Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/February 1876/Editor's Table
THE readers of the Monthly will find elsewhere in our pages an article which appeared several weeks ago in the Nation, containing an attack upon Prof. Tyndall, which, from the character of its charges, and the bitterness of its tone, excited the surprise and regret of many. It was replied to by Prof. Tyndall, whose letter we also republish. It will be seen that the assault is directly met, and, in his rejoinder to Prof. Tyndall's letter, the writer in the Nation admits that he was in error, while his admission covers the main and most offensive imputations. But, as his further comments are calculated to continue a false impression, and as base charges always go faster and farther than their retractions, especially when considerable time elapses before they can be authoritatively contradicted, it is desirable that we should here briefly review the leading features of the case. The charge against Prof. Tyndall, as the reader will see, is generally, that, in the third and recently-published edition of his work on "Sound," he has not done justice to the contributions of American science toward the elucidation of the subject of fog-signals. More specifically it is that, when in this country, he got information upon the subject from a paper read by Prof. Henry, went home and entered upon the investigation himself, published in his book the results of his own inquiries, and, while acknowledging that he knew generally of what had been done in America, and that it was not without influence on his conduct, yet that he ignored or "suppressed" from his summary of existing knowledge upon the subject any recognition of what had been accomplished by the United States Lighthouse Board under the direction of Prof. Henry.
Now, let us see what Prof. Tyndall's position was as avowed by himself in a statement widely published in this country months before the attack in the Nation was made. The August number of The Popular Science Monthly contains, in full, the preface to the third edition of "Sound," in which the American relations of the matter are considered. A summary is there given of the experiments of Prof. Henry in regard to the penetration of fog by sound, and the performance of various instruments of American construction designed to be used as coast-signals; and the remark is added that "it is quite evident from the foregoing that, in regard to the question of fog-signaling, the Lighthouse Board of Washington have not been idle." Prof. Tyndall states, furthermore, that he had recommended American instruments for fog-signaling to the British authorities as superior to the English instruments, and that they had been adopted on his recommendation. Every fair-minded reader, upon perusal of that paper, will agree, we think, that Prof. Tyndall wrote truthfully when he said: "In presence of these facts it will hardly be assumed that I wish to withhold from the Lighthouse Board of Washington any credit which they may fairly claim." But, having thus testified to the character, extent, and importance of American work upon this subject. Prof. Tyndall proceeds to state what in his opinion the Lighthouse Board has failed to do. He says: "My desire is to be strictly just; and this desire compels me to express the opinion that their report fails to establish the inordinate claim made in its first paragraph. It contains observations, but contradictory observations; while, as regards the establishment of any principle which should reconcile the conflicting results, it leaves our condition unimproved."
A distinction is here drawn, and again recognized in his letter, that goes to the root of the subject; the distinction, namely, between experiments on fog-signals made for direct purposes of utility, and similar experiments conducted with a view to the establishment of scientific principles. This discrimination is all-important. It is no doubt possible to have both objects more or less in view in such an inquiry; but it is also possible that either may so predominate as to characterize the respective courses of investigation, and yield very dissimilar results. Elaborate experiments may promote practical ends, and contribute little or nothing to science; or they may advance scientific knowledge without any immediate influence upon practice. It was claimed by Prof. Henry, in his Appendix to the report of the Lighthouse Board for 1874, that the researches of the board had been more extensive on this subject than those in England, as well as prior to them; but the question remains, To what purpose were they carried on? The answer to this question, defining the character and object of the inquiries, is immediately given in the statement that the American results of "practical importance" are in advance of the English. The writer in the Nation speaks of "American science" as bearing Baconian fruit, such as Daboll's trumpet and Brown's steam-siren. These devices and construction are, no doubt, highly important, but there is certainly a wide difference between the invention of whistles and systematic inquiries into the causes of acoustical phenomena. No one doubts the immense value to the country and to civilization of the labors directed by Prof. Henry, as chairman of the Lighthouse Board; but he has himself declared their practical character, and how broadly true is this characterization appears from a passage in a letter which he wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury, dated February 22, 