It is my duty, as occupying the honourable position of President of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, to which I have been elected for the current year, to inaugurate the present session by the delivery of an opening address. I can imagine that the rule which imposes upon me this duty might be turned to most useful account by one who had the capacity and knowledge required for making such an address instructive. Such an occasion as the present is one of the few which afford convenient opportunities for taking a general and comprehensive survey of the results which we have obtained, for giving a review of the progress made in the past, and for sketching out what may be achieved in the future; for furnishing, in short, an intelligent summary of the advance made towards the attainment of those objects for which this body was established—that is to say, the cultivation of science, literature, and art, and the development of the industrial resources of the Province. This, I think, was the ideal before the minds of those who framed our rules, when they made the opening address of the President a necessary preliminary to the commencement of our work for the year. It is, however, an ideal which can, in the nature of things, be very seldom realized. I need hardly say that I, at least, must abandon all hope of reaching, or indeed making an approach to it. None indeed can, in my opinion, adequately perform such a task but those who are conversant with all those departments of learning and culture which are comprised in the list of subjects just mentioned, and could set forth in detail the excellences, and criticise with justice and discrimination the views propounded on all those subjects which have been treated of before this, as well as before those other societies which have become incorporated with the New Zealand Institute. But while professing my inability even to approach the standard which I have indicated, I think it not unprofitable to keep that standard before us, as one to be aimed at, though by doing so I may be rendering my own shortcomings more marked by the contrast.
Without attempting to undertake such a review as the one suggested, I take the more humble and less pretentious course of recalling that which must be in the recollection of those whom I address, and content myself, in the first instance, with the mere recapitulation of the titles of the papers read before the society. A dry enumeration of these, as showing what questions have been discussed and the direction which our enquiries have taken, may be not altogether without its use, as it will furnish, in a compendious form, a list of the subjects which have lately been engaging our attention, quite apart from the consideration as to how far they have advanced the cause which we desire to promote. The following is a list of the papers which have been read during the last session :—1. “Darwin's Provisional Hypothesis of Pangenesis,” by Dr. Barker; 2. “On the Size and Weight of the Smallest Particles Visible to the Highest Powers of the Microscope,” by Dr. Powell; 3. “On Seven Species of Spiders of the Genus Salticus, probably New to Science,” by Dr. Powell; 4. “On the Stridulating Organs of the Cicada,” by Dr. Powell; 5. “Notes on New Zealand Birds,” by Dr. Otto Finsch, of Bremen; 6. “On some Undescribed New Zealand Fishes,” by Dr. Haast; 7. “On the Practical Uses of an Observatory,” by W. M. Maskell; 8. “Remarks on the Coleoptera of Canterbury, New Zealand,” by C. M. Wakefield; 9. “On Phalacrocorax punctatus (Spotted Shag),” by T. H. Potts; 10. “Notes on the Birds of New Zealand,” by T. H. Potts; 11. “Apterygidæ,” by T. H. Potts; 12. “On the Direct Injuries to Vegetation in New Zealand by various Insects, especially with reference to Larvæ of Moths and Beetles feeding upon the field crops, and the Expediency of Introducing Insectivorous Birds as a Remedy,” by R. W. Fereday.
The mere enumeration of the papers contained in this list, if it does nothing else, must make us experience a feeling of satisfaction, not only at the intellectual activity which it discloses as existing amongst us, but also at the fact which it establishes that this society has been made the depository of the instruction and information thereby afforded. A large portion of these papers is devoted to the elucidation of questions which are more especially the province of a local society, such as this—to the discovery of those truths, and the unveiling of those mysteries which surround us here. It appears to me that this also is a subject of congratulation. Not, indeed, that I desire to see our attention directed exclusively to matters of local import, to the entire or even partial neglect of those larger truths, or of those universal principles which apply equally, whether on this side of the globe or on the other. Unless we fortify ourselves by the study of these—unless we avail ourselves of the accumulated learning of other countries, and of other times—we shall never rightly understand the objects which present themselves to us here. But, besides and beyond those general truths which apply everywhere, each country
has special problems to work out, special enquiries to prosecute, which can be nowhere prosecuted so effectually as on the spot itself. It must be clear to all that we here have a new order of problems to deal with, whether in science or literature, politics, or social economy. The questions arising out of them, and the difficulties surrounding them, confront us under new forms, and must be grappled with by new methods. The knowledge which has been accumulated in other countries is, after all, for the most part empirical in its nature. It is the result of trial and experiment under certain conditions. Alter the conditions or the surrounding circumstances, and the same cause would produce a different effect. So it is with us.
