Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/551

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a rate we should have thought impossible to him, at "the ignorant and comical buffoons who, with an insolence suitable to their understanding, are still [as he repeats] crying out, 'What have the society done?'" And he prophesies that the society "will survive the triumphs of the proudest conquerors; since when all their pomp and noise is ended, they [the F. R. S.] are those little things in black, whom now in scorn they term philosophers and fops, to whom they must be obliged for making their names outlast the pyramids, whose founders are as unknown as the heads of the Nile."

Unfortunately, though Evelyn's claim for the society was substantially correct, the virtuosi laid themselves open to ridicule by their many trifling, useless, and ludicrous questions, researches, and experiments, and much of their labor was wasted, and its results are now forgotten. The great Mr. Boyle is represented as mortified by the absurd investigations of trivial subjects in which some of his colleagues engaged, and as on one occasion tendering to a friend, with blushing and confusion at the simplicity of the society, their paper "giving instructions for inquiries." That "pleasant rascal," the witty Charles II, whom Evelyn could hardly have numbered among the scorners whom he described as "magnificent fops, whose talents reach but to the adjusting of their perukes," set the example of making fun of the Fellows on the very day that he constituted them a society. He dined with them on this occasion, as he did afterward; when he was not present they feasted on venison sent them by his Majesty. Toward the close of this first meeting, after expressing his satisfaction at being the only King of England who had founded a scientific society, he added, with that "peculiar gravity of countenance" which he assumed when preparing to mystify or hoax his companions with some witty but apparently grave and sincere remark or question, that he had no doubt the learned men before him could solve a problem that had long puzzled him. This was the question: Suppose two pails of water of the same weight were placed in two different but equally balanced scales, and that two live bream were put in either of the pails, why would not the pail to which the fish were added weigh more than the one to which no addition had been made? The Fellows were eager to satisfy the king's curiosity; but everybody gave a different answer. "One at length offered so ridiculous a solution that another of the members could not refrain from a loud laugh; when the king, turning to him, insisted that he should give his sentiments as well as the rest. This he did without hesitation, and told his Majesty, in plain terms, that he denied the fact! On which the king in high mirth exclaimed: 'Odds fish, brother, you are in the right.' The jest was not ill designed. The story was often use-