Delivered to the Members of the Auckland Institute,* May 4, 1868.
Gentlemen,—We are met this evening, for the first time, as the members of an Institute, having for its object the promotion of art, science, and literature. We have laid the foundation of a society embracing a very wide field of operations, but as yet we have performed only a small portion of what we have undertaken, and the foundation will be useless if we fail successfully to prosecute the work.
It is obvious that we have taken upon ourselves no light task, if we discharge efficiently but one-half even of the duties which devolve upon us. For myself, it would be much more agreeable to me to occupy a position of less prominence than that in which it has pleased the members of this Institute to place me, for I cannot but feel, that much more will reasonably be expected from the President, than I can hope to fulfil. I should therefore have declined the preferred honour, but, well knowing the difficulties that the promoters of such an institution have to encounter in its establishment, and unwilling to refuse assistance in any capacity in which my colleagues considered that I could be serviceable, I, adversely to my own opinions and wishes, reluctantly consented to become the first President. I can only promise that I will endeavour to compensate in zeal, what I may lack in attainments and ability.
The New Zealand Legislature in its last session, passed a statute for the establishment of an “Institute for the advancement of science and art in New Zealand,” and conferred on it, together with the societies to be incorporated with it, the privileges of a body corporate. The Act, in the first place, provides for the appointment of a “fit and proper person to superintend and carry out the geological survey of the colony, and also to superintend the formation, establishment, and management of a public museum and laboratory.” This refers to the Parent Society (if I may so call it), domiciled at Wellington; but the services of this gentleman (the Act does not give him an official name) are also to be available “to superintend the formation and establishment of any museum and laboratory, intended to be established by any society incorporated with the parent institution.”
For the management of this Institute there is to be a Board of Governors, in the first instance nominated, but afterwards, partly to be nominated and partly to be elected. Their powers are defined, provision made for their meetings, and for the enactment of rules, by the Governor in Council, for the management and regulation of the Institute. Such is the general character of the provisions of the New Zealand Institute Act. How far it will satisfactorily answer the purposes for which it is intended remains yet to be seen. Experience is necessary to settle that question; but I must say that I very much fear that some of the provisions will be found cumbersome, and difficult to work satisfactorily. We cannot but be struck with the similarity of the scheme for the government of science, to that for the political government of the
[Footnote] * This Address was inadvertently omitted from its proper place in the Proceedings.—Ed.
colony. The General and Provincial Governments appear to have afforded models for, and to be reproduced in the New Zealand Institute, and those institutions, when established in the provinces, to be incorporated with it. The Auckland Institute has been successfully formed, and now numbers nearly eighty members. It has not yet been associated with the New Zealand Institute. It is competent for us now to effect this association, or not, as may be thought desirable. We have complied with all the preliminary conditions that have been prescribed. If we prefer a separate and independent existence, there is nothing to prevent our taking that course, but for my part I think there are sufficient advantages to be derived from association, to lead us in that direction.
We are all aware how difficult it is in a new country, such as this, to find men competent in knowledge, and enjoying sufficient leisure, to devote their time to superintending the formation and establishment of a museum and a laboratory. The Act provides that the services of such a person shall be available for institutions associated with the parent Institute. The Act also provides that a yearly sum of £500, at the least, shall be placed on the colonial estimates, to be applied in the payment of the general current expenses of the parent establishment, and of the several societies or associations incorporated with it. There are other advantages, but it appears to me that I have said enough to lead to the conclusion that the Auckland Institute should be incorporated with the New Zealand Institute.
Thus, we see that the New Zealand Legislature impressed, no doubt, with the importance of promoting the general study and cultivation of art, science, and literature, has endeavoured to do its share of the work by giving a legal constitution to an institution formed for the advancement of those objects, by providing competent assistance, and by contributing towards the necessary expenses to be incurred. But it is not in the power of any Legislature alone to create a permanent and flourishing institution of this character; it can only be done by the energy and co-operation of those fitted to undertake the task, and that, not by one spasmodic effort, but by patient and unflagging perseverance. No doubt, in order to induce a sufficient number of persons to give their time and attention to the support of such an institution, it is necessary that they should be. convinced that they will derive, therefrom, an adequate amount of amusement and profit.
