Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/534

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526
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE SCIENCE OF DISTANCES.[1]
By Sir GEORGE S. ROBERTSON, K. C. S. I.

WHEN the British Association for the Advancement of Science honored me with an invitation to preside over this Section, I accepted the distinction, thoughtfully and with sincere gratification. The selection as your president at Bradford, this great and interesting center of commercial energy, of a student of political movements who was also deeply interested in the science of geography, seemed to point suggestively to a particular branch of our subject as appropriate for an opening address. This consideration, and, to my thinking, the fitness of the occasion, led me to believe that the British Empire itself was a very proper subject for such reflections as could be compressed within the limits of an inaugural Presidential Address. Many of my predecessors have eloquently and wisely dealt with various topics of admitted geographical rectitude—with geography in its more strictly scientific study, Math its nature and its purview, with its recent progress, and with the all-important question of how it could be best taught methodically and how most profitably it might be studied. In dealing with the important practical application of our science to the facts of National life—Political geography—I feel that perhaps a word of explanation is necessary. Pure geography, with its placid aloofness and its far-stretching outlook, combined sometimes with a too rigid devotion to the facts and conclusions of strict geographical research, is apt to incline many scientific minds to an admirable quiet-eyed cosmopolitanism—the cosmopolitanism of the cloistered college or the lecture theater. It perhaps also at times has a tendency to create in purely academic students a feeling of half disdain or of amicable irritability against those who love the science for its political and social suggestiveness and elucidations. Thus there is a possible danger that geographers of high intellectual caliber, with enthusiasms entirely scholarly, may come to underrate Nationality and to look upon the world and mankind as the units, and upon people and confederacies and amalgamations merely as specific instances of the general type. We know that geography is often looked upon as the science of foreign countries more especially. Such mental confusion is undoubtedly less common than it was, yet it still influences, unconsciously, the minds of many people. It is well not to


  1. Address of the president of the Geographical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Bradford, 1900.