Here in New Zealand it is not only probable, but certain, that many of those conditions under which we live are different from those which obtain elsewhere, and thus those dicta, which are accepted as absolute and unquestioned truths in one country and under one set of conditions, may not be so in another country and under another set of conditions; consequently, even those discoveries which have been made, and that knowledge which has been acquired elsewhere, require to be tested and verified here before we can accept them absolutely as a basis and starting point of our investigations. In some cases the differences are broad and palpable; in others they are more subtle; in others, again, they may not as yet have been perceived at all. But this, at least, is indisputable, that where the cause is different the effect will, in most cases, be different also, and that therefore the laws which have been accepted elsewhere as immutable may be modified or altogether neutralized here. Take, as an illustration, the question as to how the earth of New Zealand acts on the electric current. This question was raised in a paper read before the Institute by Mr. Wright. Our conception of the laws which govern the relation of the earth to electricity has been rudely disturbed by the ideas therein suggested. The observations recorded by Mr. Wright would seem to lead to the conclusion that the earth here, instead of dispersing, is a bad conductor of electricity. He says that on the line to the north of Christchurch, many of the telegraph poles having fallen down, the wires were in contact with the ground, but that, notwithstanding this and contrary to his expectation, insulation was still preserved, and messages could be forwarded along the line from Christchurch to Wellington. So far as is known, the author says—and he supports this assertion by the testimony of persons versed in practical telegraphy—this would have been impossible in any other part of the world. It is true his conclusions are disputed by Mr. Duigan, in a paper read before the Philosophical Society at Wellington. I do not myself venture to express an opinion on the question. I will only say that to my mind Mr. Duigan's paper does not satisfactorily account for all the phenomena recorded by Mr. Wright. I am content to leave the question undecided. It is sufficient
for my present purpose to observe that there is nothing inconceivable or absurd in the supposition that the laws which regulate the action of electricity on the earth in other countries are here inoperative, or superseded by other laws, so as to produce a different result. But this is a question which, as a mere question of abstract science, requires further investigation; it is one also of very great practical importance. If it be indeed true that the conditions under which electricity exists here, that the influence which it exerts on the earth here is different from that which it exerts elsewhere—then some of the most important of our industrial occupations must be, to a greater or less extent, affected by the difference. That electricity is a most powerful agent in the material world is a well-established fact. No one doubts that it performs a distinguished part in the economy of our atmosphere, and there is every reason to suppose that its action is still more general—that it exercises an influence almost universal over the laws of organic matter as well as over the functions of organic life. Now, it is not unreasonable to suppose that, in a country where the earth, instead of dispersing, resists electricity, the existence of this anomaly would be felt in numberless ways, and necessitate numberless modifications of ordinary practice. As a matter of fact, from whatever cause this may arise, I think it is acknowledged, for instance, that many kinds of plants when grown here lose some of those properties which they possessed in England.
Animal life, again—in our sheep, our horses, our cattle, and our dogs—appears to undergo very considerable modifications. So it is with our social and political life. The most superficial observer can perceive that the questions with which we have to deal here are not identical, either in form or in substance, with those which agitate other communities. Thus it is that we have here special problems to solve, which none can solve so satisfactorily as ourselves. In the solution of these we must trust to our own efforts, and not lean upon foreign learning and foreign aid. We have greater facilities than others for performing the task allotted to us, because we have better opportunities for observation. We can examine into the object of enquiry on the spot, in its native locality; we have before our eyes all the circumstances by which it may be affected, and we have facilities, not enjoyed by others, for daily and hourly observation of any changes which may take place. Others at a distance can gain this knowledge only at second hand, and can have no certain means of testing and verifying the information so received. Any observations which may be made here, and any new truths which those observations may establish, become then no longer of local importance, but are new lights thrown upon the universal science of the world, because they indicate the circumstances more minutely upon which the results obtained depend. Our means and appliances for study in both these directions—the
local and general, the particular and universal—are constantly on the increase. Materials for these investigations are rapidly accumulating in our Museum. I regret that the valuable report lately presented by the trustees of that institution has not yet appeared in print. It would be seen from it that not only have we obtained valuable contributions from abroad, but that local efforts have not been wanting, by collectors in various parts of the Province, to furnish local specimens to the general store. This latter class of contributions has, to my mind, a special value over and above the value which the specimens may have in a scientific point of view. Not only do they serve to illustrate the natural history of this country, they also give evidence of a general feeling of interest among the public at large in the advancement of science.