Now, it is admitted that the first and principal duty of every man is to provide for the daily wants of himself, and those dependent on him; and, moreover, it is a duty that he owes to his country. No man can neglect this without entailing suffering and disgrace on himself. All other employments must yield to this, and, if the pursuit of science and literature necessarily involved a neglect of this first duty, it would be a crime to urge men to devote their attention to it. But there are hours of leisure and recreation, and it is those that can be properly and profitably employed in such pursuits. It is, I think, fortunate that there are occasions on which men of all parties, whatever may be their creeds or political views, can meet on common ground. It is, I say, fortunate that occasions occur on which people of all shades of opinion, political or otherwise, can meet and unite for a common object Nothing tends
more to soften the asperities that necessarily arise, than friendly meetings for the entertainment and instruction of each other. In a community like ours, something of the kind is essential. In the race of life we jostle each other hardly; and in politics every subject is discussed with such freedom that every man says and writes almost without restriction whatever he feels inclined. In such a state of things it is but natural that differences should arise, and angry passions be sometimes excited. Everything, therefore, that tends to clam or mollify such passions, and render us more considerate and tolerant the one to the other, has—indeed, must have—a salutary effect. And what is better fitted to produce such an effect than meeting for the friendly discussion of topics connected with arts, science, and literature.
In a social point of view, therefore, the advantages which will result from a flourishing institution, such as this Institute may become under vigorous and careful management, should not be overlooked or depreciated. However deveoted we may be to the necessary occupation of our lives—however anxious to push ourselves forward in the worldly career we are pursuing—it is essential that some time should be set apart for, and devoted to, recreation and amusement. It is indispensable for re invigorating the faculties, and preparing them for renewed exertion in our vocations. But much time is unfortunately spent—harmlessly perphas, but unprofitably. This is the more to be regretted, because at least equal employment, combined with profit, might be as readily obtained. Pleasure, no doubt, is to be derived simply from the acquisition of knowledge—knowing that which we knew not before—although it may be of a useless or trivial character; but how much more satisfactory, to a thinking man, is the reflection that he has added an important truth to his stock of knowledge, and how much is that satistaction enhanced by having clearly fixed in his mind the proofs by which that truth is established. But of how far more importance than mere amusement are the advantages which ensue from the steady pursuit of scientific knowledge. There is not an occupation in life which cannot be assisted by science; and in a newly-settled country like New Zealand, there are especially some sciences, the knowledge of which would have pointed out the way to fortunes, or saved from ruin many who have passed away, or are still amongst us.
Of what service, for instance, may I ask, would not a competent knowledge of geology, mineralogy, and chemistry have been to many of us? It is not long since that some mineral specimens were brought to Auckland by men who were impressed with the belief that they had made a great discovery. They were persuaded that they had found quartz and gold, and, led on by delusive expectations, had expended time and money in explorations. They had thus squandered the means at their disposal, and they sought assistance to prosecute their investigations. Now, the most superficial acquaintance with mineralogy or chemistry, by themselves or their neighbours, would have saved these men from grievous disappointment and serious loss. A tyro in mineralogy could have told them that the supposed quartz was carbonate of lime, and the supposed highly-valuable gold, nothing more valuable than delusive iron pyrites. A slight knowledge of the use of some of the most readily obtained chemicals would, without difficulty, have enabled them to obtain the same information.
Again, how many experiments have been tried, during the last twentyfive years, on the Phormum tenax. How many men have wasted their time and their money on a process, which a very slight acquaintance with science would have warned them to eschew. These are but two of the many instances that are occurring, in which science would have liberally repaid attentions bestowed on her.
It may be affirmed, as a proposition universally true, that science is of great practical value; how peculiarly important is it that in this colony it should be generally cultivated. Here we are in a land abounding in raw materials of every description of the greatest value and importance. Treasures of all kinds are spread with an unsparing hand around us in every direction, inviting us to accept the wealth, which, if properly used, they will bestow. Why do we not avail ourselves of the opportunity? Science and the arts are required to lend their aid, and we neglect to avail ourselves of their use. In a colony like this, men no doubt have serious disadvantages to contend with. They cannot, as in a highly civilised community, obtain that advice and assistance, of which they often stand in need, and they are compelled to rely on their own resources.
Take, for an instance, what is daily advancing towards becoming one of the most important and prosperous industries in this part of the colony —I mean gold-producing. How little do we know about it—how much have we to learn ! There are peculiarities about the Thames goldfield which render experience gained elsewhere in some measure inapplicable, and it may, I am certain, be safely affirmed that at least one-third to one half in value is daily lost in the inartistic and inefficient manner in which the gold is attempted to be extracted from the mine, and after wards separated from the worthless material with which it is mixed.
