Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/675

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ROYAL INSTITUTION AND SOCIETY OF ARTS.

eye. The radii and viscid lines differ in number (the number of radii being constant only in Hyptiotes). Their distance apart varies greatly, as might be expected from the fact that spiders make their measurements hastily, and with no apparent attempt at precision; in fact, the irregularities are such as would disgrace any human artificer. We must conclude that the popular belief upon the subject is based upon very superficial observation, and that it had its rise in the old theological idea that because the Creator is perfect, so must be the performances of all his creatures, excepting the one example of total depravity—man.

But let this not trouble us. Like the orthodox interpretation of Scripture, so the orthodox interpretation of Nature may be far out of the way; and the readiness with which the world has accepted new views, when their correctness is beyond controversy, and yet kept its faith in the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God, shows the truth of the following aphorism: "It is important not to confound the fundamental order of Nature, which is indeed immutable, with the ideas, more or less complete, which we entertain at a given time, respecting the manner in which that order is manifested."

 

THE ROYAL INSTITUTION AND THE SOCIETY OF ARTS.[1]
By BERNARD H. BECKER, Esq.

COMMENCING with the nineteenth century, the Royal Institution, that stronghold of fashionable science in Albemarle Street, can claim for itself many of the most remarkable discoveries which have distinguished an era of unrivaled activity. It owes its origin partly to Sir Joseph Banks, but in a far greater degree to a more remarkable man. Benjamin Thompson, afterward Count Rumford, was a lineal descendant of one James Thompson, who figured at Charlestown in Winthrop's company in 1630. Born in his grandfather's farmhouse, he enjoyed the advantage of a good grammar-school education, and then advanced in the world by the steps familiar to this day in America, but almost unknown in Europe. He was apprenticed to an importer of British goods, was allowed to make small ventures on his own account, fancied that he had invented perpetual motion, took a great interest in questions relating to light, heat, and the wind, lost his place, and blew himself up with fireworks before the age of sixteen. At seventeen he was a dry-goods clerk in Boston, studied French during his evenings, and got himself an electrical machine with money earned by cutting and carting firewood. He then boarded for some eighteen months with a Dr. John Hay, and picked up a little anatomy, chemistry, surgery, and physic, and in 1771 went to Cam-

  1. Abridged from "Scientific London."