1875, defending the Washington board against an attack made upon it in Congress. It is noteworthy, also, as showing that, when Prof. Henry wishes to protect himself from adverse criticism, he falls back upon the verdict pronounced by Prof. Tyndall in this very matter of fog-signals. Prof. Henry said: "The board has a standing committee on experiments which has accepted and sought to test every invention that could be supposed to aid the mariner. Many illuminants, various devices in engineering, expedients for floating aids, plans, and theories of all kinds, have received its attention. To this accusation can be opposed on behalf of the board the verdict of foreign nations, the tributes of scientific associations, and the contented judgment of maritime and commercial men from whom no complaints are received. Its buoys are excellent in their construction; its buoy-service is well performed; its light-ships are equal to any in the world; its lights are entirely satisfactory to the commercial and nautical men for whose interest they are maintained; and its fog-signals surpass, in the finding of Prof. Tyndall, who conducted a series of experiments for the Trinity House Board, those of all other nations, and have been adopted for England." But it is claimed that Prof. Henry's investigations constitute also an important contribution to "American science," in relation to fog-signaling. Prof. Tyndall denies that they have at all advanced our scientific knowledge upon the subject, and the writer in the Nation had this denial before him when he wrote. It was his plain business, then, to disprove it if he could, and give the evidence that Prof. Tyndall was in error.
The simple question is, What new scientific principles have been established, or what causes elucidated by Prof. Henry's investigations, constituting an advance of scientific knowledge in this branch of acoustics, that Prof. Tyndall has omitted or "suppressed" in his work? If any thing has been accomplished in this country toward the scientific solution of such acoustical problems in relation to fog-signaling—if any new light has been cast upon the phenomena that explains anomalies and reconciles contradictions, which was not acknowledged by Prof. Tyndall in his book—we submit that it was the obvious duty of the writer in the Nation to point out what it was. He should have indicated the gap in Prof. Tyndall's summary of the present state of knowledge, or he should have shown us what principles or results, there stated, are due to American research. He says: "It is no part of our present purpose to institute a critical inquiry into the conflicting views of Prof. Henry and of Prof. Tyndall with regard to the hypotheses respectively espoused by each for the explanation of the phenomena of sound, in its passage through wide tracts of air." Yet the whole question turns on the scientific "views" contributed by Prof. Henry which it is alleged that Tyndall has ignored. He speaks of the views "respectively espoused" by the parties; but the question is on the views originated. Prof. Henry is understood to adopt the theory propounded by Prof. Stokes at the British Association in 1857, according to which sound-waves are tilted through the air under the influence of wind. That theory is certainly not "suppressed" from the new edition of "Sound." In his rejoinder to Prof. Tyndall's letter, the Nation's critic reaffirms his assertion, saying, "The question between us is not one of science, but of historical fact" But his complaint in the first article was certainly of the non-recognition of "American science." Obviously Prof. Tyndall had to decide what is science and what is not, which looks to us very much like a scientific question. In his "summary of existing knowledge," it was not his* business merely to chronicle experiments. He had to deal only with such systematic inquiries into causes as yield results properly entitled to take their place in the body of scientific knowledge. We do not say that Prof. Henry's researches have failed to extend the domain of positive scientific knowledge, but only that the writer in the Nation was bound to establish this, before accusing Prof. Tyndall of delinquency in not recognizing it.
But it is the closing passage of the Nation's article which has excited the greatest surprise, betraying, as it obviously does, a vicious state of feeling on the part of the writer. He there represents Prof. Tyndall as having claimed to demolish the authority of Prof. Henry, and as swaggering over the "ruin" he had accomplished. In half a dozen hues, Tyndall is accused of "superciliousness," "self-complacency," "vanity," "conceit," "arrogance," and "self-laudation;" and this upon an utterly false and absurd interpretation of some incidental remarks in his preface. The following is the passage that called forth this storm of offensive epithets:
A correspondent of the Nation from Baltimore, quoting the above passage, characterizes the "glaring injustice" of the concluding portion of its article, and adds: "Any candid reader can see that the passage on which your reviewer bases such serious imputations cannot possibly bear the interpretation which every one reading it as given in your review is compelled to put upon it. Prof. Tyndall never indicates that it was the authority of Prof. Henry that impeded him in his researches." The sentence italicised in the extract upon the previous page is perfectly conclusive in showing what Prof. Tyndall did mean by the authority which embarrassed him until he rejected it.
