a known investigator were to call and ask to look at certain books, the Assistant-Secretary would forthwith seat him with the books before him, absence of F.R.S. not in any wise withstanding. But this is not like having the right to consult any book on any day, and to take it away, if farther wanted.

So much for the Royal Society as concerns myself. I must add that there is not a spark of party feeling against those who wilfully remain outside. The better minds of course know better; and the smaller savants look complacently on the idea of an outer world which makes élite of them. I have done such a thing as serve on a committee of the Society, and report on a paper: they had the sense to ask, and I had the sense to see that none of my opinions were compromised by compliance. And I will be of any use which does not involve the status of homo trium literarum; as I have elsewhere explained, I would gladly be Fautor Realis Scientiæ, but I would not be taken for Falsæ Rationis Sacerdos.

Nothing worse will ever happen to me than the smile which individuals bestow on a man who does not groove. Wisdom, like religion, belongs to majorities; who can [ 31 ] wonder that it should be so thought, when it is so clearly pictured in the New Testament from one end to the other?

The counterpart of paradox, the isolated opinion of one or of few, is the general opinion held by all the rest; and the counterpart of false and absurd paradox is what is called the "vulgar error," the pseudodox. There is one great work on this last subject, the Pseudodoxia Epidemica of Sir Thomas Browne, the famous author of the Religio Medici; it usually goes by the name of Browne "On Vulgar Errors" (1st ed. 1646; 6th, 1672). A careful analysis of this work would show that vulgar errors are frequently opposed by scientific errors; but good sense is always good sense, and Browne's book has a vast quantity of it.

As an example of bad philosophy brought against bad observation. The Amphisbæna serpent was supposed to have two heads, one at each end; partly from its shape, partly because it runs backwards as well as forwards. On this Sir Thomas Browne makes the following remarks:

"And were there any such species or natural kind of animal, it would be hard to make good those six positions of body which, according to the three dimensions, are ascribed unto every Animal; that is, infra, supra, ante, retro, dextrosum, sinistrosum: for if (as it is determined) that be the anterior and upper part wherein the senses are placed, and that the posterior and lower part which is opposite thereunto, there is no inferior or former part in this Animal; for the senses, being placed at both extreams, doth make both ends anterior, which is impossible; the terms being Relative, which mutually subsist, and are not without each other. And therefore this duplicity was ill contrived to place one head at both extreams, and had been more tolerable to have settled three or four at one. And therefore also Poets have been more reasonable than Philosophers, and Geryon or Cerberus less monstrous than Amphisbæna." [ 32 ]

There may be paradox upon paradox: and there is a good instance in the eighth century in the case of Virgil, an Irishman, Bishop of Salzburg and afterwards Saint, and his quarrels with Boniface, an Englishman, Archbishop of Mentz, also afterwards Saint. All we know about the matter is, that there exists a letter of 748 from Pope Zachary, citing Virgil—then, it seems, at most a simple priest, though the Pope was not sure even of that—to Rome to answer the charge of maintaining that there is another world (mundus) under our earth (terra), with another sun and another moon. Nothing more is known: the letter contains threats in the event of the charge being true; and there history drops the matter. Since Virgil was afterwards a Bishop and a Saint, we may fairly conclude that he died in the full flower of his orthodox reputation. It has been supposed—and it seems probable—that Virgil maintained that the earth is peopled all the way round, so that under some spots there are antipodes; that his contemporaries, with very dim ideas about the roundness of the earth, and most of them with none at all, interpreted him as putting another earth under ours—turned the other way, probably, like the second piece of bread-and-butter in a sandwich, with a sun and moon of its own. In the eighth century this would infallibly have led to an underground Gospel, an underground Pope, and an underground Avignon for him to live in. When, in later times, the idea of inhabitants for the planets was started, it was immediately asked whether they had sinned, whether Jesus Christ died for them, whether their wine and their water could be lawfully used in the sacraments, etc.