By what means can this loss be obviated, or at all events, mitigated? Of the members of this Institute—and at present there are but few—there are several, I feel assured, who know, at all events, some little that would be useful to the gold-miner; and if all these “littles” were brought together, well sifted by discussion, and that which is valuable made readily available, an essential service might be rendered, with great advantage to the community also, to a large body of men engaged in a laborious and hazardous pursuit. Much may, I am sure, be done by union. Co-operation in the present day is the great engine of progress. We see it made subservient to every variety of purpose. Man standing alone is but weak, but union gives a power which may almost be said to be irresistible. Co-operation not only concentrates means which are all but useless when dispersed—it does more—it becomes creative, and gives life and development to new powers. The mere conflict of thought and opinion produces results not previously contemplated.
I regard it, as one of the most important advantages to arise from this Institute, that it may be made the means of bringing men together, not alone for their own amusement, but to work for the common good, and, proceeding a step further, that it may be the means also of interchanging opinions and information between the most distant parts of the colony. In our constitution and rules we have undertaken, as the object of this Institute, the promotion of art, science, and literature, and we have at the same time provided ample means by which that object is to be
attained. We purpose the establishment of a museum and a library, and, I trust, if the Institution is sfficiently supported, that we shall be able to add a laboratory. Lectures, periodical meetings, the reading of original papers, and conversations and discussions are all designed to the same end.
I need not point out how useful, in days gone by, would have been a library such as that now contemplated, and of what essential service would have been a museum well stored with specimens. I feel a conviction, that one of the greatest benefits that could be conferred on a newly-established settlement, in a country but little known, would be to provide for it, alibrary well supplied with books on the arts and sciences, and a well and judiciously-filled museum.
It may be regretted that what we are now doing has not been done before, and it is a reasonable matter for regret; but this afords an addtional argument why no further delay should take place. We have now made a commencement, under more than ordinarily favourable circumstances, and if failure should ensue, it will be from want of energy and well-directed efforts on our parts. On the one hand we must not be too sanguine or confident, and on the confident, and on the other, not too readily depressed by difficulties, or discouraged by slowness of progress. We should bear in mind that some years ago, at Wellington, an institution of a similar character to that now established, enjoyed but a short and, apparently, not very successful life. The failure, no doubt, resulted from want of activity and energy in the management, and adequate support from the people. That institution was reconstituted in November last, and is intended to co-operate and work harmoniously with this Institute, and similar societies to be established in the colony. Let us hope that its future career may be more prosperous than its past, and that we may run a friendly race with it and other similar institutions, that may enter on the same course, in our endeavours to render the most important services to the cause we have undertaken to promote.
But, on the other hand, we may well take courage when we look back to the begining of the most eminent and flouishing institutons of the present day. With hardly an exception, I believe, it may be affirmed that the beginnings have been small—of some, small even in compariosn with our own. The spleindid results have, it is said, been achieved, not “by the favour of themany, but by the wisdom and energy of the few.” The Royal Society of of England owes its origin to a small club and its title to an accidental circumstance. The first meetings in London were held in a tavern, subsequently at a private house, and after wards in the parlour of Gresham College. It received. its name soon after the Restoration, when everybody went mad with loyalty—a name not appropriate to its objects, but complimentary to his Majesty King Charles II. The French Academy was equally humble in its origin. A few literate residents in Paris arrainged to meet once a week for the friendly interchange of ideas. For many years the Academy continued to be but an insignificant proate society—it shines forth now as one of the most illustrius institutions of the age. But notwithstanding these encouraging examples, I am impressed rather with wavering hope than with belief I cannot forget that, though the beginnings of the splendid institutions to which I have referred were indeed but small,
yet the assistance of men of genius, capable of giving life, strength, and repute to the early efforts of the founders was earnestly given. Where are we to look for such men in the youthful colony of New Zealand ?
That this colony will grow rapidly in wealth and strength, and will eventually become a great nation, I do most firmly believe—it possesses all the elements for such a destiny. That the New Zealand Institute, witt its incorporated Societies, may keep pace, and, in future ages, become to New Zealand what the Royal Society is to England, and the French Academy is to France, is the very utmost that we can ever hope for; and, if such should ever be, the most sanguine expectations that may now be reasonably entertained would be fully realised. Many, very many generations must pass away before this can come to pass; but it may, and let us trust that it will.
For the present our duty is plain: we have ventured to lay foundations; let us add so much of the superstructure as may be within our power. It may be but little, but let that little be done. We may be winting in the qualifications necessary to complete such a work, but it only requires that which is in our power—energetic and judicious efforts, to complete the small portion of the task that falls to the share of the present generation. The rest must be left to time and posterity.