In his letter Prof. Tyndall puts an end to the charge, so that the Nation is compelled to acknowledge itself "in error in supposing that the claim of Dr. Tyndall to have ruined authority was aimed at Prof. Henry." One would think that, when the Nation's critic had been convicted of blundering by a correspondent, and when his fabric of detraction had been so effectually demolished by Prof. Tyndall himself that the writer was compelled to back out of it, he would have had the grace to drop the subject. But, on the contrary, he renews the insulting imputation. Having made a slanderous charge entirely upon the assumption that Prof. Tyndall was exulting in the ruin of Prof. Henry's authority, and having barbed his article with this libel, when it was swept away, he says: "It would have been more in order for him to show the propriety of his language in claiming to have 'ruined' the 'authority' of any one among his scientific predecessors, for it was on the alleged self-conceit implied in such a claim as made by himself that we based our 'peroratory invective.'"
Now, we aver that there is nothing in the passage quoted that is open to the offensive construction here put upon it, and which never would have been thought of, but for the unscrupulous distortion of its meaning by the Nation's critic; but that the real import of the extract is entirely contrary to that which has been ascribed to it. That which was written to enforce the lesson of cautious self-examination and circumspection in dealing with the mental difficulties of scientific research is wrested into an opposite expression of arrogance and self-conceit. It is not to be forgotten, here, that the scientific man, to the extent of his originality and power, is a questioner of things established. His attitude is that of an enemy of authority. It is his recognized business, as evinced by the common forms of speech, to "subvert" authority, to "break down" authority, to "overthrow," "crush" and "ruin" authority. Call the motive which impels the man of science what you please, the fact remains that in virtue of his being a man of science, aiming to arrive at new views, he is a destroyer of authority. But just because this is his necessary work he is in danger from the state of mind it produces; and it becomes important not to forget that there is good as well as bad in authority. Prof. Tyndall simply intimated the need there is that the inquirer should be on his guard. Every one familiar with his writings is aware that he differs from most of his scientific colleagues by looking habitually from the subject he is investigating to the working of his own mind in the investigation, and by frequently throwing parenthetical remarks of a philosophical, rather than of a strictly scientific significance, into his expositions. The interjected observations about authority in the preface are clearly of this kind. In his "Lectures on Light," second edition, page 80, he remarks: "Newton's espousal of the emission theory is said to have retarded scientific discovery. It might, however, be questioned whether, in the long-run, the errors of great men have not really the effect of rendering intellectual progress rhythmical, instead of permitting it to remain uniform, the retardation in each case being the prelude to a more impetuous advance. It is confusion and stagnation rather than error that we ought to avoid." Now, the underlying thought in the passage from the preface above quoted is manifestly the same as that here expressed. The object in both cases is, simply to bring out the uses of authority, and no candid reader will recognize any element of "self-laudation" in the one case any more than in the other.
It has hitherto been thought that, as discoveries are the result of mental operations, science is always the gainer, when an intelligent account is given of the intellectual processes by which a new result is reached; but it now seems that if one refers to his own thoughts he must expect to be snubbed as an egotist. And, particularly, if he attains conclusions of moment, involving the upsetting of former theories, and where it is of increased importance to know the mental operations that lead to them, he will be pretty certain to find some mocking cynic who will twit him with his "self-consciousness, explaining to itself and to others how it grew so great." It is a little comical, however, to take lessons in humility from a writer who mounts the judgment-seat and exhausts the vocabulary of abuse in depreciating others; or to listen to homilies on modesty from a journal that sets up each week to criticise all that is going on in the universe—while both are convicted of detraction on the basis of the most brazen perversions.