On so small a basis as the above has been constructed a companion case to the persecution of Galileo. On one side the positive assertion, with indignant comment, that Virgil was deposed for antipodal heresy, on the other, serious attempts at justification, palliation, or mystification. Some writers say that Virgil was found guilty; others that he gave satisfactory explanation, and became very good friends with [ 33 ] Boniface: for all which see Bayle. Some have maintained that the antipodist was a different person from the canonized bishop: there is a second Virgil, made to order. When your shoes pinch, and will not stretch, always throw them away and get another pair: the same with your facts. Baronius was not up to the plan of a substitute: his commentator Pagi (probably writing about 1690) argues for it in a manner which I think Baronius would not have approved. This Virgil was perhaps a slippery fellow. The Pope says he hears that Virgil pretended licence from him to claim one of some new bishoprics: this he declares is totally false. It is part of the argument that such a man as this could not have been created a Bishop and a Saint: on this point there will be opinions and opinions.[10]

Lactantius, four centuries before, had laughed at the antipodes in a manner which seems to be ridicule thrown on the idea of the earth's roundness. Ptolemy, without reference to the antipodes, describes the extent of the inhabited part of the globe in a way which shows that he could have had no objection to men turned opposite ways. Probably, in the eighth century, the roundness of the earth was matter of thought only to astronomers. It should always be remembered, especially by those who affirm persecution of a true opinion, that but for our knowing from Lactantius that the antipodal notion had been matter of assertion and denial among theologians, we could never have had any great confidence in Virgil really having maintained the simple theory of the existence of antipodes. And even now we are not entitled to affirm it as having historical proof: the evidence [ 34 ] goes to Virgil having been charged with very absurd notions, which it seems more likely than not were the absurd constructions which ignorant contemporaries put upon sensible opinions of his.

One curious part of this discussion is that neither side has allowed Pope Zachary to produce evidence to character. He shall have been an Urban, say the astronomers; an Urban he ought to have been, say the theologians. What sort of man was Zachary? He was eminently sensible and conciliatory; he contrived to make northern barbarians hear reason in a way which puts him high among that section of the early popes who had the knack of managing uneducated swordsmen. He kept the peace in Italy to an extent which historians mention with admiration. Even Bale, that Maharajah of pope-haters, allows himself to quote in favor of Zachary, that "multa Papalem dignitatem decentia, eademque præclara (scilicet) opera confecit."[11] And this, though so willing to find fault that, speaking of Zachary putting a little geographical description of the earth on the portico of the Lateran Church, he insinuates that it was intended to affirm that the Pope was lord of the whole. Nor can he say how long Zachary held the see, except by announcing his death in 752, "cum decem annis pestilentiæ sedi præfuisset."[12]

There was another quarrel between Virgil and Boniface which is an illustration. An ignorant priest had baptized "in nomine Patria, et Filia et Spiritua Sancta." Boniface declared the rite null and void: Virgil maintained the contrary; and Zachary decided in favor of Virgil, on the ground that the absurd form was only ignorance of Latin, and not heresy. It is hard to believe that this man deposed a priest for asserting the whole globe to be inhabited. To me the little information that we have seems [ 35 ] to indicate—but not with certainty—that Virgil maintained the antipodes: that his ignorant contemporaries travestied his theory into that of an underground cosmos; that the Pope cited him to Rome to explain his system, which, as reported, looked like what all would then have affirmed to be heresy; that he gave satisfactory explanations, and was dismissed with honor. It may be that the educated Greek monk, Zachary, knew his Ptolemy well enough to guess what the asserted heretic would say; we have seen that he seems to have patronized geography. The description of the earth, according to historians, was a map; this Pope may have been more ready than another to prick up his ears at any rumor of geographical heresy, from hope of information. And Virgil, who may have entered the sacred presence as frightened as Jacquard, when Napoleon I sent for him and said, with a stern voice and threatening gesture, "You are the man who can tie a knot in a stretched string," may have departed as well pleased as Jacquard with the riband and pension which the interview was worth to him.

A word more about Baronius. If he had been pope, as he would have been but for the opposition of the Spaniards, and if he had lived ten years longer than he did, and if Clavius, who would have been his astronomical adviser, had lived five years longer than he did, it is probable, nay almost certain, that the great exhibition, the proceeding against Galileo, would not have furnished a joke against theology in all time to come. For Baronius was sensible and witty enough to say that in the Scriptures the Holy Spirit intended to teach how to go to Heaven, not how Heaven goes; and Clavius, in his last years, confessed that the whole system of the heavens had broken down, and must be mended.

