|REFLECTIONS SUGGESTED BY THE NEW THEORY OF MATTER.|
PRESIDENT OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE.
THE meetings of this great society have for the most part been held in crowded centers of population, where our surroundings never permit us to forget, were such forgetfulness in any case possible, how close is the tie that binds modern science to modern industry, the abstract researches of the student to the labors of the inventor and the mechanic. This, no doubt, is as it should be. The interdependence of theory and practise can not be ignored without inflicting injury on both; and he is but a poor friend to either who undervalues their mutual cooperation.
Yet, after all, since the British Association exists for the advancement of science, it is well that now and again we should choose our place of gathering in some spot where science rather than its applications, knowledge, not utility, are the ends to which research is primarily directed.
If this be so, surely no happier selection could have been made than the quiet courts of this ancient university. For here, if anywhere, we tread the classic ground of physical discovery. Here, if anywhere, those who hold that physics is the true scientia scientiarum, the root of all the sciences which deal with inanimate nature, should feel themselves at home. For, unless I am led astray by too partial an affection for my own university, there is nowhere to be found, in any corner of the world, a spot with which have been connected, either by their training in youth, or by the labors of their maturer years, so many men eminent as the originators of new and fruitful physical conceptions. I say nothing of Bacon, the eloquent prophet of a new era; nor of Darwin, the Copernicus of biology; for my subject to-day is not the contributions of Cambridge to the general growth of scientific knowledge. I am concerned rather with the illustrious line of physicists who have learned or taught within a few hundred yards of this building;—a line stretching from Newton in the seventeenth century, through Cavendish in the eighteenth, through Young, Stokes, Maxwell, in the nineteenth, through Kelvin, who embodies an epoch in himself, down to Rayleigh, Larmor, J. J. Thomson, and the scientific school centered in the Cavendish laboratory, whose physical speculations bid fair to render the