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An eminent French correspondent had taxed him, supposing him to be a Fellow, with "one of the errors of the Society"; Hill in reply wrote, "I have already set right the error you complain of; but you are to know, that I have the Honour not to be a Member of the Royal Society of London." Before he had sealed this letter he was called out of the room, and before he had returned a visitor, a Fellow of the Society, was shewn into Hill's study and read the letter containing the above-quoted passage. Hence the friction. Hill denies that he ever became a candidate for election, and states that although he attended the meetings he would not become a member on account of the Society's method of performing that which they were founded to do.
These statements are not lacking in definition; with regard to the incident of the letter it is impossible to judge of the truth; but with regard to the main features of the controversy the present writer thinks it extremely probable that the account first given is substantially correct, notwithstanding the statement that Hill's explanation was never contradicted.
As regards the Review, Hill wrote that "he pretends to nothing but the knowing more than the Royal Society of London appears by its publications to know! and surely a Man may do that and yet be very ignorant!"
The intention of the Review was to point out to the Society its shortcomings, doubtless in order that it might reform itself.
There can be no doubt whatever that a candid critic was necessary, for some of the papers were absolute rubbish, so much so indeed that a scientific training does not appear necessary to detect their futility. To take a brief example; in one paper the author describes a method to make trees grow very large; the seeds are to be sown at the absolute moment of the entry of the sun into the vernal equinox, and then to transplant them at the moment when the moon is full.
Hill himself sometimes falls into error in his criticisms; thus
- Short Account of the Life, Writings and Character of the late Sir John Hill, M.D., Edinburgh 1779.