In looking over the list of contributors I was much struck with the large number of children and young people who have sent contributions. Nothing can be more gratifying and more encouraging for the future of science here than this fact, because it shows that there are many who, at an early age, are beginning to acquire those habits of thought and observation which are the indispensable conditions of usefulness and distinction at a riper age. I hope that this single fact affords evidence that, if we cannot as yet boast of any great things achieved in the cause of science, we are at least laying a good foundation by first enlisting sympathy and co-operation. We shall, indeed, be rendering important services to science if we do nothing more than foster and encourage a spirit of enquiry and observation and love of study. This, I think, should be the special object of a society such as ours. It is the faculty which it possesses of promoting that object which, to my mind, gives to this society its distinctive value, and it is as engaged in this work that we can fairly, as a body, claim the title of a learned society. Learning and science must, it appears to me, in order to be effectually promoted, be placed upon a much broader basis than that which they have hitherto occupied. They must look for their advancement, not only to assistance from the learned, but from all who can appreciate the value of learning in others. It is only by enlisting the interest, the sympathy, and the co-operation of all that we can hope to flourish as a learned society. It is on these grounds that I consider myself, as well as those other members who do not pretend to any special attainment in any branch of learning, qualified to take part in the proceedings of this Philosophical Institute, all the members of which, whether learned or unlearned, may justly claim the title of philosophers in the original sense of the word; that is to say, lovers and admirers of wisdom and learning, though not necessarily themselves learned.
It may appear paradoxical, but I believe it to be strictly true, that one condition of our success as a learned society is, that this Institute does not consist exclusively of learned men. That sharp line of demarcation
between the learned and unlearned,—that “learned Brahminism,” as it has been called, which shuts out the general public from all participation in scientific enquiries—has, no doubt, in former times had the effect of causing science to languish. This Institute, on the other hand, recognizes the opposite and the wiser principle, that in learning, as in everything else, there are gradations of excellence—that none are so high as to be able to dispense with all help, and none so low as not to be capable of giving some assistance; and that even those who can do nothing at all in the way of contributions to the general stock of knowledge can do much by encouraging and cheering on the others. It is not very long ago that an opinion prevailed that the more exclusive a learned society was—the more rigidly it discarded those who had not reached a high standard of excellence—the more profound would be the work done, and the more would the cause of science flourish. It was thought, and I am not sure that the opinion is altogether exploded, that learning was best advanced by being prosecuted, so to say, in a concentrated form—by confining it to a small knot of learned men, from which the general community was excluded. But the result of such an experiment among ourselves would be certain failure; for, although it is indispensable to the very existence of such a society as this, that it should contain among its members persons of learning and science, it is neither indispensable nor desirable that it should cut itself off from those who make no pretensions to these acquirements. The evils of isolation from outside sympathy receive, I think, an apt illustration in the condition of learning in different countries of Europe during the seventeenth century.
The contrast presented between those countries where learning was honoured and appreciated, and where there was a free interchange of ideas between the learned and the people at large, and those where learning was a thing apart from ordinary life, would, I think, be an interesting subject of study. During that period which I have mentioned, England, France, and Italy belonged to the former of these classes. Here the influence of learned men was diffused among the public. Their labours were, to some extent, understood and valued. In Germany, on the other hand, there was no such community of feeling. Learned men were a class altogether apart. The people, steeped in ignorance, or, at best, but very imperfectly educated, looked with distrust upon their learned men; while these, in their turn, regarded the people with contempt, and made no efforts at conciliation. There is a passage by the French academician, Duclos, which sets forth very well the great advantage to both classes—to the learned no less than the unlearned—arising out of the reciprocal action of the one upon the other. “In former times,” he says, “the learned were secluded from the world. Buried in their studies, they only looked for honour from posterity while working for their contemporaries.
Their honest, but uncouth, ways had nothing in common with the manners of society. Men of the world, at that time less educated than now, respected indeed their labours and, still more, their renown, though they considered themselves incapable of holding intercourse with them. Rather out of respect than from aversion the learned were kept at a distance. Gradually, however, the taste for art and science made itself felt, so that at last those who had no natural liking for them thought it necessary to affect it. Now the men of science began to be sought out, and the more they mixed with the world, so much the greater was the pleasure afforded by their society. On both sides there was something gained. The men of the world cultivated their minds; they became refined, and enjoyed new pleasures. The men of science gained for themselves favour and respect. Their intellectual faculties were brought into play; their manners became more gentle, and they gained an insight into many truths which they never would have got from books.” Such is a description of the intellectual state of France and Italy and England during the seventeenth century.