We ask careful attention to the argument of President White on the "Warfare of Science," the first installment of which opens the present number of the Monthly, and the second of which will appear in our next issue. The import of his clear-cut thesis, and the vigor, learning, and logical force, with which it is sustained, will command the admiration of all intelligent students of the subject. But that which makes President White's discussion unique, and especially valuable, at this time, is the copious notes and references by which it is enriched and fortified, and which open the way to the whole literature of the question for the benefit of those who desire to consult the original authorities. At this time, when the hot temper of controversy leads to much random and reckless statement, it is desirable to know, very clearly, what can be proved, and where the proof can be found: President White's article is, therefore, opportune, and will be especially valued at present, while it must also take its place as a permanent contribution to a question which is bound to be of increasing interest in the future.
That we may not be accused of partiality or injustice to opposite views, we print also, in this number, an elaborate and earnest argument, delivered at the inauguration of Vanderbilt University, by Dr. Deems, on the other side of the question. The address is liberal in spirit, and often bold in its concessions, but we can hardly assent to its opening declarations. The author maintains that "the recent cry of 'the Conflict of Religion and Science' is fallacious and mischievous to the interests of science and religion, and would be most mournful if we did not believe that, in the very nature of things, it must be ephemeral. Its genesis is to be traced to the weak foolishness of some professors of religion, and to the weak wickedness of some professors of science."
On the contrary, we consider this conflict to be natural and inevitable, to be wholesome rather than mischievous; and having convulsed the world for centuries, and being still rife, with little prospect of speedy adjustment, we hardly see how it can be regarded as "ephemeral." Nor can it be much dependent upon the attributes here assigned to some of the controversialists. If the said professors of religion were brayed in a mortar until all their folly departed from them, and the said professors of science were all regenerated, the relations of the subjects would still give rise to hostility, and raise up new antagonists. No truce among the leaders can affect the deeper issues as viewed by the general mind. Something ought to be learned from experience, and that there has been a long and fierce antagonism between what has passed under the name of religion, and what has passed under the name of science, is sufficiently shown from the evidence furnished by President White. That the antagonism continues, is not because of the wrong-headedness of a few partisans who are bent upon stirring up strife, but because science is driving on with its researches, regardless of any thing but the new truth it aims to reach, while the religious world is full of anxiety and dread about what is going to happen as a consequence of this uncontrollable movement. Those who think the existing phase of the alleged conflict illusive are requested simply to consider the attitude of mind of the great mass of devout and sincerely religious people toward the more advanced scientific conclusions and scientific men of the present day. It is no test of the matter to determine how the great body of religious people now regard the science established in former times. The religious liberality of each age is put upon its trial by the questions arising in each age. In our own time biology is the branch of science that is most progressive and occupies the attention of, perhaps, the largest number of investigators who are busy inquiring about the origin of life, the antiquity of man, cerebral psychology, the laws of force manifested in living beings, and the evolution of organic forms in the course of Nature. How are such inquiries regarded by the multitude of devoutly religious people? Are they not considered "dangerous?" Are they not viewed by. this class exactly as the new doctrines in astronomy and geology were viewed by the same class in former times, that is, as hostile to faith and subversive of religion? Is there no conflict here? Are the brand of "materialism" which is put upon biological study in our times, and the charge that a materialistic science is aiming to cut up religion by the roots, indicative of harmony between these parties? Science must go on, and, if her results thus far are bad, there is no prospect that they will be better in the future. There can be only one basis of substantial peace, and that is the entire indifference of religious people, as such, to the results of scientific inquiry. This they cannot attain until far better instructed than at present; and we apprehend that it will take very considerable time to reach that desirable consummation.
The proposition made three or four years ago, and due, as we understood, to Prof. Shaler, to establish a School of Natural History at Nantucket for the benefit of the teachers of the country, and at the time of their vacation, we thought one of the most feasible and important educational movements of the time. The plan was comprehensive, involving the services of some twenty lecturers who were masters of the several departments of natural history; and it was received with such favor throughout the country, that it was certain a very large number of students would have collected there to avail themselves of the superior instruction that could have been afforded. The island, besides, was conveniently accessible, and the accommodations offered by the town ample, excellent, and moderate in price. There was, in short, large practical promise in the enterprise.