The manner in which the Galileo case, a reality, and the Virgil case, a fiction, have been hawked against the Roman see are enough to show that the Pope and his adherents have not cared much about physical philosophy. In truth, orthodoxy has always had other fish to fry. Physics, which [ 36 ] in modern times has almost usurped the name philosophy, in England at least, has felt a little disposed to clothe herself with all the honors of persecution which belong to the real owner of the name. But the bishops, etc. of the Middle Ages knew that the contest between nominalism and realism, for instance, had a hundred times more bearing upon orthodoxy than anything in astronomy, etc. A wrong notion about substance might play the mischief with transubstantiation.

The question of the earth's motion was the single point in which orthodoxy came into real contact with science. Many students of physics were suspected of magic, many of atheism: but, stupid as the mistake may have been, it was bona fide the magic or the atheism, not the physics, which was assailed. In the astronomical case it was the very doctrine, as a doctrine, independently of consequences, which was the corpus delicti: and this because it contradicted the Bible. And so it did; for the stability of the earth is as clearly assumed from one end of the Old Testament to the other as the solidity of iron. Those who take the Bible to be totidem verbis dictated by the God of Truth can refuse to believe it; and they make strange reasons. They undertake, a priori, to settle Divine intentions. The Holy Spirit did not mean to teach natural philosophy: this they know beforehand; or else they infer it from finding that the earth does move, and the Bible says it does not. Of course, ignorance apart, every word is truth, or the writer did not mean truth. But this puts the whole book on its trial: for we never can find out what the writer meant, until we otherwise find out what is true. Those who like may, of course, declare for an inspiration over which they are to be viceroys; but common sense will either accept verbal meaning or deny verbal inspiration.


Notes[edit]

1 ^  See Mrs. De Morgan's Memoir of Augustus De Morgan, London, 1882, p 61.

2 ^  In the first edition this reference was to page 11.

3 ^  In the first edition this read "at page 438," the work then appearing in a single volume.

4 ^  "Just as it would surely have been better not to have considered it (i.e., the trinity) as a mystery, and with Cl. Kleckermann to have investigated by the aid of philosophy according to the teaching of true logic what it might be, before they determined what it was; just so would it have been better to withdraw zealously and industriously into the deepest caverns and darkest recesses of metaphysical speculations and suppositions in order to establish their opinion beyond danger from the weapons of their adversaries.... Indeed that great man so explains and demonstrates this dogma (although to theologians the word has not much charm) from the immovable foundations of philosophy, that with but few changes and additions a mind sincerely devoted to truth can desire nothing more."

5 ^  Mrs. Wititterly, in Nicholas Nickleby.—A. De M.

6 ^  The brackets mean that the paragraph is substantially from some one of the Athenæum Supplements.—S. E. De M.

7 ^  "It is annoying that this ingenious naturalist who has already given us more useful works and has still others in preparation, uses for this odious task, a pen dipped in gall and wormwood. It is true that many of his remarks have some foundation, and that to each error that he points out he at the same time adds its correction. But he is not always just and never fails to insult. After all, what does his book prove except that a forty-fifth part of a very useful review is not free from mistakes? Must we confuse him with those superficial writers whose liberty of body does not permit them to restrain their fruitfulness, that crowd of savants of the highest rank whose writings have adorned and still adorn the Transactions? Has he forgotten that the names of the Boyles, Newtons, Halleys, De Moivres, Hans Sloanes, etc. have been seen frequently? and that still are found those of the Wards, Bradleys, Grahams, Ellicots, Watsons, and of an author whom Mr. Hill prefers to all others, I mean Mr. Hill himself?"

8 ^  "Let no free man be seized or imprisoned or in any way harmed except by trial of his peers."

9 ^  "The master can rob, wreck and punish his slave according to his pleasure save only that he may not maim him."

10 ^  An Irish antiquary informs me that Virgil is mentioned in annals at A.D. 784, as "Verghil, i.e., the geometer, Abbot of Achadhbo [and Bishop of Saltzburg] died in Germany in the thirteenth year of his bishoprick." No allusion is made to his opinions; but it seems he was, by tradition, a mathematician. The Abbot of Aghabo (Queen's County) was canonized by Gregory IX, in 1233. The story of the second, or scapegoat, Virgil would be much damaged by the character given to the real bishop, if there were anything in it to dilapidate.—A. De M.

11 ^  "He performed many acts befitting the Papal dignity, and likewise many excellent (to be sure!) works."

12 ^  "After having been on the throne during ten years of pestilence."