In Germany, on the other hand, the case was altogether different. Bacon's philosophy had, indeed, not been altogether without effect here also; but it had only taken possession of a few distinguished individuals, who either received no encouragement at all, or else were obliged to look for sympathy to foreign countries. The great Kepler, the discoverer of the laws of motion of the planetary bodies, died a beggar at Ratisbon, while soliciting from the Diet the arrears of his wretched pension. Otho, of Guericke, the inventor of the air-pump, and Hevelke, the discoverer of the libration of the moon, both pursued their studies in seclusion and at their own expense, carrying on a correspondence, not with their own countrymen, but with philosophers in England or France. Hevelke became a member of the Royal Society in England; Louis XIV. gave him a pension, and it was a Frenchman who bought his writings. Learned societies, such as those which had been formed in London and Paris, were not so formed in Germany at that time. While such a state of things existed, one can understand the complaint of Leibnitz, that among all nations Germany alone was so unwise as not to recognize its learned men, and that, in the absence of that support from the people at large, the finest intellects of Germany would either be destroyed, or would seek an asylum with some other community more alive to the value of their services and to the advantage of their presence in its midst. Thus two evils affected the learned class; on one hand it was held in no esteem by the public, and on the other it lost its own self-respect by being forced to exist in a state of servile dependence upon the caprice of the rich and powerful, either at home or abroad. While the learned of other nations could address their countrymen in their mother tongue, those of Germany found it useless to write in
German, owing to the general want of interest felt by the Germans in their studies, and so they adopted Latin as the medium of communication with those who could understand and appreciate them. Thus Germany was the last of the nations of Europe to foster native learning and talent. We all know how the Germans have since sprung forward to the front ranks in all kinds of mental culture; but for a long time they were retarded in their onward course by the indifference and want of sympathy among the people. Traces of the old leaven and of the idea thus engendered—that all refinement was only to be sought for in foreign countries—may still be perceived even in the latter part of this last century. Familiar instances will occur to every one; French teachers were retained in noble families for the instruction of their children; Frederick the Great wrote French with greater ease than German; all his works, I believe, and they are tolerably voluminous, were written in French. He surrounded himself with men of learning, not from Germany, but from France—Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert, Maupertius, and others. It was the fashion of the time—a fashion which had arisen, I believe, from a habit of disregarding the more humble efforts to contribute to the cause—that of relying on foreign aid, rather than of fostering and encouraging native talent and forming a native school of learning. What was the result? The barrier which was raised between the learned and the unlearned, instead of causing literature and science and art to flourish, caused them to decay and languish. I do not think that we have to fear any danger of this kind. We exclude none from our body who are anxious to join in promoting the cause in which we are engaged. But if we are free from the charge of exclusiveness in this particular, I am not sure, if I may be permitted to say so, that we are altogether secure from exclusiveness of another kind.
We have four classes of objects which we wish to cultivate: science, literature, art, and the development of the industrial resources of the Province. Now, it appears to me that of these four we have hitherto paid attention to only one, viz., science, by which is to be understood physical science—that is to say, as I understand it, the observation of natural objects. In a new country, no doubt, this is a study which ought to engage a very large portion of our attention, but, if we devote our efforts exclusively to this branch of learning, we shall be neglecting those studies which are of no mean value in developing the faculties, in disciplining the mind, in training the intellect, and refining the taste, and so aiding the prosecution of studies connected with the cause of science itself. We have, as yet, done nothing for the advancement of literature, nothing for the advancement of art, although we have within our reach, as a stimulus to its cultivation, that magnificent donation to the Museum by Mr. Gould; nor, lastly, have we as yet applied ourselves to the development of the industrial resources of the Province, notwithstanding the liberal
endowment made by the Provincial Council for the purposes of a school of technical science. It is, I know, from no fault of the Institute that all these subjects have been so neglected. The Institute itself does not, and cannot, prescribe the nature of the questions to be brought forward. It is, no doubt, difficult to say how this evil (for evil I hold it to be) is to be remedied, but I think it is one to which I may not improperly refer. It is, I think, a proposition which cannot be controverted, that if we confine our attention exclusively to one set of subjects, if we discard all which lies beyond a comparatively narrow horizon, we are in danger, not only of circumscribing our field of action and of usefulness, but of giving a one-sided character to our efforts in that narrow field itself; and so, ultimately, instead of being entitled to the comprehensive name of a philosophical body, we may sink into the narrower sphere of a scientific society.
My principal object in hazarding these remarks is to suggest to those members whose intellectual pursuits have been outside the field of physical science, that they also should bring some contributions in their respective subjects. It would, I think, be a mistake to allow the feeling to grow, which no doubt to some extent has taken root, that all subjects not directly connected with physical science are out of place here. It is well to remember that this Institute embraces a much wider circle than this, and that there are many of its members who would feel great enjoyment in listening to papers, and taking part in discussions, on subjects of a different nature. But minor defects of the kind alluded to, after all, sink into comparative insignificance when we remember the broad, patent fact that this Institute is becoming steadily more successful in its efforts, because more generally appreciated, year by year. This is the best test of our progress, and the result warrants me in expressing a confident hope that the Institute will, during the present session, maintain that high character which it has from the first enjoyed.
Dr. Haast said he was sure he expressed the opinion of the members of the Institute when he said that the address just delivered was a very excellent one. It showed that the Institute had acted wisely in electing Mr. Tancred to the position of President.