But it was not carried out, and in its stead there grew up another school in natural history, under the auspices of Messrs. Agassiz and Anderson, on another island, difficult of access and without accommodations. But few pupils could be taken, and the large expenses of the experiment, under the peculiar circumstances, had to be defrayed from without. The necessary funds not being forthcoming, the project collapsed, and the school is numbered among the things that were. Much regret has been expressed at the result; but we shed few tears over the failure of the Penikese School. Why should money be wasted in sustaining a school in an ill-chosen station that limits its usefulness and entails inordinate expense? We observe that the editor of Nature, in announcing the abandonment of the institution, and explaining the unpleasant controversy that accompanied it between Mr. Anderson, the donor of the island, and the trustees, speaks in a tone of strong regret at the result. He thinks it unfortunate that Mr. Anderson had not contributed a little more money, as, "had he done so, those interested in the success of the school would have had time to set about raising something like an endowment fund, and a fine opportunity would have been afforded to the United States Government to show their appreciation of practical scientific teachers and scientific research." The italics here are our own, and the suggestion they convey admirably illustrates the easy tendency and universal readiness there is to go to Government for help to sustain every thing that cannot be sustained by the appreciation and liberality of the community. A school absurdly located, costly, and restricted, is not supported by the public with all its appreciation of education and readiness to contribute to it whenever its contributions are wisely expended—and so the state is invoked to assume the burden due to bad calculations. We think it is a good deal better that the concern should have been wound up than to have dragged along in a precarious way, or got a subsidy from the Legislature, as it will perhaps cease to be a hindrance to the organization of other schools in better circumstances.
There are many indications of a very serious struggle, almost coextensive with civilization, between ecclesiastical authority and the liberal spirit of the age on the subject of education. Religion may not be responsible for it, but religious bodies are involved in it, and it threatens to become a matter of increasing difficulty, notwithstanding our vaunted enlightenment and the success of free government. The most numerous sect of Christendom has its own policy on the subject of education, and clings to it invincibly, though with a wise discretion in the avowal of its claims. The passages given in the following letter are an undisguised statement of the demands of the Romish Church as to its right to educate mankind.
The following letter from Prof. Tyndall, bearing upon this subject, lately appeared in the London Times:
|"Your obedient servant,|
|"Athenæum, December 16, 1875."|
The University of Montpellier, to the deans and faculties of which the above notification is addressed, is one of the oldest and most honored universities of Europe. It was founded in the twelfth century, its medical faculty by the Spanish Arabs. Situated in what was formerly called Languedoc, one of the southern portions of France, it has a botanical garden, the first that was established in Christendom. Its Observatory has for ages been in repute, its Museums of Natural History and Fine Art have long been celebrated. It has made its city one of the intellectual centres of France.
In this university was first translated into Latin Ptolemy's great Greek work, the "Alma Gest." One of the regents was the first European to make tables of the moon, and to determine the obliquity of the ecliptic. He is honorably mentioned by Copernicus. In literature it is distinguished by being the seat of the earliest cultivation of a modern language. From the romance literature of Langue d'Oc, Petrarch and Dante took their inspirations.
But in another respect it has a memorable celebrity. Here the Inquisition was first organized, and Languedoc was the seat of the most dreadful persecutions that the world has ever witnessed. Thousands of persons were put to death, whole cities were burnt. The French Protestantism of the middle ages was extinguished by fire and sword. The professors and doctors of the university were expelled from the country.
Six centuries have not sufficed to abate this ecclesiastical bigotry. There is the Bishop of Montpellier claiming for his Church the exclusive right to teach mankind. He leaves no doubt as to what sort of teaching it would be. Nothing inconsistent with the dogmas of the Church. None of your astronomy, or geology, or physiology, or other atheistic sciences. Let American colleges and universities lay this thing to heart! Their turn may some day come.